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Laurence Olivier
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Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:

The man commonly referred to as the greatest actor of the century never thought of himself as much of a screen actor, but "just another player," as screenwriter William Goldman reported. A clergyman's son-with no interest in inheriting the family businessOlivier began acting in his teens (making his stage debut at 15, playing Kate ! in "The Taming of the Shrew"), and was encouraged to study at London's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Arts. From there, he joined the Birmingham Repertory Company and debuted on Broadway in 1929. The dark, handsome performer enjoyed stage successes in both New York and London, including the very successful "Journey's End" and "Private Lives," but he also had many failures, and real respectability eluded him. Moreover, Olivier's performances in his first American films, Friends and Lovers and The Yellow Ticket (both 1931), were indifferently received, and he lost the male lead in Queen Christina (1933), which would have costarred him with Greta Garbo.

Back in England, Olivier won notoriety in John Gielgud's production of "Romeo and Juliet" (in which they swapped the roles of Romeo and Mercutio), and then as a very modernized, Freudian-influenced Hamlet. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, he became one of England's leading stage actors and established a romantic screen persona in Fire Over England (1937), The Divorce of Lady X (1938), and Q Planes (1939). He returned to Hollywood with Vivien Leigh (whom he'd met when they costarred in Fire Over England. She was hired to star as Scarlett O'Hara, while he played Heathcliff in Samuel Goldwyn's lavish production of Wuthering Heights (1939, directed by William Wyler); his brooding, intense performance-the credit for which Olivier always gave to director Wyler-brought the vibrant Englishman his first Oscar nomination and international acclaim besides. Olivier became known for his amazing prowess at exposing characters' inner selves with his meticulous exploitation of external details: accents, physical impairments, and makeup. (Upon learning that his Marathon Man costar Dustin Hoffman had stayed awake for two days to look properly exhausted in one scene, he told the younger actor, "You should try acting, my boy. It's much easier.")

Olivier cemented his Hollywood reputation with skillful performances in Hitchcock's Rebecca (Oscar-nominated) and Pride and Prejudice (both 1940), and scored with moviegoers across the Atlantic as the male star of That Hamilton Woman opposite Leigh, and then in the all-star war yarn 49th Parallel (both 1941). After World War 2 began, Olivier asked William Wyler to direct him in a film version of Shakespeare's "Henry V," but Wyler turned him down and suggested Olivier direct it himself. He did, and the resulting 1945 film was hailed as a milestone: the first serious and successful translation of Shakespeare to the screen. It won Olivier a special Oscar in recognition of outstanding achievement (and a Best Actor nomination). Just a few years later he topped himself, directing and starring in an ambitious, moody adaptation of Hamlet (1948) that won four Oscars, including one for Best Picture and one for him as Best Actor. He is the only performer in Oscar history to direct himself in an Academy Award-winning performance.

Olivier's stage work took precedence during the 1950s and 1960s, during which time he directed himself in only two other films: the spellbinding Richard III (1955, Oscar-nominated) and The Prince and the Showgirl (1957, which teamed him with Marilyn Monroe). He played a few roles for other directors, notably appearing in Wyler's Carrie (1952), which many critics consider one of his best performances. His portrayal of seedy vaudevillian Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1960, Oscarnominated, recreating his acclaimed stage role) began his transition into character parts, and led to supporting roles in Spartacus (1960, as Crassus), Khartoum (1966, as the Mahdi), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), although he still astonished audiences in leading roles like the title part in Othello (1965) and the cuckolded mystery writer in Sleuth (1972, earning more Oscar nominations for the last two).

Film critic Pauline Kael once rhapsodized: "Every time we single out the fea ture that makes Olivier a marvel-his lion eyes or the voice and the way it seizes on a phrase-he alters it or casts it off in some new role, and is greater than ever." In the 1970s Olivier accepted parts in a number of commercial films, bringing artistic authority-if a dubious mastery of dialects-to films like Marathon Man (1976, again Oscar-nominated), The Boys From Brazil (for which he was Oscarnominated), and The Betsy (both 1978), and hamming delightfully in concoctions like A Little Romance (1979). His health grew worse, but he continued to work and was grateful to the movie industry for giving him a chance to do so.

Some critics took Olivier to task for appearing in negligible films such as The Jazz Singer (1980), Inchon (1982, as General MacArthur!), and The Jigsaw Man (1984), but dissenting critic Richard Schickel commented, "To those of us who believe that the best kind of heroism is to be found in the relentless practice of one's profession ... he now became a genuinely heroic figure." (Olivier explained, quite candidly, that he was trying to earn enough money to provide for his young family.) He made occasional forays into television, winning five Emmy Awards; he was particularly active in later years, with acclaimed productions of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1972) and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1976), the TV movies Love Among the Ruins (1975, opposite Katharine Hepburn), Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (1983, opposite Jackie Gleason), and The Ebony Tower (1984), and the miniseries "Brideshead Revisited" (1981), and "Lost Empires" (1986). Olivier's last great performance was, appropriately enough, King Lear in a 1983 TV production that won him the last of his Emmy Awards and was considered a fitting valediction. Olivier was married to actresses Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh (1940-60), and Joan Plowright (1961 until his death). He was knighted in 1947, and took a seat in the House of Lords in 1971. His autobiography, "Confessions of an Actor," was published in 1984.

Laurence Olivier stared in:

Title Year Saw with/at: Own On? Rating
Hamlet 1948 *** 1/2
Sleuth 1972 Digital **** 1/2
Dracula 1979 Peter Loge & Anne Lavin at Whalley Theatre ***
A Little Romance 1979 Saw 4 times in theatre Digital *****
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 2004 kendra on DVD ** 1/2