57 Facts About John Gielgud

1. John Gielgud began a parallel career as a director, and set up his own company at the Queen's Theatre, London.

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2. John Gielgud appeared in more than sixty films between Becket, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for playing Louis VII of France, and Elizabeth (1998).

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3. John Gielgud was famous from the start of his career for his voice and his mastery of Shakespearean verse.

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4. On his father's side, John Gielgud was of Lithuanian and Polish descent.

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5. In 1912, aged eight, John Gielgud went to Hillside preparatory school in Surrey as his elder brothers had done.

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6. John Gielgud saw Sarah Bernhardt act, Adeline Genee dance and Albert Chevalier, Vesta Tilley and Marie Lloyd perform in the music halls.

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7. John Gielgud showed talent at sketching, and for a while thought of scenic design as a possible career.

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8. John Gielgud was kept on for the rest of the season in walk-on parts in King Lear, Wat Tyler and Peer Gynt, with no lines.

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9. John Gielgud was awarded a scholarship to the academy and trained there throughout 1923 under Kenneth Barnes, Helen Haye and Claude Rains.

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10. John Gielgud was in the Oxford company in January and February 1924, from October 1924 to the end of January 1925, and in August 1925.

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11. Success of The Cherry Orchard led to what one critic called a "Chekhov boom" in British theatres, and John Gielgud was among its leading players.

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12. Intimidated, John Gielgud accepted the position of understudy, with a guarantee that he would take over the lead from Coward when the latter, who disliked playing in long runs, left.

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13. In 1928 John Gielgud made his Broadway debut as the Grand Duke Alexander in Alfred Neumann's The Patriot.

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14. John Gielgud's paid her performers very modest wages, but the theatre was known for its unrivalled repertory of classics, mostly Shakespeare, and Gielgud was not the first West End star to take a large pay cut to work there.

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15. John Gielgud was uncertain of the suitability of the most prominent new recruit, Ralph Richardson, but Williams was sure that after this season John Gielgud would move on; he saw Richardson as a potential replacement.

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16. John Gielgud was the New Young Man of his time and I didn't like him.

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17. John Gielgud gave me about two hundred ideas, as he usually does, twenty-five of which I eagerly seized on, and when I went away I thought, "This chap, you know, I don't like him very much but by God he knows something about this here play.

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18. The production ran from May 1931 for 331 performances, and John Gielgud described it as his first real taste of commercial success.

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19. At the invitation of George Devine, the president of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, John Gielgud took charge of a production of Romeo and Juliet by the society, featuring two guest stars: Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet and Edith Evans as the Nurse.

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20. In May 1936 John Gielgud played Trigorin in The Seagull, with Evans as Arkadina and Ashcroft as Nina.

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21. From September 1936 to February 1937 John Gielgud played Hamlet in North America, opening in Toronto before moving to New York and Boston.

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22. John Gielgud was nervous about starring on Broadway for the first time, particularly as it became known that the popular actor Leslie Howard was to appear there in a rival production of the play.

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23. John Gielgud decided that he must form his own company to play Shakespeare and other classic plays in the West End.

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24. John Gielgud invested £5,000, most of his earnings from the American Hamlet; Perry, who had family money, put in the same sum.

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25. From September 1937 to April 1938 John Gielgud was the tenant of the Queen's Theatre, where he presented a season consisting of Richard II, The School for Scandal, Three Sisters, and The Merchant of Venice.

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26. Venture did not make much money, and in July 1938 John Gielgud turned to more conventional West End enterprises, in unconventional circumstances.

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27. John Gielgud directed Spring Meeting, a farce by Perry and Molly Keane, presented by Binkie Beaumont, for whom Perry had just left Gielgud.

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28. At the start of the Second World War John Gielgud volunteered for active service, but was told that men of his age, thirty-five, would not be wanted for at least six months.

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29. John Gielgud felt that something serious or even solemn was necessary for wartime London, where most entertainment was light-hearted.

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30. John Gielgud gave recitals of prose and poetry, and acted in a triple bill of short plays, including two from Coward's Tonight at 8.30, but he found at first that less highbrow performers like Beatrice Lillie were better than he at entertaining the troops.

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31. John Gielgud made no more films for the next ten years; he turned down the role of Julius Caesar in the 1945 film of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra with Vivien Leigh.

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32. John Gielgud declined: "It would be a disaster, you would have to spend your whole time as referee between Larry and me.

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33. Agate wrote, "Mr John Gielgud is completely and authoritatively master of this tremendous part.

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34. These productions attracted much praise, but at this point in his career John Gielgud was somewhat overshadowed by his old colleagues.

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35. In late 1945 and early 1946 John Gielgud toured for ENSA in the Middle and Far East with Hamlet and Coward's Blithe Spirit.

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36. John Gielgud enjoyed his four-month stay in California, not least, as Morley comments, for the relaxed attitude there to homosexuality.

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37. John Gielgud was fined; when the press reported the story, he thought his disgrace would end his career.

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38. John Gielgud's grabbed him and whispered fiercely, "Come on, John darling, they won't boo me, and led him firmly on to the stage.

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39. John Gielgud made two film appearances, playing a cameo comedy scene with Coward as a prospective manservant in Michael Anderson's Around the World in 80 Days, and as the father of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Sidney Franklin's 1957 remake of The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

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40. John Gielgud performed it all over Britain, mainland Europe, Australasia and the US, including a performance at the White House in 1965.

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41. John Gielgud made many other recordings, both before and after this, including ten Shakespeare plays.

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42. John Gielgud continued to try, without much success, to find new plays that suited him as an actor, but his direction of Peter Shaffer's first play, Five Finger Exercise, received acclaim.

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43. In 1962 John Gielgud met Martin Hensler, an interior designer exiled from Hungary.

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44. Under his influence John Gielgud moved his main residence from central London to the South Pavilion of Wotton House at Wotton Underwood in Buckinghamshire.

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45. John Gielgud told his agent to accept any reasonable film offers.

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46. In 1970 John Gielgud played another modern role in which he had great success; he joined Ralph Richardson at the Royal Court in Chelsea in David Storey's Home.

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47. John Gielgud thought it "by far the most exciting film I have ever made".

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48. John Gielgud made cameo appearances in films of little merit, lending distinction while not damaging his own reputation.

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49. John Gielgud turned the part down twice before finally accepting it, nervous, after the Caligula debacle, of the strong language used by the acerbic Hobson.

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50. John Gielgud placed little value on awards, and avoided presentation ceremonies whenever he could: "I really detest all the mutual congratulation baloney and the invidious comparisons which they evoke.

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51. Television John Gielgud played nineteen roles during the 1980s; they included Edward Ryder in an eleven-part adaptation of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

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52. In 1990 John Gielgud made his last film appearance in a leading role, playing Prospero in Prospero's Books, Peter Greenaway's adaptation of The Tempest.

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53. From 1977 to 1989 John Gielgud was president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art – a symbolic position – and was the academy's first honorary fellow.

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54. John Gielgud is the lone survivor of those great actors whose careers laid the foundation stones of modern theatre.

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55. John Gielgud is acclaimed as the greatest speaker of Shakespearean verse this century.

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56. John Gielgud is indelibly linked with the roles of Prospero and King Lear – regarded as pinnacles of theatrical achievement – yet he is widely remembered for his wonderful comic touch as Jack Worthing in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

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57. John Gielgud was a pioneer in establishing the first permanent companies in the West End.

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