129 Facts About Laurence Olivier


Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier was an English actor and director who, along with his contemporaries Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, was one of a trio of male actors who dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century.


Laurence Olivier worked in films throughout his career, playing more than fifty cinema roles.


Laurence Olivier's family had no theatrical connections, but Olivier's father, a clergyman, decided that his son should become an actor.


Laurence Olivier's honours included a knighthood, a life peerage, and the Order of Merit.


The National Theatre's largest auditorium is named in his honour, and he is commemorated in the Laurence Olivier Awards, given annually by the Society of London Theatre.


Laurence Olivier was married three times, to the actresses Jill Esmond from 1930 to 1940, Vivien Leigh from 1940 to 1960, and Joan Plowright from 1961 until his death.


Laurence Olivier was born in Dorking, Surrey, the youngest of the three children of Agnes Louise and Reverend Gerard Kerr Laurence Olivier.


Laurence Olivier had two older siblings: Sybille and Gerard Dacres "Dickie".


Laurence Olivier's great-great-grandfather was of French Huguenot descent, and Olivier came from a long line of Protestant clergymen.


Gerard Laurence Olivier had begun a career as a schoolmaster, but in his thirties he discovered a strong religious vocation and was ordained as a priest of the Church of England.


Laurence Olivier practised extremely high church, ritualist Anglicanism and liked to be addressed as "Father Olivier".


In 1912, when Laurence Olivier was five, his father secured a permanent appointment as assistant rector at St Saviour's, Pimlico.


Laurence Olivier held the post for six years, and a stable family life was at last possible.


Laurence Olivier was devoted to his mother, but not to his father, whom he found a cold and remote parent, though he learned a great deal of the art of performing from him.


In 1916, after attending a series of preparatory schools, Laurence Olivier passed the singing examination for admission to the choir school of All Saints, Margaret Street, in central London.


From All Saints, Laurence Olivier went on to St Edward's School, Oxford, from 1921 to 1924.


Laurence Olivier made little mark until his final year, when he played Puck in the school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream; his performance was a tour de force that won him popularity among his fellow pupils.


Laurence Olivier missed him greatly and asked his father how soon he could follow.


Laurence Olivier's sister had been a student there and was a favourite of Elsie Fogerty, the founder and principal of the school.


Laurence Olivier later speculated that it was on the strength of this connection that Fogerty agreed to award him the bursary.


In 1926, on Thorndike's recommendation, Laurence Olivier joined the Birmingham Repertory Company.


Laurence Olivier was offered the part in the West End production the following year, but turned it down in favour of the more glamorous role of Beau Geste in a stage adaptation of P C Wren's 1929 novel of the same name.


In 1930, with his impending marriage in mind, Laurence Olivier earned some extra money with small roles in two films.


Laurence Olivier did not enjoy working in film, which he dismissed as "this anaemic little medium which could not stand great acting", but financially it was much more rewarding than his theatre work.


Laurence Olivier later recounted that following the wedding he did not keep a diary for ten years and never followed religious practices again, although he considered those facts to be "mere coincidence", unconnected to the nuptials.


Laurence Olivier played Victor in the West End and then on Broadway; Adrianne Allen was Sybil in London, but could not go to New York, where the part was taken by Esmond.


Laurence Olivier gave me a sense of balance, of right and wrong.


Laurence Olivier would make me read; I never used to read anything at all.


The cultural historian Jeffrey Richards describes Laurence Olivier's look as an attempt by Fox Studios to produce a likeness of Ronald Colman, and Colman's moustache, voice and manner are "perfectly reproduced".


Laurence Olivier returned to RKO to complete his contract with the 1932 drama Westward Passage, which was a commercial failure.


Laurence Olivier was tempted back to Hollywood in 1933 to appear opposite Greta Garbo in Queen Christina, but was replaced after two weeks of filming because of a lack of chemistry between the two.


Laurence Olivier's success was vitiated by his breaking an ankle two months into the run, in one of the athletic, acrobatic stunts with which he liked to enliven his performances.


Mr Laurence Olivier was about twenty times as much in love with Peggy Ashcroft as Mr Gielgud is.


Laurence Olivier was enraged at the notices after the first night, which praised the virility of his performance but fiercely criticised his speaking of Shakespeare's verse, contrasting it with his co-star's mastery of the poetry.


Later in the same year Laurence Olivier accepted an invitation to join the Old Vic company.


In January 1937 Laurence Olivier took the title role in an uncut version of Hamlet in which his delivery of the verse was unfavourably compared with that of Gielgud, who had played the role on the same stage seven years previously to enormous acclaim.


Laurence Olivier had first met Leigh briefly at the Savoy Grill and then again when she visited him during the run of Romeo and Juliet, probably early in 1936, and the two had begun an affair sometime that year.


Laurence Olivier secured the casting of Leigh to replace Cherry Cottrell as Ophelia.


The stylised production by Michel Saint-Denis was not well liked, but Laurence Olivier had some good notices among the bad.


Laurence Olivier returned to the Old Vic for a second season in 1938.


Laurence Olivier was willing to co-operate, but Richardson was not; audiences and most critics failed to spot the supposed motivation of Laurence Olivier's Iago, and Richardson's Othello seemed underpowered.


In 1938 Laurence Olivier joined Richardson to film the spy thriller Q Planes, released the following year.


Frank Nugent, the critic for The New York Times, thought Laurence Olivier was "not quite so good" as Richardson, but was "quite acceptable".


Laurence Olivier did not enjoy making Wuthering Heights, and his approach to film acting, combined with a dislike for Oberon, led to tensions on set.


The director, William Wyler, was a hard taskmaster, and Laurence Olivier learned to remove what Billington described as "the carapace of theatricality" to which he was prone, replacing it with "a palpable reality".


Laurence Olivier followed Rebecca with Pride and Prejudice, in the role of Mr Darcy.


Laurence Olivier received good reviews for both films and showed a more confident screen presence than he had in his early work.


Laurence Olivier telephoned Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information under Winston Churchill, hoping to get a position in Cooper's department.


Laurence Olivier was tiring of Leigh's suffocating adulation, and she was drinking to excess.


Laurence Olivier's life was under threat from the Nazis and pro-German sympathisers.


Laurence Olivier had spent the previous year learning to fly and had completed nearly 250 hours by the time he left America.


Laurence Olivier intended to join the Royal Air Force but instead made another propaganda film, 49th Parallel, narrated short pieces for the Ministry of Information, and joined the Fleet Air Arm because Richardson was already in the service.


Laurence Olivier spent much of his time taking part in broadcasts and making speeches to build morale, and in 1942 he was invited to make another propaganda film, The Demi-Paradise, in which he played a Soviet engineer who helps improve British-Russian relationships.


In 1943, at the behest of the Ministry of Information, Olivier began working on Henry V Originally he had no intention of taking the directorial duties, but ended up directing and producing, in addition to taking the title role.


Laurence Olivier was assisted by an Italian internee, Filippo Del Giudice, who had been released to produce propaganda for the Allied cause.


The critic for The Times considered that Laurence Olivier "plays Henry on a high, heroic note and never is there danger of a crack", in a film described as "a triumph of film craft".


Laurence Olivier's roles were the Button Moulder, Sergius, Richard and Astrov; Richardson played Peer, Bluntschli, Richmond and Vanya.


In Richard III, according to Billington, Laurence Olivier's triumph was absolute: "so much so that it became his most frequently imitated performance and one whose supremacy went unchallenged until Antony Sher played the role forty years later".


Laurence Olivier played the warrior Hotspur in the first and the doddering Justice Shallow in the second.


Laurence Olivier received good notices, but by general consent the production belonged to Richardson as Falstaff.


Laurence Olivier played King Lear, and Richardson took the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac.


Laurence Olivier would have preferred the roles to be reversed, but Richardson did not wish to attempt Lear.


The influential critic James Agate suggested that Laurence Olivier used his dazzling stage technique to disguise a lack of feeling, a charge that the actor strongly rejected, but which was often made throughout his later career.


Laurence Olivier had ambitions to be the first head of the National Theatre and had no intention of letting actors run it.


Laurence Olivier was encouraged by Guthrie, who, having instigated the appointment of Richardson and Olivier, had come to resent their knighthoods and international fame.


In January 1947 Laurence Olivier began working on his second film as a director, Hamlet, in which he took the lead role.


In 1948 Laurence Olivier led the Old Vic company on a six-month tour of Australia and New Zealand.


Laurence Olivier would be shaking and white and quite distraught at the end of it.


The production company set up by Laurence Olivier took a lease on the St James's Theatre.


Laurence Olivier was thought by some critics to be under par in both his roles, and some suspected him of playing deliberately below his usual strength so that Leigh might appear his equal.


Laurence Olivier dismissed the suggestion, regarding it as an insult to his integrity as an actor.


Laurence Olivier directed his third Shakespeare film in September 1954, Richard III, which he co-produced with Korda.


Laurence Olivier won a BAFTA award for the role and was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award, which Yul Brynner won.


Rehearsals were difficult, with Laurence Olivier determined to play his conception of the role despite the director's view that it was vulgar.


Laurence Olivier was set on playing Malvolio in his own particular rather extravagant way.


Laurence Olivier was extremely moving at the end, but he played the earlier scenes like a Jewish hairdresser, with a lisp and an extraordinary accent, and he insisted on falling backwards off a bench in the garden scene, though I begged him not to do it.


Leigh's Lady Macbeth received mixed but generally polite notices, although to the end of his life Laurence Olivier believed it to have been the best Lady Macbeth he ever saw.


Laurence Olivier and Brook revived the production for a continental tour in June 1957; its final performance, which closed the old Stoll Theatre in London, was the last time Leigh and Laurence Olivier acted together.


Laurence Olivier had seen the play earlier in the run and disliked it, but Miller was convinced that Osborne had talent, and Laurence Olivier reconsidered.


Laurence Olivier was ready for a change of direction; in 1981 he wrote:.


Laurence Olivier had for years maintained that he might easily have been a third-rate comedian called "Larry Oliver", and would sometimes play the character at parties.


Behind Archie's brazen facade there is a deep desolation, and Laurence Olivier caught both aspects, switching, in the words of the biographer Anthony Holden, "from a gleefully tacky comic routine to moments of the most wrenching pathos".


The second of them was Joan Plowright, with whom Laurence Olivier began a relationship that endured for the rest of his life.


Laurence Olivier said that playing Archie "made me feel like a modern actor again".


Laurence Olivier received another BAFTA nomination for his supporting role in 1959's The Devil's Disciple.


Laurence Olivier's performance received strong praise from the critics for its fierce athleticism combined with an emotional vulnerability.


The production was chiefly remarkable for the star's quarrels with the director, Orson Welles, who according to the biographer Francis Beckett suffered the "appalling treatment" that Laurence Olivier had inflicted on Gielgud at Stratford five years earlier.


In 1960 and 1961 Laurence Olivier appeared in Anouilh's Becket on Broadway, first in the title role, with Anthony Quinn as the king, and later exchanging roles with his co-star.


Laurence Olivier's second was The Entertainer, shot while he was appearing in Coriolanus; the film was well received by the critics, but not as warmly as the stage show had been.


Laurence Olivier made an adaptation of The Moon and Sixpence in 1960, winning an Emmy Award.


In 1961 Laurence Olivier accepted the directorship of a new theatrical venture, the Chichester Festival.


Laurence Olivier he recruited was forty strong and included Thorndike, Casson, Redgrave, Athene Seyler, John Neville and Plowright.


Lord Chandos was appointed chairman of the National Theatre Board in 1962, and in August Laurence Olivier accepted its invitation to be the company's first director.


Robert Stephens, a member of the company, observed, "Laurence Olivier's one great fault was a paranoid jealousy of anyone who he thought was a rival".


In 1967 Laurence Olivier was caught in the middle of a confrontation between Chandos and Tynan over the latter's proposal to stage Rolf Hochhuth's Soldiers.


Tynan considered resigning over this interference with the management's artistic freedom, but Laurence Olivier himself stayed firmly in place, and Tynan remained.


At about this time Laurence Olivier began a long struggle against a succession of illnesses.


Laurence Olivier was treated for prostate cancer and, during rehearsals for his production of Chekhov's Three Sisters he was hospitalised with pneumonia.


Laurence Olivier recovered enough to take the heavy role of Edgar in Strindberg's The Dance of Death, the finest of all his performances other than in Shakespeare, in Gielgud's view.


Laurence Olivier had intended to step down from the directorship of the National Theatre at the end of his first five-year contract, having, he hoped, led the company into its new building.


Laurence Olivier had intended Guinness or Scofield to play Shylock, but stepped in when neither was available.


The production by Jonathan Miller, and Laurence Olivier's performance, attracted a wide range of responses.


In 1969 Laurence Olivier appeared in two war films, portraying military leaders.


The last two stage plays Laurence Olivier directed were Jean Giradoux's Amphitryon and Priestley's Eden End.


The largest of the three theatres within the National's new building was named in his honour, but his only appearance on the stage of the Laurence Olivier Theatre was at its official opening by the Queen in October 1976, when he made a speech of welcome, which Hall privately described as the most successful part of the evening.


Laurence Olivier spent the last 15 years of his life securing his finances and dealing with deteriorating health, which included thrombosis and dermatomyositis, a degenerative muscle disorder.


Laurence Olivier's move from leading parts to supporting and cameo roles came about because his poor health meant he could not get the necessary long insurance for larger parts, with only short engagements in films available.


Laurence Olivier's dermatomyositis meant he spent the last three months of 1974 in hospital, and he spent early 1975 slowly recovering and regaining his strength.


Laurence Olivier shaved his pate and wore oversized glasses to enlarge the look of his eyes, in a role that the critic David Robinson, writing for The Times, thought was "strongly played", adding that Laurence Olivier was "always at his best in roles that call for him to be seedy or nasty or both".


Laurence Olivier was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and won the Golden Globe of the same category.


Laurence Olivier portrayed the Pharisee Nicodemus in Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.


Laurence Olivier continued working in film into the 1980s, with roles in The Jazz Singer, Inchon, The Bounty and Wild Geese II.


Laurence Olivier continued to work in television; in 1981 he appeared as Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited, winning another Emmy, and the following year he received his tenth and last BAFTA nomination in the television adaptation of John Mortimer's stage play A Voyage Round My Father.


Laurence Olivier was appointed Knight Bachelor in the 1947 Birthday Honours for services to the stage and to films.


Laurence Olivier was later appointed to the Order of Merit in 1981.


From academic and other institutions, Laurence Olivier received honorary doctorates from Tufts University in Massachusetts, Oxford and Edinburgh.


Laurence Olivier was awarded the Danish Sonning Prize in 1966, the Gold Medallion of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in 1968; and the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1976.


Laurence Olivier was nominated for nine other acting Oscars and one each for production and direction.


Laurence Olivier won two British Academy Film Awards out of ten nominations, five Emmy Awards out of nine nominations, and three Golden Globe Awards out of six nominations.


Laurence Olivier was nominated once for a Tony Award but did not win.


In February 1960, for his contribution to the film industry, Laurence Olivier was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with a star at 6319 Hollywood Boulevard; he is included in the American Theater Hall of Fame.


In 1977 Laurence Olivier was awarded a British Film Institute Fellowship.


Laurence Olivier's acting technique was minutely crafted, and he was known for changing his appearance considerably from role to role.


Together with Richardson and Gielgud, Laurence Olivier was internationally recognised as one of the "great trinity of theatrical knights" who dominated the British stage during the middle and later decades of the 20th century.


Laurence Olivier respected tradition in the theatre, but he took great delight in breaking tradition, which is what made him so unique.


Laurence Olivier was gifted, brilliant, and one of the great controversial figures of our time in theatre, which is a virtue and not a vice at all.


Ironically enough, Laurence Olivier is less gifted than Marlon Brando.


Laurence Olivier is even less gifted than Richard Burton, Paul Scofield, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud.


Laurence Olivier's achievements are due to dedication, scholarship, practice, determination and courage.