PETER O’TOOLE, STAR OF ‘LAWRENCE OF ARABIA’
By BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE
Published: December 15, 2013
- Peter O’Toole, an Irish bookmaker’s son with a hell-raising streak whose performance in the 1962 epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” earned him overnight fame and established him as one of his generation’s most charismatic actors, died on Saturday in London. He was 81.
His daughter Kate O’Toole said in a statement that he had been ill for some time.
Blond, blue-eyed and well over six feet tall, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man — and he did not disappoint in “Lawrence,” David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T. E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East in World War I.
The performance brought Mr. O’Toole the first of eight Academy Award nominations, a flood of film offers and a string of artistic successes in the ’60s and early ’70s. In the theater — he was a classically trained actor — he played an anguished, angular tramp in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a memorably battered title character in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” In film, he twice played a robust King Henry II: first opposite Richard Burton in “Becket” (1964), then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in “The Lion in Winter” (1968). Both earned Oscar nominations for best actor, as did his repressed, decaying schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in 1970 and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class” in 1973.
Less successful was his Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” Arthur Hiller’s 1972 adaptation of the Broadway musical, but it emphasized that his specialty was increasingly becoming the outsider or misfit: dreamy, romantic, turbulent, damaged, or even mad, but usually larger than life.
Mr. O’Toole threw himself wholeheartedly into what he called “bravura acting,” courting and sometimes deserving the accusation that he became over-theatrical, mannered, even hammy. His lanky, loose-jointed build; his eyes; his long, lantern-jawed face; his oddly languorous sexual charm; and the eccentric loops and whoops of his voice tended to reinforce the impression of power and extravagance.
Burton called him “the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war,” with “something odd, mystical and deeply disturbing” in his work.
Some critics called him the next Laurence Olivier. As a young actor, Mr. O’Toole displayed an authority that the critic Kenneth Tynan said “may presage greatness.” In 1958, the director Peter Hall called Mr. O’Toole’s Hamlet in a London production “electrifying” and “unendurably exciting” — a display of “animal magnetism and danger which proclaimed the real thing.”
He showed those strengths somewhat erratically, however; for all his accolades and his box-office success, there was a lingering note of unfulfilled promise in Mr. O’Toole.
It was no surprise when Olivier chose Mr. O’Toole to inaugurate Britain’s National Theater Company in 1963 with a reprise of his Hamlet. But the first night left most critics unmoved and unexcited and the actor himself lamenting “the most humbling, humiliating experience of my life.”
“As it went on,” he said, “I suddenly knew it wasn’t going to be any good.”
A production in 1965 of David Mercer’s “Ride a Cock Horse,” in which he played an adulterous alcoholic, was booed at its London opening.
In the movies, he continued to be a marquee name, though he drew only mixed reviews for a subsequent run of performances: as the cowardly naval officer seeking redemption in “Lord Jim,” Richard Brooks’s 1965 adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel; as a playboy in “What’s New, Pussycat?,” a 1965 comedy with Peter Sellers that was written by a young Woody Allen; and as the Three Angels in “The Bible: In the Beginning,” John Huston’s 1966 recreation of Genesis. And his sadistic Nazi general in Anatole Litvak’s “Night of the Generals” (1967) was panned outright.
His carousing became legend, particularly in the 1970s. As he himself said, he had long been “happy to grasp the hand of misfortune, dissipation, riotous living and violence,” counting Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch among his drinking companions. He lost much of his “Lawrence” earnings in two nights with Omar Sharif at casinos in Beirut and Casablanca.
At Odds With Hollywood
Though he won many lesser awards during his career, triumph at the Academy Awards eluded him, perhaps in part because he had made no secret of his dislike of Hollywood and naturalistic acting, which he considered drab. He was nothing if not ambitious, but success would come on his own terms, not the movie industry’s. He had made that plain at 18, when an acting career was already in his mind. In his notebook he made a promise to himself: “I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony. I do not crave security. I wish to hazard my soul to opportunity.”
Peter Seamus (some sources say Seamus Peter) O’Toole was born on Aug. 2, 1932, in the Connemara region of the West of Ireland, the son of Constance, a Scotswoman who had been a nurse, and Patrick, an itinerant Irish bookmaker whose dandified dress and manner earned him the nicknames Spats and Captain Pat.
Mr. O’Toole liked to tell interviewers that his background was “not working class but criminal class.” The father was left with a bad right hand after all its knuckles were systematically broken, presumably by creditors.
When Peter was a baby, the family moved to England and settled in a tiny house on a black-cobbled street in an impoverished section of industrial Leeds with a “reek of slag and soot and waste,” as he described it in an autobiography.
Peter was an altar boy at the local Roman Catholic church and displayed a gift for creative writing, but he left school at 13 and became a warehouseman, a messenger, a copy boy, a photographer’s assistant and, eventually, a reporter for The Yorkshire Evening News. A poor journalist by his own admission, he was fired by the editor with the words, “Try something else, be an actor, do anything.”
It was a constructive nudge. (He had already tried his hand at amateur dramatics.) After an obscure debut as a rum-swigging seafarer in a melodrama called “Aloma of the South Seas,” Leeds’s well-regarded Civic Theater cast him in the lead role of Bazarov in an adaptation of Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons.”
Though military service intervened, his aspirations came to fruition quickly. At 20 and almost penniless, he went to Stratford to see Michael Redgrave as King Lear.
By his own account, he spent the night in a field filled with hay and manure, hitchhiked to London and ventured into the lobby of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There he chanced to fall into conversation with the principal, Sir Kenneth Barnes, who encouraged him to apply for an audition. He did, and received a full scholarship. Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Brian Bedford were among his fellow students.
After graduating in 1955 he was invited to join one of Britain’s premier repertory companies, the Bristol Old Vic. He performed with the troupe for three and a half years, and it was there that his Hamlet so impressed Mr. Hall. It brought Mr. O’Toole, at 27, national attention, and Mr. Hall induced him to join his newly founded Royal Shakespeare Company. In Stratford his Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” and Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” won critical acclaim and the admiration of Mr. Lean, who was casting his screen biography of Lawrence.
An Epic T. E. Lawrence
At six feet two, Mr. O’Toole was not an obvious choice for the role of a five-foot-four scholar-soldier, and the producer, Sam Spiegel, had found him bumptious in a meeting. But after Marlon Brando turned down the role, Lean lobbied for Mr. O’Toole and won the day.
His casting led to a mesmeric yet meticulous performance that brought world renown and an Oscar nomination to an actor whose only notable screen appearance to date had been as a priggish young officer in “The Day They Robbed the Bank of England” in 1960.
Whatever his later reputation as a roisterer, Mr. O’Toole was conscientious when it came to preparing for a role. In the two-odd years it took to shoot “Lawrence,” he read all he could about the man, studied Bedouin culture, lived in a Bedouin tent, taught himself the essentials of Arabic and learned to ride a camel. His acting method, he wrote in his autobiography, was a process that blended “magic” with “sweat,” a matter of allowing a text to flow into his mind and body until he fully inhabited the character — “that simple, that difficult.”
Mr. O’Toole admitted to being “a very physical actor.”
“I use everything — toes, teeth, ears, everything,” he said.After his triumphs of the 1960s and early ’70s, he entered his most troubled period. His earlier binges had led to arrests for unruly behavior; now they caused memory loss and debilitating hangovers. In 1975, he developed pancreatitis and had part of his intestines removed.
Then his much-loved father died, and Sian Phillips, whom Mr. O’Toole had married in 1959, left him for another man, explaining later that her relationship with an egoistic star had become too tempestuous and “too unequal.” Divorce followed in 1979.
Though Mr. O’Toole said he essentially gave up alcohol in 1975, his career continued to sputter. The universally panned 1979 film “Caligula,” in which he played the Emperor Tiberius, was followed in 1980 by one of the most derided theatrical performances of modern times: a Macbeth who attempted to exit through a wall of the rather dark set at the Old Vic on the first night and, according to The Guardian, delivered every line “in a monotonous tenor bark as if addressing an audience of deaf Eskimos.”
Yet there was evidence of recovery, too. The ABC mini-series “Masada,” with Mr. O’Toole as a Roman general resisting freedom fighters in Judea, brought him an Emmy nomination in 1981. He also impressed with a galvanically garrulous Jack Tanner in Shaw’s “Man and Superman” in the West End in 1982.
The flamboyant charm of the autocratic movie director he played in the film “The Stunt Man” brought him a sixth Oscar nomination in 1981, and his playing of Alan Swann, the swashbuckling, Errol Flynn-like thespian of “My Favorite Year,” a seventh in 1983.
The 1980s also brought him unwanted publicity in the form of a long court battle with his second wife, Karen Brown, an American actress with whom he had a son, Lorcan, in 1983. The eventual judgment allowed Mr. O’Toole, already the father of two daughters by Ms. Phillips, to look after the boy while he went to school in England and his mother to have custody during vacations.
A Career’s Ebbs and Flows
Partly as a result, Mr. O’Toole’s professional engagements became fewer. In 1987 his restrained performance as the court tutor in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Emperor” was widely called the strongest in a strong movie. But onstage his Professor Higgins in Shaw’s “Pygmalion” proved more controversial. In 1984, many London critics were admiring; The Observer described him in the role as “monstrous, eccentric, secretive, arrogant, asexual, childlike, cross and vain”; but in 1987, the New York critics were less impressed, and he was not nominated for a Tony Award.
Mr. O’Toole once wryly admitted that he continued to accept roles in inferior films, like “King Ralph,” because “it’s what I do for a living and, besides, I’ve got bookies to keep.” But in the 1990s he displayed his old strengths again and even discovered fresh ones.
He gave a hilarious performance as the erratic Lord Emsworth in a television adaptation of P. G. Wodehouse’s “Heavy Weather” in 1996 and a touching one as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the film “Fairytale — A True Story” in 1997. Most striking was his humorous yet poignant playing of an old Soho drinking buddy in Keith Waterhouse’s biographical play, “Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell,” in 1989, ’91 and ’99. He also reprised the role in a 1999 television movie.
In 2003, he played President Paul von Hindenburg of Germany in the CBS-TV mini-series “Hitler: The Rise of Evil,” and in 2004 he was Priam, father of the doomed Hector, in Wolfgang Petersen’s screen epic “Troy.”
“I’m a professional,” he said in one interview, “and I’ll do anything — a poetry reading, television, cinema, anything that allows me to act.”
Mr. O’Toole earned his eighth best actor nomination for “Venus” (2006), in which he was a lecherous old actor relegated to playing feebleminded royals or men on their deathbeds.
Mr. O’Toole’s personal life, meanwhile, calmed. Though he made regular trips to Ireland, and occasional ones to the racecourse, he came to prefer a settled, reclusive life in his North London house. He published the first two volumes of a projected three-volume autobiography, “Loitering With Intent,” in 1993 (subtitled “The Child”) and 1997 (“The Apprentice”), impressing reviewers with the verve with which he evoked his early years as well as disorienting them with the overblown prose and chronological jumps of what he himself described as “a nonfictional novel.” Apart from his three children — Kate, Pat and Lorcan, who survive him — cricket was Mr. O’Toole’s most lasting love. Indeed, he took a diploma as a professional coach when he was 60, the better to instruct his son and train a London boys’ team. He is also survived by a sister, Patricia Coombs.
But in 1999 he told an interviewer that his only exercise was now “walking behind the coffins of my friends who took exercise.” His once-stormy love life appeared to be over, too. “George Eliot is my only steady girlfriend,” he said. “We go to bed together every night.”
Mellowed, but Not Too Much
Yet the man Johnny Carson described as perhaps his most difficult guest ever was not wholly changed. Mr. O’Toole could be prickly, especially when interviewers asked if he had squandered his talents, or when pet dislikes came up. These included what he called “di-rect-ors,” who he felt had gained too much power over actors; Britain’s National Theater, which he called a “Reich bunker”; and Broadway, which he said was run by “pigs.”
In his later years, he cut not only a raffish figure, continuing to wear green socks in honor of his Irish ancestry and to smoke unfiltered Gauloises from a long cigarette holder, but a gaunt, somewhat intimidating one as well.
Yet his friends knew him as a kindly, generous, responsive man. He claimed that off the stage he sometimes wept with such intensity “that the tears fly out horizontally.” And in the theater his emotional depth was apparent when he played the alcoholic journalist and gambler Jeffrey Bernard. The third and last time he took the role, many felt an essentially comic performance had darkened, deepened and grown in pathos. It was as if Mr. O’Toole were meditating on past loss and waste — as if he were offering a rueful elegy to himself.
In 2000, he was honored with the Outstanding Achievement citation at the Laurence Olivier Awards in London. In 2003, one nomination away from setting a record among actors for the most Oscar nominations without winning — he received an honorary one for lifetime achievement.
At first reluctant to accept, fearing it would somehow signal the end of his career, Mr. O’Toole eventually agreed to the honor as something well earned and started his acceptance speech by saying, not without a note of triumph: “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride — my foot. I have my very own Oscar now to be with me till death us do part.”
Robert Berkvist and Marc Santora contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 15, 2013
An earlier version of a slide show caption with this article misstated the title and release date of one of the films in which Peter O’Toole starred. It was “How to Steal a Million,” not “How to Steal a Million Dollars,” and it was released in 1966, not 1965.
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the number of times Mr. O’Toole had been unsuccessfully nominated for an acting Oscar in 2003, when he received his honorary award. At that time, he had been nominated seven times; his eighth unsuccessful nomination came in 2007. An earlier version also stated in error that he ended his honorary Oscar acceptance speech with the words, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride — my foot.” He began the speech with those words. It also misspelled the first name of the film actor Errol Flynn; it is Errol, not Erroll. It also misspelled the name of the director of the 2004 film “Troy.” He is Wolfgang Petersen, not Peterson.
JOAN FONTAINE, WHO WON AN OSCAR FOR HITCHCOCK’S ‘SUSPICION’
By ANITA GATES
Published: December 15, 2013
- Joan Fontaine, the patrician blond actress who rose to stardom as a haunted second wife in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Rebecca” in 1940 and won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a terrified newlywed in Hitchcock’s “Suspicion,” died at her home in Carmel, Calif., on Sunday. She was 96.
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
Joan Fontaine playing the wife of Cary Grant in “Suspicion,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Her death was confirmed by her assistant, Susan Pfeiffer.
Ms. Fontaine was only 24 when she took home her Oscar in 1942, the youngest best-actress winner at the time, but her victory was equally notable because her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, was also a nominee that year. The sisters were estranged for most of their adult lives, a situation Ms. Fontaine once attributed to her having married and won an Oscar before Ms. de Havilland did.
Until the Hitchcock films, Ms. Fontaine’s movie career had not looked promising. While Ms. de Havilland was starring opposite Errol Flynn in hits like “Captain Blood” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and captured the coveted role of Melanie Hamilton in “Gone With the Wind,” Ms. Fontaine struggled.
In 1937 and 1938, she made 10 mostly forgettable pictures, alternating between screwball comedies like “Maid’s Night Out,” in which she starred as a socialite mistaken for a servant, and dramas like “The Man Who Found Himself,” in which she played a noble nurse determined to save a hobo’s life.
In 1939, she appeared in two critically acclaimed pictures. She was a minor player in “Gunga Din,” with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., but made an impression in the all-female ensemble cast of “The Women.” Those roles were followed by her career-making performance in “Rebecca,” which Frank S. Nugent praised in The New York Times as the film’s “real surprise” and “greatest delight.”
In the 1940s and ’50s, Ms. Fontaine — only slightly typecast as shy, aristocratic or both — had a thriving movie career, starring opposite the era’s male superstars, including Burt Lancaster, Tyrone Power and James Stewart.
She played the title character in “Jane Eyre” (1944), opposite Orson Welles; a romantic obsessive in both “The Constant Nymph” (1943), for which she received an Oscar nomination, and Max Ophüls’s “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948); the prim Lady Rowena in “Ivanhoe” (1952); and a British colonial in the Caribbean in the early race-relations drama “Island in the Sun” (1957). That film’s mere suggestion of an interracial romance, between Ms. Fontaine’s character and Harry Belafonte’s, was considered daring.
She made her Broadway debut in 1954, replacing Deborah Kerr as a headmaster’s sensitive wife who helps a young man affirm his sexuality in “Tea and Sympathy.” Brooks Atkinson, writing in The New York Times, preferred Ms. Kerr but called Ms. Fontaine’s performance “forceful and thoughtful” and her New York appearance “one of the better lend-lease deals with Hollywood.”
She returned to Broadway once, in the late 1960s, replacing Julie Harris in the comedy “Forty Carats,” about a middle-aged woman’s romance with a younger man.
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born to British parents on Oct. 22, 1917, in Tokyo, where her father, Walter, a cousin of the aviation pioneer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, was working as a patent lawyer. In 1919, her mother, the former Lillian Ruse, moved with her two daughters to Saratoga, Calif., near San Francisco. The de Havillands divorced, and Lillian married George M. Fontaine, a department store executive, whose surname Joan later took as her stage name.
Ms. Fontaine, who also briefly used the name Joan Burfield (inspired by a Los Angeles street sign), moved back to Japan at 15 to live with her father and to attend the American School there. Returning in 1934, she soon moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film career.
Her final big-screen roles were the heroine’s jaded older sister in “Tender Is the Night” (1962), based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and a terrified British schoolteacher in “The Devil’s Own,” a 1966 horror film.
Ms. Fontaine married and divorced four times. Her first husband was Brian Aherne, the British-born stage and film actor, whom she married in 1939 and divorced in 1945. She married William Dozier, a film producer, in 1946, and they had a daughter. After their divorce in 1951, she was married to Collier Young, a film and television writer-producer, from 1952 to 1961, and Alfred Wright Jr., a Sports Illustrated editor, from 1964 to 1969.
In 1952, she took in a 5-year-old Peruvian girl, Martita Pareja Calderon. When the girl ran away in her teens, Ms. Fontaine was unable to bring her home because she had never formally adopted the girl in the United States.
Ms. Fontaine is survived by her sister, Ms. de Havilland; a daughter, Deborah Dozier Potter of Santa Fe, N.M.; and a grandson.
She continued acting well into her 70s. She appeared in television movies, including “The Users” (1978) and “Crossings” (1986), based on a Danielle Steel novel. A series of appearances on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” in 1980 led to a Daytime Emmy nomination. Her final screen role was as a supportive royal grandmother in “Good King Wenceslas” (1994) on the Family Channel. She also did theater across the United States and abroad, but never returned to film.
“Looking back on Hollywood, looking at it even today,” Ms. Fontaine wrote in “No Bed of Roses” (Morrow, 1978), her autobiography, “I realize that one outstanding quality it possesses is not the lavishness, the perpetual sunshine, the golden opportunities, but fear.” Just as “careers often begin by chance there,” she observed, “they can evaporate just as quickly.”
DON MITCHELL, A CO-STAR ON TV’S ‘IRONSIDE’
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: December 13, 2013
- Don Mitchell, an actor best known for playing Raymond Burr’s assistant on the NBC police drama “Ironside” in the 1960s and ’70s, died on Sunday at his home in Encino, Calif.
His death was confirmed by Joseph Babineaux, the publicist for one of his daughters, the actress Julia Pace Mitchell.
“Ironside” starred Mr. Burr as Robert T. Ironside, a retired detective who used a wheelchair. Mr. Mitchell played Mark Sanger, an ex-convict who became Ironside’s bodyguard and assistant. He remained with the show from its debut as a made-for-TV movie in 1967 until it went off the air eight seasons later; along the way his character joined the police force and became a judge.
According to most sources, Donald Michael Mitchell was born on March 17, 1943, in Houston. He studied acting at the University of California, Los Angeles. He reprised the role of Mark Sanger in his last credited acting role, in the TV movie “The Return of Ironside,” in 1993.
His marriages to the actress Judy Pace and to Emilie Blake Walker ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Pace Mitchell, he is survived by another daughter, Shawn Meshelle Mitchell.
A remake of “Ironside,” starring Blair Underwood in the Raymond Burr role, appeared on NBC this fall without a Mark Sanger. It was canceled after a handful of episodes.
TOM LAUGHLIN, CREATOR OF ‘BILLY JACK’
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 15, 2013, at 7:29 PM ET
- NEW YORK — Actor-writer-director Tom Laughlin, whose production and marketing of “Billy Jack” set a standard for breaking the rules on and off screen, has died.
Laughlin’s daughter told The Associated Press that he died Thursday at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Laughlin was 82 and Teresa Laughlin, who acted in the Billy Jack movies, said the cause of death was complications from pneumonia.
“Billy Jack” was released in 1971 after a long struggle by Laughlin to gain control of the low-budget, self-financed movie, a model for guerrilla filmmaking.
He wrote, directed and produced “Billy Jack” and starred as the ex-Green Beret who defends a progressive school against the racists of a conservative Western community. The film became a counterculture favorite and the theme song, “One Tin Soldier,” was a hit single for the rock group Coven.
Laughlin was in his mid-30s when he created Billy Jack with his wife and collaborator, Delores Taylor. Billy Jack was half-white, half Native American, a Vietnam veteran and practitioner of martial arts who had come to hate war. Billy Jack was first seen in the 1968 biker movie “Born Losers,” but became widely known after “Billy Jack,” the second of four films Laughlin made about him (only three made it to theaters).
“Billy Jack” was completed in 1969, but its release was delayed for two years as Laughlin struggled to find studio backing. He eventually successfully sued Warner Bros. to retain rights and — with no support from Hollywood or from theater chains — Laughlin made a radical decision: Distribute the movie himself and rent theaters to show it in. He also was among the first to advertise on television and to immediately open a movie nationwide, rather than release it gradually.
“Billy Jack” initially flopped at the box office, but generated an underground following and became a substantial commercial success and inspiration to independent filmmakers. The title character has been cited as a forerunner for such screen avengers as Rambo.
Laughlin was born in 1931 and grew up in Milwaukee. He played football for the University of South Dakota (where he met his future wife) and Marquette University, but decided he wanted to become an actor after seeing a stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“He was profoundly affected by the poverty he saw on the Indian reservations near the University of South Dakota,” Teresa Laughlin said. “I think the seeds of the Billy Jack character started there.”
His early film credits included “South Pacific,” ”Gidget” and Robert Altman’s “The Delinquents.” Laughlin also was interested in directing and writing and by 1960 had directed, written and starred in “The Young Sinner.”
Laughlin wasn’t only a filmmaker. He ran for president as both a Republican and Democrat and founded a Montessori school in California. He was an opponent of nuclear energy and a longtime advocate for Native Americans and bonded with another actor-activist, Marlon Brando.
In recent years, he wrote books and attempted to make another Billy Jack movie.
“There had been lots of interest and deals would sort of come together and not happen,” said Teresa Laughlin, who noted that her father had also battled cancer. “One of the prime reasons that he couldn’t get a deal was his failing health and, I think, his inability to come to terms with that. In his mind’s eye, he remained Billy Jack.”
He is survived by his wife, a sister, three children and five grandchildren.