Huge thanks to Dave W. for this special tribute of his personal favorite thespian
Peter O’Toole – Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride
With the passing of Peter O’Toole at age 81 this past weekend cinema has lost one of the truly great actors in the history of film. I thought it fitting to honor him as he was a personal favorite of mine. He has been out of the limelight for some time since he retired from acting but his legacy should not be forgotten. This truly was a man who commanded the silver screen as few ever have.
It was once suggested by playwright Noël Coward that if Peter O’Toole was any prettier that he would have been called “Florence of Arabia”. With handsome looks and his devil-may-care attitude, he became quite known for cavorting about town with his close pals Richard Burton and Richard Harris when it was still considered ‘charming’ to be an alcoholic. Consider the time that Peter and Peter Finch (Network) were refused last orders in a pub. Not to be deterred, they whipped out their checkbooks and bought the pub. Realizing what they did the next day they went down to the pub to find that the owner hadn’t cashed their checks and he graciously offered to rip them up. They soon became fast friends and even attend the owner’s funeral a year later. Of course they showed up at the wrong one. Standing their sobbing while their friend was being put to rest 100 yards away. As Peter famously said of himself “I loved the drinking, and waking up in the morning to find I was in Mexico,” “It was part and parcel of being an idiot.”
What shouldn’t be lost is what a tremendous actor he really was despite all his bad boy behavior. Sadly he’s is known for having the most Oscar nominations without a win (8). When told he’d be receiving an honorary Oscar he replied in a letter to the academy “I am still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright. Would the Academy please defer the honor until I am 80?” After some convincing he finally accepted his long overdue Oscar from the Academy.
While not a definitive list, here’s 5 good places to start to see what all the fuss is about.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
To say that they don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore is an understatement. Required viewing for any serious film buff this film is at the apex of great filmmaking. Peter’s first major film role as T.E. Lawrence was a performance for the ages. If there was ever a film meant to be seen on the big screen David Lean’s epic was it… and I’ve been lucky enough to see it twice in the theater.
THE LION IN WINTER
The Lion In Winter was actually Anthony Hopkins first film role. In this clip he speaks graciously of working with O’Toole and Hepburn. Watching these titans go head to head in person must have been something to see for the fledgling actor.
Peter sent the script to Katherine only a week after her longtime love Spencer Tracy died. She phoned up right away and said “I might as well do it before I die.” Unbeknownst to many O’Toole was quite fond of Katherine Hepburn. Although he has never publicly talked about their relationship, he later admitted he worshipped Hepburn. “I loved her, no question, in the proper platonic sense but, yes, I loved her. We were filming one day and I kept her waiting on set because I was still in my caravan, playing cards. She stormed in and shouted: “You are a real nut and I’ve met some nuts in my day.” And then she hit me. A couple of hours later, I went to see her and gave her a present to say I was sorry for keeping her waiting. She said: “Don’t worry, pig. I only hit the people I love.” Pig. LOL.
THE STUNT MAN
The Stunt Man was a kind of rebirth for Peter in the 80’s. With his career flagging… the bombastic, over the top, perfectly suited role of Eli Cross, a tyrannical film director whose ego knew no boundaries, came along. One of the best “films within a film” ever made. Even if a bit dated and Steve Railsback’s performance is not so great it’s still a great watch. Peter said of the film upon finally being released after being unable to find a distributor, “This film didn’t get released, it escaped.”
MY FAVORITE YEAR
Following on the heels of The Stunt Man came another winner in My Favorite Year. Swashbuckling actor Allan Swann (read: Errol Flynn) is a washed-up, boozing womanizer who’s the idol of a young, idealistic TV writer Benjy Stone. Swann is in town to do a guest spot on a variety show, Benjy must babysit the perpetually inebriated actor and that’s when the hijinks ensue. It’s a nostalgic look at 50’s TV and one can’t but help but feel the character of Allan Swann in not that much of a stretch for the perpetually inebriated O’Toole. Mel Brooks executive produced the film basing Mark Linn-Baker’s character Benjy on himself and Woody Allen who wrote for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.
Some 24 years passed between My Favorite Year and Venus for Peter to receive his last Academy Award nomination but what a charming, sweet performance to go out on. Falling for a girl, Jessie, 50 years his junior, who is out to care for him, he walks a fine line with his delicate performance of a man who’s found love in the twilight of his life. The film never gets creepy or maudlin thanks to the fine direction and performances. Watch out for Vanessa Redgrave who plays a small but wonderful bit part in this. The scene below with Jessie (Venus), a young Jodie Whittaker of Broadchurch fame, has Peter quoting Shakespeare… like only he can.
While the above films are a good start feel free to delve into his other works like Beckett, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, Lord Jim, etc. A talent like this doesn’t come around very often.
Peter O’Toole will be missed but certainly not forgotten.
So in celebration of his wonderful work, what’s YOUR favorite Peter O’Toole film?