Guest Post: A tribute to PETER O’TOOLE – He will be missed but certainly not forgotten

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.”

O’Toole with one of his ‘Hellraiser’ buddies Richard Harris

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.


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 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 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.”


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?

28 thoughts on “Guest Post: A tribute to PETER O’TOOLE – He will be missed but certainly not forgotten

  1. Lawrence of Arabia is his crowning achievement while I also think a honorable mention should go to his voice work in Ratatouille as Anton Ego. He just brought that character to life.

  2. Ted S.

    LOL, that’s a funny story about how he went to the wrong funeral. Besides Lawrence of Arabia, I don’t think I’ve seen many of his other work.

    Nice tribute Dave!

  3. Vony

    My favorite will always be Lawrence of Arabia. Watching this movie, will always remind me the time I sat down with my late father watching Peter O’Toole movie. I owed it to my dad who introduced me to classical movie.. From Lawrence of Arabia to Man of La Mancha to Lion in the Winter to Man Friday… My daughter asked me, why I always watched old movies, my answer always the same, because it was the time when they made real movie with actor who can really act..

    1. You know it’s interesting that not too many women I know of care for Lawrence of Arabia. I mean it’s a ‘guy’ movie about guys going to war and guys doing guy things. It’s also supposedly the longest mainstream movie to not feature a single female speaking part.

      1. Well, I guess I am one of the exception.:)) I am a sucker of a classic colossal movie. 🙂 Another one of my favorite O’Toole will be a mini series called “Masada”, where he played Lucius Flavius Silva. And yes, it’s a war movie, with a great historical background.. and yes it’s a guy thing. But, you have to see it, and it’s worth it.

      2. Well,I guess I am one of the exception. When I watch a movie, I try to see it in a way the director want me, as an audience to see it, I am seeing it in a way, how it impact me as an audience. So, if there’s no single female speaking part, there must have been a reason. The movie has a historical background, and the way I see it, they portrayed it as authentic as possible. Another O’Toole movie that is more a guy thing is a actually an ABC miniseries called ‘Masada’, It’s about Jewish revolt against Rome, O’Toole character was a 1st century Roman general named Lucius Flavius Silva. Not many people know about this miniseries, because it’s not portrayed in a romantic kind of way like Troy. But, it’s worth to watch. And there’s only 2 female character in this miniseries. But it’s a war movie, during that time, women were not participate in any kind of war. .. 🙂

        1. Good call on Masada. I saw that in high school way back when. My Latin teacher gave us a break and thought he’d show us the mini-series for historical purposes. It was surprisingly good. I might not have seen it if not “forced” to watch it.

  4. I’ve never seen Troy. It got panned and I just stayed away ever since. I’m not the biggest fan of the sword & sandals genre. Ben-Hur, Spartacus and maybe Gladiator,are about it for me. Maybe I can just watch his scenes on Youtube.

    1. Ted S.

      I thought Troy was an awful movie but O’Toole was pretty great in it. He actually walked out during the film’s premiere Hollywood, he hated the movie.

  5. Excellent tribute. PO may not have been an actor I gravitated to but I’ve always had tremendous appreciation for his talent. There are so many of his films I haven’t seen.

    1. Seems like I’ve missed out on his comedic roles among others. Keith, Jack did a post on My Favorite Year a while back, that one sounds like a hoot so we both should check that one out soon 🙂

  6. Great title and dissertation, Dave!

    ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ will always be his crowning achievement. Though his best comedic work still remains, ‘My Favorite Year’.

    An overall master, whose class, style and elegance will definitely be missed, but not forgotten.

    1. I have yet to see ‘My Favorite Year’ Jack, but I re-read your review again and rewatched the trailer. I should see that real soon! Amen on your last sentence 🙂

  7. I feel like you can’t really include The Lion in Winter without also including Becket. First of all, it stars Richard Burton, so you’ve already won, but mostly it’s not often that an actor gets the opportunity to revisit the same character. Becket features O’Toole as Henry II in the earlier years of his reign. He’s young and callow and not at ALL the man he will become in The Lion in Winter. It’s pretty interesting to compare and contrast, and he’s brilliant in both. Nice list! I’ve got some catching up to do. 🙂

    1. For me I went with The Lion in Winter because of his relationship with Hepburn and the great story. O’Toole said that him and Richard were drunk through the whole production of Becket. Amazing.

  8. The voice acting Oscar should definitely be a category, and Peter O’Toole should have gotten it for his fabulous turn as Anton Ego in Ratatouille. In another recent performance, he delivered the most touching and indelible moment in a rather forgettable film like Troy. His diction, his elegance and his ease to act will always be remembered and revered.

    Great tribute to Peter O’Toole.

    Ps. His acceptance speech for the Honorary Oscar is definitely one of the best in the history of the ceremony. Simple yet funny and charming.

    1. I can’t even fault the Academy for giving Gregory Peck the award back in ’62 for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. Maybe it’s better they didn’t give him a sympathy Oscar like Pacino for Scent of a Woman or Scorsese for The Departed. I could’t even put those films in their top 5!

  9. I’ve only seen the first two, but in both roles he was incredible. And they’re such different roles. Lets face it, the only reason he didn’t win an Oscar for Lawrence is because he had the poor luck of having to go against Peck’s Atticus Finch. And then in Lion in Winter he provides such grandeur and energy.

    1. Yeah, Peck’s Atticus Finch is tough to beat. Besides, Peck had been nominated 3 times before that and he was much older so I can’t say that O’Toole was robbed.

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