29.3.12

Lord Laurence Olivier - His Possible Hidden Life

Vintage Hunk: Laurence Olivier


Laurence Olivier, a.k.a. Sir Laurence, a.k.a. Lord Olivier, is mostly remembered by fans today as the aging "great actor" of movies and stage. Many people consider him the finest actor of his time. (He wasn't. Fellow Brit Ralph Richardson of The Heiress fame was a finer, more versatile actor and did it without Olivier's matinee idol looks.)
But back in the day, Olivier was a true movie heartthrob; anybody who sees Wuthering Heights or Rebecca will see one of the sexiest men in films. That Olivier preferred the stage and character roles is a tribute to his artistic ambitions but he still leaves behind a film career that truly qualifies him for hunk status.
Perhaps we should have called this weekly chapter Sir Hunk.
 Laurence Olivier was born in 1907 in Surrey, England. His father was an Anglican priest, and from this austere upbringing it is surprising that the young Olivier appeared in school productions regularly in his youth. Joining the Birmingham Rep Company in 1926 was the beginning of Olivier's rise to stardom. His 1930s stage work revealed an actor of almost unlimited abilities. Although he disdained the movies he did make a few British films including Fire Over England in 1937. It was on this film that he and co-star Vivien Leigh began their momentous relationship. Both were married to other spouses and each had a child, but once the two gorgeous actors became involved nothing else mattered.
Laurence Olivier3 In 1938 director William Wyler convinced Olivier to come to Hollywood to star as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights opposite Merle Oberon as Cathy. This vivid romantic drama from Emily Bronte's classic novel was a smash hit and made Laurence Olivier a box office matinee idol. Leigh (who had declined the secondary role in Wuthering Heights) came to Hollywood to visit her lover and ended up being cast as Scarlett O'Hara in the epic Gone with the Wind. Both Olivier and Leigh were nominated for Best Actor and Actress of 1939. She won, he didn't. But the couple finally obtained divorces and were married August 31, 1940, cementing their status as "The Royal Couple." The only people who attended the secret ceremony were Katharine Hepburn and playwright/director Garson Kanin.
Although World War II was raging in Europe, Olivier and Leigh were persuaded to stay in Hollywood to help bolster support for Britain in a still-neutral America. Olivier made three films that cemented his stature as both a fine actor and a sexy movie star. Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and Rebecca with Joan Fontaine were two of the best movies released in 1940. Olivier was perfect as the snooty Mr. Darcy in Pride, and equally moving as Max de Winter in Hitchcock's great film Rebecca, which won the Oscar as best film of the year.
Laurence Olivier1 After a disastrous Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet, Olivier and Leigh made the stirring war movie That Hamilton Woman with Olivier as Horatio Nelson and Leigh as Emma Hamilton. This thinly veiled propaganda film was not only Winston Churchill's favorite film but it helped fuel U.S. support for Britain during their fight against the Nazis.
Olivier and Leigh finally returned to England where he joined the Royal Air Force and she appeared in a number of well-received plays performed during these desperate, bomb-filled days.
Olivier the actor became Olivier the film director when he made the fantastically successful Henry V and later Hamlet. He won the 1948 Oscar as Best Actor and the film won Best Picture. More importantly, Olivier was forging a staggering career on the British stage playing almost all the classic roles. In 1947 he was knighted, and Lord and Lady Olivier were the toast of the entertainment world. This culminated in their greatest joint triumph when he directed her on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire. This led to her getting the plum film role and winning the Oscar in 1951 for Best Actress.
Laurence Olivier5 On the surface Oliver and Leigh were the Golden Couple. Behind the scenes it was a different story as Leigh's mental problems and violent outbursts were sowing the seeds for the eventual destruction of their marriage. But there were still a number of sparkling theatrical successes for both of them. Their 1951 Broadway productions of Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra and Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra were total triumphs.
As the 1950s wore on, Olivier's stage career flourished and Leigh's mental decline reached its nadir when she had a total breakdown making Elephant Walk in Ceylon, Sri Lanka. Officially divorced in 1960, the Oliviers had already begun seeing other people. He eventually married actress Joan Plowright and had three more children. Leigh, however, would die in 1967 from tuberculosis; she was only 53 years old.
The rest of Laurence Olivier's life would be filled with stage, film and TV work of various merit. (Olivier subtly coming on to his slave Tony Curtis in Spartacus is a gem!) His health was also not good during these later years and he died in 1989 at age 82.
Laurence Olivier has left a permanent film record of his beauty and brilliance. While we have very little of his lauded stage work, we do have those four films made in 1939-1941 that truly show Olivier as a gorgeous, talented actor.

For most of his adult life, Lord Olivier was dogged by rumours that he enjoyed the company of both women and men.
Even after his death, tales of his colourful private life continue to overshadow his legacy.
Details of an alleged homosexual affair in the 1930s with the actor Henry Ainley resurfaced in a biography published last year and were said to have infuriated some of his family.
There were also suggestions that he had an affair with the Hollywood star Danny Kaye. Further allegations of a lengthy affair were made by Sarah Miles, his co-star in Lady Caroline Lamb and Term of Trial.
Olivier died in 1989, aged 82, after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. Now for the first time, his widow Dame Joan Plowright has confronted those rumours - and refused to deny they are true.
Instead, she excuses him, saying such geniuses as Olivier are 'normally attended by demons'. Seventy-four-year-old Dame Joan - who married Olivier in 1961 and had three children with him - was challenged about his alleged homosexuality on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs yesterday.
She replied: "I don't think there is any need to defend his memory. His performances, his greatness as an artist are there.
"If a man is touched by genius he is not an ordinary person. He does not lead an ordinary life. He has extremes of behaviour which you understand and you just find a way not to be swept overboard by his demons.
"Such men are also normally attended by demons. And he would fight to overcome those demons. Sometimes he would and sometimes he wouldn't."
Dame Joan said that during their 28 years of marriage she learned to 'stand apart' from Olivier as a way of dealing with his darker moments.
The couple met while appearing at London's Royal Court theatre in 1957. Olivier, who was still married to Vivien Leigh, wrote later of the instant attraction between them.
But in her interview with Sue Lawley - the broadcaster's last for the programme - Dame Joan disputed this. The volatility of Leigh, whose life was blighted by manic depression, at first thwarted their relationship, she said.
"We waited, because you didn't want to force someone with that affliction into doing something violent, which could have been possible," she said.
"She changed her mind rather a lot, which was difficult. She would agree to a divorce one day and then change her mind the next."

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