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Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, (; 22 May 1907 – 11 July 1989) was an English actor and director who, along with his contemporaries Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, was one of a trinity of male actors who dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century. He also worked in films throughout his career, playing more than fifty cinema roles. Late in his career, he had considerable success in television roles. His family had no theatrical connections, but Olivier's father, a clergyman, decided that his son should become an actor. After attending a drama school in London, Olivier learned his craft in a succession of acting jobs during the late 1920s. In 1930 he had his first important West End success in Noël Coward's Private Lives, and he appeared in his first film. In 1935 he played in a celebrated production of Romeo and Juliet alongside Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft, and by the end of the decade he was an established star. In the 1940s, together with Richardson and John Burrell, Olivier was the co-director of the Old Vic, building it into a highly respected company. There his most celebrated roles included Shakespeare's Richard III and Sophocles's Oedipus. In the 1950s Olivier was an independent actor-manager, but his stage career was in the doldrums until he joined the avant garde English Stage Company in 1957 to play the title role in The Entertainer, a part he later played on film. From 1963 to 1973 he was the founding director of Britain's National Theatre, running a resident company that fostered many future stars. His own parts there included the title role in Othello (1965) and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1970). Among Olivier's films are Wuthering Heights (1939), Rebecca (1940), and a trilogy of Shakespeare films as actor-director: Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955). His later films included The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), Sleuth (1972), Marathon Man (1976), and The Boys from Brazil (1978). His television appearances included an adaptation of The Moon and Sixpence (1960), Long Day's Journey into Night (1973), Love Among the Ruins (1975), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976), Brideshead Revisited (1981) and King Lear (1983). Olivier's honours included a knighthood (1947), a life peerage (1970) and the Order of Merit (1981). For his on-screen work he received four Academy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards. 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. He 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.
Olivier was born in Dorking, Surrey, the youngest of the three children of the Reverend Gerard Kerr Olivier (1869–1939) and his wife Agnes Louise, née Crookenden (1871–1920). Their elder children were Sybille (1901–1989) and Gerard Dacres "Dickie" (1904–1958). His great-great-grandfather was of French Huguenot descent, and Olivier came from a long line of Protestant clergymen. Gerard 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. He practised extremely high church, ritualist Anglicanism and liked to be addressed as "Father Olivier". This made him unacceptable to most Anglican congregations, and the only church posts he was offered were temporary, usually deputising for regular incumbents in their absence. This meant a nomadic existence, and for Laurence's first few years, he never lived in one place long enough to make friends.In 1912, when Olivier was five, his father secured a permanent appointment as assistant rector at St Saviour's, Pimlico. He held the post for six years, and a stable family life was at last possible. Olivier was devoted to his mother, but not to his father, whom he found a cold and remote parent. Nevertheless, he learned a great deal of the art of performing from him. As a young man Gerard Olivier had considered a stage career and was a dramatic and effective preacher. Olivier wrote that his father knew "when to drop the voice, when to bellow about the perils of hellfire, when to slip in a gag, when suddenly to wax sentimental ... The quick changes of mood and manner absorbed me, and I have never forgotten them." In 1916, after attending a series of preparatory schools, Olivier passed the singing examination for admission to the choir school of All Saints, Margaret Street, in central London. His elder brother was already a pupil, and Olivier gradually settled in, though he felt himself to be something of an outsider. The church's style of worship was (and remains) Anglo-Catholic, with emphasis on ritual, vestments and incense. The theatricality of the services appealed to Olivier, and the vicar encouraged the students to develop a taste for secular as well as religious drama. In a school production of Julius Caesar in 1917, the ten-year-old Olivier's performance as Brutus impressed an audience that included Lady Tree, the young Sybil Thorndike, and Ellen Terry, who wrote in her diary, "The small boy who played Brutus is already a great actor." He later won praise in other schoolboy productions, as Maria in Twelfth Night (1918) and Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew (1922).From All Saints, Olivier went on to St Edward's School, Oxford, from 1920 to 1924. He 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. In January 1924, his brother left England to work in India as a rubber planter. Olivier missed him greatly and asked his father how soon he could follow. He recalled in his memoirs that his father replied, "Don't be such a fool, you're not going to India, you're going on the stage."
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