Peter Seamus O'Toole (//; 2 August 1932 – 14 December 2013) was a British stage and film actor of Irish descent. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and began working in the theatre, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic and with the English Stage Company before making his film debut in 1959.
Peter Seamus O'Toole
2 August 1932
|Died||14 December 2013 (aged 81)|
|Alma mater||Royal Academy of Dramatic Art|
|Height||6 ft 2 in (188 cm)|
(m. 1959; div. 1979)
|Partner(s)||Karen Brown (1982-1988)|
|Children||Kate O'Toole, Patricia O'Toole, and Lorcan O'Toole|
He achieved international recognition playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) for which he received his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was nominated for this award another seven times – for Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1982), and Venus (2006) – and holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations for acting without a win. In 2002, O'Toole was awarded the Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements. He was additionally the recipient of four Golden Globe Awards, one British Academy Film Award and one Primetime Emmy Award.
O'Toole was born in 1932. Some sources give his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, while others cite St James University Hospital, Leeds, England. O'Toole claimed he was not certain of his birthplace or date, noting in his autobiography that, while he accepted 2 August as his birthdate, he had a birth certificate from each country, with the Irish one giving a June 1932 birth date. Peter had an elder sister, Patricia. Records from the General Registry Office in Leeds, England confirm that Peter J (James) O'Toole was born in the north England town in 1932.
He grew up in Hunslet, south Leeds, son of Constance Jane Eliot (née Ferguson), a Scottish nurse, and Patrick Joseph "Spats" O'Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player and racecourse bookmaker. When O'Toole was one year old, his family began a five-year tour of major racecourse towns in Northern England. He and his sister were brought up in the Roman Catholic faith of their father.
O'Toole was evacuated from Leeds early in the Second World War, and went to a Catholic school for seven or eight years, St Joseph's Secondary School at Joseph Street, Hunslet. "I used to be scared stiff of the nuns: their whole denial of womanhood – the black dresses and the shaving of the hair – was so horrible, so terrifying ... Of course, that's all been stopped. They're sipping gin and tonic in the Dublin pubs now, and a couple of them flashed their pretty ankles at me just the other day", he said.
Upon leaving school O'Toole obtained employment as a trainee journalist and photographer on the Yorkshire Evening Post, until he was called up for national service as a signaller in the Royal Navy. As reported in a radio interview in 2006 on NPR, he was asked by an officer whether he had something he had always wanted to do. His reply was that he had always wanted to try being either a poet or an actor.
O'Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1952 to 1954 on a scholarship after being rejected by the Abbey Theatre's drama school in Dublin by the director Ernest Blythe, because he couldn't speak the Irish language. At RADA, he was in the same class as Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Brian Bedford. O'Toole described this as "the most remarkable class the academy ever had, though we weren't reckoned for much at the time. We were all considered dotty."
Early theatre appearances
He played a soldier in an episode of The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1954. He was based at the Bristol Old Vic from 1956 to 1958, appearing in productions of King Lear (1956), The Recruiting Officer (1956), Major Barbara (1956), Othello (1956), and The Slave of Truth (1956).
O'Toole was Tanner in Shaw's Man and Superman (1958), a performance he would reprise often during his career. He was also in Hamlet (1958), The Holiday (1958), Amphitryon '38 (1958), and Waiting for Godot (1958) (as Vladimir). He hoped The Holiday would take him to the West End but it ultimately folded in the provinces; during that show he met Sian Phillips who became his first wife.
He continued to appear on television, being in episodes of Armchair Theatre ("The Pier", 1957), and BBC Sunday-Night Theatre ("The Laughing Woman", 1958) and was in the TV adaptation of The Castiglioni Brothers (1958).
O'Toole made his London debut in a musical Oh, My Papa.
O'Toole gained fame on the West End in the play The Long and the Short and the Tall, performed at the Royal Court starting January 1959. His co-stars included Robert Shaw and Edward Judd and it was directed by Lindsay Anderson. He reprised his performance for television on Theatre Night in 1959 (although he did not appear in the 1961 film version). The show transferred to the West End in April and won O'Toole Best Actor of the Year in 1959.
O'Toole was in much demand. He reportedly received five offers of long term contracts but turned them down. His first role was a small role in Disney's version of Kidnapped (1960), playing the bagpipes opposite Peter Finch.
In 1960 he had a nine-month season at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, appearing in The Taming of the Shrew (as Petruchio), The Merchant of Venice (as Shylock) and Troilus and Cressida (as Thersites). He could have made more money making films but said "You've got to go to Stratford when you've got the chance."
O'Toole had been seen in The Long and the Short and the Tall by Jules Buck who later established a company with the actor. Buck cast O'Toole as the third lead in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1961), a heist thriller from director John Guillermin. O'Toole was billed third, beneath Aldo Ray and Elizabeth Sellars.
In 1961 he appeared in several episodes of the TV series Rendezvous ("End of a Good Man", "Once a Horseplayer", "London-New York"). He lost the role in the film adaptation of Long and the Short and the Tall to Laurence Harvey. "It broke my heart," he said later.
Lawrence of Arabia
O'Toole's major break came in November 1960 when he was chosen to play T. E. Lawrence in Sir David Lean's $12 million epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), after Marlon Brando proved unavailable and Albert Finney turned down the role.
His performance was ranked number one in Premiere magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. The role introduced him to US audiences and earned him the first of his eight nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor. T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by O'Toole, was selected in 2003 as the tenth-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.
Partnership with Jules Buck
Even prior to the making of Lawrence O'Toole announced he wanted to form a production company with Jules Buck. In November 1961 they said their company, known as Keep Films (also known as Tricolor Productions) would make a film starring Terry-Thomas, Operation Snatch.
In 1962 O'Toole and Buck announced they wanted to make a version of Waiting for Godot for ₤80,000. The film was never made.
He and Buck intended to follow this with a biopic of Will Adams and a film about the Charge of the Light Brigade but neither project happened. Instead O'Toole went into What's New Pussycat (1965), a comedy based on a script by Woody Allen, taking over a role originally meant for Warren Beatty. It was a huge success.
He and Buck helped produce The Party's Over (1965), a British film.
O'Toole returned to the stage with Ride a Cock Horse at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1965, which was harshly reviewed.
O'Toole made a heist film with Audrey Hepburn, How to Steal a Million (1966), directed by William Wyler. He played the Three Angels in the all-star The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), directed by John Huston.
The Lion in Winter
He played Henry II again in The Lion in Winter (1968) alongside Katharine Hepburn, and was nominated for an Oscar again – one of the few times an actor had been nominated playing the same character in different films. The film was also successful at the box office.
Goodbye Mr Chips
In 1969, he played the title role in the film Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a musical adaptation of James Hilton's novella, starring opposite Petula Clark. He was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The Ruling Class
In 1972, he played both Miguel de Cervantes and his fictional creation Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, the motion picture adaptation of the 1965 hit Broadway musical, opposite Sophia Loren. The film was a critical and commercial failure, criticised for using mostly non-singing actors. His singing was dubbed by tenor Simon Gilbert, but the other actors did their own singing. O'Toole and co-star James Coco, who played both Cervantes's manservant and Sancho Panza, both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances.
The Stunt Man
He appeared in a mini series for Irish TV Strumpet City, where he played James Larkin. He followed this with another mini series Masada (1981), playing Lucius Flavius Silva; his performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
My Favorite Year
O'Toole was nominated for another Oscar for My Favorite Year (1982), a light romantic comedy about the behind-the-scenes at a 1950s TV variety-comedy show, in which O'Toole plays an aging swashbuckling film star reminiscent of Errol Flynn.
He returned to the stage in London with a performance in Man and Superman (1982) that was better received than his MacBeth.
He focused on television, doing an adaptation of Man and Superman (1983), Svengali (1983), Pygmalion (1984), and Kim (1984), and providing the voice of Sherlock Holmes for a series of animated TV movies. He did Pygmalion on stage in 1984.
Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell
O'Toole's performances in the 1990s include Wings of Fame (1990); The Rainbow Thief (1990), with Sharif; The Nutcracker Prince (1990), an animated film; King Ralph (1991) with John Goodman; Isabelle Eberhardt (1992); Rebecca's Daughters (1992), in Wales; Civvies (1992), a British TV series; The Seventh Coin (1993); Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III (1994), for American TV; and Heavy Weather (1995), for British TV.
He was in an adaptation of Gulliver's Travels (1996), playing the Emperor of Lilliput; FairyTale: A True Story (1997), playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Phantoms' (1998), from a novel by Dean Koontz; Coming Home (1998); The Manor (1999); and Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999).
He also produced and starred in a TV adaptation of Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (1999).
O'Toole's work this decade included Global Heresy (2002); The Final Curtain (2003); Bright Young Things (2003); Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2003) for TV, as Paul von Hindenburg; and Imperium: Augustus (2004) as Augustus Caesar.
In 2005, he appeared on television as the older version of legendary 18th century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in the BBC drama serial Casanova. The younger Casanova, seen for most of the action, was played by David Tennant, who had to wear contact lenses to match his brown eyes to O'Toole's blue. He followed it with a role in Lassie (2005).
O'Toole was in One Night with the King (2007) and co-starred in the Pixar animated film Ratatouille (2007), an animated film about a rat with dreams of becoming the greatest chef in Paris, as Anton Ego, a food critic. He had a small role in Stardust (2007).
He also appeared in the second season of Showtime's successful drama series The Tudors (2008), portraying Pope Paul III, who excommunicates King Henry VIII from the church; an act which leads to a showdown between the two men in seven of the ten episodes.
Also in 2008, he starred alongside Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill in the New Zealand/British film Dean Spanley, based on an Alan Sharp adaptation of Irish author Lord Dunsany's short novel, My Talks with Dean Spanley.
On 10 July 2012, O'Toole released a statement announcing his retirement from acting.
While studying at RADA in the early 1950s, O'Toole was active in protesting against British involvement in the Korean War. Later, in the 1960s, he was an active opponent of the Vietnam War. He played a role in the creation of the current form of the well-known folksong "Carrickfergus" which he related to Dominic Behan, who put it in print and made a recording in the mid-1960s.
In 1959, he married Welsh actress Siân Phillips, with whom he had two daughters: actress Kate and Patricia. They were divorced in 1979. Phillips later said in two autobiographies that O'Toole had subjected her to mental cruelty, largely fuelled by drinking, and was subject to bouts of extreme jealousy when she finally left him for a younger lover.
O'Toole and his girlfriend, model Karen Brown, had a son, Lorcan Patrick O'Toole (born 17 March 1983), when O'Toole was fifty years old. Lorcan, now an actor, was a pupil at Harrow School, boarding at West Acre from 1996.
Severe illness almost ended O'Toole's life in the late 1970s. His stomach cancer was misdiagnosed as resulting from his alcoholic excess. O'Toole underwent surgery in 1976 to have his pancreas and a large portion of his stomach removed, which resulted in insulin-dependent diabetes. In 1978, he nearly died from a blood disorder. He eventually recovered, however, and returned to work. He resided on the Sky Road, just outside Clifden, Connemara, County Galway from 1963, and at the height of his career maintained homes in Dublin, London and Paris (at the Ritz, which was where his character supposedly lived in the film How to Steal a Million). In an interview with National Public Radio in December 2006, O'Toole revealed that he knew all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets. A self-described romantic, O'Toole regarded the sonnets as among the finest collection of English poems, reading them daily. In Venus, he recites Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"). O'Toole wrote two memoirs. Loitering With Intent: The Child chronicles his childhood in the years leading up to World War II and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1992. His second, Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice, is about his years spent training with a cadre of friends at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
O'Toole played rugby league as a child in Leeds and was also a rugby union fan, attending Five Nations matches with friends and fellow rugby fans Richard Harris, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Finch and Richard Burton. He was also a lifelong player, coach and enthusiast of cricket and a fan of Sunderland A.F.C.
O'Toole was interviewed at least three times by Charlie Rose on his eponymous talk show. In a 17 January 2007 interview, O'Toole stated that British actor Eric Porter had most influenced him, adding that the difference between actors of yesterday and today is that actors of his generation were trained for "theatre, theatre, theatre". He also believes that the challenge for the actor is "to use his imagination to link to his emotion" and that "good parts make good actors". However, in other venues (including the DVD commentary for Becket), O'Toole credited Donald Wolfit as being his most important mentor. In an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (11 January 2007), O'Toole stated that the actor with whom he most enjoyed working was Katharine Hepburn.
Although he lost faith in organised religion as a teenager, O'Toole expressed positive sentiments regarding the life of Jesus Christ. In an interview for The New York Times, he said "No one can take Jesus away from me... there's no doubt there was a historical figure of tremendous importance, with enormous notions. Such as peace." He called himself "a retired Christian" who prefers "an education and reading and facts" to faith.
O'Toole died on 14 December 2013 at Wellington Hospital in St John's Wood, London, aged 81. His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium in London on 21 December 2013, where he was cremated in a wicker coffin.
O'Toole's remains are planned to be taken to Connemara, Ireland. They are currently being kept at the residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, by the President Michael D. Higgins, an old friend of the actor. His family plan to return to Ireland to fulfill his wishes and take them to the west of Ireland when they can.
On 18 May 2014, a new prize was launched in memory of Peter O'Toole at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School; this includes an annual award given to two young actors from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, including a professional contract at Bristol Old Vic Theatre. He has a memorial plaque in St Paul's, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden.
On 21 April 2017, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced that Kate O'Toole had placed her father's archive at the humanities research centre. The collection includes O'Toole's scripts, extensive published and unpublished writings, props, photographs, letters, medical records, and more. It joins the archives of several of O'Toole's collaborators and friends including Donald Wolfit, Eli Wallach, Peter Glenville, Sir Tom Stoppard, and Dame Edith Evans.
1955–58 Bristol Old Vic
- King Lear (1956) (Cornwall)
- The Recruiting Officer (1956) (Bullock)
- Major Barbara (1956) (Peter Shirley)
- Othello (1956) (Lodovico)
- The Slave of Truth (1956) (Clitandre)
- Pygmalion (1957) (Henry Higgins)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1957) (Lysander)
- Oh! My Papa! (1957) (Uncle Gustave)
- Look Back in Anger (1957) (Jimmy Porter)
- Man and Superman (1958) (Tanner)
- Hamlet (1958) (Hamlet)
- The Holiday (1958) (Roger)
- Amphitryon '38 (1958) (Jupiter)
- Waiting for Godot (1957) (Vladimir)
1959 Royal Court Theatre
- The Long and the Short and the Tall (Bamforth)
1960 Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford
- The Taming of the Shrew (Petruchio)
- The Merchant of Venice (Shylock)
- Troilus and Cressida (Thersites)
1963 National Theatre
- Baal (Phoenix Theatre, 1963)
- Ride a Cock Horse (Piccadilly Theatre, 1965)
1966 Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
1969 Abbey Theatre, Dublin
- Waiting for Godot (Vladimir)
1973–74 Bristol Old Vic
1978 Toronto, Washington and Chicago
- Macbeth (1980) (Macbeth) (Old Vic Theatre)
- Man and Superman (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
- Pygmalion (Professor Higgins) (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1984 and Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford)
- The Apple Cart (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 1986)
- Pygmalion (Professor Higgins) (Plymouth Theatre, New York, 1987)
- Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (Apollo Theatre, 1989, Shaftesbury Theatre, 1991 and Old Vic, 1999)
- Our Song (Apollo Theatre, 1992).
- Loitering with Intent: The Child (1992)
- Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice (1997)
Academy Award nominations
O'Toole was nominated eight times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, but was never able to win a competitive Oscar. In 2002, the Academy honoured him with an Academy Honorary Award for his entire body of work and his lifelong contribution to film. O'Toole initially balked about accepting, and wrote the Academy a letter saying that he was "still in the game" and would like more time to "win the lovely bugger outright". The Academy informed him that they would bestow the award whether he wanted it or not. He told Charlie Rose in January 2007 that his children admonished him, saying that it was the highest honour one could receive in the filmmaking industry. O'Toole agreed to appear at the ceremony and receive his Honorary Oscar. It was presented to him by Meryl Streep, who has the most Oscar nominations of any actor or actress (19). He joked with Robert Osborne, during an interview at Turner Classic Movie's film festival that he's the "Biggest Loser of All Time", due to his lack of an Academy Award, after many nominations.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Peter O'Toole.|
- Peter O'Toole at the Internet Broadway Database
- Peter O'Toole on IMDb
- Peter O'Toole at the TCM Movie Database
- Peter O'Toole at the BFI's Screenonline
- "Peter O'Toole as Casanova"
- University of Bristol Theatre Collection, University of Bristol
- The Making of Lawrence of Arabia, Digitised BAFTA Journal, Winter 1962–63 (with additional notes by Bryan Hewitt)[dead link]
- Peter O'Toole Interview at 2002 Telluride Film Festival, conducted by Roger Ebert
- Peter O'Toole(Aveleyman)