Thursday, August 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Peter O'Toole! (we think)

Photo Legend:
1. Older Peter
2. Lawrence of Arabia, with life long friend Omar Sharif
3. Young Peter
4. The Lion in Winter, with Katherine Hepburn
5. Intermediate Smoking Peter  

   It is with the greatest pleasure and honor that I get to give a happy birthday shout out this morning to one of my very favorite actors and fellow Irishmen, who turns a very sprightly 80 years young today (we think) Mr. Peter O'Toole.
   Did you notice that (we think) addition I made. I certainly did. I put it there because we are not absolutely certain that August 2nd is Mr. O'Toole's actual birth date, as he says he was born at a very early age and does not remember exactly what the date was. And it seems he has two birth certificates. One gives his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, which states he was born in June, and the other as Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, where he grew up, which would actually make him English I guess, rather than Irish. But he believes he's Irish, so I will too, and he has accepted August 2nd as his birthday, which makes writing this so much easier for me.
   We do know that Peter Seamus Lorcan O'Toole (Golradir Anwamanë in Elvish) was born in 1932, which was a leap year, and the year Jack Benny's radio program premiered. He was the son of Constance Jane Eliot (Ferguson), a Scottish nurse, and Patrick Joseph O'Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player, and racecourse bookmaker. He began ballet lessons when he was... oh, I'm sorry, that's if he was a girl.
   Forget the ballet.
   Young Peter was raised in Leeds, which is in England of all places, a city that would become famous in 1970 for hosting the first live recorded performance of the rock band The Who. He  was raised as a Roman Catholic, and attended a Catholic school where the nuns beat him to correct his left-handedness (over the centuries, left-handers have been accused of criminality and dealings with the devil, which was true, they did cavort with the devil).
   "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."
   Upon finishing school Peter tried his hand as a journalist (beginning as a newspaper copy boy) until he was drafted into the Royal Navy as a signaller (what we call a signalman in the US Navy, whose job it was to wave little flags at other signalmen on other ships), a profession so highly regarded Charles Dickens wrote a short story about them in 1866.
   When asked what he most wanted to do in life, he replied he had always wanted to try being either a poet or an actor.
   Accordingly he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1952 to 1954 on a scholarship. He was in the same class as Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Richard Harris (of Harry Potter fame (the first Professor Albus Dumbledore), and who sang the hit "MacArthur Park" in 1968).
   Mr. O'Toole began his acting career working in the theater, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic, before making his television debut in 1954. He first appeared on film in 1959 in a bit part in "The Day They Robbed the Bank of England."
   Then a remarkable thing happened, the most remarkable thing that can ever happen to a young unknown actor.
   Like Daniel Radcliffe, Elijah Wood, and Tobey Maguire more recently, Peter O'Toole was chosen to play the lead role in a huge film project that would prove exceptionally successful. Director David Lean chose him to play the title roll in the epic biographical film, "Lawrence of Arabia," which told the story of T. E. Lawrence, a British Army officer renowned for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt of 1916–18 against Ottoman Turkish rule near the end of World War I.
   Peter's old classmate Albert Finney and Marlon Brando were both offered the role before O'Toole, but both turned it down (Brando allegedly saying he didn't want to spend two years of his life riding on a camel. I can't say as I blame him).
   "Lawrence of Arabia," was a massive undertaking, and took two years, three months to complete (almost a year and a half to film during the early 60s. By comparison, movie technology has advanced so much that director Peter Jackson took the same amount of time to film two "The Hobbit," movies in New Zealand of approximately the same length (if "The Lord of the Rings," is any indication. Lawrence ran for 216 minutes, or 3.6 hours), which has now (announced Monday) been turned into three separate films with a total budget of $500 million, with some additional filming scheduled for 2013. Lawrence of Arabia cost $15 million 1961 dollars, and made $70 million. "The Lord of the Rings," trilogy made $2.9 billion ten years ago).
   The part made O'Toole an international superstar. His performance in "Lawrence of Arabia," is the number 1 ranked performance of all time in Premiere Magazine's "100 Greatest Performances of All Time" (2006).
   That's a pretty good performance!
   He also received the first of eight total Academy Award nominations for this film... and didn't win any of them. As a matter of fact he holds the record for gaining the most Academy nominations without winning.
   Be that as it may, he continued making films of course, or else we wouldn't be talking about him now probably. Some of the most noted and some of my favorite include: "Becket," with fellow alcoholic (oh yes, Peter was known to tip a glass now and then, something he and I have in common) Richard Burton and he received another Best Actor nomination, "The Lion in Winter," with Katherine Hepburn and another Best Actor nomination, "Lord Jim," with James Mason, "What's New Pussycat?"  in it Woody Allen made his film debut and this was his first produced script, "How to Steal a Million," with Audrey Hepburn (oh he liked those Hepburn sisters), "The Night of the Generals," with my favorite character actor Donald Pleasence and Peter's old buddy Omar Sharif, "Casino Royale," with David Niven, Petter Sellers, and Woody again, "Murphy's War," the musical "Man of La Mancha," with Sophia Loren, the X-rated porno "Caligula," with Helen Mirren, "The Stunt Man," with our friend Barbara Hershey and another Best Actor nomination, "My Favorite Year," with another freaking Best Actor nomination, "Creator," with Mariel Hemingway granddaughter of Ernest, Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor," "King Ralph," with John Goodman, "Phantoms," which I believe was the only sci fi film he ever appeared in with Ben  Affleck and the ever lovely Rose McGowan and written by the ever lovely Dean Koontz from his book, "Troy," with that Brad Pitt guy, and "Venus," with Jodie Whittaker and another freaking Best Actor nomination. He made a whole bunch of other movies too, and rumor has it he had a habit of appearing on stage at times. In fact he's known for portraying historical figures of a classical nature, and a lot of Shakespeare, who was a big time English playwright I'm told.
   In 2003, the Academy honored him with an Honorary Academy Award for his entire body of work and his lifelong contribution to film.  
   At first he told the Academy that he didn't want it, that he was still acting and wanted a chance to win the award outright, but the Academy said they were going to give it to him anyway, so he relented with this result:
   In my opinion that was one of the most touching and heartfelt acceptance speeches I have ever heard.
   As I've said Mr. O'Toole is an alcoholic, and has had some serious medical issues throughout his life due to his drinking and other health problems, having almost died a couple of times. As far as I know he doesn't drink any longer. Alcohol that is.
   He has three children, two daughters from his marriage to Welsh actress Siân Phillips (they divorced after 20 years), award-winning actress Kate O'Toole and Patricia O'Toole, and one son with his girlfriend model Karen Brown, Lorcan Patrick O'Toole.
   Peter was declared dead in 2003 in a note on the DVD of one of his films, "Rouge Male," after a long illness.
   This must be an imposter then who appeared on the David Letterman Show in 2007:
   That declaration was a tad premature I believe.
   "The only exercise I take is walking behind the coffins of friends who took exercise," he has said.
   He is perhaps the only one of his acting contemporaries not to be knighted. According to London's Daily Mail, he was offered a knighthood or honorary knighthood in 1987, but turned it down for personal and political reasons.
   Mr. O'Toole has found success as a writer, with two volumes of his autobiography, 'Loitering with Intent', already published, and the promise of at least one more to come.
   23 days ago, On July 10th, Mr. O'Toole released a statement that he was retiring from acting.
   He now resides in London.
   Oh yes, according to his daughter Kate, her father wears green socks every day due to personal superstitions.
   As do I.
   And all of us here at Joyce's Take celebrate the life and work of Peter O'Toole, rejoice in all of the pleasure and pain he has given us through his performances, and wish him and his family good health, and continued good fortune. And of course, a very happy birthday!
   Happy Birthday Peter!

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