Monday, December 16, 2013

Peter O'Toole

In 2003 (from
Sad news this morning of the passing of actor Peter O'Toole, 81, over the weekend.  O'Toole and Paul Newman have been my life-long favored actors, i.e. I will watch them read the phone directory if that's their newest project.  Now, they're both gone.  O'Toole committed some work to film that will come out next year, but otherwise, there'll be no more of his work to amaze, astonish, and delight.  I'm certain that many will sing his praises today and in the days to follow.  He was an accomplished actor.  He was also an accomplished hard liver, drinking to excess, smoking cigarettes like a chimney, and enjoying good parties.  When I heard the news, I wondered what Omar Sharif thought and felt when he heard the news.  He and O'Toole will forever be linked for their work in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962). 

As T. E. Lawrence (from
My first experience of Peter O'Toole was Lawrence of Arabia.  While my classmates swooned over Omar Sharif, who played Ali, I was fascinated by O'Toole and his portrayal of such a flawed, suffering character.  Lean's film remains my all-time favorite in my life for its breadth, depth, majesty, story of man's lust for territory and power, and the incredible acting by O'Toole, Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Jose Ferrer, and the rest of the cast.  If it hadn't been for Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird the same year, I'm certain O'Toole would have won the Best Actor Oscar for Lawrence.

As Eli Cross (from
While I loved A Lion in Winter and his work in it as Henry II, my next favorite O'Toole movie is The Stuntman (1980), in which he played Eli Cross, the movie director.  His perfection as the manipulative but brilliant Cross getting the performances he wants out of the actors he's hired stunned me because it's not really a likeable character.  I return to this movie occasionally to watch his performance, and I see something more each time.  O'Toole could layer the humanity of a character and make him so real, so human, through gesture, facial expression and his eyes.  Eli Cross's blue eyes are hard as ice, glittering with glee when he succeeds in what he wants.

In reading about O'Toole this morning, I was shocked to learn that he had been extremely ill in the mid-70's with stomach cancer followed by a blood disorder.  He had surgery that removed part of his stomach and small intestine, and he survived.  But his doctors told him no more booze.  However, he was an expert at playing The Lush as he did in my next favorite movie -- My Favorite Year.  His
As Alan Swann (from
Alan Swann was not only created around broad-stroke slapstick, but subtle touches of human folly that made him adorable and frustrating at the same time.  He was the epitome of suave and debonair, and a hilarious drunk in this film.

As Reginald Johnston (from
The thing that kept me coming back to O'Toole's work time and time again was his consummate professionalism and knowing that I would see something interesting every time.  He excelled later in life at supporting roles that often towered above the main characters.  Two examples of this are
Reginald Johnston in The Last Emperor (1987), and King Priam in Troy (2004).  In each, he commanded attention by the use of stillness, the small gesture, and superb control of his voice.  It was
As King Priam (from
so much fun watching him in the scene with Brad Pitt as Achilles, Priam asking for the body of his slain son Hector.  If I remember correctly, I believe Pitt talked at the time of the movie's release of how much he learned from O'Toole in the one short scene.                                                               

 Late in life, O'Toole continued to produce fine work, whether in movies seen in theaters or TV series on cable.  My favorite movie from this period was Venus, in which he played Maurice, an actor struggling to find work until his life is turned upside down by a wild teenager.  Wow.  His work in this movie astonished me for its subtlety and generosity.  It was like watching an aged Alan Swann, and in a very good way.  Watching Maurice gave me so much joy and enjoyment.  I felt like I'd re-discovered Peter O'Toole all over again.

As Maurice (from

    Now, he's gone.  IMDb lists projects that he had in the pipeline, and one that he apparently had just signed on for.  He wore his life on his face, I think.  And what an expressive face!  Rest in Peace, Peter O'Toole. 
In 2011 (from

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