“I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony. I do not crave security. I wish to hazard my soul to opportunity.”
~ Peter O’Toole at age 18
I didn’t know that Peter O’Toole was born in County Galway, Ireland, in August of 1932 – making him almost eight years older than my mother – and raised in Leeds, England, by his nurse mother and bookie father.
I didn’t know that he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London – one of the most prestigious drama schools in the world – on a scholarship in the early 1950s and was in the same class as Albert Finney.
I didn’t know that it was his performance as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 – a role he snagged only after Finney and Marlon Brando both passed – that put him on the map. (It was later ranked at the top of Premiere magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.)
I didn’t know that he and fellow actor Omar Sharif gambled in Casablanca and in two nights he lost much of the money he was paid for Lawrence of Arabia.
I didn’t know that his movie career included memorable roles in Becket, The Lion in Winter, What’s New, Pussycat? (written by Woody Allen), Goodbye Mr. Chips, Man of La Mancha, Caligula, Pygmalion and The Ruling Class.
I didn’t know that he almost played Professor Henry Higgins in 1964’s My Fair Lady instead of Rex Harrison but he wanted too much money.
I didn’t know that he was drinking buddies with Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch.
I didn’t know that he had to have his pancreas and most of his stomach removed in 1976 because of stomach cancer and that he developed diabetes as a result.
I didn’t know that he was a licensed cricket coach, was left-handed, was nominated for an Oscar eight times but never won (he received an honorary Oscar in 2003) and opposed the Vietnam war.
I didn’t know that he authored not one but two memoirs – Loitering with Intent: The Child and Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice – or that he was good friends with Katharine Hepburn.
My Favorite Year and Maurice in Venus – two of my favorite movies – and that he was unlike most other actors. He was one of those über-talented thespians who command respect and attention from the moment they appear onstage or onscreen. With his mesmerizing blue eyes and almost unparalleled charisma, the 6’2” Shakespearean actor was amusing and absorbing, compelling and captivating, the kind of iconic character who defied simple description and transcended categories. You didn’t have to know how many Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations he earned in order to know that he was good. Really good. You could feel it. He had that “thing.”
I know this: although he died two days ago at age 81 after a lengthy illness, film buffs like me are fortunate that Peter O’Toole left behind such a prominent, noteworthy body of work.
I’ve got some movies to watch.
Rest in peace, Mr. O’Toole.
“I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”
~ Alan Swann, My Favorite Year
Check out this clip from The Ruling Class: