An Actor and a Movie Star: Mr. O’Toole Takes His Leave

11 Jul

Alas, the great Peter O’Toole has passed away at the age of 81. May he rest in peace. Please indulge me as I repost a piece I wrote in July of 2012 just as O’Toole announced his retirement. Thank you.


I started writing this blog a year ago today. This is not the piece I intended to post in order to mark my anniversary; however, when Peter O’Toole decides it’s time to retire, attention must be granted…

Rest assured, Mr. O’Toole is not gone for good–not yet; however, a recent report reveals that with the actor approaching his 80th birthday, he has decided to retire from the profession that has given both us and him so much pleasure for the last five decades (or so). I had the good fortune to see him in person once: it was at his book signing at the old Taylor’s bookstore, just around the corner from the UA Prestonwood Creek 5 where I worked back in the day.  I was not there for myself, per se. A friend of mine had bought the book, and I stood in line with her.  I think was probably sometime in 1993. I still have a photo. Mr. O’Toole was looking quite splendid that evening, and he was incredibly charming.

He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar 8 times. He never won a competitive Oscar though he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Academy in 2003 though he was initially reluctant to accept it.  His last nomination came a few years after that–for 2006’s Venus. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

Playing T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was not O’Toole’s first screen role, but it certainly put the previously little known actor on the map. He was never less than a star from that moment. The movie won 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, out of 10 nominations total. Of course, O’Toole was nominated, but he lost to Gregory Peck’s equally iconic performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Wow! What a tough choice. He won the British Oscar at any rate. (Do I sound too much like an old fogey if I add, “They don’t make them like that anymore?”) O’Toole was so beautiful that the film was sometimes referred to as Florence of Arabia. In 1989, the film was given the full-restoration treatment and re-released to theatres, setting the stage for a number of high-profile restorations, including Spartacus, My Fair Lady, Vertigo, and Rear Window.

O’Toole (l) played King Henry II to Richard Burton’s Thomas Becket in 1964’s Becket. Both actors were Oscar nominated; they lost to the overwhelmingly popular Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. With a total of 7 nominations and no wins, the late Richard Burton is the second most nominated actor to never win an Oscar–and he died before he could even  be given an honorary award. Burton’s nominations are as follows: My Cousin Rachel (Best Supporting Actor, 1952), The Robe (Best Actor, 1953), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Best Actor, 1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (B.A., 1966), Anne of the Thousand Days (B.A., 1969), and Equus (1977).

O’Toole (l) earned his third Oscar nomination for once again portraying King Henry II, this time opposite Katharine Hepburn (r) as Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1968’s The Lion in Winter. Hepburn tied for Best Actress that year with Barbra Streisand in her film debut as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. O’Toole is one of the few performers to earn Oscar nominations for playing one character in multiple
films. The Lion in Winter also features early screen appearances by future Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and a future James Bond, albeit short-lived, Timothy Dalton.

Whatever the Irish word for chutzpah is, O’Toole has plenty of it, and he demonstrated as much when he starred in 1969’s musical remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Of course, the 1939 original featured an Oscar winning performance by Robert Donat, but even though O’Toole’s version was hardly a smash, the Academy thought well enough of it to grant a nomination to O’Toole, and that really says a lot.  Oh, he lost to no less than John Wayne in his iconic role as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. Btw: that’s popular British songbird Petulia Clark on the right. Three years later, O’Toole tried his hand at another onscreen musical, Man of La Mancha. He earned a Globe nom for that one.

In the same year in which he appeared as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, O’Toole dazzled fans and Academy members alike in The Ruling Class. Oh, my. How many times can a girl sit through this darkly comic treat, especially at the old Granada theatre on Lower Greenville? Many times. O’Toole plays an heir who’s about to take his seat in the House of Lords to the utter consternation of his family. You see, the dear boy believes himself to be Christ incarnate (“When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself. “), and he must be cured. At that point, the movie takes a diabolical twist. Well, see it for yourself. It’s a showy role, no doubt, and O’Toole has a grand time. Of course, these days a lot of people think they’re Jesus, right? O’Toole lost that year to Marlon Brando in The Godfather, which was, of course, a blockbuster hit besides being a comeback for Brando. On the other hand, The Ruling Class was a few years away from becoming a cult classic. Well, at least the Academy had the good sense to nominate O’Toole anyway. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Look for the Criterion edition on Amazon.

O’Toole earned his 6th Oscar nomination for Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man (1980), in which he plays a ruthlessly driven, though endlessly intriguing, film director who uses an on-the-run Vietnam vet (Steve Railsback) as a stunt double when tragedy strikes a problematic location shoot; a fiendishly clever cat and mouse game, full of smoke and mirrors, ensues. D’lish! O’Toole reportedly based his characterization on his legendary Lawrence of Arabia director, David Lean. The Stunt Man is one of filmdom’s great underdog stories. The studio abandoned the movie after Rush completed it, and it languished on the shelves for years until a series of screenings in Seattle proved so popular that the studio–20th Century Fox–finally got behind it and released it nationally. O’Toole and Rush were subsequently nominated for Oscars. O’Toole lost to Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull), and Rush lost to Robert Redford (Ordinary People). Btw: most of the movie was filmed in and around the famous Hotel del Coronado near San Diego CA., the same place where much of 1959’s Some Like It Hot was filmed; loads of extras on the DVD.

“I’m not an actor; I’m a movie star!” Ah, yes. O’Toole earned Oscar nod #7 for his performance as fictional matinee idol, Alan Swann, in 1982’s My Favorite Year. The plot, inspired by swashbuckling Erroll Flynn’s guest appearance on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows back in the 1950s, shows how a nebbish new staffer (Mark Linn-Baker) is assigned the task of ensuring that the roguish, and often heavily
inebriated, Swann makes it to the studio on time, in one piece, and, uh, relatively sober. The movie marked the directorial debut of Richard Benjamin and was generally well received. The glorious supporting cast includes Joseph Bologna, Lainie Kazan, Jessica Harper, Bill Macy, Lou Jacobi, Selma Diamond, and even Gloria Stuart. Of course, O’Toole lost that year: to Ben Kingsley in Gandhi. Even so, this was an especially strong Best Actor race, what with the likes of Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie), Jack Lemmon (Missing), and Paul Newman (The Verdict). My Favorite Year was later a short-lived Broadway musical with an ideally cast Tim Curry in the role of Swann.

Peter O’Toole’s final Oscar nomination was for 2006’s Venus, a sad, odd little film about an aging actor, with declining health, who strikes up a rather frightening relationship with a much younger woman. I consider myself a huge O’Toole fan, but even this film is outside my range of appreciation; strictly a curiosity piece though the Oscar nod was a nice touch. O’Toole lost to Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

O’Toole originally scoffed at the idea of being awarded an honorary Oscar during the 2002/03 telecast. Luckily, he thought better of his reluctance and graciously accepted. Good for him. Since Venus, he has lent his voice to the animated Rataouille (2007), and appeared in the popular mini-series The Tudors, among others. His résumé actually includes a number of TV offerings, including 1981’s Masada, for which he was Emmy nominated. He actually won a Supporting Actor Emmy for his work in the mini-series Joan Arc (1999) His many other credits include 1987’s Best Picture winner The Last Emperor (in the role of the future emperor’s Scottish born tutor), What’s New Pussycat, the infamous Caligula (produced by Penthouse’s Bob Guccione; saw it on opening night at the old Highland Park Village), and more TV adaptations, including both Pygmalion and Svengali. He also played in something called Final Curtain, and I guess this is where this remembrance ends.

Thanks, Peter…

Read about O’Toole’s retirement in the Los Angeles Times:,0,119609.story

Peter O’Toole’s retirement on CNN:

Peter O’Toole’s profile on the Internet Movie Database:

O’Toole’s autobiography on Amazon:

The Stunt Man and its Seattle backstory:


3 Responses to “An Actor and a Movie Star: Mr. O’Toole Takes His Leave”

  1. Anita 12 July 2012 at 5:20 am #

    I love him! Now I want to watch all those movies again! Thanks for the post and the memories.

    • listen2uraunt 12 July 2012 at 6:50 am #

      Thanks, Anita! Of course, you are the person at the book signing that I mentioned.

  2. listen2uraunt 15 December 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Reblogged this on Confessions of a Movie Queen and commented:

    Alas, the great Peter O’Toole has passed away at the age of 81. May he rest in peace. Please indulge me as I repost a piece I wrote in July of 2012 just as O’Toole announced his retirement. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: