Star Archive

Laurence Olivier (Lord Olivier) (1907 - 1989)

In his day, Laurence Olivier was widely considered to be the greatest actor of his generation, if not of all time. These days there are plenty of dissenters willing to point out his penchant for theatrical acting, funny accents and funnier false noses. He certainly spent the last few years of his career more concerned with the size of his cheque than the quality of the project. However, no other actor has made a greater contribution to his profession. 

His dad was a clergyman (his uncle was a lord and Governor of Jamaica) and he attended All Saints school where he developed a love for acting. He won a scholarship to the Central School of Speech and Drama and quickly worked up to leading man status. He even made a couple of English-language versions of German films. Around this time he married his first wife Jill Esmond.

The big break came with the original production of Private Lives starring Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence; he played Victor (the hapless second husband). He went to Broadway with the production and got noticed by Hollywood. His time there was brief – he couldn't take the place seriously – and took the first chance he could to go home. He returned to do Queen Christina starring Greta Garbo, but got replaced after a fortnight by John Gilbert.

In 1935 he was invited to alternate the parts of Romeo and Mercutio with John Gielgud at the Old Vic. His Romeo was slated, but during the rest of the decade his work at the Old Vic grew in stature. Another big event happened in 1935 too: he met Vivien Leigh.

Theirs was one of the century's great romances. They managed to keep their affair secret for a couple of years, but by the time she landed the role of Scarlett O'Hara it was an open secret. They married in 1940 and were the most glamorous couple of their era.

The Oliviers returned to Britain during the war and he joined the Naval Reserve. He directed his first film Henry V in 1944 and was knighted in 1947. By now his position as the greatest actor of his generation was secure.

The 50s started out well for him, but as the decade wore on his professional and personal lives became difficult. The marriage to Vivien Leigh foundered due to her ill-health (both physical and mental) and her perceived "unworthiness" to share a stage with him. With the arrival of the Angry Young Man and kitchen-sink drama, his style of theatrical glamour became old hat. He solved these problems by joining the Royal Court theatre to play Archie Rice in The Entertainer and by taking-up with his co-star, Joan Plowright.

He spent the 60s building up the National Theatre and was given a peerage in 1970. The rest of his life was spent cashing in on his reputation in a succession of film roles, most of which were unworthy of his talent.  

Poster for Q-PlanesStill of Laurence Olivier in HamletPoster of Laurence Olivier in HamletPoster for Richard III


1930 Too Many Crooks 
1930 The Temporary Widow (Ger.)
1930 Potiphar's Wife
1931 The Yellow Ticket (U.S.)
1931 Friends and Lovers (U.S.)
1931 Westward Passage (U.S.)
1932 No Funny Business
1932 Perfect Understanding
1935 Conquest of the Air
1935 Moscow Nights
1936 As You Like It
1936 Fire Over England
1938 The Divorce of Lady X
1939 21 Days
1939 Q Planes
1939 Wuthering Heights (U.S.)
1940 Rebecca (U.S.)
1940 Pride and Prejudice (U.S.)
1941 Lady Hamilton (U.S.)
1941 49th Parallel
1943 The Demi-Paradise
1944 Henry V
1948 Hamlet
1951 The Magic Box
1952 Carrie (U.S.)
1952 The Beggar's Opera
1956 Richard III
1958 The Prince and the Showgirl
1959 The Devil's Disciple
1960 Spartacus (U.S.)
1960 The Entertainer
1962 Term of Trial
1963 Uncle Vanya
1965 Bunny Lake is Missing
1966 Khartoum
1968 The Shoes of the Fisherman
1969 Oh What a Lovely War
1969 The Dance of Death
1969 The Battle of Britain
1969 David Copperfield
1970 The Three Sisters
1971 Nicholas and Alexandra
1972 Lady Caroline Lamb
1972 Sleuth
1976 Marathon Man (U.S.)
1976 The Seven Per Cent Solution (U.S.)
1977 The Betsy (U.S.)
1977 A Bridge Too Far
1978 The Boys from Brazil (U.S.)
1978 A Little Romance
1979 Dracula
1981 Clash of the Titans
1981 The Jazz Singer (U.S.)
1981 Inchon
1983 Wagner
1984 The Bounty (U.S.)
1984 The Jigsaw Man
1985 Wild Geese II

 Laurence Olivier at Amazon UK

 Laurence Olivier at Amazon US