Peter O'Toole Biography

Peter O'Toole Biography on Monsters and Critics


"Peter Seamus O'Toole" (born 2 August 1932) is an actor of stage and screen who achieved instant stardom in 1962 playing T. E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia". He went on to become one of the most honored film and stage actors of all-time. He has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, and holds the record for most competitive Academy Award acting nominations without a win. He has won four Golden Globes, a BAFTA, an Emmy, and was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award in 2003 for his body of work.


Early life

Peter Seamus O'Toole was born in 1932, with some sources giving his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, and others as Leeds, in West Yorkshire, England, where he also grew up. O'Toole himself is not certain of his birthplace or date, noting in his autobiography that while he accepts 2 August as his birthdate, he has conflicting birth certificates in both countries, with the Irish one giving a June 1932 birthdate. O'Toole is the son of Constance Jane (ne Ferguson), a Scottish-born nurse, and Patrick Joseph O'Toole, an Irish metal plater, football player and racetrack bookmaker. When O'Toole was one year old, the O'Tooles began a five-year tour of major racetrack towns in northern England. Peter O'Toole was evacuated from Leeds early in World War II and went to a Catholic School for seven or eight years, where he was 'implored' to become right-handed. '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,? he later commented. '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 leaving school O'Toole obtained employment as a trainee journalist and photographer on the "Yorkshire Evening Post," until he was called up for National Service as a signaller in the Royal Navy. As reported in a radio interview in 2006 on NPR, he was asked by an officer whether he had something he'd always wanted to do. His reply was that he'd always wanted to try being either a poet or an actor. O'Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) (1952-1954) on a scholarship after being rejected by the Abbey Theatre's Drama School in Dublin by the then director Ernest Blythe, because he couldn't speak Irish. At RADA, he was in the same class as Albert Finney, Alan Bates and Brian Bedford. O'Toole described this as 'the most remarkable class the academy ever had, though we weren't reckoned for much at the time. We were all considered dotty'.


O'Toole began working in the theatre, gaining recognition as a Shakespearean actor at the Bristol Old Vic and with the English Stage Company, before making his television debut in 1954 and a very minor film debut in 1959. O'Toole's major break came when he was chosen to play T. E. Lawrence in David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), after Marlon Brando proved unavailable and Albert Finney turned down the role. His performance was ranked number one in "Premiere" magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. The role introduced him to U.S. audiences and earned him the first of his eight nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

O'Toole is also one of a handful of actors to be Oscar-nominated for playing the same role in two different films; he played King Henry II in both 1964's "Becket" and 1968's "The Lion in Winter". O'Toole played Hamlet under Sir Laurence Olivier's direction in the premiere production of the Royal National Theatre in 1963. He has also appeared in Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock" at Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, fulfilling a lifetime ambition when taking to the stage of the Irish capital's Abbey Theatre in 1970 to play in "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, alongside the stage actor Donal McCann. In 1980, he received wide critical acclaim for playing the director in the behind-the-scenes movie The Stunt Man. His 1980 performance as Macbeth is often considered one of the greatest disasters in theatre history, but he has redeemed his theatrical reputation with his performances as John Tanner in "Man and Superman" and Henry Higgins in "Pygmalion", and won a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance in "Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell" (1989). Another fine performance from O'Toole, which gained him a nomination for Best Actor, was 1982's My Favorite Year, a light romantic comedy about the behind-the-scenes at a 1950s TV variety-comedy show, much like Your Show of Shows, in which O'Toole masterfully plays an aging swashbucking film star strongly reminiscent (intentionally) of Errol Flynn.

O'Toole won an Emmy Award for his role in the 1999 mini-series "Joan of Arc". In 2004, O'Toole played King Priam in the summer blockbuster "Troy". In 2005, he appeared on television as the older version of legendary 18th century Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova in the BBC drama serial "Casanova". O'Toole's role was mainly to frame the drama, telling the story of his life to serving maid Edith (Rose Byrne). The younger Casanova seen for most of the action was played by David Tennant, who had to wear contact lenses to match his brown eyes to O'Toole's blue.

He was once again nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Maurice in the 2006 film "Venus", directed by Roger Michell, his eighth such nomination. Most recently, O'Toole co-stars in the Pixar animated film, "Ratatouille", an animated film about a rat with dreams of becoming the greatest chef in Paris. O'Toole has recently starred in the second season of Showtime's hit drama series "The Tudors" in which he portrays Pope Paul III, who excommunicates King Henry VIII from the church. That leads to a showdown between the two men in seven of the ten episodes.

Personal life

In a BBC Radio interview in January 2007, O'Toole said that he had studied women for a very long time, had given it his best try, but knew 'nothing'. In 1960, he married Welsh actress, Sin Phillips, with whom he had two daughters, Kate O'Toole (b. 1961), who is an award-winning actress and resident of Clifden, Ireland, and Patricia; the couple divorced in 1979. Phillips later revealed in two autobiographies that O'Toole had subjected her to mental cruelty - largely fuelled by drinking - and was subject to bouts of extreme jealousy when she finally left him for a younger lover.

He and his ex-girlfriend, model Karen Brown, had a son, Lorcan Patrick O'Toole (born 14 March 1983), born when Peter was in his fifties. Lorcan, now an actor, was a pupil at Harrow School, boarding at West Acre from 1996.

Severe illness almost ended his life in the late 1970s. Due to his heavy drinking, he underwent surgery in 1976 to have his pancreas and a large portion of his stomach removed, which resulted in insulin dependent diabetes. O'Toole eventually recovered and returned to work, although he found it harder to get parts in films, resulting in more work for television and occasional stage roles. However, he gave a star turn in 1987's much-garlanded "The Last Emperor". He has resided in Clifden, County Galway, Ireland since 1963 and at the height of his career maintained homes in Dublin, London and Paris (at the Ritz), but now only keeps his home in London. While studying at RADA in the early 1950s he was active in protesting against British involvement in the Korean War. Later in the 1960s he was an active opponent of the Vietnam War.

He is perhaps the only one of his 'London' acting contemporaries not to be knighted. However, 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.

In an NPR interview in December 2006, O'Toole revealed that he knows all 154 Shakespeare sonnets. A self-described romantic, O'Toole regards the sonnets as among the finest collection of English poems. He reads them daily. In the movie "Venus," he recites Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day". O'Toole has written two books. "Loitering With Intent: The Child" chronicles his childhood in the years leading up to World War II and was a "New York Times" Notable Book of the Year in 1992. His second, "Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice", is about his years spent training with a cadre of friends at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The books have been praised by critics such as Charles Champlin of the "Los Angeles Times", who wrote: 'A cascade of language, a rumbling tumbling riot of words, a pub soliloquy to an invisible but imaginable audience, and the more captivating for it. O'Toole as raconteur is grand company.' O'Toole spent parts of 2007 writing his third instalment. This book will have (as he described it) 'the meat', meaning highlights from his stage and filmmaking career.

O'Toole is a noted fan of rugby and used to attend Five Nations matches with friends and fellow rugby fans Richard Harris and Richard Burton. He is also a lifelong player, coach and enthusiast of cricket. O'Toole is licensed to teach and coach cricket to children as young as ten. O'Toole is a fan of the football club Sunderland A.F.C.. During an interview with DJ Chris Evans on his show TFI Friday, he was asked about his soccer allegiances and snarled 'Sunderland!' as if blighted by the experience.

O'Toole has been interviewed more than three times by Charlie Rose on "The Charlie Rose Show". In the last year interview 17 January 2007, O'Toole said that the actor who had influenced him the most was Eric Porter. He also said that the difference between actors of yesterday and today are that actors of his generation were trained for 'theatre, theatre, theatre.' He also believes that the challenge for the actor is 'to use his imagination to link to his emotion' and that 'good parts make good actors.' However, in other venues (including the DVD commentary for "Becket"), O'Toole has also credited Donald Wolfit as being his most important mentor. In an appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on 11 January 2007, O'Toole said that the actor he most enjoyed working with was his close friend, actress Katharine Hepburn with whom he played Henry II to her Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter.

O'Toole remains close friends with his Lawrence of Arabia co-star Omar Sharif and his RADA classmate Albert Finney.

Academy Award nominations

O'Toole has been nominated eight times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, making him the most-nominated actor never to win the award.

;Nominations (winner & film in parentheses)

1962 - "Lawrence of Arabia" (Gregory Peck, "To Kill a Mockingbird");

1964 - "Becket" (Rex Harrison, "My Fair Lady");

1968 - "The Lion in Winter" (Cliff Robertson, "Charly");

1969 - "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (John Wayne, "True Grit");

1972 - "The Ruling Class" (Marlon Brando, "The Godfather" (declined));

1980 - "The Stunt Man" (Robert De Niro, "Raging Bull");

1982 - "My Favorite Year" (Ben Kingsley, "Gandhi");

2006 - "Venus" (Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland").

In 2003, the Academy honoured him with an Academy Honorary Award for his entire body of work and his lifelong contribution to film. O'Toole initially balked about accepting, and wrote the Academy a letter saying he was 'still in the game' and would like more time to 'win the lovely bugger outright.' The Academy informed him that they would bestow the award whether he wanted it or not. Further, as he related on "The Charlie Rose Show" in January 2007, his children admonished him, saying that it was the highest honour one could receive in the filmmaking industry. O'Toole agreed to appear at the ceremony and receive his Honorary Oscar. It was presented to him by Meryl Streep, who has the most Oscar nominations of any actor (15).

Stage appearances

1955-1958 Bristol Old Vic

"King Lear" (1956) (Cornwall)

"The Recruiting Officer" (1956) (Bullock)

"Major Barbara" (1956) (Peter Shirley)

"Othello" (1956) (Lodovico)

"Pygmalion" (1957) (Henry Higgins)

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1957) (Lysander)

"Look Back in Anger" (1957) (Jimmy Porter)

"Man and Superman" (1958) (Tanner)

"Hamlet" (1958) (Hamlet)

"Amphitryon '38" (1958) (Jupiter)

"Waiting For Godot" (1957) (Vladimir)

1959 Royal Court Theatre

"The Long and the Short and the Tall" (Bamforth)

1960 Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford

"The Taming of the Shrew" (Petruchio)

"The Merchant of Venice" (Shylock)

"Troilus and Cressida" (Thersites)

1963 National Theatre

"Hamlet" (title role) directed by Laurence Olivier


"Baal" (Phoenix Theatre, 1963) (Baal)

"Ride a Cock Horse" (Piccadilly Theatre, 1965)

1966 Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

"Juno and the Paycock" (Jack Boyle)

"Man and Superman" (Tanner)

1969 Abbey Theatre, Dublin

"Waiting for Godot" (Vladimir)

1973-1974 Bristol Old Vic

"Uncle Vanya" (Vanya)


"The Apple Cart" (King Magnus)

"Judgement" (monologue)

1978 Toronto, Washington, and Chicago

"Uncle Vanya" (Vanya)

"Present Laughter" (Gary Essendine)


"Macbeth" (1980) (Macbeth) (Old Vic Theatre)

"Man and Superman" (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)

"Pygmalion" (Professor Higgins) (Shaftesbury Theatre, 1984, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and Plymouth Theatre, New York, 1987)

"The Apple Cart" (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 1986)

"Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell" (Apollo Theatre, 1989, Shaftesbury Theatre, 1991 and Old Vic, 1999)

"Our Song" (Apollo, 1992).

External links

(The Unofficial Peter O'Toole Pages)

('Peter O'Toole as Casanova')

(The Unfinished Epic of Peter O'Toole)

(University of Bristol Theatre Collection) , University of Bristol

(The Making of "Lawrence of Arabia") , Digitised BAFTA Journal, Winter 1962-3


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article about Peter O'Toole.