While the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, we have also lost another person known throughout much of the world. Peter O’Toole, the actor died yesterday. Mr. O’Toole, then a virtual unknown, was cast in the role of the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence by director David Lean for his film called Lawrence of Arabia. This was 1962. From that film, Mr. O’Toole went on to be at or near the top of the acting profession for many, many years.
As a farewell tribute to Mr. O’Toole, I offer an opportunity to remember some of his best films, and his most famous roles.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – This is the story of a flamboyant and controversial British military figure and his conflicted loyalties during his World War I service in the Middle East.
After Sherif Ali has explain the well protocols, which angers Lawrence, we have this exchange –
Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence: Sherif Ali!. So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous and cruel, as you are.
Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali: Come. I will take you to Faisal.
T.E. Lawrence: I do not want your company, Sherif.
Sherif Ali: Wadi Safra is another day from here. You will not find it, and not finding it you will die.
T.E. Lawrence: I will find it with this.
[showing the compass]
Sherif Ali: [Ali suddenly takes the compass with his stick] Good army compass. How if I take it?
T.E. Lawrence: Then you would be a thief.
Sherif Ali: Have you no fear, English?
T.E. Lawrence: My fear is my concern.
Sherif Ali: Truly.
[Ali gives back the compass to Lawrence]
Sherif Ali: God be with you English.
[And he rides away]
Though this film won 7 Oscars in 1963, including Best Picture, Mr O’Toole did not win for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He lost to Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird).
Becket (1964) – An English king comes to terms with his affection for his close friend and confidant, who finds his true honor by observing God’s divine will rather than the king’s.
Richard Burton as Thomas a Becket: Honor is a private matter within; it’s an idea, and every man has his own version of it.
Peter O’Toole as King Henry II: How gracefully you tell your king to mind his own business.
Both O’Toole and Burton were nominated for the 1965 Oscar for Best Oscar in a Leading Role. Rex Harrison won the Oscar (My Fair Lady).
Lord Jim (1965) – After being discredited as a coward, a 19th century sailor lives for only one purpose: to redeem himself.
Peter O’Toole as Lord Jim: I’ve been a so-called coward and a so-called hero and there’s not the thickness of a sheet of paper between them. Maybe cowards and heroes are just ordinary men who, for a split second, do something out of the ordinary. That’s all.
The Lion in Winter (1968) – 1183 AD: King Henry II’s three sons all want to inherit the throne, but King Henry won’t commit to a choice. The sons and his wife variously plot to force his decision.
Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor: I adored you. I still do.
Peter O’Toole as Henry II: Of all the lies you’ve told, that is the most terrible.
Eleanor: I know. That’s why I’ve saved it up until now.
O’Toole was nominated for the 1969 Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Hepburn won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance. The Actor Oscar went to Cliff Robertson (Charly).
The Ruling Class (1972) – A member of the House of Lords dies in a shockingly silly way, leaving his estate to his son. Unfortunately, his son is insane: he thinks he is Jesus Christ. The other somewhat-more respectable members of their family plot to steal the estate from him. Murder and mayhem ensues.
Coral Brown as Lady Claire Gurney: How do you know you’re God?
Peter O’Toole as Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.
O’Toole was nominated for the 1973 Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role, and lost to Marlon Brando (The Godfather).
The Stunt Man (1980) – A fugitive stumbles in to a movie set just when they need a new stunt man. He takes the job as a way to hide out, and falls for the leading lady.
Peter O’Toole as Eli Cross: [after a cameraman says cut because there’s only 22 seconds of film left] In 22 seconds, I could break your fucking spine. In 22 seconds, I could pinch your head off like a fucking insect and spin it all over the fucking pavement. In 22 seconds, I could put 22 bullets inside your ridiculous gut. What I seem unable to do in 22 seconds is to keep you from fucking up my film!
O’Toole was nominated for the 1981 Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Robert DeNiro won the Oscar for Raging Bull.
My Favorite Year (1982) – A dissolute matinée idol is slated to appear on a live TV variety show.
Mark Linn-Baker as Benjy Stone: I think I’m going to be unwell.
Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann: Ladies are unwell, Stone. Gentlemen vomit.
O’Toole was nominated for a 1983 Oscar as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Ben Kinsley won for Gandhi.
While we shall never hold O’Toole as an equal to Mandela, we can say that he was among the most revered, most honored, and most loved actors of his era. He was nominated for Best Actor an astounding 8 times. But he never won.
In the early 2000’s, the Academy tried to award O’Toole an Honorary Oscar as an award for his lifetime body of work. But he refused. They tried again in 2003. This time the result was different.
In his acceptance speech, the delighted O’Toole famously said – “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot!”
Rest in peace.