Monday, December 16, 2013

Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole has died.  He was one of the last stars from a specific age of Hollywood glamour,  just before the idea of what a leading male could look like widened. O'Toole, if nothing else, was beautiful.  But he turned out to be so much more.

He'd done theatre and TV and even a few small parts in movie before getting the role that would make him famous at the age of 30, T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Such a major project actually called for a big name, but Marlon Brando and Albert Finney turned down the role--thus a star was born.

And he was up to the task.  You can't carry an epic simply on looks, and his physical grace and beautiful voice mattered just as much.  He received the first of eight Best Actor Oscar nominations for the part (though he never won).  He'd go on to appear in other major historical roles in his first decade of stardom, in movies like Beckett and The Lion In Winter, but showed plenty of range, appearing in contemporary comedies such as What's New Pussycat and How To Steal A Million, cult oddities like The Ruling Class and even musicals like Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

His stardom dimmed in the 70s, partly, perhaps, because of his drinking (a habit many top British stars from his generation seemed to have).  But he made a great comeback as the godlike director in The Stunt Man (1980), followed by a comic turn as an Errol Flynn-like washed up actor in My Favorite Year (1982), both nominated for Academy Awards..

In his 50s now, he made some questionable choices and his movie stardom soon gave way to more theatre and TV appearances. Hollywood, probably figuring he was finished, presented him with an honorary career Oscar in 2003.  But he wasn't done yet, and in his 70s played a venerable King Priam in Troy (2004) and, even better, an over-the-hill actor attracted to a young woman in Venus (2006).  Indeed, the latter led to his eighth Academy Award nomination.

He worked almost till the end, officially announcing his retirement only last year.  The final role many remember him for was Anton Ego, the harsh food critic in the animated film Ratatouille (2007).  He started as a beautiful face, and ended as a lovely voice.

When I think of him, I remember him best in his "big" parts.  Lawrence, of course, is what he'll be forever associated with, but I don't just mean historical roles--his insane British Earl in The Ruling Class is quite something, and Eli Cross, the eccentric director who seems to run the world in The Stunt Man, may have been his best performance.  But, just as important, no matter how big he got, no matter how crazy the role, he always had an elegance and control that made him special.  I didn't recognize his voice when I first saw Ratatouille, but I could tell there was something special there.  And even in his weakest roles, and worst movies, there was always something unique.

PS  Just as I wrote this I heard Joan Fontaine died.  Also Tom Laughlin.  And a few days ago,  Audrey Totter.  Sorry that I don't have to time to write them all up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bastards finally got Billy Jack.

3:58 AM, December 16, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they come in 3's (sorry Ms. Totter)

4:02 AM, December 16, 2013  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

"as long as celluloid is projected"?

Might want to send that to rewrite.

5:22 AM, December 16, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

No Oscar nom for playing Tiberius in "Caligula" Probably won't show up in the "In Memorium" clips section of the Oscars either.

12:01 PM, December 16, 2013  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter