December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole, RIP

From my review of Stephen Fry's 2004 comedy "Bright Young Things," a fine adaption of Evelyn Waugh's bleak comic novel Vile Bodies:
Nonetheless, the brilliance of Waugh's ear for spoken idioms has made Vile Bodies a steady seller for three quarters of a century. Those conversations help make watching "Bright Young Things" far more satisfying than reading Vile Bodies. Although Fry's ensemble comedy ... is rather slight, no film rendition of a major novelist's work has been this much more fun than the original book since Bogie and Bacall steamed up Hemingway's embarrassing To Have and Have Not
For example, Peter O'Toole delivers a howlingly funny cameo performance as a passive-aggressive eccentric, one as striking as John Gielgud's similar role as Jeremy Iron's slyly mad father in the famous miniseries of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I went home sure that Fry had penned some new jokes because the character is so much funnier than I recalled. Upon checking the novel, however, I found that Mr. O'Toole, being a much better reader of dialogue than I am, had only drawn out hilarity that I'd never noticed.

A surprisingly high proportion of the great actors are great readers.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was O'Toole really great as a movie actor? He had a great role as T.E. Lawrence, but what other role was great? Lord Jim maybe.

I would say he had great talent but mostly didn't get good roles, and then, there was the problem with the drinking that pretty much did him in by the 80s. At most, he was good in small parts, but he seemed to be playing the same role over and over and over, typical one being in the LAST EMPEROR: the well-bred English gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Maybe O'toole suffered the same fate as the one that befell Anthony Perkins.
In both cases, their greatest triumphs were their greatest curses.
Perkins got tagged as the homo-like repressed mama's boy killer, and he could never grow out of that role.
And O'toole got tagged as the neurotic homo Englishman, and he had few notable roles that ventured out of that narrow stereotype. He was pretty good in BECKET but he was the repressed homo king.
He wasn't a homo in LORD JIM but was, like Lawrence, a neurotic Englishman abroad.

So, he could never be a regular star in the manner of Paul Newman.

Mr. Anon said...

OT, some Prince Bandar news:

Saudi Government implicated in 9/11 attacks

Mr. Anon said...

I always thought that one of O'Toole's best roles was in "Murphy's War". That and "Lion in Wnter", in which he was extraordinarily funny.

Dave Pinsen said...

O'Toole was quite good in Troy, too.

Re Waugh: there was a British production of Sword of Honor starring Daniel Craig. I think it might have been made for TV over there. I haven't seen it. Have you?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Glenn Close, Phi Beta Kappa at William & Mary.

ricpic said...

My guess is that Waugh's lines were scripted for O'Toole, not that he just pulled them out of his own memory bank. With fame actors may acquire the conceit that they're bigger than the script and begin improvising. 98% of the time a disaster ensues.

Anonymous said...

O'Toole along with Burton, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed were the great Boozing actors of their day.

I guess O'Toole had great genes because he lasted till 81, while Burton keeled over at 58 and Reed and Harris never made it past 70.

I can't say I'm a big fan, he was a little too Fey for me. Good actor though, but too many neurotic roles.

Zippy said...

Don't forget Tom Laughlin, aka Billy Jack. That should produce a bit of Steveishness.

Mr. Anon said...

Anonymous said...

Perkins got tagged as the homo-like repressed mama's boy killer, and he could never grow out of that role."

Perkins was actually better as a screen-writer than as an actor. When you get the time, check out "The Last of Shiela", which he wrote - a highly enertaining who-dunnit set in the Hollywood milieu.

"And O'toole got tagged as the neurotic homo Englishman, and he had few notable roles that ventured out of that narrow stereotype. He was pretty good in BECKET but he was the repressed homo king. He wasn't a homo in LORD JIM but was, like Lawrence, a neurotic Englishman abroad."

That's right, I had forgotten "Lord Jim" - a great movie. I only saw one movie in which O'Toole played kind of a regular guy (although a bit crazy): "Murphy's War", in which he plays a merchant seaman who seeks vengence on the U-boat that sunk his ship.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

O'Toole along with Burton, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed were the great Boozing actors of their day."

Anthony Hopkins was quite a booze-hound too, but he dried out before it killed him.

Your comment reminded me of a Dennis Miller line - that he wanted to get "as drunk as Peter O'Toole on his birthday".

Education Realist said...

There's a fun book--can't remember the title--about Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, and Peter O'Toole. I remember that O'Toole was astonished to realize he'd outlived the other two.

Great O'Toole roles:

Lawrence
Both Henry II roles, particularly LiW
The Stuntman (Eli Cross)
Alan Swann (My Favorite Year)

I'm not a fan of The Ruling Class, although he's wonderful. Also not a big fan of the one he made with Audrey Hepburn (How to Steal A Million).

I was an Oscar junkie my entire life until they gave Forrest Whittaker the Oscar over O'Toole's Venus. It proved they'd lost all sense of history.

Childermass said...

A man, a drinker and no qualms about being politically incorrect. From O'Toole's last interview in 2012, comparing his giving up competitive swimming at the age of 16 to his retirement from acting:

"I'd done it since I was 12 years old. I was good at it and at first I loved it. But then the dread crept in. I'd get on the tram with two cossies and my towel in a bag. I'd do it for half an hour with no audience. No one ever watched competitive swimming. And then I'd change in a filthy cubicle - invariably being watched by a hairy poof - and I reached a stage when every time I finished and touched the bar, a warmth and relief flooded over me. That's what I feel right now. Relief. Relief I don't have to turn up to act any more. Done it as a leading man for half a century. That's enough."

http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-06/11/peter-otoole-the-final-interview-film/page/4

Luke Lea said...

I just re-watched Venus which I think is a great film and a great performance by O'Toole of what it is like to be one step this side of the grave.

Luke Lea said...

re: Saudi Government implicated in 9/11 attacks

I have always suspected W. was blackmailed by Saudis to go after Iraq instead of them -- either because he was gay and they had the video to prove it , or because of some serious financial improprieties he committed back in Houston in the 1980's for which they had incontrovertible documentary evidence.

Steve Sailer said...

O'Toole was the opposite of Gary Oldman: good at playing extraordinary figures. Lawrence of Arabia, for example, was just about the last person in European history to be popularly known by an "of" sobriquet, like St. Francis of Assisi or Leonardo da Vinci.

After O'Toole dried out in the late 1970s, he made an early 1980s comeback playing theatrically larger than life characters like the mephistophelean movie director in Stunt Man or the Errol Flynn-like matinee idol in My Favorite Year.

407 sfowhl said...

My favorite Peter O'Toole movie was The Stuntman. He may have been wrong for the part (perhaps James Caan or Alan Arkin might have been more suitable) but the whole thing was a work of madcap genius.

In 1965, he was in What's New Pussycat, written by Woody Allen. Weird.

He was good friends with another tormented genius lush, Jason Robards, Jr. who used to call him Tooley O'Peete, and who loved to remind him that he had a double phallic name.

Alcoholism used to be very common in actors. I think now it's drugs and wheat grass juice. And of course, gluten free!

Education Realist said...

I have many O'Toole favorite lines, but this seems apt, from My Favorite Year:

"I haven't performed in front of an audience for twenty-eight years! I played a butler. I HAD ONE LINE!

[pause]

I forgot it."

Followed by "DAMN YOU, I'm not an actor. I'm a MOVIE STAR!"

And the name of that book I mentioned? Hellraisers, of course.

liesdab 1606 said...

Slightly OT, but the only reason O'Toole could get away with using a word like 'poof' is because by the time he said it he was an institution. The British are just as PC as we are now.

Damian Lewis got into trouble for using the word "fruity." He's having to backpedal and apologize. Why, he might as well be American.

Anonymous said...

re: Saudi Government implicated in 9/11 attacks

I have always suspected W. was blackmailed by Saudis to go after Iraq instead of them -- either because he was gay and they had the video to prove it , or because of some serious financial improprieties he committed back in Houston in the 1980's for which they had incontrovertible documentary evidence.


LOL. There are dozens of 9/11 conspiracy theories out there, and all of them are more plausible than your's.

Mr. Anon said...

"Luke Lea said...

I have always suspected W. was blackmailed by Saudis to go after Iraq instead of them -- either because he was gay and they had the video to prove it, or because of some serious financial improprieties he committed back in Houston in the 1980's for which they had incontrovertible documentary evidence."

Yes, the Saudis clearly had the goods, some kind of goods, on W.

stick to the Paul Walker oeuvre said...

Regarding the first comments, O'Toole had other good leading parts besides that one. You'd need to bother to look them up of course. The 1968 adaptation of "The Lion In Winter" comes to mind (the rest of its cast are all name actors and also excellent in it). Naturally this does not refute nor can it the incisive point that he must've been kind of mediocre on the basis of not appearing in anything you'd seen.

Jason said...

Do any of you remember O'Toole playing that Roman general in the 80s TV series Masada? I still remember watching it as a kid, especially that scene where the Romans are catapulting Jews into the rocks to get the others Jews on Masada to capitulate. Eventually O'Toole rushes out and screams at the commander running the killing machine: "WE ARE NOT BARBARIANS!" and forces him to stop.

hbd chick said...

i saw o'toole in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell and he was absolutely wonderful!

at least i think he was. all i kept thinking through the whole performance was: it's FRICKIN' PETER O'TOOLE up there!

(^_^)

Anonymous said...

O'Toole was the opposite of Gary Oldman: good at playing extraordinary figures.


I don't get this. Is this based just off that lame Beethoven movie Oldman was in? Is Sid Vicious extraordinary? Lee Harvey Oswald? I really don't understand this comparison when has Oldman really ever been cast as an extraordinary figure. Even Gladwell could have come up with a better example I'm presuming.

Mr. Anon said...

"Jason said...

Do any of you remember O'Toole playing that Roman general in the 80s TV series Masada? I still remember watching it as a kid, especially that scene where the Romans are catapulting Jews into the rocks to get the others Jews on Masada to capitulate. Eventually O'Toole rushes out and screams at the commander running the killing machine: "WE ARE NOT BARBARIANS!" and forces him to stop."

And the zealonts ended up in killing themselves, rather than be taken prisoner. Well, that's how it's always portrayed. But think about what that really means. Did the people of Jonestown all kill themselves? Even the children? What it really means is that the zealots killed all the other Jews, then killed themselves. And this is held up as some kind of great national triumph instead of what it was - a sick crime perpetrated by fanatics.

Veracitor said...

O'Toole's work appealed to intellectuals, of whom he was one in a literary way.

Even his early-eighties "teen romance" Creator (sadly unavailable on disc, since the one for sale is unwatchably butchered) is most delightful to high-IQ viewers.

As for whether O'Toole was a good actor, I don't think he got Academy Award nominations by accident-- even if he kept getting "missed by that much."

Kylie said...

Steve Sailer said, "O'Toole was the opposite of Gary Oldman: good at playing extraordinary figures."

I'd consider Beethoven, Dracula and Sid Vicious extraordinary figures. I think it would be more accurate to say Oldman disappears into his roles whereas O'Toole wore his roles like a cape or some foppish yet striking article of apparel in which he capered about. I've always admired him simply because he got Siân Phillips to marry him. She's an amazingly witty actress.

Lex said...

O'Toole wasn't better than Paul Walker. Alec Guinness, Charles Laughton, Orson Welles or Joseph Cotten - these were very good to great actors.

irishman said...

Jeremy Irons' slyly mad father

not

Jeremy Iron's slyly mad father


I don't do this to be popular either.

pat said...

I woke up this morning thinking about movie acting. I'd best get this down on electrons before it fades.

O'Toole will be praised as a 'great actor'. What does that mean? He is being remembered for his Lawrence role. That should be embarrassing. He was an unknown at the time and now half a century later when we look back we conclude that he was never better. That sort of observation might make you wonder if O'Toole was just very lucky to hit it off in a part so well suited for him.

But of course O'Toole wasn't really right for Lawrence - at least not physically. I used to say that Gibson was about a foot to short too play Wallace and O'Toole about a foot too tall to play Lawrence.

Look at photos of the real Lawrence and you immediately think - 'Woody Allen'. Maybe O'Toole's talent was in making this odd little dwarf into a heroic figure.

I figure - based on my high school drama experience - that just about one person in a hundred can act. About one person in a hundred can sing or dance. The ability to both sing and dance is very rare - independent probabilities multiply. When the dancing broke out in 'Seven Brides' Howard Keel walked out of the frame. Similarly the great movie dancers like Astaire or Kelly had wispy little voices that needed a close mic. Most musical stars with golden throats had leaden feet - think Sinatra.

I can't never think of a Hollywood actor or actress who couldn't actually act just as almost every singer I've ever heard in a professional opera production could certainly sing. But in amateur opera productions inability to sing is often heard whereas in amateur drama productions usually everyone on stage can act. So maybe singing ability is a little more rare than acting ability.

Part of the reason Hollywood movie acting is so good is the large amount of money at risk. Another is the ready availability of substitutes. There's always a long line to get a chance on the casting couch.

Then there's the Wilford Brimley effect. In a good but obscure Paul Newman movie Wilford Brimley - a complete unknown - walks on camera and creates movie magic with just a few minutes of dialog. Who was that guy? Where did he come from? Where had he been for the first fifty years of his career?

Brimley was probably just another regional theater talent basking in obscurity until he got his one big moment. Steve living in LA undoubtedly knows or sees many movie stars. But I knew one. Peter Donat lived on my block when I lived in San Francisco. He was the biggest star at the local professional stage company. He played all the big leads. But in Hollywood he was consigned to minor supporting parts. He never got his Wolford Brimley moment. Peter O'Toole certainly did.

So it's like when Jerry Rice at thirty something hurt his leg and couldn't play any longer. The dumb sportscasters said it was a tragedy. It wasn't. It's a tragedy when a nineteen year older on the brink of stardom blows out his knee. O'Toole had his shot. He got his break. He partied a lot, drank a lot and died old. No cause for sorrow here.

Albertosaurus



pat said...

Not really on topic, but some anonymous brought up Masada.

Masada was not particularly unusual. Romans and those before them at least as far back as the Assyrians were used to slaughtering and/or enslaving the occupants of a town that had been under siege.

The technique was to kill everyone in town A so as to motivate town B not to resist. For big armies on the move, no set of town defenses could actually keep a conqueror out but they could cause delay. Also besieging armies were vulnerable to disease. It you stayed camped beneath the walls of a fortress your sanitation might break down. It was important to win access quickly. So commanders of besieging forces took revenge on towns people who had thwarted them.

The Jews in Masada knew there was no happy outcome if their defenses failed.

Also remember that Jews captured as slaves in the First Jewish War were all worked to death building the Coliseum. The prisoners at Masada would have only had short and unpleasant lives when taken by the Romans. Several Gallic towns in Caesar's Wars earlier had also committed mass suicide rather than endure slavery.

Slavery in the ancient world was more diverse. Some slavery was pleasant - there were always people volunteering for certain types of slavery. But war prisoners were just worked to death as expeditiously as possible. Not much food, little shelter. The idea was to get some benefit before they died. But dying was the main point. When you lost a siege you were marked for extermination. The Jews at Masada knew that when the defenses failed they were as good as dead. Their suicides weren't heroic protests so much as simply accepting the inevitable.

ALbertosaurus

Anonymous said...

There's something wrong with having some who played Sid Vicious play Beethoven. Maybe the makers took their cue from the success of AMADEUS where Mozart was presented as a kind of rock star. Tom Hulce said he looked in the mirror and saw Prince. Ken Russell had the similar idea with Lisztsomania.

Not a good approach to classical music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZuSaudKc68

Oldman is a very fine actor but was miscast as Beethoven and in lots of other movies. He was too ugly to be the romantic anti-hero of DRACULA, which also suffered from Coppola's stylistic excesses. Coppola even threw in a John Ford stage coach chase as if to show off that he can make a western too(and not just gangster movies, war movies, musicals, and horror movies). Film school mentality.

IMMORTAL BELOVED was bad in every way. Horrible writing and directing. I recall one scene that wanted to make a point about the moral betrayal of the French Revolution. Talk about overkill. Bombs blow up a house; roof collapses, chandelier falls, and kills an innocent child. And then we see French soldiers raping a woman. And all within a minute or two--and to the music of Beethoven for IRONIC effect.
When such horrors make you crack up, you know something is wrong.

http://youtu.be/CpR-iy--3ZU?t=3m48s

Paul Mendez said...

Yes, the Saudis clearly had the goods, some kind of goods, on W.

Like made-in-Pakistan nukes?

Anonymous said...

T.E. Lawrence, as depicted in "Lawrence of Arabia" (and I don't blame O'toole for this, he was merely reading the lines written) WAS TOTALLY unlike the real Lawrence. It almost kept me from reading "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom", a fascinating book.

James Kabala said...

Mr. Anon: My high school Latin teacher showed the Masada movie on some flimsy pretext, and most students were pretty horrified by the ending. Comparisons to Jonestown were indeed made.

Cail Corishev said...

I really don't understand this comparison when has Oldman really ever been cast as an extraordinary figure.

His greatest role ever, of course: Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg.

sdataryt 503 said...

Re Sian Phillips' wit. Yes. Remember her Livia in I Claudius? Genius. The way she addressed the gladiators before they went into the arena: "Now, you're all scum and you know it."

The way she rendered the line was unforgettable, and hilarious.

Dave Pinsen said...

Masada is not held up as a triumph, but as a warning. The zealots were besieged on Masada after Judea lost its war against Rome (the zealots killed themselves 3 years after Jerusalem fell). So the warning is to not lose wars like that again.

Anonymous said...

http://gawker.com/womens-rights-advocate-paid-her-nanny-three-dollars-an-1483881548?utm

This is so typical among Indian elites--but also among elites of/from Africa, Latin America, and etc. Their 'progressive' rhetoric applies to the West but not really themselves or their people. So, Indian elites will bitch about Western or white 'racism', imperialism, and etc, but they treat their own masses like dirt. Gandhi was like this too, though he did try to change. When Indian elites say 'racism' is bad, they are saying perceived white 'racism' against them is bad, but they can have whatever attitudes against others as they please.
But Jews aren't much different. When Jews talk about conscience, they mean whites should be conscientious with Jews, not that Jews should be conscientious with whites.
And Latin American whites are notorious for their negative attitudes toward non-whites in their own nations, but when it comes to dealing with white Americans, they play the 'people of color' fighting for equality.

This moral duality among non-white elites around the world is sickening.

Anonymous said...

MASADA yes. How did I forget that? That was one of O'Toole's truly fine roles even if it was a made-for-TV movie.

It seems like Bowie walked in O'Toole's footsteps even if unintentionally. Bowie's role in MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE as Jack Celliers echoes O'Toole's in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. And Bowie later also played a Roman in LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.

Romans were usually played by British actors, but I don't think the ancient Romans were like the reticent Brits at all.

Education Realist said...

"Then there's the Wilford Brimley effect. In a good but obscure Paul Newman movie Wilford Brimley - a complete unknown - walks on camera and creates movie magic with just a few minutes of dialog. Who was that guy? Where did he come from? Where had he been for the first fifty years of his career?"

You're talking about Absence of Malice. Brimley was not a complete unknown. He'd had a key role in China Syndrome (which also had Peter Donat in it, by the way), Electric Horseman, and Brubaker. Redford apparently liked him.

I agree it was a stupendous star turn, but he'd already been cast in The Thing by that point, with Tender Mercies right after that.

And Peter O'Toole is NOTHING like Wilford Brimley. The comparison is ludicrous. Peter Donat is another goofy comparison. Best comparison to Wilford Brimley is Richard Farnsworth or Paul Dooley.

By the way, both Gene Kelly and particularly Fred Astaire were considered excellent singers.

dcite said...

"sdataryt 503 said...
Re Sian Phillips' wit. Yes. Remember her Livia in I Claudius? Genius. The way she addressed the gladiators before they went into the arena: "Now, you're all scum and you know it."

The way she rendered the line was unforgettable, and hilarious.
"

That was a good line, but she finished up by admonishing the Glads that she would not stand for her family having to watch two grown men pussy-footing about afraid to throw a good blow. So shape up!

I don't know if the Brits were like the ancient Romans (there were plenty of ancient Romans in Britain for hundreds of years before the collapse of the empire, and there is a long standing acceptance that the British (or at least those south of Scotland) are descended from Romans. Nobody gets the irony of the Roman Empire quite like the English. Probably because they have so recently los theirs.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yW9JkKwF3IY

John Boorman film. Along with Zardoz and Hope & Glory, one of his most personal. Touches on many of the themes of Excalibur: power and pride, father-son dynamics, problems of identity('who is my real father?'), betrayal of others and of self, rediscovery of self('Have you found the secret that I have lost??'), etc. With archetypal characters reminiscent of Uther, Arthur, Mordred, Merlin, etc, sometimes rolled within the same character. Final image of the boat recalls the ship sailing to Avalon in Excalibur. A gem.

Anonymous said...

Immortal Beloved is the favorite film of Texas governor and former GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry.

Weirdest thing I've ever read on wikipedia.

prucuss 2080 said...

"That was a good line, but she finished up by admonishing the Glads that she would not stand for her family having to watch two grown men pussy-footing about afraid to throw a good blow. So shape up!"

Thanks for reminding me.

I don't buy any of these stereotypes being bandied about here about the English being reticent. When you know the cues, they are very emotional.

I find it interesting that two of the classic Hollywood revenge tough guy directors were English: John Boorman (POINT BLANK) and Michael Winner (DEATH WISH). OK Winner was Jewish but in those days, you could be both.

Such a gentle, unviolent folk, those English.

In an alternate universe. English history is blood-soaked. Like all human history.