Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sir Laurence Olivier - 100th Anniversary

We cover three giants this week with a great many differences between them, but one particular thing in common, which is the 100th anniversary of their births. Katharine Hepburn, born May 12th, Sir Laurence Olivier, born May 22nd, and John Wayne, born May 26th, all in the year 1907, have different strengths and talents, but all with such remarkable screen star quality.

Sir Laurence, though he belongs unquestionably to the theater world, especially noted for his interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays, nevertheless found himself a place in Hollywood as well. “Hamlet” (1948) is the only filmed version of one of Shakespeare’s plays to win an Academy Award, in which he stars, directed, and also produced.

This same elite performer of classics appeared at home as Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) as he did playing the dapper and aloof Mr. de Winter, haunted by his past in “Rebecca” filmed that same year, coming in off the success of “Wuthering Heights” (1939) that made his brooding, anguished portrayal of Healthcliff the definitive.

In 1941, there is an odd about-face in the role of boisterous French-Canadian Johnnie the Trapper in “49th Parallel,” a British film made by Ortus Films, Ltd. Even in character parts (which not too many stars of the day would stoop to taking when they had achieved star status), Sir Laurence takes over the screen. He is also to have reported to have worked at half salary on behalf of the United Kingdom’s war effort. He may have been as well known for his marriage to actress Vivien Leigh during these years, but name recognition does not seem to be something he had a problem with once the camera, and the public, discovered him for his own prodigious talent.

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