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24 September 2014

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You are in: Leeds > People > Profiles > Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole & Sian Phillips

O'Toole and wife Sian Phillips in 1969

Peter O'Toole

A profile of the world-famous actor from Hunslet.

Peter Seamus O'Toole was born on 2 August 1932. Some reports say he was born in Connemara, County Galway - others that he was born in Leeds. O'Toole himself professed not to know the answer, although he was fond of stressing his Irishness.

Despite the mystery over his actual birthplace, O'Toole was brought up in the early years by his parents, in Hunslet. His mother Constance was a Scots-born nurse while his father Patrick was an Irish bookmaker. In keeping with the nature of his father's job, the infant O'Toole journeyed around the racetracks of Northern England as the family sought to earn a living in tough times in the 1930s.

He left school at 14, and joined a local newspaper, initially as an errand boy but later on he was required to nip in to matinee showings in the local cinemas and theatres to write quickfire reviews. National Service came next at the age of 18 and after serving as a signalman in the Navy he was demobbed and decided that the theatre life he'd enjoyed as a reporter, was the life for him.

Peter O'Toole as MacBeth in 1980

Peter O'Toole as MacBeth in 1980

Managing to gain a scholarship place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), O'Toole studied there for two years between 1952 and 1954 although it's unclear as to whether he actually completed his studies there but maybe he was distracted as he studied there at the same time as acting legends Richard Harris, Alan Bates and Albert Finney - all three not shy of drinking sessions!

Despite gaining his first television role in 1954, playing a soldier in an adaptation of "The Scarlet Pimpernel", O'Toole spent the next few years treading the boards - quite a lot of that time with the English Stage Company, based at Bristol's Old Vic Theatre.

In 1958 he married Welsh actress Sian Phillips (they had two daughters, Kate and Patricia) and the following year saw him bag his first film role in "The Savage Innocents", a film directed by celebrated auteur Nicholas Ray and starring Anthony Quinn.

Peter O'Toole in 2006

Peter O'Toole in 2006

The next couple of years saw him juggling between theatre and film work - something he has done throughout his career - until the big breakthrough film role arrived at his feet in 1962. David Lean's biopic "Lawrence Of Arabia" made Peter O'Toole a worldwide star but he could have been pipped by an old classmate for the role. Lean's first choice was Albert Finney who, unsure of the likely success of the film, turned it down. Superstar Marlon Brando was also considered the role but in the end, serendipitously it was O'Toole who played the charismatic Lawrence and earned him the first of seven Oscar nominations.

That success was followed by more major film roles (and Oscar nominations) throughout the rest of the decade, mixing serious high drama like "Becket" and "The Lion In Winter" with quirkier roles in "Casino Royale" and "How To Steal A Million".

The 1970s were a decade of more of the same: varied film roles and theatrical productions although towards the end of the decade his health deteriorated due to his heavy drinking, which was also a major factor in his divorce from Phillips after over twenty years of marriage.

1983 saw him become a father once more as his girlfriend gave birth to a son, Lorcan. Despite his travails, O'Toole has continued to work regularly in theatre, film and TV. His reputation as a hard-drinker hasn't deterred employers and one of his most famous roles came when he played fellow imbiber, journalist Jeffrey Bernard, in "Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell".

Selected filmography:

Kidnapped (1960)
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
Becket (1964)
What's News Pussycat? (1965)
Lord Jim (1965)
Night Of The Generals (1967)
The Lion In Winter (1968)
Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969)
The Ruling Class (1972)
Under Milk Wood (1973)
Zulu Dawn (1979)
Caligula (1980)
My Favourite Year (1982)
The Last Emperor (1987)
King Ralph (1991)

  

last updated: 30/04/2008 at 16:55
created: 30/04/2008

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