Laurence Olivier

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Laurence Olivier (1939); Photograph by Carl van Vechten from the Van Vechten Collection of the Library of Congress
Laurence Olivier, Baron Olivier (1972); Photography by Allan Warren

Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier , OM (born May 22, 1907 as Laurence Kerr Olivier in Dorking , Surrey , England ; † July 11, 1989 in Steyning , West Sussex , England), was a British actor , director , producer and theater director . The three-time Oscar winner is regarded as one of the greatest English-speaking stage and film actors of the 20th century.


Laurence Olivier was born as the youngest of three children of pastor Gerard Kerr Olivier (1869-1939) and his wife Agnes Louise (1871-1920). The strictly religiously educated boy attended St. Edwards School in Oxford. When he was 17 years old, his father decided that he should go to drama school. In 1926 he joined the Birmingham Repertory Company , where he was able to play more demanding roles over time. In 1930 he married actress Jill Esmond . That same year he made his first film, The Temporary Widow , based on the play hoax by Curt Goetz . He soon developed a reputation as an excellent performer, especially in Shakespeare plays. Romeo and Juliet brought him his final breakthrough as a theater star in 1935. The author Charles Bennett wrote about Olivier's achievements in Shakespeare that his language seemed as natural as if he was just thinking his sentences.

Laurence Olivier began an affair with the then unknown Vivien Leigh in the late 1930s . After she was also famous, he made several films with her (including as Lord Nelson in Lord Nelson's Last Love ) and married her in August 1940. His portrayal of the hateful lover Heathcliff in the film Wuthering Heights (1939) brought after Emily Brontë 's novel of the same name Olivier received his first Oscar nomination. Thanks to Wuthering Heights , he became well known in Hollywood and was subsequently seen there in lavish films in "typically British" roles. Other demanding amateur roles in literary adaptations followed, including the quick-tempered Maxim de Winter in Alfred Hitchcock's Hollywood debut Rebecca and the vain Mr. Darcy in Robert Z. Leonard's Pride and Prejudice .

After the start of the Second World War , Olivier trained as a pilot, but he was never used. In 1944 he co-founded the new Old Vic Company , with which he completed five successful seasons at the Old Vic Theater . So he succeeded as Richard III. ; his impersonation of Sophocles ' Oedipus and that of Mister Puff in Sheridan's comedy The Critic was also regarded as a high point at the theater. As an actor and director, he also expressed his love for Shakespeare's dramas through a number of films, some of which he also acted as producer : In 1944 he made his first Shakespeare film, Heinrich V , followed by the film adaptations Hamlet in 1948 and Richard III . 1955. He also played the title role in all of these films and received excellent reviews.

The 1964 stage production of Othello was another success as a film in 1965. Olivier was one of the founders of the National Theater and for a long time its director. From 1967 he suffered increasingly from health problems. As a film director, he appeared with Three Sisters after Chekhov for the last time in 1970; his last stage appearance was in March 1974 as John Tagg in Trevor Griffiths ' The Party . Until 1985 he took part in films of varying quality. Olivier's regular German speaker was Wilhelm Borchert , who was represented at times by Siegmar Schneider , Friedrich Schoenfelder and Siegfried Schürenberg . Fifteen years after his death, old recordings of him that were used for the role of Doctor Totenkopf were digitized for the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow .

During his long career, he was nominated for an Oscar a total of 11 times . In 1947 he was knighted ( Knight Bachelor ) and on March 5, 1971 to life peer as Baron Olivier , of Brighton in the County of Sussex , raised. Despite all these successes and even after his elevation to the nobility, he insisted on being addressed simply as "Larry". The annual Laurence Olivier Award for theater and musical productions in London's West End is named after him.

The baron title was associated with a seat in the House of Lords , into which it was formally introduced on March 24, 1971. In Hansard a parliamentary speech is recorded by him.

Private life

Olivier was first married to Jill Esmond from 1930 to 1940 . With her he had a son named Tarquin (director). As early as 1938, however, he began a relationship with Vivien Leigh , who left her husband because of him and married him in 1940. The marriage lasted officially until 1960. In his third marriage he was married from 1961 to the actress Joan Plowright , whom he had met in 1958 during the filming of The Comedian , in which he impersonated the title role and she appeared as his daughter. They had three children together: Richard (director), Tamsin and Julie-Kate Olivier (both actresses).

Laurence Olivier died of kidney failure in his home at the age of 82 . After the cremation, his urn was buried - as an honor for few actors - in the Poets' Corner of London's Westminster Abbey .

Awards and honors


  • Awards
1947: Honorary award for "his outstanding performance as an actor, producer and director in the cinema adaptation Heinrich V."
1949: Best Actor (Hamlet)
1979: Honorary award for "his fulfilling work, the unique achievements of his entire career and his contribution to the art form of film as a life's work"
  • Nominations
1940: Best Actor (Sturmhöhe)
1941: Best Actor (Rebecca)
1947: Best Actor (Heinrich V.)
1949: Best Director (Hamlet)
1957: Best Actor (Richard III.)
1961: Best Actor (The Comedian)
1966: Best Actor (Othello)
1973: Best Actor (Murder with Small Mistakes)
1977: Best Supporting Actor (The Marathon Man)
1979: Best Actor (The Boys from Brazil)

British Academy Film Award

  • Awards
1956: Best British Actor (Richard III.)
1970: Best Supporting Actor (Oh! What a Lovely War)
1976: Academy Fellowship
  • Nominations
1953: Best British Actor (Carrie)
1958: Best British Actor (The Prince and the Dancer)
1960: Best British Actor (The Devil's Student)
1961: Best British Actor (The Comedian)
1963: Best British Actor (Term of Trial)
1974: Best Actor (Murder with Small Mistakes)
1974: Best TV Actor (One Long Day's Trip Into the Night)
1983: Best Television Actor (A Voyage Round My Father)

David di Donatello

1957: Best foreign production (Richard III.)
1973: Best Foreign Actor (Murder with Minor Mistakes)


  • Awards
1960: Outstanding solo performance by an actor - leading or supporting role (The Moon and the Sixpence)
1973: Outstanding solo performance by a leading actor (One long day's journey into the night)
1975: Outstanding leading actor in a special drama or comedy (Love in the Twilight)
1982: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Special (Great Performances: Brideshead Revisited )
1984: Outstanding leading actor in a limited series or special (King Lear)
  • Nominations
1968: Outstanding Dramatic Show (Uncle Vanya)
1970: Outstanding solo performance by a leading actor (David Copperfield)
1974: Best Actor in a Drama (The Merchant of Venice)
1987: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special (Lost Empires)

Golden Globe Award

  • Awards
1949: Best Actor (Hamlet)
1977: Best Supporting Actor (The Marathon Man)
1983: Cecil B. DeMille Award for his life's work
  • Nominations
1961: Best Actor - Drama (Spartacus)
1973: Best Actor - Drama (Murder With Small Flaws)
1980: Best Supporting Actor (I love you - I love you - Je t'aime)

National Board of Review

1946: Best Actor (Heinrich V.)
1978: Best Actor (The Boys from Brazil)

New York Film Critics Circle Award

1946: Best Film (Heinrich V., 3rd place)
1946: Best Director (Heinrich V., 2nd place)
1946: Best Actor (Heinrich V.)
1948: Best Director (Hamlet, 2nd place)
1948: Best Actor (Hamlet)
1960: Best Actor (Der Komödiant, 3rd place)
1972: Best Actor (Murder with Small Flaws)

Further awards

1948: Golden Lion of the Venice Film Festival (Hamlet)
1949: Bodil for Best European Film (Hamlet)
1949: Kinema Jumpō Prize for the best foreign language film (Heinrich V.)
1950: Italian Film Critics Award of the Venice Film Festival (Hamlet)
1950: Nastro d'Argento of the Italian National Association of Film Journalists as Best Director of a Foreign Film (Heinrich V.)
1956: International Prize of the Berlinale (Richard III.)
1957: Jussi as Best Foreign Actor (Richard III.)
1960: Actor Award of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (The Comedian)
1966: Sonning Prize from the University of Copenhagen
1971: Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1979: Saturn Award nomination for Best Actor (The Boys from Brazil)
1983: Film Society of Lincoln Center Gala Tribute
1984: CableACE Award for Actor in a Dramatic or Theater Show (Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson)
1985: Banff Television Festival Award of Excellence
1988: International Antonio Feltrinelli Prize

Negative prices

Golden Raspberry

1981: Worst Supporting Actor (The Jazz Singer)
1983: Worst Actor (Inchon)

Filmography (selection)


  • Laurence Olivier: Confessions of an Actor. Simon & Schuster 1982, ISBN 0-671-41701-0 . / German: Confessions of an actor from d. Engl. By Gerhard Beckmann a. Irene Rumler (appendix). Bertelsmann, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-570-00896-7 .
  • Robert L. Daniels: Laurence Olivier: Cinema and Theater. AS Barnes / Tantivy Press, 1980, ISBN 0-498-02287-0 .
  • Donald Spoto: Sir Laurence Olivier. A biography. (OT: Laurence Olivier. A Biography ). Heyne, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-453-05596-9 .
  • Jerry Vermilye: The Complete Films of Laurence Olivier. Carol, 1992, ISBN 0-8065-1302-0 .

Web links

Commons : Laurence Olivier  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  2. Laurence Olivier in the German dubbing index
  3. Hansard: Lord Olivier
  4. ^ Hansard: Mr Laurence Oliver: Contributions 1971
  5. The grave of Laurence Olivier
  6. Biography of Laurence Olivier (English)