Laurence Olivier's prowess in diverse roles such as Heathcliff and King Lear brought him wide acclaim as the greatest actor of his time.
He played more than 100 roles in the course of a career that also included successful efforts as director and producer of plays and films, the rebuilding of the Old Vic Theater Company after World War II and leadership in creating the British National Theater.
One of his biggest challenges, and best results, was adapting Shakespeare's "Henry V" to film. This afforded the opportunity, among other things, to show combat on horseback rather than on foot as in stage productions, and gave Olivier one of his more memorable scenes.
The film is still being shown around the world. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences liked it too and voted him a special Oscar for his "outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director" of the picture.
Olivier followed, in 1948, with "Hamlet," which landed him his second Oscar as lead actor. (The film, which he produced, also won an Oscar as best of the year.)
In addition to a third Oscar (a special one, presented in 1979 for "the full body of his work"), Olivier received a gold medallion from the Swedish Academy of Literature, was an officer of the French Legion of Honor, held honorary degrees from Oxford and Edinburgh universities and four Emmy awards for television appearances in "The Moon and Sixpence," "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Love Among the Ruins" and "Brideshead Revisited."
He alternated between theater and Hollywood, appearing with wife Vivien Leigh in "Caesar and Cleopatra," and "Antony and Cleopatra," performing the plays on alternating nights during the Festival of Britain and later transferring both to the Ziegfeld Theater in New York, where the couple also appeared in Terence Rattigan's "The Sleeping Prince."
In later years he accepted stewardship of the Chichester Festival Theater, England's first arena-type auditorium, in 1961, and directed three plays for the inaugural program in the summer of 1962 (playing a major role in one) and then returned to the commercial stage for the satirical comedy "Semi-Detached" in London before accepting the managing directorship of the new National Theater of Great Britain in 1963.
His efforts were, ultimately, successful; when he finally relinquished the reins of the theater in 1973, his decade of management had seen the organization firmly established—a highly respected and acclaimed national institution.
|1939||Best Actor||Wuthering Heights||Nomination|
|1946||Best Actor||Henry V||Nomination|
|1956||Best Actor||Richard III||Nomination|
|1960||Best Actor||The Entertainer||Nomination|
|1976||Best Supporting Actor||Marathon Man||Nomination|
|1978||Best Actor||The Boys from Brazil||Nomination|