Category: laurence olivier

Collections Cataloguing: Box 3

collecta-belle laurence olivier theatre

Collections Cataloguing: Box 3

Hello, 2019! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season.

The new year has brought a new look to this site. I like to freshen things up every few years and just felt like returning to a basic blog layout to make things more user-friendly. Instead of a static page of blog posts you should now be able to easily visit old posts by using the “older posts” link at the bottom of each page. The photo gallery still has the old layout but it should be changed over soon. I’ve also highlighted in the sidebar two things I’m currently hard at work on: Insatgram and the Viv and Larry Patreon. Please do take a minute to familiarise yourself with the new layout and let me know if you find any broken links or things that just aren’t working.

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Collection cataloguing: Box 1

collecta-belle laurence olivier

Collection cataloguing: Box 1

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d recently purchased a major Laurence Olivier ephemera collection, which I’m currently in the process of repackaging and cataloguing — similar to what I did with the Vivien Leigh private photo albums. I always enjoy seeing other people’s collections, unboxing videos, reveals, etc. so I thought I would share some goodies from each portion of this project as I go along.

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On a boat with Natalie Wood and Laurence Olivier

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On a boat with Natalie Wood and Laurence Olivier

You may not know this, but Laurence Olivier adored Natalie Wood. They worked together in 1976 on a TV version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in which she starred as Maggie, with her then-husband Robert Wagner as Brick and Olivier as Big Daddy. In those later years when he was in Hollywood, Larry spent quite a bit of time with Natalie and Robert, who were both in awe of him. Larry and Natalie talked of acting and life and a certain person, undoubtedly. As Wagner wrote in his autobiography, Pieces of My Heart,

Natalie was passionate on the subject of Vivien Leigh, her favorite actress, and the movies she would watch over and over again were Gone With the Wind and, particularly, A Streetcar Named Desire. God, she loved that movie, and she loved all of Tennessee Williams – his particular poetic take on damaged souls.

In her book Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood, biographer Suzanne Finstad elaborates on the relationship between Larry and Natalie:

[Natalie] compared acting with Olivier to starring with James Dean, describing them both as “fluid.”

Olivier was “insane about Natalie,” according to their costar Maureen Stapleton. Olivier, ironically, was in awe of Natalie’s beauty, the very thing Vivien Leigh, her idol and his ex-wife, worried overshadowed her reputation as a serious actress.

Larry was often invited on sailing excursions aboard the Wagner’s yacht, the Splendour, where the above photograph was taken. There are so many things I love about this picture: Natalie’s hat, her Espadrilles, her whole boho ensemble, Larry trying to capture her with his Polaroid, what appears to be Catalina in the background, the fact that they’re just sitting there. Together. On a boat. No big deal. The Wagners accompanied Larry to the Century City premiere of the film A Little Romance in 1979, so it is likely the photo was snapped around that time.

 

Interview with Laurence Olivier author Margarida Araya

books interviews laurence olivier

Interview with Laurence Olivier author Margarida Araya

Richard III is one of Laurence Olivier’s most critically acclaimed films, both as an actor and director. Filmed in Spain in 1954 with interiors shot in England, it is the third film in what is now known as the Olivier Shakespeare Trilogy (out on Criterion Collection). While information about Olivier’s life in England is abundant, his time in Spain is less well-known–until now.

Here, Tanguy Deville interviews theatre historian, author, and Laurence Olivier expert Margarida Araya about her debut book, Sir Laurence Olivier in Spain.

*****

Author Margarida ArayaTanguy Deville: Can you introduce yourself briefly and tell us how you became interested in Laurence Olivier?

Margarida Araya: I’m from Barcelona and I’m a translator and an Air Navigation Technician. I started to get really interested in Laurence Olivier (I had seen some films before) when I watched The Entertainer. It contained everything I liked: theatrical references, a looser character and a great performance. Then I started to look for information/photos of him on the Internet and discovered what a glamorous couple he and Vivien Leigh made.

TD: How did the idea of the book come about?

MA: I always love to investigate things. I started to investigate (through newspaper libraries) if LO had even been to Barcelona. Then I started to find about the shooting of Richard III near Madrid and the Oliviers’ holiday in Andalucia.

Laurence Olivier directing Richard IIIWhen I had compiled a lot of information I decided to create a small site to share it. I kept on investigating (travelling to Madrid and to the British Library in London) and after discovering some interesting facts I thought that they deserved to be published in a book. So I sent my proposal to different publishing houses and then a friend put me in contact with Camelot.

TD: We know a lot about the Oliviers in Italy, and in France. Their stay in Spain is less well-known; very few biographers have investigated it. Why is that?

MA: They only came to Spain on holiday once so there is much more documentation of them in Italy.

TD: How did you work on the research?

Laurence Olivier in SpainMA: My main research has been through Spanish newspaper libraries (online and physical). I travelled to Madrid to visit the zone where they shot Richard III and I contacted several towns in the zone, but just one (Torrelodones) gave me feed-back and helped me answer a couple of questions. I also went to the British Library in London where I could read Olivier’s personal diaries.

TD: Were the Oliviers big stars in Spain at the time?

MA: The Spanish press was quite disconnected from the rest of the world; they hardly Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh 1955knew anything about the Oliviers. They only knew them from being the stars of Hamlet and Gone With the Wind. In my book I reproduce some original interviews and they are very naive.

TD: Why did Olivier decide to film Richard III in Spain?

MA: After filming Henry V in Ireland, he looked for a location with better weather. Spain was cheap and had a lot of sun. The only problem he found was that the grass was too yellow to look like Bosworth…

TD: The Oliviers made many trips to Spain. What did they do and who did they meet there?

MA: There isn’t much information about their visits in the Spanish press. These were pre-paparazzi times! They met Lola Flores, the flamenco dancer, during the shooting of Richard III. During their holiday in Andalucia they also meet Antonio, another flamenco dancer, so we can guess they really liked flamenco! They visited several Andalucian towns and they even went to the cinema to see a Spanish movie.

TD: At the time of Richard III and later in the ’50’s, Spain started to become a great place for filming…

MA: Yes, and Olivier claimed his was the first international production to do it. After him came Orson Welles, the Samuel Bronston productions and Kubrick’s Spartacus*, for example.
(*Olivier didn’t come to Spain for the Spartacus filming. They used a body double during the battle scene.)

TD: During the writing of your book and the research did you make some interesting discoveries?

Laurence Olivier in SpainMA: I can’t tell you about the main discovery, it’s a secret! (It will surprise Spaniard readers.) But I can tell you that in many interviews LO said he had been in Spain before August 1954, and I couldn’t find any reference of this trip. One day, by chance and through a Marilyn Monroe book, I saw a photo of him standing in front of a Spanish sign. I was lucky to find the Spanish magazine that had published that photo. They even interviewed him. This visit was confirmed in his diaries.

TD: Richard III is considered to be the greatest part of Olivier’s (specially on stage). What is your opinion of that movie today?

MA: When I first saw the movie it surprised me to see it had a comical tone and I immediately fell in love with Richard. I think it’s a combination of his two previous Shakespearean films. The first part is very theatrical and then, we have the ‘Spanish’ part with a lot of real action. The cast and the rhythm are great. I’ve seen other Richard III versions but I stick with Olivier’s.

TD: After their divorce, did Larry go back in Spain? What about Vivien?

MA: Yes, Larry came back to Spain many times, with Joan Plowright, to spend different summers in the Balearic Islands. He was also in Costa Brava for two days filming Nicholas and Alexandra.
I centered my research on Larry so I can’t tell you for sure if Vivien came back to Spain, but I haven’t seen her name in any subsequent document.

*****

Laurence Olivier en EspanaSir Laurence Olivier en España tells us why the British actor and director Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) chose “those stunted Spanish trees and the silver grass” to shoot part of his film Richard III near Madrid in 1954. Despite its secrecy, and thanks to certain documentation such as Olivier’s personal diaries, some mysteries of the shooting are revealed. We also have access of several interviews given by Olivier and his then wife, the actress Vivien Leigh, to the Spanish press in 1954 as well as on his later visit, on holiday in Torremolinos, in 1957.

Sir Laurence Olivier en España is published by Camelot and is available in Spanish, with an English language version coming soon.

Margarida Araya also runs the Sir Laurence Olivier Stage Work website and the wonderful Sir Laurence Olivier Fan Page on Facebook.


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Carrie: The best Laurence Olivier film you’ve never seen

Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones in William Wyler's Carrie

This post is part of the William Wyler Blogathon currently hosted by The Movie Projector. Spoiler alert: proceed with caution!

In 1950, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier returned to Hollywood after a 10-year hiatus. In the intervening years, much had changed for Scarlett and Heathcliff. They were married in late 1940 and almost immediately sailed for England, leaving the luxurious life behind for one of buzz bombs and gas masks. During the war, both rose to prominence on the London stage and Olivier also became one of Britain’s most revered film directors by successfully bringing Shakespeare to the screen. He became the youngest ever Actor-Knight in 1947, and the following year he and Vivien achieved legendary status in the eyes of the public when they led a successful Old Vic tour of Australia and New Zealand. When they again stepped foot on California soil, they were no longer Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh but The Oliviers, a combined cultural icon idolized by fans and fellow actors alike.

Vivien had been lured back to Tinsel Town to play Blanche in  A Streetcar Named Desire and Olivier had come to offer support. Playing the role on stage for nine months had drained Vivien and they didn’t want to risk a long separation. Looking for a challenge to fill the time, Olivier signed on to star in the film adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s controversial turn of the century urban novel Sister Carrie. The film reunited Olivier with director William Wyler, who had been instrumental in helping the actor appreciate the film medium during the grueling making of Wuthering Heights in 1938/39.

Carrie Meeber (Selznick discovery Jennifer Jones, who was married to the producer at the time) is a young girl from Wisconsin who leaves home at 18 in search of the American Dream. On board the train to Chicago she meets the suave and slightly creepy Charles Druet, who takes an immediate interest in her solo status and fresh looks. Carrie stays with her sister and her Swedish husband in a tenement flat on the wrong side of town and finds work in a shoe factory to help pay the rent. But her cheerful outlook quickly sours and she ties of the monotonous labour and meager pay. After suffering an injury-by-sewing-machine, Carrie is fired from her seat in the assembly line and turns to Druet out of desperation. But instead of helping her find a job, Druet just makes her his kept woman.

On the first evening of their relationship, Druet tells her to meet him at Fitzgerald’s, the swankiest restaurant in Chicago. There she meets the proprieter, George Hurstwood (Olivier). Hurstwood, though middle-aged, immediately takes an interest in Carrie and we soon learn that he’s got a sad life at home with his grown kids and gold-digging harpy wife. Soon George is taking Carrie to the theatre and showing her a bit of culture with some extra benefits on the side. But George is good at keeping secrets. Carrie only finds out about his wife and family after she’s fallen in love with him, and is convinced he’s just using her as a cheap toy.

George’s love for Carrie is real enough and he asks his wife for a divorce. She refuses and threatens to ruin him, but George won’t be blackmailed. Instead, he accidentally embezzles a large amount of cash from the safe at Fitzgerald’s and under the pretext of Charles Druet’s (fabricated) illness, convinces Carrie to run away with him to New York where they can marry. It’s not long, however, before George’s secret is discovered, bringing about an onslaught of consequences for both of them that results in Carrie’s rise to success–albeit not happiness–as an actress and George’s rapid descent into poverty and his eventual suicide in a homeless shelter.

Screenwriting team Ruth and Augustus Goetz did well in keeping many of Dreiser’s themes in tact–namely the realism of human nature in the face of Victorian morals, and the hardships of working-class America in the early 20th century–but the film is otherwise firmly stamped with the red ink of the Production Code. In the Old Hollywood Rule Book there is a high price to pay for those who lie, steal, cheat, or attempt to have sex outside of marriage.  Although all of the above are done with good intentions in Carrie, our characters are still punished for their misdeeds. As if it’s not bad enough that they have to live in squalid conditions straight out of an Upton Sinclair novel and George can’t find a decent job after being blackballed from every good restaurant east of the Mississippi, Carrie has a miscarriage and learns that her marriage to George is illegal because Mrs. Hurstwood never gave him that divorce. In the end, they both search for a little absolution but neither of them find it; we reap what we sew, even if we’re honest.

In addition to a compelling story, the real gem of Carrie is the acting. Olivier didn’t care much for Jennifer Jones during the making of the film and would often write to Vivien (while she was in New Orleans doing location work for Streetcar) expressing his frustration. Jones is good in the finished product but the highlight is Olivier who gives one of the best performances of his career. I find him quite astonishing when he’s playing an average guy (see also Term of Trial, The Entertainer and/or Bunny Lake is Missing). He often liked to tell the story of how Wyler brought him down a peg or two during the making of Wuthering Heights by criticising his pompous attitude. In Carrie, there is no room for theatrics. Olivier is forced to make the best of a character who is given no platform whatever to perform and he does it with heartbreaking aplomb. He even puts on a non-regional American accent and you can’t help but give him an A for his effort.

Although Carrie was nominated for two Academy Awards and Olivier received a BAFTA nod for his performance, the film is little known today. However, it is available in DVD in the States and, if you’re lucky, you maybe able to catch it on TCM on occasion. Don’t mistake it for Brian DePalma’s Stephen King adaptation. There are no buckets of pigs blood to be found here. Carrie is one of the hidden gems of both Olivier’s and Wyler’s careers. But perhaps the fact that it’s not well known is actually a good thing. Now you can all go discover this treasure of 1950s Hollywood cinema on your own.

Grade: A