Peter O’Toole

Seeing as I have been spending my time watching old films, for the first time in some years I have not seen any of the films that have been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. But that does not mean that I don’t have a preference in at least one category, and that is for best actor. At the risk of offending purists who believe that the awards should be based strictly on the performance in the film for which the person has been nominated, I hope, for purely sentimental reasons, that Peter O’Toole wins the best actor award this coming Sunday for Venus, just because he is one of the greatest actors ever.

I have been a big fan of Peter O’Toole ever since I saw him in the stunning Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which was his big break as a star. I watched the film again recently when it was re-released as a DVD in the ‘director’s cut’ version. The power of the film can be measured by the fact that it runs almost four hours long and for some reason I started watching it at about nine at night, thinking I would stop halfway and continue the next day, since I usually am in bed before 11:00pm. But once I had started, I just could not tear myself away and had to see it through to the end, hardly noticing the time. It is undoubtedly director David Lean’s masterpiece, and O’Toole’s performance was amazing. I wish it could be shown on the big screen again (perhaps at the Cleveland Cinematheque?) because Lean’s panoramic sweeps in the magnificent desert scenes really deserve to be seen in their full splendor.

After that, there were other fine performances from O’Toole in dramas such as Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969). And if you want to see an absolutely brilliant satire of the hypocrisy and decadence of the British upper classes, The Ruling Class (1972) cannot be beaten.

O’Toole also showed a deft touch in light comedies like How to Steal a Million (1966), and that very silly and funny film What’s New, Pussycat (1965).

After a period of decline, partly due to his heavy drinking, he returned to give an acclaimed performance in The Stunt Man (1980) (which is one of the few good films of his that I have not seen yet but will soon) and a wonderful performance in My Favorite Year (1982) where he played an aging, drunken, erratic, womanizing, fading star of swashbuckling films (supposed to be based on the life of actor Errol Flynn) who is invited to appear on a live TV variety show in the 1954. The show’s producers assign a young writer to watch him like a hawk to make sure that he arrives on the set sober and on time and his desperate attempts to rein in the star’s penchant to get into trouble forms the basis of the film. O’Toole clearly relished playing a caricature of himself and this made for a very endearing film.

When his old drinking friend Richard Harris died, O’Toole was considered to take over his role of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. He was eventually passed over for Michael Gambon and although Gambon is a fine actor, I think O’Toole would have been better suited. O’Toole brings with him an air of frailty and yet wiry strength, sternness and yet with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, and a voice that can be soft and yet commanding. When I read the Potter books, the mental image I had of Dumbledore matched O’Toole almost exactly. Gambon seems just a little too vigorous and robust for my tastes.

Although O’Toole has been nominated for an Academy Award for best actor seven times before (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, and My Favorite Year) he has never won.

It is time for him to get his due.

POST SCRIPT: And now, awards for the Bush Administration

Meanwhile, on the subject of awards, there is no question that the current Bush Administration can sweep the historical awards for politics. I think that there can be no doubt that members of the current administration are the clear winners in the following categories:

Worst President Ever: George W. Bush
Worst Vice-President Ever: Dick Cheney
Worst Secretary of Defense Ever: Donald Rumsfeld
Worst Secretary of State Ever: Condoleeza Rice
Worst National Security Advisor Ever: Condoleeza Rice

Rice winning in two separate categories is a record unlikely to be ever broken.

Perhaps these awards should be called the Bushies in their honor.

How low Bush has sunk in the public esteem can be seen in the most recent results of the Pew poll (scroll down) that asks people (without prompts or a list of options) to suggest one word that they feel describes Bush. It seems like a free-association test.

The general dissatisfaction with the president also is reflected in the single-word descriptions that people use to describe their impression of the president. While the public has consistently offered a mix of positive and negative terms to describe Bush, the tone of the words used turned more negative in early 2006 and remains the case today. In the current survey, nearly half (47%) describe Bush in negative terms, such as “arrogant,” “idiot,” and “ignorant.” Just 27% use words that are clearly positive, such as “honest,” “good,” “integrity,” and “leader.”

As was the case a year ago, the word mentioned more frequently than any other is “incompetent.” By comparison, from 2000 through 2005 “honest” was the word most frequently volunteered description of the president.

The detailed results of the poll over the period 2004-2006 can be seen here. One thing that I noticed was that the description ‘Christian,’ which usually had a fairly good showing in the past, has disappeared completely in the latest list. I am not sure what that means.


  1. dave says

    How can the current president sweep the historical awards? Time provides perspective.

    Lincoln was hated in his time. Now he is loved by all.

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