Goodbye Mr. Chips A tribute to the late great, Peter O’Toole
While home on a day off from school in high school I tuned in to one of the movie channels we had just recently begun receiving after upgrading our cable. This channel aired predominantly classic movies staring all the greats; Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck; and this particular film starred Audrey Hepburn, and Peter O’Toole. I had seen countless Audrey films, but only one film with Mr. O’Toole – ‘What’s New Pussycat’ – which I had seen some years earlier, before who it was really would have registered.
I immediately fell for his piercing blue eyes, strawberry hair, and impish nature.
He is known most for his role as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, where he acted alongside Omar Sharif in one of the greatest film epics of all time. The near four hour film cemented O’Toole as one of the greats, and he went on to further make a name for himself in a plethora of films including ‘Becket,’ ‘The Lion In Winter,’ and ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’ to name a few. Though he was nominated for eight Oscars, he never won one, until finally in 2003 at the age of 71 the Academy awarded him with an Academy Honorary award, one he initially declined claiming he had movies in him, yet, but one did eventually accept. He acted until the very end, announcing his retirement just shy of his 80th birthday in 2012.
A true hellion, he was well known for his boozing and escapades with a gang of famous friends including Richard Burton, Omar Sharif, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed. Born in Ireland to a Scottish mother, a nurse and Irish father, a bookkeeper he was raised and educated in England. After working briefly in journalism, and a short stint in the Navy he auditioned for and was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. In June of 2013 he told British GQ “I started out as a journalist on the Yorkshire Post. Then it occurred to me I didn’t want to be writing the story – I wanted to be the story.”
And a story he became.
He was married once, to Sian Phillips whom he had two of his three children with. A legend of screen and stage, his presence in both was insurmountable. With a strikingly beautiful face, standing a stately six-foot-two, he was truly unique. When he spoke, it was as if his voice was meticulously crafted – a cocktail of rogue masculinity, an impossibly polished accent, and mischievous charm – something one would have to hear to believe.
To speak to his accomplishments and to do them justice seems an impossible feat. While I admire many actors of his time, I have always loved Peter O’Toole the most. Of his generation, he is my favorite actor to watch, my biggest heartthrob to swoon over. When I clicked the home button on my phone this afternoon to check my notifications and saw two, one from CNN one from the AP, both announcing the death of Mr. O’Toole at the age of 81, I cried, for the first time, over learning the passing of a celebrity.
Perhaps that is because Peter O’Toole was so much more, at a time when celebrity meant so much more.His antics with the likes of Richard Burton and Omar Sharif are legendary and his films are renowned all over the world, but it is who he was, how he spoke, what made Peter O’Toole, Peter O’Toole that makes his passing so tragic. In interview after interview he spoke with philosophical lucidity on the matters of life and work without ever taking himself to seriously. He told Playboy Magazine in a 1965 interview “I’m not working-class; I come from the criminal classes.” referring of course to his father’s work as a bookkeeper. In the same interview when asked about whether he thought birth control was a ‘good thing’ as a ‘retired Christian’ he answered “Good? It’s lovely! I adore making love, I really do but I don’t want babies at the end of every sweet hour.” He goes on to justify his stance, speaking on Biblical stories thought to be relevant to the issue and why he feels otherwise.
On the Late Show with David Letterman in 1995 he made his entrance on a camel.
In the aforementioned GQ article the authors, Sara Standing spoke of an early interaction she had with the late, great actor thirty years ago when she was just 23 years old and her husband was working with him in a film. She was told her job was to get Peter O’Toole out of bed, and after trying her hardest to rouse the actor, only receiving instructions to ‘Be a love and crack open the curtain’ she decided to order room service. When she placed her order, “porridge, whole wheat toast, orange juice and a large pot of coffee,” she heard the actor grumble from his bed.
“Bollocks, darling. The film company are paying for breakfast… Order everything they’ve got. Say you want breakfast for eight.”
Well Peter, I’m sure you’re eating breakfast for eight and raising hell tonight in heaven.