Saturday, July 9, 2011

Unexpected Ephemera-The Legacy of Laurence Olivier

This weekend marks the first Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh blogathon, a celebration of people with the ability to turn life into a non-stop Gap ad. Flawless. But of course both were much, much more, and as such I admit to struggling to come up with a topic. I perused netflix for ideas and found that The 49th Parallel by one of my favorite filmmaking teams, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, was available on instant. The listed synopsis sealed the deal:

The great Laurence Olivier leads an impressive cast in this wartime thriller about a Nazi U-boat crew stranded in Canada during WWII.

Sounds perfect, right? Except in watching the film I encountered a problem. While Olivier is billed as the premier cast member, his character's time is rather limited. In fact, he's not even part of the greater arc of the film.

Though he does make quite an entrance.

The fact that Netflix would tout the film as an Olivier vehicle intrigued me. It's pudding proof that the very name Laurence Olivier has a life of its own.

Awhile ago I acquired a program for a performance of The School for Scandal that took place at the National Theater in Washington, DC on April 8th, 1963. The play featured an impressive cast led by Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. Sign me up.

In the cast biographies one name pops up time and again: Laurence Olivier. Though he made no appearance in person that night he was nonetheless present in the theater, a phantom filtered through the experiences of others. Below are the appropriate sections involving Olivier.

Who's Who in the Cast

Ralph Richardson (Sir Peter Teazle) This international star headed the Old Vic for many years with Sir Laurence Olivier. He performed outstandingly in Shakespearean plays both at home and abroad, and in 1947 was knighted by the Throne for his numerous stage achievements. He was born in Cheltenham of Quaker parentage and made his debut with the Little Theatre in Brighton, where he quickly became its leading actor. After four years in the provinces he joined the Birmingham Repertory Company, where two other young actors, Laurence Olivier and Cedric Hardwicke, like himself, looked to London as their goal. The triamvirate were destined to be associates in many productions for many years. They bowed to the London public together in George Bernard Shaw's "Back to Methuselah," which was followed by Tennyson's verse play "Harold." 

Geraldine McEwan (Lady Teazle) After several successful appearances in London, and a guest apperance back in Windsor, Geraldine McEwan joined the Shakespeare Memorial Company during their 1956 season to play the Princess of France in "Loves Labour's Lost." She was at Stratford-on-Avon the following year to play Olivia in "Twelfth Night." Marina in "Pericles" and Hero in "Much Ado about Nothing." In 1960 she again played Olivia, this time at the Shakespeare Memorial's Company's London headquarters. The following season she return to Stratford-on-Avon as Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing" and Ophelia in "Hamlet." Interspersed with her Shakespearean roles were appearances as Sir Laurence Olivier's leading lady in "The Entertainer," "Member of the Wedding," "Change of Tune" and earlier this year in "Everything in the Garden."

Laurence Naismith (Sir Oliver Surface) was born in Surrey and educated at a church choir school in London where Laurence Olivier was a fellow pupil. The two men appeared together in several school plays, one of which they performed at the Old Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon.

Laurence Olivier could undoubtedly give Kevin Bacon a run for his money in connectedness. And that's as much a part of him as Hamlet or Rebecca. He's a thread that ties everything together. The fabric of theater itself. Limitless.


  1. Six Degrees of Laurence Olivier would be a perfect game!! Also, Ralph and John Gielgud? AMAZING!

  2. Yes, yes it would! I'd much rather be within six degrees of Olivier, though both are fun. I'm sure that performance was a night to remember indeed.

  3. This is awesome! I love when you're reading something (related) and they name drop one of your favorite actors/actresses. Just goes to show how influential they still are!

    Also, Six Degrees of Laurence Olivier sounds amazing.

  4. It really does! And now I really, really want to play 6 degrees of Laurence Olivier. haha.

  5. Wonderful post.and what a performance it must have been!

  6. Thanks anon! If only the program were a more lively time portal.

  7. Fantastic post, Meredith! This is awesome, really proof of the role Larry played in the evolution of the craft. It's amazing what one man can achieve and the people he can inspire. He was certainly a force!

  8. Thank you, Casee! It really is amazing that one man could mean so much to so many different people and to the theatre itself.

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