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Laurence Harvey

Laurence Harvey (October 1, 1928November 25, 1973) was an Academy Award-nominated Lithuanian-born actor who achieved fame in British and American films.

Early life & career

Harvey maintained throughout his life that his birth name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne. However, his real name was Zvi Mosheh (Hirsh) Skikne and he was called Hirshkeh by his family. He was the youngest of three boys born to Ber "Boris" and Ella Skikne, a Jewish family in the town of Joniškis, Lithuania. At the age of five he emigrated with his family to South Africa where he took on the English name of Harry.

He grew up in Johannesburg, and was in his teens when he served with the entertainment unit of the South African Army during World War II. After moving to London, England, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he became known as Larry. After learning his craft at RADA, he began to perform on stage and film, where he adopted the stage name "Laurence Harvey", taken either from the shop name Harvey Nichols or from Harvey's Bristol Cream.

He made his cinema debut in the British film House of Darkness (1948) but didn't really establish himself in British cinema until 1954, when he appeared with Rex Harrison and George Sanders in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954) and as Romeo in Renato Castellani's adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, narrated by John Gielgud. This enabled him to break out of the "ghetto" of British films and get his first experience of Hollywood. He was cast as the writer Christopher Isherwood in I Am A Camera (1955), opposite Julie Harris as Sally Bowles. (The same book by Isherwood was later adapted into the musical play Cabaret, whose film version starred Liza Minnelli and Michael York.) He also appeared on American TV and on Broadway, making his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play Island of Goats, a flop which closed after one week, though his performance won Harvey a 1956 Theatre World Award. Harvey appeared twice more on Broadway, in 1957 with Julie Harris, Pamela Brown, and Colleen Dewhurst in William Wycherley's The Country Wife, and as Shakespeare's Henry V in 1959, as part of the Old Vic company, which featured a young Judi Dench as Katherine, the Daughter of King of France. In John Miller's biography of Dame Judi, With A Crack In Her Voice, she talked of being bewildered at how Harvey never actually looked at her during his speeches, and the book also quotes Joss Ackland as saying that Americans seemed to think Harvey was some sort of great actor, which his fellow actors certainly didn't.

Harvey was regularly dismissed by critics and disliked by fellow workers in the British theatre. In his posthumously published autobiography Knight Errant, Robert Stephens described him as "an appalling man and, even more unforgivably, an appalling actor."

International stardom

Harvey's breakthrough to international stardom came in 1959 when he was cast by director Jack Clayton as the social climber Joe Lampton in Room at the Top produced by British film producing brothers Sir John Woolf and James Woolf of Romulus Films and Remus Films. For his performance, Harvey received a nomination for a BAFTA Award and for an Academy Award for Best Actor, the first person of Lithuanian descent to be nominated for an acting Oscar.

Harvey was now a star. He was cast in the role that had made Peter O'Toole famous in the West End in the movie version of The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961) as O'Toole had yet to establish himself as a cinema star and Harvey was more "bankable". During the late 1950s and 1960s, Harvey appeared in several major films, including Butterfield 8 (1960), John Wayne's epic The Alamo (1960), Walk on the Wild Side (1962) with Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Fonda and Capucine, the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke (1961) with Geraldine Page, and Darling (1965) with Julie Christie. In this period, he also appeared as Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), the role for which he is best known.

Harvey played King Arthur in the London staging of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical Camelot, in 1964 at Drury Lane. He became very good friends with Elizabeth Taylor and his Manchurian Candidate co-star Frank Sinatra, and was a member in good standing of high society, then dubbed "The Jet Set". Like Joe Lampton, he had made it to the top.

In the period of 1959-65, Harvey had the distinction of appearing opposite three actresses who won the Academy Award for their performances: Simone Signoret in Room at the Top, Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, and Julie Christie in Darling. In all three roles, he established his star persona of being a first-class heel. (Geraldine Page, his co-star in Summer and Smoke, was also nominated for a Best Actress Oscar but did not win.)

Decline

Harvey's career began to decline from the mid-1960s. The 1964 remake of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage was a failure, as was The Outrage (1964) (director Martin Ritt's remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic Rashomon) despite the presence of cinema superstar Paul Newman. Harvey reprised his Oscar-nominated role as Joe Lampton in Life at the Top (1965), but the film was not a success. Tastes in the mid-1960s were changing, in tune with the "swinging" culture at large. Audiences now embraced the humorous amorality of Michael Caine's Alfie (1966) and rejected the dour intensity of Joe Lampton, who hearkened back to the "Kitchen Sink Dramas" that had dominated British popular culture since John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in 1956. Just as Look Back in Anger signalled a shift in culture, films such as Alfie, Darling and Georgy Girl symbolised a new, more carefree and liberated generation who were ready to have it all, on their own terms, with just a modicum of the angst demanded by motion picture morality. Harvey's own turn in "Darling" was essentially a supporting role.

Bereft of a choice of better roles, Harvey returned to Britain to make the comedy The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966). His last hurrah was his appearance in the spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic (1968), which he took over after the original director Anthony Mann died during shooting. In 1968, in settlement of a dispute with Woodfall Films over the rights to The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Woodfall cast him in their version as a Russian prince. He performed as cast, but was never seen as the Prince in the finished film. The only part of his performance remaining in the final cut is a brief appearance of him in the background of one shot, as an anonymous member of a theatre audience.

Thereafter Harvey played out his career largely in undistinguished foreign films, TV work and the occasional supporting role in a major production. In The Magic Christian, he recited Hamlet's soliloquy, almost nude and very thin. A promising project, Orson Welles' The Deep (1970) with Jeanne Moreau, was never finished. One performance from this period was in a 1971 USA horror film television episode, titled "The Caterpillar", of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He was also guest murderer of the week on Columbo in 1973, as a chess champion who murders his opponent.

Private life

In his late teens, Harvey became involved with Hermione Baddeley, an actress more than twice his age. He was subsequently married three times, to actress Margaret Leighton in 1957, whom he divorced in 1961, and to Joan Perry Cohn in 1968, the very rich widow of movie mogul Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures, and to Paulene Stone. Harvey had met Stone on the set of A Dandy in Aspic, and while still married to Cohn he became a father for the first time when Stone gave birth to a daughter in 1969. Eventually, Harvey divorced Cohn and married Stone in 1972.

Numerous accounts contend that Laurence Harvey was bisexual. In his account of being Frank Sinatra's valet, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra (2003), George Jacobs writes that Harvey often made passes at him while visiting Sinatra. According to Jacobs, Sinatra was aware of Harvey's sexuality but did not mind, joking that he had the handicaps of being gay, a Jew, and a "Polak" (sic), so people should go easy on him.

In his autobiography Close Up (2004), British actor John Fraser wrote that Harvey was gay and that his long-term lover was his manager James Woolf, who "discovered" Harvey in the 1950s. According to Fraser, "As a teenager, [Harvey] started out living with Hermione Baddeley, a blowsy star of intimate revue more than twice his age. Then he married Margaret Leighton, old enough to be his mother, but a woman of style. When this marriage was over, he married Joan Cohn, widow of Harry Cohn, managing director of Columbia Pictures. Throughout all these career marriages, he still managed to string Jimmy Woolf along."

A heavy drinker, Harvey died from stomach cancer at age of 45. His daughter Domino Harvey (1969–2005) later won renown as a bounty hunter.

Filmography

Further reading

  • Hickey, Des and Smith, Gus. The Prince: The Public and Private Life of Laurence Harvey. Leslie Frewin. 1975.
  • Stone, Paulene. One Tear is Enough: My Life with Laurence Harvey. 1975.
  • Sinai, Anne. Reach for the Top: The Turbulent Life of Laurence Harvey. Scarecrow Press. 2003.

Footnotes

External links

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