Yes, today The Cartoon Cave pays tribute to the great Peter O'Toole on his 80th birthday. This colourful Irish actor always seemed to make decadence look good. Yet despite a lifetime of smoking, drinking, and other excess, this ol' rascal is still going strong today!
He made his indelible mark on American film early on in his career when he portrayed T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, which garnered him an Oscar nomination that year, although he didn't win. He could play drama and light comedy equally well, spoofing his "pretty boy" matinee idol looks in What's New Pussycat? (1965), where he uses a line repeatedly throughout the film as a running gag: "It may sound funny to you, but when the light hits me a certain way, I'm handsome!"
One of my personal favourite roles was when he costarred opposite Audrey Hepburn in the comic heist film, How To Steal a Million (1966). Their onscreen chemistry is delicious as Audrey's character ropes Peter O'Toole's (supposed) art thief into helping her steal a statuette from a museum exhibit, all in an attempt to prevent the authorities from discovering that the figurine is actually a forgery sculpted by her eccentric artist father, played by Hugh Griffith. I've seen this film many times over, yet it never fails to delight me.
Of course, I'm also a fan of O'Toole's later work, when he successfully transitioned to character actor roles after his classic good looks had faded, sadly due to his hard partying ways as much as age. He won rave reviews when he starred in The Stunt Man (1980) as a megalomaniac movie director who manipulates his actors as if he were some diabolical god-like puppeteer. However, my favourite role was when he played the faded swashbuckling movie star, Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982). The character is modeled on Errol Flynn, of course, who had lived a life of debauchery that probably outdid O'Toole's own, and O'Toole plays him to the hilt. The film is also a loving nod to live television of the 50's, with Joseph Bologna playing a Sid Caesar-like host of a weekly sketch comedy show. The film was directed by Richard Benjamin and the executive producer was Mel Brooks, who started his career writing for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, and on whom the character, Benjy Stone, played in the film by Mark Linn Baker is based.
Unfortunately for his many fans though, after a lifetime of memorable work, Peter O'Toole just last month decided to announce his retirement in the following letter:
“It is time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from films and stage. The heart for it has gone out of me: it won’t come back. My professional acting life, stage and screen, has brought me public support, emotional fulfillment and material comfort. It has brought me together with fine people, good companions with whom I’ve shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits.
However, it’s my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one’s stay, so I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”
While I'm sad to know there won't be any more wonderful performances forthcoming, I wish Peter O'Toole a happy retirement, and I treasure the film legacy he has left us.
Here is the trailer for How To Steal a Million to enjoy: