“I really shouldn’t be here, you know. The day after Henry V opened as a film in New York–it was a wonderful night–we were on our way back to England in a four-engine Constellation when suddenly one of the engines caught fire. Having been a pilot in the war I knew we all had seconds before the fuel lines would ignite and blow us all to pieces. Well, the flaming engine dropped into the Connecticut woods leaving an empty housing to create a terrible drag on that side of the plane. The pilot did an amazing thing. He kept favoring that bad side, making circles in the sky, until we landed safely in the field. If I were that pilot I think I might have taken the coward’s way and dashed the plane into the ground as quickly as possible to end it all!” –Larry remembering an incident in 1945 when he and Vivien nearly died in a plane crash • “It was the desirable thing to do in 1930. California, just before the crash, hadn’t realized what was going to hit them. And the oddest architecture you’ve ever seen–a Spanish farmhouse next to an Arab mosque next to an olde English cottage, looking at each other without surprise. Terribly exciting. I was 23, 24. My then wife and I both had contracts, and we thought we were the luckiest people in the world. I suppose we were.”– On his first foray in Hollywood
“I should think it must have been the topmost house in Hollywood. Bob Montgomery looked at the view one night and said, ‘It all spells Marion Davies.’ It was a wild, wild place in those days and Bob and Doug Fairbanks and I were the wildest.”– On his first rented home in Hollywood, on Appian Way
“I take a simple view of living. It is keep your eyes open and get on with it. ”
“I’d like people to remember me for a diligent expert workman. I think a poet is a workman. I think Shakespeare was a workman. And God’s a workman. I don’t think there’s anything better than a workman.”
“Living is strife and torment, disappointment and love and sacrifice, golden sunsets and black storms. I said that some time ago, and today I do not think I would add one word.”
“I think the most enjoyable night for me as a performer was the Night of One Hundred Stars, when Vivien and Danny Kaye and I got into little schoolgirls’ clothes and sang ‘Triplets’”.
“I believe in the theatre as the first glamourizer of thought.”
“Of course I wanted to be a West End actor, of course I wanted money. I wanted violently to get married, I wanted to have all the earmarks of success; they appealed to me as they appealed to everyone else.”
“That activity of my parts has been due to a schoolboy fascination for Douglas Fairbanks and I was absolutely swept overboard by John Barrymore…Idiodically skinny as I was, one liked to think of oneself as a sort of Tarzan. I had a poor physique when I was young and spent my life making it better.”
“I really don’t mind what I play, but this villain is really horrific.”– on his role in Marathon Man
“What is acting but lying and what is good lying but convincing lying?”
“I often think that could we creep behind the actor’s eyes, we would find an attic of forgotten toys and a copy of the Domesday Book.”
“I swore to myself, ‘When I am popular I shall be so gracious to everyone. I will sit at the stage door saying, My people, how I love you. There are only 300 here? I can sign all the autographs. Some of you go off and have a drink, and then come back.’ But when I became popular, I wasn’t like that at all. I’d take one horrified look at them, turn up my coat collar and run.”– On his fear of being mobbed by fans
“My stage successes have provided me with the greatest moments outside myself, my film successes the best moments, professionally, within myself.”
“Of all the things I’ve done in life, directing a motion picture is the most beautiful. It’s the most exciting and the nearest that an interpretive craftsman, such as an actor can possibly get to being a creator.”
“Anemic little medium, I used to call it.”
“Now I’m convinced that every actor ought to be in films. It isn’t until you see yourself acting that you realize how many of the little things you do are foolish and meaningless.”– On his newfound appreciation for films after directing and acting in Henry V
“I think everyone has had their say about poor Marilyn. I don’t think she was very unhappy with me, working with me. I just don’t think I tried very hard to get on with her. I think that the job itself wasn’t right for her. I think she was a model. I’m not sure she was an actress. Although when she was acting on occasion she showed something that looked remarkably like genius. I think in her inner nature she really didn’t want to be an actress. I think that’s why she was always late. Sometimes she’d show up three hours late.”– on his working relationship with Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl
“they criticize me in the papers. ‘Why is he doing such muck?’ I’ll tell you why…to pay for three children in school, for a family, and their future. So what should I do? Write the critics and ask them to support us? Would that satisfy them?”– On why he did such terrible films in his later years
“I was immensely flattered. I wish to God I had done it. I’d have adored to do it.”– On being offered the role of Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather
“Oh, dear friends, am I supposed to speak after that? Cary, my dear old friend for many a year – from the earliest years of either of us working in this country – thank you for that beautiful citation and the trouble you have taken to make it and for all the warm generosities in it. Mr. President and governors of the Academy, committee members, fellows, my very noble and approved good masters, my colleagues, my friends, my fellow students. In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation’s generosities, this particular choice may be found by future generations to be a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it – the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it – must be seen as a beautiful star in the firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth and the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow. From the top of this moment, in the solace, in the kindly emotion that it is changing my soul and my heart at this moment, I thank you for this great gift which lends me such a very splendid part in this, your glorious occasion. Thank you.”– On receiving the Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1978, presented to him by Cary Grant
“God, I mucked that up. I had no idea what I was saying but I didn’t want to stop.”– On thinking his speech was stupid after receiving his Lifetime Achievement Oscar
Others on Larry
“My admiration and affection for Olivier is boundless. Our association has been a most happy one.”– Greer Garson
“He’s a brilliant technician, but he never does the same thing twice.”– Natalie Wood
“Olivier’s friendship was a great joy and solace to me, especially in the early years. Laurence had a wonderful gaiety, and I never laughed so much with anyone as with him.”– Ralph Richardson
“A man whose name has been spoken with undiminished admiration for several decades now, wherever in the world theatre exists. A romantic movie star,a sublime comedian, to many he is the greatest Shakespearian actor of our age. In a time of rockets that light up the theatrical sky and vanish in the night, this is a planet.”– Arthur Miller
“He had refused to be the narrator of the Laurence Harvey version (John Gielgud narrated the 1954 film). While he was in Rome sooting The Shoes of the Fisherman I decided to call on him. I wanted an important voice there. The prologue sets a kind of style, so I showed a rough copy of the script to larry and he loved it. He was in tears! He said, ‘Can I do something?’, and in five minutes he had done the narration, both the begining and the end. Then he wanted to do more, so while we were dubbing, he altered his voice and did the voice of Lord Montague for an italian actor who had played the part. He even dubbed in shouts for the crowd scenes and still he said, ‘Give me more to do!’ he was wonderful.”– Director Fanco Zeffirelli, who got Larry to do the narration (unbilled in the credits) for his 1967 film version of Romeo and Juliet
“Amazing thing. NO actor wants to see anyone before the show, ever. But I went round. There he was in his make-up. ‘Sit down,’ he said. ‘You are my best friend, so I don’t ever try to fool you. I’m just telling you that you’re in for a very poor evening. I’m lousy in the part, I don’t know it, and I just want you to know that I know.’ So I went and had two double brandies. The curtain went up, out came his lordship, and said, ‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’ And the whole theatre froze. I was the performance of a lifetime.”– John Mills, recalling Larry’s nervousness on the opening night of his stage performance of Richard III, 1944.
“He was perhaps the greatest MacBeth we’ll ever see.”– Claire Bloom
“One of the people I got to know years ago, which was a great privilege, was Laurence Oliver. He was like a laser – that was his power.”– Sir Anthony Hopkins
“Because of the theater I became an actor. When I was little my mother told me the story of Hamlet. I was obsessed with it, which she became aware of and began to record Laurence Olivier and other actors who captivated me with their style.”– Ralph Fiennes
VivAndLarry.com is an historical archive and film blog dedicated to preserving the memories of classic screen and stage stars Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and to the discussion of classic Hollywood and world cinemas. The site is designed and edited by Kendra Bean, a film scholar, writer and photographer living in London. What you'll find here: A cabinet of curiosities brimming with vintage articles, video footage, the largest archive of Vivien Leigh and/or Laurence Olivier photos on the Web, and much, much more.
This site is updated frequently, so pull up a chair and stay a while! Or, subscribe to be notified whenever new posts are made.
The current header was designed and drawn by the brilliant Laura Loveday.
Read Vivien Leigh: Becoming Scarlett by Kendra Bean in issue no. 75 of Bright Lights Film Journal
Read Kendra's article Style Icon: Vivien Leigh at The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower
My running list of films watched in 2013.