Born 1907 in Dorking, Surrey, English actor and director Laurence Olivier, along with his contemporaries Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, was one of a trinity of male actors who dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century. He had his first important West End success in Noël Coward’s Private Lives, and he appeared in his first film in 1930. In 1935, he played in a celebrated production of Romeo and Juliet alongside Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft, and by the end of the decade he was an established star.
In the 1940s, together with Richardson and John Burrell, Olivier was the co-director of the Old Vic, building it into a highly respected company. There his most celebrated roles included Shakespeare’s Richard III and Sophocles’s Oedipus.
In the 1950s, Olivier was an independent actor-manager, but his stage career was in the doldrums until he joined the avant garde English Stage Company in 1957 to play the title role in The Entertainer, a part he later played on film.
From 1963 to 1973, he was the founding director of Britain’s National Theatre, running a resident company that fostered many future stars. His own parts there included the title role in Othello (1965) and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1970).
Olivier’s honours included a knighthood (1947), a life peerage (1970) and the Order of Merit (1981). For his on-screen work he received four Academy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards. The National Theatre’s largest auditorium is named in his honour, and he is commemorated in the Laurence Olivier Awards, given annually by the Society of London Theatre.
After being ill for the last 22 years of his life, Olivier died of kidney failure in 1989 at his home near Steyning, West Sussex, aged 82.
These vintage handsome portrait photos show a young Laurence Olivier From between the 1930s and 1950s.