Beyond Telluride Film Fest: Remembering Peter O’Toole

Roger Ebert & Peter O'Toole at Telluride Film Festival 2002, reprinted from Voices

Beyond Telluride Film Fest: Remembering Peter O’Toole

Audrey Hepburn And Peter O'Toole in "How to Steal A Million," from The HOllywood Reporter

Audrey Hepburn And Peter O’Toole in “How to Steal A Million,” from The HOllywood Reporter

How time flies. Hard to believe it was almost 12 years ago when Peter O’Toole came to town to be honored as a tributee of the Telluride Film Festival. As everyone knows, Film Fest is infamous for not spilling the beans about films or guest before SHOW time – but the directors sometimes drop a hint in their programming of the free films in Elks Park. In 2002, Film Fest screened “Lawrence of Arabia,” the 1962 cinematic retelling of T.E. Lawrence’s autobiographical account of his Arabian adventure. The film starred a virtual unknown, a blue-eyed Irish Shakespearian actor named…. “Lawrence of Arabia” went on to receive 10 Academy Award nominations and won seven, including Best Director and Best Picture. But O’Toole lost to Gregory Peck for the latter’s performance in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” When he appeared at Film Fest, O’Toole was at the height of a late-career comeback. One year after appearing in Telluride, the actor received an honorary Oscar. Peter O’Toole died Saturday, December 14. The following is a tribute by Telluride Film Fest regular and  The Hollywood Reporter  critic Todd McCarthy.

From early triumphs to his many missteps, the “Lawrence of Arabia” star’s roles “in brilliant films and disasters” left THR’s chief film critic mesmerized, McCarthy writes: “He has never failed to rivet my attention.”

Since I first beheld him in Lawrence of Arabia when I was 12, Peter O’Toole has been my acting god. Throughout his magnificently choppy career, in brilliant films and disasters, in high spirits and near death, from a great distance and, over one extraordinary weekend, in person, he has never failed to rivet my attention.

Although Lawrence was not his first film, no actor has had a more stunning starring “debut” than O’Toole’s in the work birthed by T.E. Lawrence. It was serendipity that he played in it at all, only because Marlon Brando decided he’d rather spend a year in Tahiti on Mutiny on the Bounty than in the desert, and then because Albert Finney wouldn’t sign a multi-film contract with Sam Spiegel. As a sprouting teenager, of course I wanted to look like him (Who wouldn’t? Noel Coward unforgettably remarked after seeing Lawrence, “If he’d been any prettier, they would have had to call it Florence of Arabia.”). But even more, I wanted to sound like him. The resonant timbre of his voice and extraordinary diction that would snap and crackle with electricity made him a natural for authority figures, like Henry II in Becket (possibly his greatest screen performance) and The Lion in Winter, teachers in Goodbye, Mr. Chips and The Last Emperor, the imperious film director in The Stunt Man, the bonkers aristocrat in The Ruling Class, imperial Romans on several occasions.

Since then, I’ve seen Lawrence at least ten times and have never been anything less than mesmerized by O’Toole’s performance. His timing for comic effect in his first interview, his awkward salute, his uncanny projection of self-containment, his simmering stoicism, his delight in his own image once bedecked in white robes, his asking for lemonade for him and his boy at the officers’ club after the grueling trek and, of course, the blue eyes that made him stand out in Arab lands like some otherworldly visionary — everything about the performance is staggering.

All the obituaries will point out that O’Toole was the actor with the most Oscar nominations who never won…

Continue reading Murphy’s wonderful story here…

Roger Ebert & Peter O'Toole at Telluride Film Festival 2002, reprinted from Voices

Roger Ebert & Peter O’Toole at Telluride Film Festival 2002, reprinted from Voices

And The Chicago Sun-Times‘ blog,Voices, reprinted Roger Ebert‘s account of his 2002 conversation with O’Toole held on the stage of the historic Sheridan Opera House.

Peter O’Toole regarded the Telluride Medal hanging around his neck and intoned: “When 50 years ago this year, I took my first uncertain steps on the stage as an actor, had anyone suggested to me that half a century later I would be up a Rocky in a grand old opry house, being festooned with medals, wandering and relaxing with old and new friends and colleagues, watching the better part of five decades of my life tumble on the screen in the company of the new generation O’Toole, my son Lorcan, I might have said that would be unlikely.”

But here he was, at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, in the Sheridan Opera House, built for miners, restored by the Telluride Film Festival, reporting that he understood Sarah Bernhardt had trod upon these very boards. My job was to interview him. I approached it with hesitation; some actors are eager to please, but O’Toole seems eager not to be annoyed.

I was apprehensive until a moment before we went onstage, when I saw him doing an actor’s deep-breathing exercises, and realized; He isn’t here to make my job hard, he’s here to win the audience.

And he did…

Continue reading Ebert’s memorable account here…

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