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Biography #2 (for Lawrence of Arabia)

To an Irishman, Peter O'Toole, of Connemara, County Galway, went one of the choicest roles in the whole history of motion picture-making -- the title role in Lawrence of Arabia.

O'Toole is called an unknown, and he is said to be introduced in Lawrence of Arabia. But these words should not lead anyone to the misapprehension that he is a newcomer or an amateur in the acting profession. He-was 6 years old, O'Toole recalls, when he fell in love with the theater at a performance of Rose Marie. He has had years of hard work in the theater, of theatrical study, training and experience. (Preceding Lawrence of Arabia, O'Toole had also appeared in the films Kidnapped, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and The Savage Innocents.)

When Sam Spiegel and David Lean began their long search for an actor to play the legendary and baffling character of Lawrence, O'Toole was ready for his chance. When his film tests were screened, Spiegel and Lean knew they had found their man.

At the time of the testing, O'Toole was appearing at 'the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon as the youngest man. ever to attain star status at that celebrated playhouse. He was doing three parts there: Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Thersites in Troilus and Cressida.

The first thing O'Toole learned for Lawrence of Arabia was something he had never needed in Shakespeare: he learned to ride a camel. If anybody ever lived a role, O'Toole lived the role of Lawrence. He studied the man's life. He read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom until he knew long passages of it by heart. He learned Arabian folklore. He learned to endure life in the desert as Lawrence himself endured it. O'Toole is an athletic six-footer.-. He has been a boxer and a navy rugby player, and he is an expert swimmer. But at one time he stepped onto the scales to discover that the Lawrence assignment had cost him 20 of his 176 pounds.

In his early manhood, O'Toole was for five years a newspaperman on the Yorkshire Evening News in Leeds. Even his editor, the story goes, thought that he should be an actor, or at least something other than a newspaperman: He, was fired. During two years in the submarine service he set his mind on the acting profession. He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, won a scholarship and studied there two years.

His first professional experience was with the Bristol Old Vic Company. In three years he played 53 roles from Hamlet to Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger to comedy roles in Christmas pantomime. In his second play in London's West End, O'Toole won starring status in The Long and the Short and the Tall, and with it came the award of Actor of the Year . . . . And Sam Spiegel saw him in the production and remembered him.

Bio courtesy Columbia Pictures for "Lawrence of Arabia" (21-Jun-2003)


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