Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rex Harrison, Stephen Boyd & Mel Ferrer

On June 2, 1990, actor Rex Harrison died. He was born Reginald Carey on March 5, 1908 in Huyton, Lancashire, England. He first appeared on stage in 1924 in Liverpool but his acting career was interrupted because of World War II. During which he served in the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He acted in the West End of London when he was young, appearing in the Terence Rattigan play French Without Tears, which proved to be his breakthrough role.

Harrison's film debut was in The Great Game (1930), and other notable early films include The Citadel (1938), Night Train to Munich (1940), Major Barbara (1941), Blithe Spirit (1945), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and The Foxes of Harrow (1947). He was best known for his portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins with Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady, based on the Broadway production of the same name, for which Harrison won a Best Actor Oscar. He also starred in 1967's Doctor Doolittle. Harrison was not by general terms a singer; thus, the music was generally written to allow for long periods of recitative, generally identified as "speaking to the music."

Although excelling in comedy he attracted favorable reviews in dramatic roles such as his portrayal of Julius Caesar in Cleopatra (1963) and as Pope Julius II in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), starring opposite Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. He alternated appearances between the stage and film throughout his career. He appeared in numerous plays in both London and New York. Highlights include Bell, Book and Candle (1950), Venus Observed, The Cocktail Party, The Kingfisher, and The Love of Four Colonels, which he also directed. He won his first Tony Award for his appearance as Henry VIII in Anne of the Thousand Days and international superstardom (and a second Tony Award) for his Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady, in which he appeared opposite a young Julie Andrews. Later appearances included Pirandello's Henry IV, a 1984 appearance at the Haymarket Theatre with Claudette Colbert in Frederick Lonsdale's Aren't We All?, and one on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre presented by Douglas Urbanski, at the Haymarket in J. M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton with Edward Fox. He returned as Henry Higgins in a highly paid revival of My Fair Lady directed by Patrick Garland in 1981, cementing his association with the plays of George Bernard Shaw which included a Tony nominated performance as Shotover in Heartbreak House, Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra, and General Burgoyne in a Los Angeles production of The Devil's Disciple. He also appeared as an aging homosexual man opposite Richard Burton as his lover in Staircase (1969).

In his personal life Harrison was a mess enduring numerous scandals and six marriages. In 1942, he divorced his first wife, Colette Thomas, and then married actress Lilli Palmer. They appeared together in numerous plays and films, including The Four Poster (1952). In 1947, while still married to Palmer, Harrison began an affair with actress Carole Landis. In 1948, Landis committed suicide after spending the night with Harrison. His involvement in her death and the subsequent scandal briefly damaged his career. He and Palmer divorced in 1957 and that same year, Harrison married for a 3rd time to actress Kay Kendall. Two years later tragedy struck again when Kendall died of leukemia. In 1962, he married for a 4th time to Welsh-born Rachel Roberts. This marriage lasted nine years and also ended in divorce. In 1980, Roberts committed suicide. Harrison married for a 5th time in 1971 to Elizabeth Rees-Williams and sadly this union also ended in divorce after four years. His 6th and final marriage was to Mercia Tinker.

Having retired from films in the late 1970’s, Harrison continued to act on Broadway until the end of his life, despite suffering from glaucoma, painful teeth, and a failing memory. In 1989 he appeared on Broadway in The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham, opposite Glynis Johns and Stewart Granger. On July 25, 1989 Harrison was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. An orchestra played the music of songs from My Fair Lady. He died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Manhattan on June 2, 1990 at the age of 82. His ashes were scattered in Portofino, Italy and at the grave of his second wife Lilli Palmer at Forest Lawn, Glendale.

On June 2, 1977, actor Stephen Boyd died. He was born William Millar on July 4, 1931 in Glengormley, Northern Ireland. He began acting in British films, notably as an edgy Irish spy in the 1955 World War II film The Man Who Never Was. It was his role in a 1957 French film, The Night Heaven Fell opposite Brigitte Bardot that rocket him to stardom. He went to Hollywood and appeared as second leads in a variety of films, including The Bravados (1958) and The Best of Everything (1959). His role as Messala in Ben-Hur (1959) propelled him to international fame. He later played another Roman leader in Samuel Bronston's The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), in which he co-starred with Sophia Loren. He received a Golden Globe for his performance in Ben-Hur. In 1962 Boyd appeared in the film The Inspector opposite starlet Dolores Hart.

Boyd was originally chosen to play Mark Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 20th Century-Fox's epic production of Cleopatra (1963) but eventually withdrew from the problem-plagued production when he committed to star in The Fall of the Roman Empire and the role of Mark Antony went to Richard Burton. Boyd also appeared in John Huston's Biblical epic The the Beginning (1966) and was top-billed in another epic, Genghis Khan (1965). He also appeared in the French-produced Napoleonic epic Imperial Venus (1962). His non-epic roles included the musical Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962) the melodrama The Oscar (1966), the sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage (1966), the spy thriller Assignment K (1969) and the international Western Shalako (1969), shot in Spain. His career declined in the 1970s and he appeared in several European films that included The Squeeze (1977).

In his personal life Boyd was married twice: briefly in 1958 to Italian-born MCA executive Mariella di Sarzana, and subsequently to Elizabeth Mills, a secretary at the British Arts Council, whom he had known since 1955. Mills followed Boyd to the USA in the late fifties and was his personal assistant and secretary for many years before marrying him about 10 months before his death. Boyd was allegedly a member of the Church of Scientology and rose to Grade IV within the organization. On June 2, 1977, Boyd died of a heart attack while playing golf at the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge, California. Boyd is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.

On June 2, 2008, actor Mel Ferrer died. He was born on August 25, 1917 in Elberon, New Jersey. He began acting in summer stock as a teenager and in 1937 won the Theatre Intime award for best new play by a Princeton undergraduate; the play was called Awhile to Work and co-starred another college student, Frances Pilchard, who would become Ferrer's first wife that same year. At age twenty-one, he was appearing on the Broadway stage as a chorus dancer, making his debut there as an actor two years later. After a bout with polio, Ferrer worked as a disc jockey in Texas and Arkansas and moved to Mexico to work on a novel.

Eventually, he returned to Broadway, where he directed the 1946 stage production of Cyrano de Bergerac, in which Jose Ferrer (no relation) first appeared in the role, then became involved in motion pictures, directing more than ten feature films and acting in more than eighty. As a producer, he had notable success with the well-regarded film Wait Until Dark (1967), starring Audrey Hepburn. In 1945, Ferrer made a modest directing debut with The Girl of the Limberlost, a low-budget black-and-white film for Columbia. He returned to Broadway to star in Strange Fruit, based on the novel by Lillian Smith. He made his screen acting debut in Lost Boundaries (1949), and as a film actor is best remembered for his roles as the injured puppeteer in the musical Lili (1953, starring Leslie Caron), as the villainous Marquis de Maynes in Scaramouche (1952) and as Prince Andrei in War and Peace (1956, co-starring with his then-wife, Audrey Hepburn). Ferrer never achieved major stardom and later turned towards television, doing some directing for the series The Farmer's Daughter (1963–1966) starring Inger Stevens, but is best remembered in television work for his role opposite Jane Wyman as Angela Channing's attorney and briefly, her husband, Phillip Erikson, in Falcon Crest, as well as directing a few of the series episodes. He also played Dr. Brogli in a 1979 episode of Return of the Saint.

Ferrer was married five times. His fourth wife was Audrey Hepburn, to whom he was married from 1954 until 1968. Ferrer died at age 90 from heart failure at a convalescent home in Santa Barbara on June 2, 2008 and his ashes were scattered at his ranch in Carpentaria, California., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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