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LAURENCE HARVEY

BIOGRAPHY
 
Laurence Harvey

A Lithuanian-born actor who achieved fame in British and American films, being best known for his lead performance in Room at the Top (1959.

Harvey maintained throughout his life that his birth name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne, but it was actually Zvi Mosheh Skikne. He was the youngest of three boys born to Ella (née Zotnickaita) and Ber Skikne, a Lithuanian Jewish family in the town of Joniškis, Lithuania.

When he was five years old, his family emigrated to South Africa, where he was known as Harry Skikne. He grew up in Johannesburg, and was in his teens when he served with the entertainment unit of the South African Army during the Second World War.

After moving to London, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After leaving RADA early, he began to perform on stage and film. The stage name "Laurence Harvey" was the idea of talent agent Gordon Harbord who decided Laurence would be an appropriate first name.

In choosing a British-sounding last name, Harbord thought of two British retail institutions, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. The actor and the agent scoured theatrical directories and found that the name Laurence Harvey was not already taken by anyone else in the profession.

Harvey made his cinema debut in the British film House of Darkness (1948). Associated British Picture Corporation quickly offered him a two-year contract and he appeared in several of their lower budget films such as Cairo Road (1950).

His career got a boost when he appeared in Women of Twilight (1952); this was made by Romulus Films who signed Harvey to a long-term contract. He secured a supporting role in a Hollywood film, Knights of the Round Table (1953), which led to being cast with Rex Harrison and George Sanders in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954).

That year he also played Romeo in Renato Castellani's adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, narrated by John Gielgud. He was now established as an emerging British star. According to a contemporary interview, he turned down an offer to appear in Helen of Troy (1955) to act at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Harvey was cast as the writer Christopher Isherwood in I Am A Camera (1955), with Julie Harris as Sally Bowles (Cabaret is a musical from the same source texts). He also appeared on American TV and on Broadway, making his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play Island of Goats, a flop which closed after one week, though his performance won him a 1956 Theatre World Award.

Harvey appeared twice more on Broadway, in 1957 with Julie Harris, Pamela Brown and Colleen Dewhurst in William Wycherley's The Country Wife, and as Shakespeare's Henry V in 1959, as part of the Old Vic company, which featured a young Judi Dench as Katherine, the Daughter of the King of France.

Harvey's breakthrough to international stardom came when he was cast by director Jack Clayton as the social climber Joe Lampton in Room at the Top (1959) produced by British film producer brothers John and James Woolf of Romulus Films.

For his performance, Harvey received a BAFTA Award nomination and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Harvey was cast in the role that had made Peter O'Toole prominent in the West End: the film version of The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961); O'Toole was not yet established as an actor in films and Harvey was more "bankable".

In 1960 he starred in BUtterfield 8 and John Wayne's epic The Alamo, released within a month of each other. Harvey was John Wayne's personal choice to play Alamo commandant William Barret Travis.

He had been impressed by Harvey's talent and ability to project the aristocratic demeanor Wayne believed Travis possessed. Harvey and Wayne would later express their mutual admiration and satisfaction at having worked together.

Other films included Walk on the Wild Side (1962) with Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Fonda and Capucine; the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke (1961) with Geraldine Page. More importantly, he appeared as the brainwashed Raymond Shaw in 1962 in the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate.

The same year, he recorded an album of spoken excerpts from the book This Is My Beloved by Walter Benton, accompanied by original music by Herbie Mann. It was released on the Atlantic label.

Harvey played King Arthur in the 1964 London production of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical Camelot, at Drury Lane. He became very good friends with Elizabeth Taylor and his Manchurian Candidate co-star Frank Sinatra, and was a member in good standing of high society, then dubbed "The Jet Set".

Between 1959 and 1965, Harvey appeared opposite three actresses who won the Academy Award for their performances: Simone Signoret in Room at the Top, Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8, and Julie Christie in Darling (1965, which also feaured Dirk Bogarde). Geraldine Page, his co-star in Summer and Smoke, was also nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, but did not win.

Harvey's career began to decline from the mid-1960s. The 1964 remake of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage was a failure, as was The Outrage (1964), director Martin Ritt's remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic Rashomon, despite the presence of Paul Newman. Harvey reprised his Oscar-nominated role as Joe Lampton in Life at the Top (1965), but the film was not a success.

Harvey returned to Britain to make the comedy The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966). His last hurrah was his appearance in the spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic (1968), which he took over after the original director Anthony Mann died during shooting.

In 1968, in settlement of a dispute with Woodfall Films over the rights to The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Woodfall cast him in their version as a Russian prince. He performed as cast, but was never seen as the Prince in the finished film. The only part of his performance remaining in the final cut is a brief appearance of him in the background of one shot, as an anonymous member of a theatre audience.

Thereafter Harvey played out his career largely in undistinguished films, TV work and the occasional supporting role in a major production.

In The Magic Christian, he recited Hamlet's soliloquy, and was unprofitable. A promising project, Orson Welles's The Deep (1970) with Jeanne Moreau, was never finished. One performance from this period was in a 1972 U.S. horror film television episode, titled "The Caterpillar" on Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He was also guest murderer of the week on Columbo: The Most Dangerous Match in 1973 as a chess champion who murders his opponent.

Towards the end of Harvey's life, David Shipman wrote in The Great Movie Stars: The International Years (1972):

Harvey was married three times: in 1957 to actress Margaret Leighton, whom he divorced in 1961; in 1968 to Joan Perry Cohn, the widow of film mogul Harry Cohn of (Columbia Pictures); and to Paulene Stone.

Harvey met Stone on the set of A Dandy in Aspic, and while still married to Cohn he became a father for the first time when Stone gave birth to a daughter, Domino, in 1969. Eventually, Harvey divorced Cohn (who was 17 years his senior) and married Stone in 1972.

In his account of being Frank Sinatra's valet, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra (2003), George Jacobs writes that Harvey often made passes at him while visiting Sinatra. According to Jacobs, Sinatra was aware of Harvey's sexuality.

In his autobiography Close Up (2004), British actor John Fraser claimed that Harvey was gay and that his long-term lover was his manager James Woolf, who had cast Harvey in several of the films he produced in the 1950s.

A heavy smoker and drinker, Harvey died from stomach cancer at the age of 45.

His daughter, Domino (1969–2005), who later became a bounty hunter, was only 35 when she died. They are buried together in Santa Barbara Cemetery in Santa Barbara, California, USA.
 
 
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