Peter Lawford

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Peter Lawford
Peter Lawford in Royal Wedding (2).jpg
in Royal Wedding (1951)
BornPeter Sydney Ernest Aylen[1]
(1923-09-07)September 7, 1923
London, England, UK
DiedDecember 24, 1984(1984-12-24) (aged 61)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Cardiac arrest complicated by renal and liver failure
OccupationActor, film producer
Years active1930–1983
Spouse(s)
Patricia Kennedy (m. 1954; div. 1966)

Mary Rowan (m. 1971; div. 1975)
Deborah Gould (m. 1976; div. 1977)
Patricia Seaton (m. 1984–84)

Children
ParentsSydney Turing Barlow Lawford
May Sommerville Bunny
 
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Peter Lawford
Peter Lawford in Royal Wedding (2).jpg
in Royal Wedding (1951)
BornPeter Sydney Ernest Aylen[1]
(1923-09-07)September 7, 1923
London, England, UK
DiedDecember 24, 1984(1984-12-24) (aged 61)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Cardiac arrest complicated by renal and liver failure
OccupationActor, film producer
Years active1930–1983
Spouse(s)
Patricia Kennedy (m. 1954; div. 1966)

Mary Rowan (m. 1971; div. 1975)
Deborah Gould (m. 1976; div. 1977)
Patricia Seaton (m. 1984–84)

Children
ParentsSydney Turing Barlow Lawford
May Sommerville Bunny

Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford (born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen[1][2]; September 7, 1923 – December 24, 1984) was an English-born American actor.[3]

He was a member of the "Rat Pack" and brother-in-law to President John F. Kennedy, and more noted in later years for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting. In the 1940s to the 1960s he had a strong presence in popular culture and starred in a number of highly acclaimed films.

Early life[edit]

Born in London in 1923, he was the only child of Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford, KBE (1865-1953) and May Sommerville Bunny (1883-1972). At the time of Peter's birth, however, his mother was married to Dr. Capt. Ernest Vaughn Aylen, one of Sir Sydney's officers, while his father was married to Muriel Williams.[1] At the time, May and Ernest Aylen were living apart. May confessed to Aylen that the child was not his, a revelation that resulted in a double divorce. Sir Sydney and May then wed in September 1924 after their divorces were finalized and when their son was one year old.[4]

Lawford's family was connected to the English aristocracy through his uncle Ernest Lawford's wife (a daughter of the 14th Earl of Eglinton) as well as his aunt Ethel Turner Lawford (who married a son of the first Baron Avebury). His aunt Jessie Bruce Lawford, another of his father's sisters, was the second wife of the Hon Hartley Williams, senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of the colony of Victoria, Australia. A relative, through his mother, was Australian artist Rupert Bunny.

He spent his early childhood in France, and owing to his family's travels, was never formally educated. Instead he was schooled by governesses and tutors and his education included tennis and ballet lessons.[5] "In the beginning," his mother observed, "he had no homework. When he was older he had Spanish, German and music added to his studies. He read only selected books—English fairy stories, English and French classics; no crime stories. Having studied Peter for so long, I decided he was quite unfitted for any career except art, so I cut Latin, Algebra, high mathematics and substituted dramatics instead."[5] Because of the widely varying national and religious backgrounds of his tutors, Lawford "attended various services in churches, cathedrals, synagogues and for some time was an usher in a Christian Science Sunday School..."[6] Around 1930, aged seven, he made his acting debut in the English film Poor Old Bill.

At the age of 14, Lawford severely injured his right arm in an accident when it went through a glass door.[7] The injury greatly compromised the use of his lower arm and hand with irreversible nerve damage,[8] which he later learned to hide.[9] The injury was considered damaging enough to keep him from entering the military, which his parents had planned.[10] Instead, Lawford decided to pursue a career as an actor, a decision that resulted in one of his aunts refusing to leave him her considerable fortune, as originally planned.[11]

Career[edit]

Films[edit]

Prior to World War II, Lawford had gained a contract position with the MGM studios. Once he signed with MGM, his mother insisted that studio head Louis B. Mayer pay her a salary as her son's personal assistant, which Mayer declined. Lady Lawford responded by claiming her son was "a bummer" and needed to be "supervised". When Lawford learned of his mother's actions their relationship was reportedly never the same.[citation needed]

MGM career[edit]

Lawford's first film role had been at age seven in the film Poor Old Bill. In 1938, he made his Hollywood debut in a minor part in the film Lord Jeff. His first role in a major film production was in A Yank At Eton (1942), where he played a snobbish bully opposite Mickey Rooney. The film was a smash hit, and Lawford's performance was widely praised. Lawford made uncredited appearances as a pilot in Mrs. Miniver (1942) and as a sailor in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943).

He won acclaim for his performance in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), in which he played a young soldier during World War II. MGM gave him another important role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Peter Lawford's first leading role came in Son of Lassie (1945) and he later won a Modern Screen magazine readers' poll as the most popular actor in Hollywood of 1946. His fan mail jumped to thousands of letters a week.

In Royal Wedding (1951)

With actors such as Clark Gable and James Stewart away at war, Lawford was recognized as the romantic lead on the MGM lot. Lawford's busiest year as an actor was 1946, when two of his films opened within days of each other: Cluny Brown and Two Sisters From Boston. He also made his first comedy that same year: My Brother Talks To Horses (released in 1947). He appeared with Frank Sinatra for the first time in the musical It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). Lawford received rave reviews for his work in the film,[12] while Sinatra's were lukewarm.

Lawford later admitted that the most terrifying experience of his career was the first musical number he performed in the musical Good News (1947). Using an American accent for his role, he won acclaim as a performer. He was given supporting roles in MGM films over the next few years, including On an Island with You (1948), Easter Parade (1948), Little Women (1949), Royal Wedding (1951), and You for Me (1952).

Post-MGM[edit]

Lawford's first film after Metro released him and several other players from their contracts was the comedy It Should Happen to You, where he starred alongside Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon. In 1959, Frank Sinatra invited the Englishman to join "The Rat Pack" and also got him a role in Never So Few. The casino caper Ocean’s 11 (1960) was a project Lawford first brought to Sinatra's attention.[13] It became the first film to feature all five main "Rat Pack" members: Lawford, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop. Later films included The Longest Day (1962) and a role as a United States Senator in Advise & Consent (1962).

In 1961, Lawford and his manager Milt Ebbins formed Chrislaw Productions, which was named after Peter's son Christopher[14] and produced the 1963 action film, Johnny Cool, starring Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. He went on to produce the 1965 Patty Duke film, Billie, as well as two films with Sammy Davis, Jr., Salt and Pepper and One More Time.

He appeared in They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), which reunited him with several former MGM contract players. His last role was as Montague Chippendale in the comedy Where's Parsifal (1983).

Television[edit]

Lawford made his television debut in 1953 in a guest starring role on Ronald Reagan's anthology series, General Electric Theater. In 1954, he starred as a newspaper advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist named Bill Hastings in the short-lived NBC series Dear Phoebe with Marcia Henderson and Charles Lane. From 1957 to 1959, Lawford co-starred with Phyllis Kirk in The Thin Man, an NBC series based on the novel by Dashiel Hammett. He had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show from 1971–73, as the love interest to Day's character.

He guest starred on various television series including The Martha Raye Show, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Wild Wild West, The Virginian, Bewitched, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and The Bob Cummings Show. Besides guest spots, he also guest-starred on variety shows such as The Judy Garland Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and game shows What's My Line?, Password, and Pyramid.

Personal life[edit]

His first marriage, in 1954, was to socialite Patricia Helen Kennedy, sister of then-US Senator John F. Kennedy. They had four children: a son, actor and author Christopher Kennedy Lawford (born 1955), and daughters Sydney Maleia Kennedy Lawford (born 1956), Victoria Francis Lawford (born 1958), and Robin Elizabeth Lawford (born 1961).

Lawford became an American citizen on April 23, 1960. He had prepared for this in time to vote for his brother-in-law in the upcoming presidential election.[15] Lawford, along with other members of the "Rat Pack", helped campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic Party.[16] Sinatra famously dubbed him "Brother-in-Lawford" at this time.[17][18] Lawford and Patricia Kennedy divorced in February 1966.[19][20]

Lawford married his second wife, Mary Rowan, daughter of comedian Dan Rowan, in October 1971 when she was one day shy of 22 years of age;[21] Lawford was 48.[22] Rowan and Lawford separated two years later and divorced in January 1975. In June 1976, at age 52, he married aspiring actress Deborah Gould, 25, whom he had known for only three weeks.[23] Lawford and Gould separated two months after marrying and divorced in 1977. During his separation from Gould, Lawford met seventeen-year-old Patricia Seaton, who became his fourth and final wife in July 1984, months before his death.[24]

Death[edit]

Lawford died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1984, aged 61, from cardiac arrest. He had suffered from kidney and liver failure after years of substance abuse.[25] His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.[26] Owing to a dispute between his widow and the cemetery, Lawford's ashes were removed and scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California by his widow, Patricia Seaton Lawford, who invited the National Enquirer tabloid to photograph the event.[27] A plaque bearing Lawford's name was erected at Westwood Village Memorial Park.

For his contribution to the television industry, Peter Lawford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6920 Hollywood Blvd.

Filmography[edit]

Film
YearFilmRoleNotes
1930Poor Old BillHorace
1931A Gentleman of ParisChildUncredited
1938Lord JeffBenny Potter
1942Mrs. MiniverPilotUncredited
1942Eagle SquadronPilot
1942A Yank At EtonRonnie Kenvil
1942Thunder BirdsEnglish CadetUncredited
Alternative title: Soldiers of the Air
1942Junior ArmyCadet Wilbur
1942Random HarvestSoldierUncredited
1943Immortal SergeantSoldierUncredited
1943London Blackout MurdersPercy - Soldier on TrainUncredited
1943Assignment in BrittanyNavigatorUncredited
1943The Purple VRoger
1943Above SuspicionStudentUncredited
1943Pilot No. 5British SoldierUncredited
1943The Sky's the LimitNaval CommanderUncredited
1943The Man from Down UnderMr. JonesUncredited
1943Someone to RememberJoe DownesAlternative title: Gallant Thoroughbred
1943West Side KidJerry Winston
1943SaharaBritish soldierUncredited
1943Sherlock Holmes Faces DeathSailorUncredited
1943Corvette K-225Naval OfficerUncredited
1943Paris After DarkFrenchmanUncredited
1943Flesh and FantasyPierrot (Episode 1)Uncredited
1943Girl CrazyStudentUncredited
1944The Adventures of Mark TwainYoung Oxford CelebrantUncredited
1944White Cliffs of Dover, TheThe White Cliffs of DoverJohn Ashwood II as a Young Man
1944Canterville Ghost, TheThe Canterville GhostAnthony de Canterville
1944Mrs. ParkingtonLord Thornley
1945Picture of Dorian Gray, TheThe Picture of Dorian GrayDavid Stone
1945Son of LassieJoe Carraclough
1945The Ziegfeld FolliesPorky in "Number Please" (Voice)Uncredited
1945Perfect StrangersIntroduction - USA VersionUncredited
Alternative title: Vacation from Marriage
1946Two Sisters from BostonLawrence Tyburn Patterson, Jr.
1946Cluny BrownAndrew Carmel
1947My Brother Talks to HorsesJohn S. Penrose
1947It Happened in BrooklynJamie Shellgrove
1947Good NewsTommy Marlowe
1948On an Island with YouLawrence Kingsley
1948Easter ParadeJonathan Harrow III
1948Julia MisbehavesRitchie Lorgan
1949Little WomenTheodore "Laurie" Laurence
1949Red Danube, TheThe Red DanubeMajor John "Twingo" McPhimister
1950Please Believe MeJeremy Taylor
1951Royal WeddingLord John BrindaleAlternative title: Wedding Bells
1952Just This OnceMark MacLene
1952KangarooRichard ConnorAlternative title: The Australian Story
1952You for MeTony Brown
1952The Hour of 13Nicholas Revel
1953Rogue's MarchCapt. Dion Lenbridge/Pvt. Harry Simms
1954It Should Happen to YouEvan Adams III
1959Never So FewCapt. Grey TravisAlternative title: Campaign Burma
1960Ocean's 11Jimmy Foster
1960ExodusMajor Caldwell
1962Sergeants 3Sgt. Larry Barrett
1962Advise and ConsentSenator Lafe Smith
1962Longest Day, TheThe Longest DayLord Lovat
1963Johnny Cool
Executive producer
1964Dead RingerTony CollinsAlternative title: Dead Image
1965SylviaFrederic Summers
1965HarlowPaul Bern
1965Billie
Executive producer
1966Oscar, TheThe OscarSteve Marks
1966A Man Called AdamManny
1967Dead RunStephen DaineAlternative title: Geheimnisse in goldenen Nylons
1968Salt and PepperChristopher PepperExecutive producer
1968SkidooThe Senator
1968Buona Sera, Mrs. CampbellJustin Young
1969Quarta paretePapá Baroni
1969Hook, Line & SinkerDr. Scott Carter
1969The April FoolsTed Gunther
1970One More TimeChristopher Pepper/Lord Sydney PepperExecutive producer
1970TogethernessPrince Solomon Justiani
1971Clay PigeonGovernment AgentAlternative title: Trip to Kill
1972They Only Kill Their MastersCampbell
1975RosebudLord Carter
1976Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved HollywoodSlapstick Star
1979Angels RevengeBurkeAlternative title: Angels' Brigade
Seven from Heaven
1981Body and SoulBig Man
1983Where Is Parsifal?Montague Chippendale
Television
YearTitleRoleNotes
1953General Electric TheaterJohnEpisode: "Woman's World"
1953-1954The Ford Television TheatreVarious roles3 episodes
1954-1955Dear PhoebeBill Hastings32 episodes
1954-1957Schlitz Playhouse of StarsVarious roles3 episodes
1955Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside TheatreStephenEpisode: "Stephen and Publius Cyrus"
1955Alfred Hitchcock PresentsCharlie RaymondEpisode: "The Long Shot"
1955Screen Directors PlayhouseTom MacyEpisode: "Tom and Jerry"
1956Playhouse 90Willis WaydeEpisode: "Sincerely, Willis Wade"
1956-1957Studio 57Various roles2 episodes
1957Producers' ShowcaseLord BrinsteadEpisode: "Ruggles of Red Gap"
1957Climax!Tom WellesEpisode: "Bait For the Tiger"
1957-1959The Thin ManNick Charles72 episodes
1958The Bob Cummings ShowHimselfEpisode: "Bob Judges a Beauty Pageant"
1959Goodyear TheatreMajor John MarshallEpisode: "Point of Impact"
1961The Jack Benny ProgramLord MilbeckEpisode: "English Sketch"
1962Theatre '62Glen MorleyEpisode: "The Farmer's Daughter"
1965The Alfred Hitchcock HourErnie MullettEpisode: "Crimson Witness"
1965Profiles in CourageGeneral Alexander William DoniphanEpisode: "General Alexander William Doniphan"
1965Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler TheatreLt. Philip CannonEpisode: "March From Camp Tyler"
1966Run for Your LifeLarry CarterEpisode: "Carnival Ends at Midnight"
1966The Wild Wild WestCarl JacksonEpisode: "The Night of The Returning Dead"
1967How I Spent My Summer VacationNed PineTelevision film
1967I SpyHackabyEpisode: "Get Thee to a Nunnery"
1971A Step Out of LineArt StoyerTelevision film
1971The VirginianBen HunterEpisode: "The Town Killer"
1971Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind YouEllery QueenTelevision film
1971-1973Doris Day Show, TheThe Doris Day ShowDr. Peter Lawrence8 episodes
1972BewitchedHarrison WoolcottEpisode: "Serena's Richcraft"
1974The Phantom of HollywoodRoger CrossTelevision film
1974Born FreeJohn ForbesEpisode: Pilot
1977-1982Fantasy IslandVarious roles4 episodes
1978Hawaii Five-OKenneth KirkEpisode: "Frozen Assets"
1979The Love BoatTeddy SmithEpisode: "Murder on the High Seas/Sounds of Silence/Cyrano de Bricker"
1979Highcliffe ManorNarrator6 episodes
1979SupertrainQuentin FullerEpisode: "A Very Formal Heist"
1979Mysterious Island of Beautiful WomenGordon DuvallTelevision film
1981Jeffersons, TheThe JeffersonsMuseum Guide (Voice)Episode: "The House That George Built"

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c (Lawford 1986, p. 34)
  2. ^ (Hischak 2008, p. 420)
  3. ^ Obituary Variety, December 26, 1984.
  4. ^ (Wayne 2006, p. 280)
  5. ^ a b (Lawford 1986, p. 44)
  6. ^ (Lawford 1986, p. 48)
  7. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 47–48)
  8. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 50)
  9. ^ (Wayne 2006, p. 281)
  10. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 65)
  11. ^ (Lawford 1986, p. 52)
  12. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 111)
  13. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 213)
  14. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 339)
  15. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 233)
  16. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 228)
  17. ^ (Schroeder 2004, pp. 81–82)
  18. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 207)
  19. ^ (Rorabaugh 2002, p. 146)
  20. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 366)
  21. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 410)
  22. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 408)
  23. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 433)
  24. ^ (Bly 1999, pp. 187–188)
  25. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 468)
  26. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 469)
  27. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 470–471)

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]