Skip to main content
Select Source:

Gielgud, (Sir) John

GIELGUD, (Sir) John



Nationality: British. Born: Arthur John Gielgud in London, England, 14 April 1904; brother of the writer Val Gielgud; grandnephew of the actress Ellen Terry. Education: Attended Hillside preparatory school, Godalming; Westminster School, London; studied acting at Lady Benson's School; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, under Claude Rains. Career: 1921—super at Old Vic, London; in London production of The Wheel; 1922–24—with J. B. Fagan's company in Shakespeare repertory; 1924—film debut in Who Is the Man?; 1928—New York debut in The Patriot; 1930—in Hamlet at the Old Vic, the first of several celebrated productions of the role: in 1936 on Broadway, his Hamlet set a Broadway performance record; 1947—directed The Importance of Being Earnest in New York, followed by directing and acting in plays; also actor on television, including the mini-series QB VII, 1974, Edward VII, 1974, Brideshead Revisited, 1981, War and Remembrance, 1988–89, The Strauss Dynasty, 1991, and Scarlett, 1994. Awards: Best British Actor, British Academy, for Julius Caesar, 1953; Best Supporting Actor, British Academy, for Murder on the Orient Express, 1974; Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for Providence, 1977; Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for Arthur, 1981; Best Supporting Actor Award, U.S. National Society of Film Critics, for Plenty and The Shooting Party, 1985. Knighted, 1953. Died: 21 May 2000.

Films as Actor:

1924

Who Is the Man? (Summers) (as Daniel)

1929

The Clue of the New Pin (Maude) (as Rex Trasmere)

1932

Insult (Lachman) (as Henri Dubois)

1933

The Good Companions (Saville) (as Inigo Jollifant)

1934

Full Fathom Five (Lye—short) (as voice)

1936

Secret Agent (Hitchcock) (as Edgar Brodie)

1939

Hamlet (Boisen—doc) (title role)

1941

The Prime Minister (Dickinson) (as Disraeli); An Airman's Letter to His Mother (Powell—short) (as voice)

1943

Unfinished Journey (Cekalski—short)

1944

Shakespeare's Country (Lawrence—short) (as voice)

1946

A Diary for Timothy (Jennings)

1948

Hamlet (Olivier) (as voice of Ghost)

1953

Julius Caesar (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Cassius)

1954

Romeo and Juliet (Giulietta e Romeo) (Castellani) (as narrator of prologue)

1955

Richard III (Olivier) (as Clarence)

1956

Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as Foster)

1957

Saint Joan (Preminger) (as Warwick); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin) (as Mr. Barrett)

1958

The Immortal Land (Wright—doc) (as narrator)

1964

Becket (Glenville) (as Louis VII); Hamlet (Colleran—for TV, filmed record of Gielgud's New York theater production) (as voice of the ghost)

1965

The Loved One (Richardson) (as Sir Francis Hinsley)

1966

Campanadas a Medianoche (Chimes at Midnight; Falstaff) (Welles) (as Henry IV)

1967

Assignment to Kill (Sheldon Reynolds) (as Curt Valayan); To Die in Madrid (English-language version of Mourir à Madrid) (Rossif) (as narrator); October Revolution (English-language version of Revolution d'Octobre) (Rossif) (as narrator)

1968

Mr. Sebastian (Sebastian) (David Greene) (as Head of British Intelligence); The Charge of the Light Brigade (Richardson) (as Lord Raglan); The Shoes of the Fisherman (Anderson) (as the Elder Pope)

1969

Oh! What a Lovely War (Attenborough) (as Count Berchtold)

1970

Eagle in a Cage (Cook) (as Lord Sissal); Julius Caesar (Burge) (title role)

1972

Lost Horizon (Jarrott) (as Chang); Probe (Search) (Mayberry—for TV)

1973

Frankenstein: The True Story (Smight—for TV)

1974

11 Harrowhouse (Avakian) (as Meecham); Gold (Hunt) (as Farrell); Murder on the Orient Express (Lumet) (as Beddoes); Galileo (Losey) (as Cardinal)

1976

Aces High (Gold) (as Headmaster); Joseph Andrews (Richardson) (as Doctor)

1977

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Strick) (as Preacher); Providence (Resnais) (as Clive Langham)

1978

Murder by Decree (Clark) (as Lord Salisbury); Caligula (Gore Vidal's Caligula) (Brass) (as Nerva); Les Misérables (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Valjean's father)

1979

The Conductor (Wajda) (title role); The Human Factor (Preminger) (as Brigadier Tomlinson)

1980

The Elephant Man (Lynch) (as Carr Gomm); The Formula (Avildsen) (as Dr. Esau); Priest of Love (Miles) (as Herbert G. Muskett)

1981

Arthur (Gordon) (as Hobson); Sphinx (Schaffner) (as Abdu); Lion of the Desert (Omar Mukhtar) (Akkad—produced in 1979) (Akkad) (as Sharif el Gariani); Chariots of Fire (Hudson) (as Master of Trinity); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Tuchner—for TV) (as Torturer); Inside the Third Reich (Chomsky—for TV) (as Speer's father)

1982

Gandhi (Attenborough) (as Lord Irwin); The Vatican Pimpernel (as Pope Pacelli)

1983

The Wicked Lady (Winner) (as Hogarth); Wagner (Palmer—for TV) (as Pfistermeister); The Scarlet and the Black (London—for TV)

1984

Scandalous (Cohen) (as Uncle Willie); The Shooting Party (Bridges) (as Cornelius Cardew); Buddenbrooks (Wirth—for TV) (as narrator); Camille (Desmond Davis—for TV); Frankenstein (Ormerod—for TV); Ingrid (Feldman—for TV); Invitation to the Wedding (Joseph Brooks) (as the Rev. Clyde Ormiston); The Far Pavilions (Duffell—for TV)

1985

Romance on the Orient Express (Clark—for TV); Plenty (Schepisi) (as Sir Leonard Darwin); Leave All Fair (Reid) (as John Middleton Murry); Time after Time (Hays) (as Jasper Swift)

1986

Theban Plays by Sophocles (for TV); The Whistle Blower (Langton) (as Sir Adrian Chapple); The Canterville Ghost (Bogart—for TV)


1987

Quartermaine's Terms (Hays—for TV); Barbablu, Barbablu (Bluebeard, Bluebeard) (Carpi)

1988

Appointment with Death (Winner) (as Colonel Carbury); Arthur 2: On the Rocks (Yorkin) (as Hobson); A Man for All Seasons (Charlton Heston—for TV) (as Wolsey)

1989

Getting It Right (Kleiser) (as Sir Gordon Munday); Summer's Lease (Friend—for TV)

1990

A TV Dante (Greenaway and Phillips); Strike It Rich (James Scott) (as Herbert Dreuther)

1991

Prospero's Books (Greenaway) (as Prospero)

1992

Shining Through (Seltzer) (as Konrad Friedrichs, "Sunflower"); The Power of One (Avildsen) (as Headmaster St. John); Swan Song (Branagh—short) (as Svetlovidov)

1994

Lovejoy: The Lost Colony (for TV) (as Wakering); Hand in Glove (for TV) (as Percival Pike Period); The Best of Friends (for TV) (as Sydney Cockerell)

1995

First Knight (Zucker) (as Oswald)

1996

Gulliver's Travels (Sturridge—for TV); Hamlet (Branagh) (as Priam); Looking for Richard (Pacino); Shine (Hicks) (as Cecil Parkes); The Leopard Son (Van Lawick) (as Narrator); The Portrait of a Lady (Campion) (as Mr. Touchett); Hamlet (Branagh) (Priam)

1997

A Dance to the Music of Time (Morahan, Rakoff—for TV) (as St. John Clarke)

1998

The Tichborne Claimant (Yates) (as Cockburn); Elizabeth (Kapur) (as Pope Paul IV); Merlin (Barron) (as King Constant); Quest for Camelot (Du Chau) (as Merlin)

2000

Catastrophe (Mamet—for TV)



Publications


By GIELGUD: books—

Early Stages, London, 1939; rev. ed., 1987.

Stage Directions, London, 1963.

Distinguished Company, London, 1972.

An Actor and His Time, with John Miller and John Powell, London, 1979; rev. ed., 1989.

Backward Glances: Part One, Times for Reflection; Part Two, Distinguished Company, London, 1989.

Shakespeare: Hit or Miss?, with John Miller, London, 1991; American edition as Acting Shakespeare, New York, 1992.

The Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection Presents John Gielgud's Notes from the Gods: Playgoing in the Twenties, edited by Richard Morgan, London, 1994.

Acting Shakespeare, with John Miller, New York, 1999.


On GIELGUD: books—

Hayman, Ronald, John Gielgud, New York, 1971.

Brandreth, Gyles Daubeney, John Gielgud: A Celebration, London, 1984.

Harwood, Ronald, editor, The Ages of Gielgud: An Actor at 80, London, 1984.

Tanitch, Robert, Gielgud, London, 1988.

Francis, Clive, Sir John: The Many Faces of Gielgud, London, 1994.

On GIELGUD: articles—

Ecran (Paris), December 1979.

"Richardson and Gielgud," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), April 1983.

Current Biography 1984, New York, 1984.

Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), April 1984.

"Mastaren och Erland," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol 33/2(233), 1991.

Case, Brian, "A Knight to Remember," in Time Out (London), 14 August 1991.

Gussow, M., "His Own Brideshead, His Fifth 'Lear'," in New York Times, 28 October 1993.

Mazierska, E., "Ksiegi Prospera," in Filmowy Serwis Prasowy (Warsaw), vol. 38 no. 8–10, 1993.


* * *

Sir John Gielgud belongs to a dynastic acting family that goes back through the nineteenth century, and included his great-aunt Ellen Terry, whose work with Henry Irving illuminated the later nineteenth-century theater in Britain and America. He was therefore destined by family connections to go on the stage, and he was blessed with romantic good looks and a uniquely beautiful voice. Trained at Britain's leading drama school, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), he started his stage career in 1921. By the 1930s, he and Laurence Olivier had become the leading Shakespearean actors of their generation. Indeed, Gielgud, Olivier, and Ralph Richardson are considered by many to be the three best English actors, ever. Gielgud never played romantic leads in movies as a youth, as he registered better on stage. Nevertheless, he has always given his all to whatever role he is cast in. Even playing the butler in Arthur, Gielgud brought depth to his character.

The theater was always to remain his principal artistic outlet, as his best film appearances have tended to be in Shakespearean adaptations—as an incisive Cassius in Joseph Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar, as a benign Clarence in Olivier's Richard III, as a coldly formal Henry IV in Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight, and as a proudly imperious Caesar in Stuart Burge's Julius Caesar. His work for the screen dates back to the silent film Who Is the Man?, but belongs essentially to sound film. He made an effective young lead in the adaptation of J. B. Priestley's The Good Companions, appeared in Hitchcock's Secret Agent, played the autocratic father in Sidney Franklin's version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and was nominated for an Oscar for his Louis VII of France in Becket. He has claimed that he learned the hard way to recast his image from the new generation of theater-film directors, notably Lindsay Anderson. "You need a young public to strip your work of its affectations," he said in 1979. As a whole, his later films have scarcely been distinguished, with the exception of cameo appearances in The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Shoes of the Fisherman, Murder on the Orient Express, and Joseph Strick's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but he gave a masterly performance as the elderly and disillusioned writer in Alain Resnais's Providence.

In more recent years, Gielgud made appearances on PBS's Mystery series. Even in his advancing age, he did not let his acting lapse into "cruise control"—he gave a brilliant, intense performance every time.

—Roger Manvell, updated by Linda J. Stewart

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gielgud, (Sir) John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gielgud, (Sir) John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gielgud-sir-john

"Gielgud, (Sir) John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gielgud-sir-john

Gielgud, Sir John

Sir John Gielgud (Arthur John Gielgud) (gĬl´gŏŏd), 1904–2000, English actor, director, and producer. A grandnephew of Ellen Terry, Gielgud made his debut at the Old Vic in 1921. His intelligence, sensitivity, fine voice, and ability to interpret both classic and modern playwrights established him as one of the finest actors of his time. His performance of Hamlet, first given in 1929 and repeated more than 500 times, is considered one of the great interpretations of the role. He also gave outstanding performances in revivals of plays by Congreve, Sheridan, Chekov, Wilde, Shaw, and other masters, in the Shakespearean collage solo Ages of Man (1959), and in modern plays such as Edward Albee's Tiny Alice (1965), David Storey's Home (1970), Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (1975), and Hugh Whitemore's Best of Friends (1988), his last stage role. Gielgud appeared in numerous films, notably Julius Caesar (1953), Richard III (1956), Becket (1964), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Chariots of Fire (1980), Arthur (1981, Academy Award), Prospero's Books (1991), Portrait of a Lady (1996), Shine (1996), and Elizabeth (1998). He also made several appearances on television, e.g., Brideshead Revisited (1981), and was a director and a writer, e.g., Shakespeare—Hit or Miss (1991). He was knighted in 1953.

Bibliography

See his autobiography, Early Stages (1939); his subsequent memoirs Stage Directions (1963), Distinguished Company (1973), An Actor and His Time (1980, rev. ed. 1997), and Backward Glances (1990); R. Mangan, ed., Sir John Gielgud: A Life in Letters (2004); biographies by R. Hayman (1971), C. Francis (1995), J. Croall (2001), and S. Morley (2002); studies by R. Findlater (1984) and G. Bandreth (1994).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gielgud, Sir John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gielgud, Sir John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gielgud-sir-john

"Gielgud, Sir John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gielgud-sir-john

Gielgud, John

Gielgud, John (1904–2000). Actor and director. Great-nephew of Ellen Terry, sharing her passion for Shakespeare and mellifluence of voice (‘a silver trumpet muffled in silk’, according to Sir Alec Guinness), Gielgud devoted himself wholly to the theatre and maintenance of classical tradition, as one of his generation's greatest stage and screen actors. Joining the Old Vic, his portrayal of Hamlet (1929) quickly established his reputation, enhanced by subsequent performances as Prospero, Angelo, and Lear. Ambition to direct was realized in the 1930s with wartime productions in Britain and abroad. In the 1950s Gielgud seemed happier in classical revivals than new drama—he was knighted in 1953—but his versatility led to acclaim in contemporary works later. Enjoyment of film-making (Academy award, 1982) and television continued, with cameo roles until his death. The Globe Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue was renamed (1994) in his honour.

A. S. Hargreaves

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gielgud, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gielgud, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gielgud-john

"Gielgud, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gielgud-john