Olivier, Sir Laurence

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Olivier, Sir Laurence (1907–89). Actor and director. Praised by Ellen Terry in a school play, Olivier became one of his generation's leading actors. Commencing in repertory, he established a reputation with Shakespearian roles and joined the Old Vic; after starring in film versions of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca in America, he returned to England to serve in the Fleet Air Arm, before helping rebuild the Old Vic after the Second World War. Handsome, charismatic, often generating a sense of risk, then youngest stage knight (1947), he directed and acted under his own management from 1950, revolutionized the art of filming Shakespeare (Henry V, Hamlet, Richard III), became director of the newly formed National Theatre Company (1962–73), and was the first actor to receive a life peerage. The outstanding success of Olivier's later career, before ill-health supervened, was as Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer (1957). One of the Royal National Theatre's stages is named in his honour.

A. S. Hargreaves