Wednesday, April 4

Laurence Harvey

He was a bastard

Oh, his parents were married alright.  I just used a vivid 7-letter word to say he was not a very nice man... and to get your attention.

Like his roles in Room at the Top and its sequel Life at the Top, Laurence Harvey ruthlessly climbed his way to the top.  He married older women for what they could do for him.  He slept with men for the same reason... anything to advance his career.  He was disliked by or had run-ins with many of his co-stars. 

There wasn't, it seems, a lot to recommend him but I thought he was one of the most exciting and watchable movie stars I have ever known.  He always hit a home run with me.  His personal life never influenced how I felt about him up there on that screen.

He personified the British snobbery thing although he was not born in Britain but rather in Lithuania and raised in South Africa.  The family name was Skikne and he was named Zvi Mosheh.  Wouldn't that have looked splendid on a movie marquee? He would do some acting in South Africa.  He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England.  During his adult life he  resided in England and Southern California.

Young and so full of himself

He usually lived well.  When he ran out of money, which was often, he looked around for a patron or a best friend.  It was terribly important to him to live well and to be noticed for doing so.  Unfortunately, for moviegoers like me, he didn't live long.  He came, he noticed, he took, he pissed people off and he split before he had a chance to grow old. 

In most of his films he could at minimum be called a cad but that's too British and too bland.  Harvey was not bland.  He was often an in-your-face, royal pain in the ass, insufferably snotty, as we shall see in examining his film roles.  One might call it typecasting but producers/directors obviously took a piece of his true nature and fastened it to his film characters. 

We often admire some actors because we see a piece of their true nature in their work which captivates us.  That is, in part, why I have never much understood the comment oh, he's just being himself.  It is a special brand of oneself, the ordinary you, that one brings to the screen.  It is often that piece(s) that draws us in. 

For me, it was Harvey's iciness, thinking he was better than everyone else, the arrogance, the conceit, the snobbery that made me see his movies.  I seriously doubt that he would have interested me in real life but on the screen I think he was in a class by himself.  (Some of those in his profession would agree with that sentence but with a little more of a sinister glaze.)  I never diverted my eyes from him.  He said more silently than many did with words.  But boy could his words, which he spit out, sting.  There was a bloodlust about him; he could tear one apart with anger.  He was always ready to do battle.  Both on the screen and in real-life, he could be bad-tempered, debonair, flamboyant, gregarious and a poster boy for conceit.  He would contort his mouth and the area around his eyes would tighten up.  Creases would appear on his forehead.  I have studied the man. 

He was so often at war with women in movies... both as the character and often behind the scenes.  Many of the actresses who worked with him have gone on record as saying they didn't like him or hated him... Shirley MacLaine, Capucine, Barbara Stanwyck, Kim Novak, to name a few.  Many of his costars seemed to not like working with him and found him to be not a very good actor or at least not a very professional one.  He was chronically late, for one thing, and often would not look others in the eye when speaking to them in character, both big no-nos.

As he was trying to establish himself as an actor, he glommed onto older character actress Hermione Baddeley who would help him be seen by the right people.  In real-life he had three marriages.  The first was to older actress, Margaret Leighton, who quickly wore out her welcome.  When it was over, she refused to speak about him publicly... until one interesting tidbit at the end of her life.  

He later married Joan Cohn, the older, wealthy widow of Columbia Pictures' head, Harry Cohn.  He got what he wanted from her and then took a powder. His last marriage was to a younger woman, Paulene Stone, a model, to whom he was still married at the time of his death.  She gave him his only child, a daughter, Domino. 

Throughout a great deal of his adult life and certainly through his first two marriages, he was thisclose to his business manager, James Woolf, who also was a producer.  He is responsible for getting Harvey some work; they also traveled the world together and shared apartments.

Looking happy, but was he?

Many people thought Harvey was gay and he himself likely thought of it as a slight diversion to being married to older, influential women.  He would likely not have been comfortable coming out and living a gay lifestyle.  His first two wives did not get a lot of his time.  Hollywood has always been populated with Laurence Harveys. The fact that Elizabeth Taylor was so enamored of him (one of the few to make two movies with him) is a bit of a giveaway on his sexuality since she gravitated toward gay men as friends.

The first film I ever saw him in, 1954's The Good Die Young, he enlists three down-on-their-luck friends to help him rob a bank and then rubs them all out.  Hmmm, you catching on?  It had a wonderful cast and is the film on which he met Margaret Leighton.  He also became lifelong friends with John Ireland with whom he made several movies.

He was good and tamed down playing the gay Christopher Isherwood in 1955's I Am a Camera, the predecessor to the musical version, Cabaret.   With several films in between, in 1959 he gave us the quintessential Harvey role in Room at the Top.  No wonder he got his only Oscar nomination playing a conniving, ruthless, heartless social-climber.  Seeing it the first time when I was 16, I didn't appreciate how well done it is but I know now.

The following year he seemed like a odd choice to portray Col. Travis in The Alamo, but he was the personal pick of actor-producer-director John Wayne.  I thought Harvey just nailed the role and certainly held his own with heroic western actors like Wayne and Richard Widmark. 

If Room at the Top isn't your cup of tea, you will be well-served  examining Harvey opposite Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8.  She was a hooker trying to go straight and he is her john-cum-beau who is married and wealthy and demeans her and treats her shabbily.  I thought he was riveting.  Taylor would see to his being hired for a later film when he was already obviously ill.

In 1961 neither he nor Shirley MacLaine liked the film Two Loves or one another.  I liked it though it won't go down in time as great cinema.  He then worked with acting legend, Geraldine Page, in a movie I was so taken with... Summer and Smoke.  It is a Tennessee Williams work and I love the words of that man.  Harvey thought it was about the best work he ever did.  His character, a doctor, was a little more humane than Harvey usually played.  He was only a teeny bit of a scoundrel.

With Capucine

In 1962 he made a movie he loathed and was my favorite of all his films, Walk on the Wild Side.  All four starring actresses, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter and Barbara Stanwyck, had issues with him at one level or another.  The latter ripped him up over his tardiness on the set.  His relationship with Capucine, his lover in the film, was particularly vitriolic and very public.  We will examine this film thoroughly another time.  Imagine, my favorite actress and one of my favorite actors hated one another.  Horrors.

Arguably the film he is best-remembered for is 1962's The Manchurian Candidate.  He acted on many levels as the former Korean War prisoner who has been brain-washed into being a political killer.  I thought his work was sensational.  He apparently behaved during the making of the film, but of course, The Man, Frank Sinatra was also on board.

The same year he made A Girl Named Tamiko, which I quite enjoyed.  He was only a semi-schmuck while romancing France Nuyen and Martha Hyer in Japan.  One interesting fact is that co-star Michael Wilding would go on to marry Harvey's ex-wife, Margaret Leighton.  And Wilding was once married to Elizabeth Taylor who was Harvey's good buddy.  Only in Hollywood...

I liked him blonded and playing another lowlife in The Ballad of the Running Man (1963) where he was immersed in an insurance scam.  That same year he starred in and directed 1963's The Ceremony (run-ins with Sarah Miles).  There was no reason to remake Of Human Bondage (1964) and he and co-star Kim Novak disliked the film and one another.  Also in 1964 he made Outrage, and some quarters thought it was just that... the audacity to remake the Japanese classic, Roshomon.  I quite liked watching him and Paul Newman and Claire Bloom circling one another like vultures. 

In 1965 he did that sequel to Room at the Top, called Life at the Top, which was less successful but I quite liked, which was helped by the presence of Jean Simmons.  Although he was top-billed in Darling, he had little more than a supporting role.  His co-star Julie Christie won an Oscar and she was his third leading lady to do so.  Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8 and Simone Signoret in Room at the Top also won best actress Oscars.  That must be some kind of a record.  Take that you Harvey-hating actresses (though I doubt none of you).  

The rest of his work was fairly spotty and not worth hurting my fingers more... or your eyes (or is it too late?).  His third-to-last film was Night Watch (1973), a most under-rated thriller where he was Elizabeth Taylor's unsavory husband.  As stated, he was looking visibly ill.

Laurence Harvey died at age 45 in 1973 of stomach cancer.  To many he disproved the title of one of his early films, The Good Die Young.  His daughter Domino grew up to be, among other things, a bounty hunter, and a film was done on her life.  They are buried next to one another in Santa Barbara, California.

With Margaret Leighton

At the end of her life, Margaret Leighton would tell a writer that  Harvey had a great inadequacy in his makeup and that he was aware of it but she wouldn't elaborate.  What was it?  Personally, I suspect something of a sexual nature.  Maybe he was impotent with women.  Maybe with men, too.  Maybe it was self-hatred on his closeted homosexuality.  Inadequacies of all kinds don't always make people take to their beds and put the covers over their heads.  Some become mean-spirited and nasty.  Some want others to feel as badly as they do and to feel diminished.  They don't like to see others happy. 

Could that be what Margaret Leighton was talking about?

NEXT POSTING:  Favorite Film #44


  1. Hello,
    I just read your post on Laurence Harvey.. I guess you have read the Hickey's book where Margaret Leighton delivered her truth about Harvey. Did you know there is another, more recent one, from his sister-in law, titled"Reach for the top"? And Pauline Stone wrote a Memoir about her life with him..I think You waere mistaken as his first meeting with Leighton is concerned.. They first met when they acted in Stratford in Shakespeare in 1952.. He was Orlando, she was Rosalind and they fell in love.. or, rather, she fell in love with him...

    1. Hey Muriel... my head is hanging in shame because you are right that Harvey and Leighton met at Stratford and not on the set of "The Good Die Young." I know I knew that, too, but it flew out of my head. Thanks for the restoration. And thanks, too, on the new books you mentioned. I gotta get 'em.

  2. Hello , I have read your post on Laurence Harvey. Did tou know there is another, more recent book on him from his sister-in-law titled"Reach for the top"? and a Memoir from Pauline Stone"A tear is enough"which, I think , is a sensitive account of their life together.. I think you were mistaken about his first meeting with Margaret Leighton. They acted together at Startford , He was Orlando, she was Rosalind in "As you like it" in 1952, and she fell in love with him... Muriel

  3. Some of this info on Larry Harvey does need to be cleared up. Not everyone disliked him at all. John Wayne, Frank Sinatra. Julie Chrisite, and Liz Taylor, all adored him. John Wayne spoke very highly of him, as did Sinatra. He clashed with Capucine and Kim Novak for two reasons. He thought they were bad actresses, and he was right. And let's not take Shirley Mc Laine's thoughts too seriously. She would have to be one of the most widely disliked women in Hollywood by all accounts. Ask Anthony Hopkins.I thought Larry was brilliant in most of his films. He was dead sexy, and he could deliver a witty line better than anyone. Who will forget his withering attack on Julie Christie in Darling? 'Put away your Penguin Freud Diana. I can also be surprisingly effective on the telephone.' Ha! I Ioved you Larry, and I don't care what you were like off the screen, because you were electrifying on it!

    1. Insightful note. Thanks. I do agree that the people you mentioned liked him but I stand by my comments that he was a most disliked actor by many of those who worked with him. Nonetheless, let's make mention again that he was one of my very favorite actors and I don't care that some had problems with him.

  4. Thanks for your terrifically interesting discussion. For a follow up, you might be interested in the Facebook page, "Laurence Harvey - The Authorized Archive," which is filled with lots of updated items about Harvey.

  5. Larry died of pancreatic cancer, not stomach cancer.

    1. Sorry, it was stomach cancer.

    2. I've read it was stomach cancer... imdb and Wikipedia say that... but I took it from a bio on him that said pancreatic. I dunno. You certainly could be correct. Thanks for writing.

  6. Great work. So much nicer than the other hatchet pieces on Harvey. Had he lived he'd have been a more respected Malcom McDowell. Both men doing the best work at the start of their careers but one dying young and unfairly maligned and largely overlooked. Both actors play a detain type but that type is hugely unique and deadly attractive. I'd put Harvey as the better overall actor but Malcom is not too far behind. Great tribute. You did us proud as diehard fans. Thanks!

  7. Thanks fellow diehard fan. I much appreciate your comments.

  8. I'm another Laurence Harvey fan.He was magic in The Alamo,Spinster,Room At The Top and Life At The Top.Obviously liked by men more than women.
    David Allen (New Zealand)

  9. Spinster? Is that an alternate title (perhaps for NZ audiences) for "Summer and Smoke?"

    1. Spinster was the G.B. and N.Z. title for Two Loves,based on the novel Spinster by Sylvia Ashton Warner. While the movie was grossly inaccurate in detail (especially for N.Z. audiences) I still enjoyed it,mainly for Laurence Harvey.He mesmerised me.

    2. Thanks, David. Now I know. By the way, he mesmerized me, too.

    3. I appreciate this refreshing view of Lawrence Harvey's artistry. After all the harsh retrospectives about Mr. Harvey, fining this evaluation was a present. Now I can understand why he is fascinating to watch.

  10. The dialogue goes on re: this always fascinating actor. Hooray.

  11. Hello, I must say I admire the work and extra-ordinary inofrmation supplied in this blog. But, I feel very strongly that the hatred and vitriol contained is rather inflammatory and it is also needless gossip. Yes, we all like to hear where these fine stars got on or off in life as it is so intriguing alas this man was a Genius and should be remembered as that for ever. I love the rest of the details though and cannot thank you enough for this informatin being made available. I do not wish to be anonymous though. My details are Thank you <3 Stuart Lawson Beattie

  12. Laurence Harvey fue un gran actor y es mucha cobardia ahora que esta muerto y no puede defenderse decir que era homosexual, pero que se puede esperar de esos escandalosos titulos que se venden al dinero de los que odian a la cruz.

  13. I may be wrong but it sounds like you're letting your religious views cloud the truth of who Harvey was. I loved his acting too but it doesn't reshape the truth.