Alec Guinness: Wikis


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Sir Alec Guinness
Born Alec Guinness de Cuffe
2 April 1914(1914-04-02)
Paddington, London, England, UK
Died 5 August 2000 (aged 86)
Midhurst, West Sussex, England, UK
Occupation Actor
Years active 1934–1996
Spouse(s) Merula Salaman (1938–2000)

Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE (2 April 1914 – 5 August 2000) was an English actor. He was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters. He later won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. His most prominent role in his later career was as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.


Early years

Guinness was born at 155 Lauderdale Mansions South, Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale, London as Alec Guinness De Cuffe.[1] His mother's maiden name was Agnes Cuff. She was born 8 December 1890 to Edward Cuff and Mary Ann Cuff Benfield. On Guinness's birth certificate, the field for mother's name displays Agnes de Cuffe. In the field for the infant's name (where first names only are usually given), it says Alec Guinness. There is nothing written in the column for name and surname of father. On this basis it has been frequently speculated that the actor's father was a member of the Irish Guinness family. However, it was a Scottish banker named Andrew Geddes who paid for Guinness' private school education. From 1875, English law required both the presence and consent of the father when the birth of an illegitimate child was registered in order for his name to be put on the certificate. Guinness and Geddes never met, and the identity of Guinness's father has never been confirmed.[2] Guinness's mother later married a shell shocked veteran of the Anglo-Irish War, who suffered hallucinations from what would later become known as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).[citation needed]

Early career and war service

Guinness first worked writing advertising copy. He made his debut at the Albery Theatre in 1936 at the age of 22, playing the role of Osric in John Gielgud's successful production of Hamlet. During this time he worked with many actors and actresses who would become his friends and frequent co-stars in the future, including John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Anthony Quayle, and Jack Hawkins. An early influence from afar was Stan Laurel, whom Guinness admired.[3]

Guinness continued playing Shakespearean roles throughout his career. In 1937 he played Aumerle in Richard II and Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice under the direction of John Gielgud. He starred in a 1938 production of Hamlet which won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He also appeared as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet (1939), Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and as Exeter in Henry V in 1937, both opposite Laurence Olivier, and Ferdinand in The Tempest, opposite Gielgud as Prospero.

In 1939, he adapted Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations for the stage, playing the part of Herbert Pocket. The play was a success. One of its viewers was a young British film editor, David Lean, who would later have Guinness reprise his role in Lean's 1946 film adaptation of the play.

Guinness served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in World War II, serving first as a seaman in 1941 and being commissioned the following year.[4] He commanded a landing craft taking part in the invasion of Sicily and Elba and later ferried supplies to the Yugoslav partisans.

During the war, he appeared in Terence Rattigan's West End play for RAF Bomber Command, Flare Path.

Post-war stage career

Guinness returned to the Old Vic in 1946 and stayed until 1948, playing Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, the Fool in King Lear opposite Laurence Olivier in the title role, DeGuiche in Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Ralph Richardson in the title role, and finally starring in an Old Vic production as Shakespeare's Richard II. After leaving the Old Vic, he played Eric Birling in J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls at the New Theatre in October 1946. He played the Uninvited Guest in the Broadway production of T. S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party (1950, revived at the Edinburgh Festival in 1968). His third attempt at the title role of Hamlet, this time under his own direction at the New Theatre (1951), proved a major theatrical disaster.

Invited by his friend Tyrone Guthrie to join the premier season of the Stratford Festival of Canada, Guinness lived for a brief time in Stratford, Ontario. On July 13, 1953, Guinness spoke the first lines of the first play produced by the festival, Shakespeare's Richard III: "Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York."

Guinness won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance as poet Dylan Thomas in Dylan. He next played the title role in Macbeth opposite Simone Signoret at the Royal Court Theatre in 1966, a conspicuous failure.[5]

Film career

In films, Guinness was initially associated mainly with the Ealing comedies, and particularly for playing eight different characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Other films from this period included The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers, and The Man in the White Suit. In 1952, director Ronald Neame cast Guinness in his first romantic lead role, opposite Petula Clark in The Card.

He won particular acclaim for his work with director David Lean. After appearing in Lean's Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, he was given a starring role opposite William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai. For his performance as Colonel Nicholson, the unyielding British POW leader, Guinness won an Academy Award. Despite a difficult and often hostile relationship, Lean, referring to Guinness as "my good luck charm", continued to cast Guinness in character roles in his later films: Arab leader Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia; the title character's half-brother, Bolshevik leader Yevgraf, in Doctor Zhivago; and Indian mystic Godbole in A Passage to India. He was also offered a role in Lean's adaptation of Ryan's Daughter (1970), but declined.

Other notable film roles of this period included The Swan (1956) with Grace Kelly in her second to last film role, The Horse's Mouth (1958) in which Guinness played the part of drunken painter Gulley Jimson as well as contributing the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), Marley's Ghost in Scrooge (1970), Charles I of England in Cromwell (1970), and the title role in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), which he considered his best film performance, though critics disagreed.[6]

Television appearances

From the 1970s, Guinness made regular television appearances, including the part of George Smiley in the serializations of two novels by John le Carré: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People. Le Carré was so impressed by Guinness's performance as Smiley that he based his characterization of Smiley in subsequent novels on Guinness.

One of Guinness's last appearances was in the acclaimed BBC drama Eskimo Day.

Star Wars

Guinness' role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy, beginning in 1977, brought him worldwide recognition by a new generation. Guinness agreed to take the part on the condition that he would not have to do publicity to promote the film. He was also one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be a box office hit; he negotiated a deal for two percent of the gross, which made him very wealthy in later life. His role would also result in Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

Despite these rewards, Guinness was never happy being identified with the part, and expressed dismay at the fan-following that the Star Wars trilogy attracted. In the DVD commentary of Star Wars: A New Hope, director George Lucas says that Guinness was not happy with the script re-write in which Obi-Wan is killed. However, Guinness said in a 1999 interview that it was actually his idea to kill off Obi Wan, persuading Lucas that it would make him a stronger character, and that Lucas agreed to the idea. Guinness stated in the interview, "What I didn't tell Lucas was that I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo." He went on to say that he "shriveled up" every time Star Wars was mentioned to him.[7]

Despite Guinness's dislike of the films, Lucas and fellow cast members Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, and Carrie Fisher have spoken highly of his courtesy and professionalism, both on and off the set, in not displaying his distaste for the material to his co-stars. Lucas credited him with inspiring cast and crew to work harder, saying that Guinness contributed significantly to achieving completion of the filming. Guinness was quoted as saying that the royalties he obtained from working on the films gave him "no complaints; let me leave it by saying I can live for the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to, that I have no debts and I can afford to refuse work that doesn't appeal to me." In his autobiography, Blessings In Disguise, Guinness tells an imaginary interviewer "Blessed be Star Wars!".

In the final volume of the book A Positively Final Appearance (1997), Guinness recounts grudgingly giving an autograph to a young fan who claimed to have watched Star Wars over 100 times, on the condition that the boy promise to stop watching the film, because, as Guinness told him, "this is going to be an ill effect on your life." The fan was stunned at first, but later thanked him (though some sources say it went differently).[8] Guinness grew so tired of modern audiences apparently knowing him only for his role of Obi-Wan Kenobi that he would throw away the mail he received from Star Wars fans without reading it.[9]

Awards and honours

Guinness won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1957 for his role in The Bridge on the River Kwai. He was nominated in 1958 for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, for his screenplay adapted from Joyce Cary's novel The Horse's Mouth. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars in 1977. He received an Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in 1980. In 1988, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Little Dorrit.

For his theatre work, he received an Evening Standard Award for his performance as T.E. Lawrence in Ross and a Tony Award for his Broadway turn as Dylan Thomas in Dylan.

Guinness was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1955, and was knighted in 1959. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University.[10] Three years later, at age 80, he was given the title of Companion of Honour.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1559 Vine Street.

Personal life

Guinness married the artist, playwright, and actress Merula Sylvia Salaman (16 October 1914 – 18 October 2000) in 1938; in 1940, they had a son, Matthew Guinness, who later became an actor. Merula Salaman had been raised in the Jewish faith.

In his biography, Alec Guinness: The Unknown, Garry O'Connor says that Guinness was arrested and fined 10 guineas for a homosexual act in a public lavatory in Liverpool in 1946. Guinness avoided publicity by giving his name to police and court as "Herbert Pocket", the name of the character he played in Great Expectations. The incident did not become public knowledge until April 2001, eight months after his death.[11] Piers Paul Read, Guinness's official biographer, doubts that this incident actually occurred. He believes that Guinness was confused with John Gielgud, who was infamously arrested for such an act at the same period. Read does, however, acknowledge Guinness's bisexuality.[12]

Religious conversion

While serving in the Royal Navy, Guinness had planned to become an Anglican priest. However, in 1954, while he was filming Father Brown in Burgundy, Guinness, who was in costume as a Catholic priest, was mistaken for a real priest by a local child. Guinness did not speak French, and the child apparently did not notice that Guinness did not understand him, but took his hand and chattered while the two strolled then waved and trotted off. The confidence and affection the clerical attire appeared to inspire in the boy left a deep impression on the actor.[13] Alec and Merula Guinness were formally received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1956.[13] They would remain devout and regular church-goers for the remainder of their lives. Their son Matthew had converted to Catholicism some time earlier.[14][15] Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, "Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning".[16]

Alec Guinness consulted Tarot cards for a time, but came to the conclusion that the symbols of the cards mocked Christianity and burned the cards.[17]


Guinness died on 5 August 2000, from liver cancer, at Midhurst in West Sussex.[18] He had been receiving hospital treatment for glaucoma, and had recently also been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was interred in Petersfield, Hampshire, England. His widow, Lady Merula Guinness, died of cancer in Petersfield, two months after her husband, also aged 86,[19] and was interred alongside her husband of 62 years.

Encounter with James Dean

On Friday, 23 September 1955, Guinness was at the Villa Capri restaurant in San Diego, and found no table available. The actor James Dean, then filming Giant, invited Guinness to sit at his table. During lunch, Dean entertained Guinness with tales of Lee Strasberg and boasted about his new car, a Porsche 550 Spyder.[citation needed] Upon leaving the restaurant, Dean insisted on showing the gift-wrapped car to Guinness, who had a premonition that Dean would die behind its wheel within the next week. Dean was killed in the car exactly one week later, after being hit almost head-on by another vehicle.[20][21][22]

Autobiographies and Biography

Guinness wrote three volumes of a bestselling autobiography, beginning with Blessings in Disguise in 1985, followed by My Name Escapes Me in 1996, and A Positively Final Appearance in 1999. He recorded each of them as an audiobook. His authorized biography was written by his close friend, British novelist Piers Paul Read. It was published in 2003.


Year Film Role Notes
1934 Evensong Extra (WWI soldier in audience) uncredited
1946 Great Expectations Herbert Pocket
1948 Oliver Twist Fagin
1949 Kind Hearts and Coronets The Duke, The Banker, The Parson, The General, The Admiral, Young Ascoyne, Young Henry, Lady Agatha
A Run for Your Money Whimple
1950 Last Holiday George Bird
The Mudlark Benjamin Disraeli
1951 The Lavender Hill Mob Henry Holland Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
The Man in the White Suit Sidney Stratton
1952 The Card Edward Henry ‘Denry’ Machin released in the US as The Promoter
1953 The Square Mile narrator short subject
Malta Story Flight Lt. Peter Ross
The Captain's Paradise Capt. Henry St. James
1954 Father Brown Father Brown
The Stratford Adventure Himself short subject
1955 Rowlandson's England narrator short subject
To Paris with Love Col. Sir Edgar Fraser
The Prisoner The Cardinal
The Ladykillers Professor Marcus
1956 The Swan Prince Albert
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai Col. Nicholson Academy Award for Best Actor
Barnacle Bill Captain William Horatio Ambrose released in the US as All at Sea
1958 The Horse's Mouth Gulley Jimson also writer
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
1959 Our Man in Havana Jim Wormold
The Scapegoat John Barratt/Jacques De Gue
1960 Tunes of Glory Maj. Jock Sinclair, D.S.O., M.M.
1962 A Majority of One Koichi Asano
HMS Defiant Captain Crawford
Lawrence of Arabia Prince Feisal
1964 The Fall of the Roman Empire Marcus Aurelius
1965 Pasternak Himself short subject
Situation Hopeless ... But Not Serious Wilhelm Frick
Doctor Zhivago Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago
1966 Hotel Paradiso Benedict Boniface
The Quiller Memorandum Pol
1967 The Comedians in Africa Himself uncredited, short subject
The Comedians Major H.O. Jones
1970 Cromwell King Charles I
Scrooge Jacob Marley’s ghost
1972 Brother Sun, Sister Moon Pope Innocent III
1973 Hitler: The Last Ten Days Adolf Hitler
1976 Murder by Death Jamesir Bensonmum
1977 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1979 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy George Smiley
1980 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi
Raise the Titanic John Bigalow
Little Lord Fauntleroy Earl of Dorincourt
1982 Smiley's People George Smiley
1983 Lovesick Sigmund Freud
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi
1984 A Passage to India Professor Godbole
1985 Monsignor Quixote Monsignor Quixote
1988 Little Dorrit William Dorrit Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
A Handful of Dust Mr. Todd
1991 Kafka The Chief Clerk
1993 A Foreign Field Amos
1994 Mute Witness The Reaper
1996 Eskimo Day James


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: JUN 1914 1a 39 PADDINGTON - Alec Guinness De Cuffe, mmn = De Cuffe
  2. ^ "Alec Guinness biography at MSN Movies". Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  3. ^ On June 3, 1961, Alec Guinness sent a letter to Stan Laurel,[1] acknowledging that he had unconsciously modeled his portrayal of Sir Andrew Aguecheek as he imagined Laurel might have done. Guinness was 23 at the time he was performing in Twelfth Night, so this would have been around 1937, by which time Laurel had become an international movie star.
  4. ^ J.N. Houterman. "Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) Officers 1939–1945". Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  5. ^ "Alec Guinness: A Celebration" by John Russell Taylor, Little, Brown & Company, pp. 133–134
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Alec Guinness Blasts Jedi 'Mumbo Jumbo'". 1999-09-08. 
  8. ^ Guinness, Alec. "A Positively Final Appearance". Viking. ""Well," I said, "do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?" He burst into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. "What a dreadful thing to say to a child!" she barked, and dragged the poor kid away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities." 
  9. ^ "The shy introvert who shone on screen". The Guardian. August 7, 2000.,4029,351460,00.html. 
  10. ^ "Honorary Degrees conferred from 1977 till present". Cambridge University. Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  11. ^ "Sir Alec Guiness was bisexual". BBC News (Showbiz). 2001-04-16. Retrieved 2009-08-24. 
  12. ^ Piers Paul Read, Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography, London, 2005
  13. ^ a b "Sir Alec Guinness". Telegraph (Obituaries). 2000-08-08. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  14. ^ Rita Reichardt (August 7, 2000). "How Father Brown Led Sir Alec Guinness to the Church". Catholic Answers, Inc.. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  15. ^ Tom Sutcliffe (August 7, 2000). "Sir Alec Guinness (1914–2000)". The Guardian.,4029,351452,00.html. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  16. ^ The invisible man, by Hugh Davies, originally published in the Telegraph and reprinted in The Sunday Age, 13 August 2000.
  17. ^ X-Rated: The Paranormal Experiences of The Movie Star Greats by Michael Munn, p. 93, Robson Books, 1999
  18. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: AUG 2000 1DD 21 CHICHESTER - Alec Guinness, DoB = 2 Apr 1914 aged 86
  19. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: OCT 2000 38C 104 PETERSFIELD - Merula Sylvia (Lady) Guinness, DoB = 16 Oct 1914 aged 86
  20. ^ Guinness, Alec. Blessings in Disguise [Random House, 1985, ISBN 0-394-55237-7], ch. 4 (pp. 34–35)
  21. ^ October 14, 2007 (2007-10-14). "Premonition of Sir Alec Guiness". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  22. ^ Olga Craig (September 24, 2005). "Revealed: the truth behind the crash that killed James Dean". 

Further reading

  • McCarten, John (4 February 1950). "Eliot and Guiness". The New Yorker 25 (50): 25–26. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Alec Guinness (1914-04-022000-08-05) was a British actor and diarist, most famous for his appearances in Ealing comedies and the original Star Wars trilogy.


  • There seems to be no end to the senseless wickedness done on this little planet in a minor solar system, and we puny mortals appear to be decreasing in importance so far as the universe is concerned.
    • My Name Escapes Me (Penguin, 1997), 1st paperback edition, p. 57
  • ...nothing is desperately important and the joy of life is just looking at it.
    • A Positively Final Appearance (Penguin, 1999), 3rd hardback edition, p. 2

External links

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Simple English

Sir Alec Guinness
File:Sir Alec Guinness Allan
Alec Guinness in 1973
Born Alec Guinness de Cuffe
2 April 1914(1914-04-02)
Paddington, London, England
Died August 5, 2000 (aged 86)
Midhurst, West Sussex, England
Years active 1934-1996
Spouse Merula Salaman
(m. 1938-2000)

Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE (April 2, 1914 - August 5, 2000) was an Academy Award winning English actor. He was born in London. He is well known for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, a "Jedi master", in the Star Wars movie series (Episodes IV, V, and VI), a role that he was embarrassed with. He won an Academy Award for "Best Actor in a Leading Role". He got this award for acting in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Guinness also received a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award for that movie. He has also received a Tony Award. Guinness died from liver cancer Midhurst, West Sussex, in 2000.

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