Oscar Profile #451: Laurence Harvey

Born October 1, 1928 in Joniskis, Lithuania, Laruschka Mischa Skikne, was the youngest of three children, known variously as Harry Skikne, Larry Skikne and finally Laurence Harvey, emigrated to South Africa with his parents and to London at 16.

Having enrolled in RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) in London, he made his screen debut in 1948’s House of Darkness, followed by supporting roles in Man on the Run, Landfall, The Black Rose, Seven Days to Noon and others. Reportedly a gigolo in his London years, he lived with actress Hermione Baddely until 1951when he began an affair with actress Margaret Leighton, then married to publisher Max Reinhardt.

Harvey’s luck before the camera changed in 1954 when he starred in three major films, King Richard and the Crusaders along with Rex Harrison, Virginia Mayo and George Sanders; The Good Die Young opposite Gloria Grahame and Romeo and Juliet in which his cold, aloof Romeo was universally reviled despite the film’s otherwise generally warm reception.

In 1955, Harvey starred as Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Camera opposite Julie Harris and Shelley Winters in the film that would become the basis for the 1972 Oscar-winning Cabaret. He married Leighton in 1957.

Harvey achieved major stardom with his Oscar nominated role in 1959’s Room at the Top opposite Oscar winner Simone Signoret with former lover Baddeley also nominated for her supporting turn In 1960, he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in her Oscar winning role in BUtterfield 8 as well as the Oscar nominated The Alamo in which he co-starred with John Wayne and Richard Widmark. In 1961, the year he became divorced from Leighton, he starred opposite Geraldine Page in her Oscar nominated role in Summer and Smoke. In 1962, he had starring roles in Walk on the Wild Side, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and The Manchurian Candidate; in 1963, The Running Man and The Ceremony, which he also directed; in 1964, Of Human Bondage and The Outrage while simultaneously starring as King Arthur in the 1964 London production of Camelot

In 1965, Harvey starred opposite Julie Christie in her Oscar-winning role in Darling and reprised his own Oscar-nominated role from Room at the Top opposite Jean Simmons in Life at the Top. He married Joan Perry, the widow of movie mogul Harry Cohn in 1968 while at the same time carrying on an affair with actress Paulene Stone who gave birth to Harvey’s daughter, Domino in 1969. He divorced Perry and married Stone in 1972.

In 1973, Harvey gave an acclaimed performance as a tennis pro who murders his opponent in an episode of Columbo and co-starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Night Watch. He made one more film, Welcome to Arrow Beach which was released posthumously.

Laurence Harvey died of stomach cancer on November 25, 1973 after a life of heavy smoking and drinking at 45. His daughter Domino, who became a model and bounty hunter in Los Angeles, died in 2005 from an overdose of painkillers at 35. They are buried together in Santa Barbara Cemetery in Santa Barbara, California. Domino’s life story was the subject of the 2005 film, Domino starring Keira Knightley. It was released four months after her death.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

ROOM AT THE TOP (1959), directed by Jack Clayton

The first of Britain’s kitchen sink dramas that would dominate British films for the next few years takes place 12 years earlier in post-World War II London. It centers on a working-class cad played by Harvey who simultaneously romances his boss Donald Wolfit’s daughter (Heather Sears) and an older, French actress (Simone Signoret). Nominated for six Oscars, it would win two for Best Actress (Signoret) and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Harvey), Supporting Actress (Hermione Baddeley) and Director. It spawned two sequels, 1955’s Life at the Top and 1973’s Man at the Top.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer

Harvey’s cold, aloof, acting style was put to its best use ever as he played the brainwashed former prisoner of war in Korea who becomes an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy in which his controller is someone close to home. Withdrawn from circulation for a quarter century following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it resurfaced again in 1989 and has been a DVD and Blu-ray staple ever since. Harvey’s chilling performance is matched by Angela Lansbury who was less than three years older than Harvey when she played his mother in a great Oscar-nominated performance.

THE RUNNING MAN (1963), directed by Carol Reed

Not to be confused with the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger science-fiction film of the same name, this thriller from the great Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, The Third Man) features Harvey as an airline pilot who fakes his death in order for his wife to collect on an insurance policy he took out in revenge when he was denied a claim on a previous loss because it occurred two days after is premium was due and not paid. Filmed at Ardmore Studios in Ireland and on location in Spain and Gibraltar, Harvey and wife Lee Remick play cat and mouse with insurance investigator Alan Bates who is not quite what he seems.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1964), directed by Ken Hughes

The third film version of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel is the most faithful adaptation. Maugham, who died in 1965 at the age of 91, is said to have liked Kim Novak’s portrayal of the faithless waitress better than those of Bette Davis and Eleanor Parker in the previous versions. Novak and Harvey, who is very good as the tormented medical student previously played by Leslie Howard and Paul Henreid, did not get along, their contrary acting styles getting in the way. Novak also clashed with original director Henry Hathaway (True Grit) who was replaced with the British Hughes (The Trials of Oscar Wilde).

NIGHT WATCH (1973), directed by Brian G. Hutton

Thirteen years after Harvey played Elizabeth Taylor’s lover in Butterfield 8, for which she won her first Oscar, he played her second husband in this thriller in which he may or may not be trying to drive her insane. Taylor’s real-life second husband Michael Wilding had been married to Harvey’s former wife Margaret Leighton since 1964. Sadly, Harvey, Leighton and Wilding would all be dead by the end of the decade, Harvey of cancer in 1973, Leighton of multiple sclerosis in 1976 and Wilding of the aftermath of a fall in 1979. This would be Harvey’s last released film prior to his death several months later.

LAURENCE HARVEY AND OSCAR

  • Room at the Top (1959) – nominated – Best Actor

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