Peter Lawford

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Peter Lawford
Peter Lawford 1955.jpg
Peter Lawford in 1955
Born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen[1]
(1923-09-07)September 7, 1923
London, England, UK
Died December 24, 1984(1984-12-24) (aged 61)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Cardiac arrest complicated by renal and liver failure
Occupation Actor, film producer
Years active 1930–1983
Spouse(s)
Patricia Kennedy (m. 1954; div. 1966)

Mary Rowan (m. 1971; div. 1975)
Deborah Gould (m. 1976; div. 1977)
Patricia Seaton (m. 1984–84)

Children
Parents Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford
May Sommerville Bunny

Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford (born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen; September 7, 1923 – December 24, 1984) was an English-born American actor.[1][2][3]

He was a member of the "Rat Pack" and brother-in-law to President John F. Kennedy, and more noted in later years for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting. From the 1940s to the 1960s, he had a strong presence in popular culture and starred in a number of highly acclaimed films.

Early life[edit]

Born in London in 1923, he was the only child of Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford, KBE (1865-1953) and May Sommerville Bunny (1883-1972). At the time of Peter's birth, however, his mother was married to Dr. Capt. Ernest Vaughn Aylen, one of Sir Sydney's officers, while his father was married to Muriel Williams.[1] At the time, May and Ernest Aylen were living apart. May confessed to Aylen that the child was not his, a revelation that resulted in a double divorce. Sir Sydney and May then wed in September 1924 after their divorces were finalized and when their son was one year old.[4]

Lawford's family was connected to the English aristocracy through his uncle Ernest Lawford's wife (a daughter of the 14th Earl of Eglinton) as well as his aunt Ethel Turner Lawford (who married a son of the first Baron Avebury). His aunt Jessie Bruce Lawford, another of his father's sisters, was the second wife of the Hon Hartley Williams, senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of the colony of Victoria, Australia. A relative, through his mother, was Australian artist Rupert Bunny.

He spent his early childhood in France, and owing to his family's travels, was never formally educated. Instead he was schooled by governesses and tutors and his education included tennis and ballet lessons.[5] "In the beginning," his mother observed, "he had no homework. When he was older he had Spanish, German and music added to his studies. He read only selected books—English fairy stories, English and French classics; no crime stories. Having studied Peter for so long, I decided he was quite unfitted for any career except art, so I cut Latin, Algebra, high mathematics and substituted dramatics instead."[5] Because of the widely varying national and religious backgrounds of his tutors, Lawford "attended various services in churches, cathedrals, synagogues and for some time was an usher in a Christian Science Sunday School..."[6] Around 1930, aged seven, he made his acting debut in the English film Poor Old Bill.

At the age of 14, Lawford severely injured his right arm in an accident when it went through a glass door.[7] The injury greatly compromised the use of his lower arm and hand with irreversible nerve damage,[8] which he later learned to hide.[9] The injury was considered damaging enough to keep him from entering the military, which his parents had planned.[10] Instead, Lawford decided to pursue a career as an actor, a decision that resulted in one of his aunts refusing to leave him her considerable fortune, as originally planned.[11]

Career[edit]

Films[edit]

Prior to World War II, Lawford had gained a contract position with the MGM studios. Once he signed with MGM, his mother insisted that studio head Louis B. Mayer pay her a salary as her son's personal assistant, which Mayer declined. Lady Lawford responded by claiming her son was "a bummer" and needed to be "supervised". When Lawford learned of his mother's actions their relationship was reportedly never the same.[citation needed]

MGM career[edit]

Lawford's first film role had been at age seven in the film Poor Old Bill. In 1938, he made his Hollywood debut in a minor part in the film Lord Jeff. His first role in a major film production was in A Yank At Eton (1942), where he played a snobbish bully opposite Mickey Rooney. The film was a smash hit, and Lawford's performance was widely praised. Lawford made uncredited appearances as a pilot in Mrs. Miniver (1942) and as a sailor in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943).

He won acclaim for his performance in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), in which he played a young soldier during World War II. MGM gave him another important role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Peter Lawford's first leading role came in Son of Lassie (1945) and he later won a Modern Screen magazine readers' poll as the most popular actor in Hollywood of 1946. His fan mail jumped to thousands of letters a week.

In Royal Wedding (1951)

With actors such as Clark Gable and James Stewart away at war, Lawford was recognized as the romantic lead on the MGM lot. Lawford's busiest year as an actor was 1946, when two of his films opened within days of each other: Cluny Brown and Two Sisters From Boston. He also made his first comedy that same year: My Brother Talks To Horses (released in 1947). He appeared with Frank Sinatra for the first time in the musical It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). Lawford received rave reviews for his work in the film,[12] while Sinatra's were lukewarm.

Lawford later admitted that the most terrifying experience of his career was the first musical number he performed in the musical Good News (1947). Using an American accent for his role, he won acclaim as a performer. He was given supporting roles in MGM films over the next few years, including On an Island with You (1948), Easter Parade (1948), Little Women (1949), Royal Wedding (1951), and You for Me (1952).

Post-MGM[edit]

Lawford's first film after Metro released him and several other players from their contracts was the comedy It Should Happen to You, where he starred alongside Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon. In 1959, Frank Sinatra invited the Englishman to join "The Rat Pack" and also got him a role in Never So Few. The casino caper Ocean’s 11 (1960) was a project Lawford first brought to Sinatra's attention.[13] It became the first film to feature all five main "Rat Pack" members: Lawford, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop. Later films included The Longest Day (1962) and a role as a United States Senator in Advise & Consent (1962).

In 1961, Lawford and his manager Milt Ebbins formed Chrislaw Productions, which was named after Peter's son Christopher[14] and produced the 1963 action film, Johnny Cool, starring Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. He went on to produce the 1965 Patty Duke film, Billie, as well as two films with Sammy Davis, Jr., Salt and Pepper and One More Time.

He appeared in They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), which reunited him with several former MGM contract players. His last role was as Montague Chippendale in the comedy Where Is Parsifal? (1983).

Television[edit]

Lawford made his television debut in 1953 in a guest starring role on Ronald Reagan's anthology series, General Electric Theater. In 1954, he starred as a newspaper advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist named Bill Hastings in the short-lived NBC series Dear Phoebe with Marcia Henderson and Charles Lane. From 1957 to 1959, Lawford co-starred with Phyllis Kirk in The Thin Man, an NBC series based on the novel by Dashiel Hammett. He had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show from 1971–73, as the love interest to Day's character.

He guest starred on various television series including The Martha Raye Show, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Wild Wild West, The Virginian, Bewitched, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and The Bob Cummings Show. Besides guest spots, he also guest-starred on variety shows such as The Judy Garland Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and game shows What's My Line?, Password, and Pyramid.

Personal life[edit]

Peter Lawford sailing with his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy (left), aboard the yacht "Manitou," a former USCG training vessel which was used as a "floating White House,' off the coast of Johns Island, Maine (12 August 1962).

His first marriage, in 1954, was to socialite Patricia Helen Kennedy, sister of then-US Senator John F. Kennedy. They had four children: a son, actor and author Christopher Kennedy Lawford (born 1955), and daughters Sydney Maleia Kennedy Lawford (born 1956), Victoria Francis Lawford (born 1958), and Robin Elizabeth Lawford (born 1961).

Lawford became an American citizen on April 23, 1960. He had prepared for this in time to vote for his brother-in-law in the upcoming presidential election.[15] Lawford, along with other members of the "Rat Pack", helped campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic Party.[16] Sinatra famously dubbed him "Brother-in-Lawford" at this time.[17][18] Lawford and Patricia Kennedy divorced in February 1966.[19][20]

Lawford was originally cast as Alan A. Dale in the film Robin and the 7 Hoods, but was replaced with Bing Crosby following a break in Sinatra's relationship with Lawford. The break stemmed from a scheduled visit to Sinatra's home by Lawford's brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy during a 1963 West Coast trip. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was long concerned about Sinatra's rumored ties with underworld figures, encouraged the President to change his plans and stay at Crosby's home, which (it was maintained) could provide better security for the President. The change came at the last minute, after Sinatra made extensive arrangements for the promised and eagerly awaited presidential visit, including the construction of a helipad. Sinatra was furious, believing that Lawford had failed to intercede with the Kennedys on his behalf, and ostracized him from the Rat Pack.[21] Sinatra and Lawford never spoke again, and Sinatra never endorsed another Democratic candidate. Ironically, Crosby, a staunch Republican, ended up cast in Lawford's role.[22]

Lawford married his second wife, Mary Rowan, daughter of comedian Dan Rowan, in October 1971 when she was one day shy of 22 years of age; Lawford was 48.[23] Rowan and Lawford separated two years later and divorced in January 1975. In June 1976, at age 52, he married aspiring actress Deborah Gould, 25, whom he had known for only three weeks.[24] Lawford and Gould separated two months after marrying and divorced in 1977. During his separation from Gould, Lawford met seventeen-year-old Patricia Seaton, who became his fourth and final wife in July 1984, months before his death.[25]

Death[edit]

Lawford died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1984, aged 61, from cardiac arrest. He had suffered from kidney and liver failure after years of substance abuse.[26] His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.[27] Owing to a dispute between his widow and the cemetery, Lawford's ashes were removed and scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California by his widow, Patricia Seaton Lawford, who invited the National Enquirer tabloid to photograph the event.[28] A plaque bearing Lawford's name was erected at Westwood Village Memorial Park.

For his contribution to the television industry, Peter Lawford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6920 Hollywood Blvd.

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Film Role Notes
1930 Poor Old Bill Horace
1931 A Gentleman of Paris Child Uncredited
1938 Lord Jeff Benny Potter
1942 Mrs. Miniver Pilot Uncredited
1942 Eagle Squadron Pilot
1942 A Yank At Eton Ronnie Kenvil
1942 Thunder Birds English Cadet Uncredited
Alternative title: Soldiers of the Air
1942 Junior Army Cadet Wilbur
1942 Random Harvest Soldier Uncredited
1943 Immortal Sergeant Soldier Uncredited
1943 London Blackout Murders Percy - Soldier on Train Uncredited
1943 Assignment in Brittany Navigator Uncredited
1943 The Purple V Roger
1943 Above Suspicion Student Uncredited
1943 Pilot No. 5 British Soldier Uncredited
1943 The Sky's the Limit Naval Commander Uncredited
1943 The Man from Down Under Mr. Jones Uncredited
1943 Someone to Remember Joe Downes Alternative title: Gallant Thoroughbred
1943 West Side Kid Jerry Winston
1943 Sahara British soldier Uncredited
1943 Sherlock Holmes Faces Death Sailor Uncredited
1943 Corvette K-225 Naval Officer Uncredited
1943 Paris After Dark Frenchman Uncredited
1943 Flesh and Fantasy Pierrot (Episode 1) Uncredited
1943 Girl Crazy Student Uncredited
1944 The Adventures of Mark Twain Young Oxford Celebrant Uncredited
1944 White Cliffs of Dover, TheThe White Cliffs of Dover John Ashwood II as a Young Man
1944 Canterville Ghost, TheThe Canterville Ghost Anthony de Canterville
1944 Mrs. Parkington Lord Thornley
1945 Picture of Dorian Gray, TheThe Picture of Dorian Gray David Stone
1945 Son of Lassie Joe Carraclough
1945 The Ziegfeld Follies Porky in "Number Please" (Voice) Uncredited
1945 Perfect Strangers Introduction - USA Version Uncredited
Alternative title: Vacation from Marriage
1946 Two Sisters from Boston Lawrence Tyburn Patterson, Jr.
1946 Cluny Brown Andrew Carmel
1947 My Brother Talks to Horses John S. Penrose
1947 It Happened in Brooklyn Jamie Shellgrove
1947 Good News Tommy Marlowe
1948 On an Island with You Lawrence Kingsley
1948 Easter Parade Jonathan Harrow III
1948 Julia Misbehaves Ritchie Lorgan
1949 Little Women Theodore "Laurie" Laurence
1949 Red Danube, TheThe Red Danube Major John "Twingo" McPhimister
1950 Please Believe Me Jeremy Taylor
1951 Royal Wedding Lord John Brindale Alternative title: Wedding Bells
1952 Just This Once Mark MacLene
1952 Kangaroo Richard Connor Alternative title: The Australian Story
1952 You for Me Tony Brown
1952 The Hour of 13 Nicholas Revel
1953 Rogue's March Capt. Dion Lenbridge/Pvt. Harry Simms
1954 It Should Happen to You Evan Adams III
1959 Never So Few Capt. Grey Travis Alternative title: Campaign Burma
1960 Ocean's 11 Jimmy Foster
1960 Exodus Major Caldwell
1962 Sergeants 3 Sgt. Larry Barrett
1962 Advise and Consent Senator Lafe Smith
1962 Longest Day, TheThe Longest Day Lord Lovat
1963 Johnny Cool
Executive producer
1964 Dead Ringer Tony Collins Alternative title: Dead Image
1965 Sylvia Frederic Summers
1965 Harlow Paul Bern
1965 Billie
Executive producer
1966 Oscar, TheThe Oscar Steve Marks
1966 A Man Called Adam Manny
1967 Dead Run (fr) Stephen Daine Alternative title: Geheimnisse in goldenen Nylons
1968 Salt and Pepper Christopher Pepper Executive producer
1968 Skidoo The Senator
1968 Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell Justin Young
1969 Quarta parete Papá Baroni
1969 Hook, Line & Sinker Dr. Scott Carter
1969 The April Fools Ted Gunther
1970 One More Time Christopher Pepper/Lord Sydney Pepper Executive producer
1970 Togetherness Prince Solomon Justiani
1971 Clay Pigeon Government Agent Alternative title: Trip to Kill
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters Campbell
1975 Rosebud Lord Carter
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Slapstick Star
1979 Angels Revenge Burke Alternative title: Angels' Brigade
Seven from Heaven
1981 Body and Soul Big Man
1983 Where Is Parsifal? Montague Chippendale
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1953 General Electric Theater John Episode: "Woman's World"
1953-1954 The Ford Television Theatre Various roles 3 episodes
1954-1955 Dear Phoebe Bill Hastings 32 episodes
1954-1957 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Various roles 3 episodes
1955 Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre Stephen Episode: "Stephen and Publius Cyrus"
1955 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Charlie Raymond Episode: "The Long Shot"
1955 Screen Directors Playhouse Tom Macy Episode: "Tom and Jerry"
1956 Playhouse 90 Willis Wayde Episode: "Sincerely, Willis Wade"
1956-1957 Studio 57 Various roles 2 episodes
1957 Producers' Showcase Lord Brinstead Episode: "Ruggles of Red Gap"
1957 Climax! Tom Welles Episode: "Bait For the Tiger"
1957-1959 The Thin Man Nick Charles 72 episodes
1958 The Bob Cummings Show Himself Episode: "Bob Judges a Beauty Pageant"
1959 Goodyear Theatre Major John Marshall Episode: "Point of Impact"
1961 The Jack Benny Program Lord Milbeck Episode: "English Sketch"
1962 Theatre '62 Glen Morley Episode: "The Farmer's Daughter"
1965 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Ernie Mullett Episode: "Crimson Witness"
1965 Profiles in Courage General Alexander William Doniphan Episode: "General Alexander William Doniphan"
1965 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Lt. Philip Cannon Episode: "March From Camp Tyler"
1966 Run for Your Life Larry Carter Episode: "Carnival Ends at Midnight"
1966 The Wild Wild West Carl Jackson Episode: "The Night of The Returning Dead"
1967 How I Spent My Summer Vacation Ned Pine Television film
1967 I Spy Hackaby Episode: "Get Thee to a Nunnery"
1971 A Step Out of Line Art Stoyer Television film
1971 The Virginian Ben Hunter Episode: "The Town Killer"
1971 Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You Ellery Queen Television film
1971-1973 Doris Day Show, TheThe Doris Day Show Dr. Peter Lawrence 8 episodes
1972 Bewitched Harrison Woolcott Episode: "Serena's Richcraft"
1974 The Phantom of Hollywood Roger Cross Television film
1974 Born Free John Forbes Episode: Pilot
1977-1982 Fantasy Island Various roles 4 episodes
1978 Hawaii Five-O Kenneth Kirk Episode: "Frozen Assets"
1979 The Love Boat Teddy Smith Episode: "Murder on the High Seas/Sounds of Silence/Cyrano de Bricker"
1979 Highcliffe Manor Narrator 6 episodes
1979 Supertrain Quentin Fuller Episode: "A Very Formal Heist"
1979 Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women Gordon Duvall Television film
1981 Jeffersons, TheThe Jeffersons Museum Guide (Voice) Episode: "The House That George Built"

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c (Lawford 1986, p. 34)
  2. ^ (Hischak 2008, p. 420)
  3. ^ Obituary Variety, December 26, 1984.
  4. ^ (Wayne 2006, p. 280)
  5. ^ a b (Lawford 1986, p. 44)
  6. ^ (Lawford 1986, p. 48)
  7. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 47–48)
  8. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 50)
  9. ^ (Wayne 2006, p. 281)
  10. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 65)
  11. ^ (Lawford 1986, p. 52)
  12. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 111)
  13. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 213)
  14. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 339)
  15. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 233)
  16. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 228)
  17. ^ (Schroeder 2004, pp. 81–82)
  18. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 207)
  19. ^ (Rorabaugh 2002, p. 146)
  20. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 366)
  21. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 292–293)
  22. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 294)
  23. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 410, 408)
  24. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 433)
  25. ^ (Bly 1999, pp. 187–188)
  26. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 468)
  27. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 469)
  28. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 470–471)

References[edit]

  • Bly, Nellie (1999), The Kennedy Men: Three Generations of Sex, Scandal and Secrets, E-Reads Ltd., ISBN 0-7592-1233-3 
  • Hischak, Thomas S. (2008), The Oxford Companion to the American Musical:Theatre, Film, and Television: Theatre, Film, and Television, Branden Pub Co, ISBN 0-195-33533-3 
  • Lawford, May (1986), Bitch! The Autobiography of Lady Lawford, Branden Pub Co, ISBN 0-828-31995-2 
  • Rorabaugh, W.J. (2002), Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-81617-3 
  • Schroeder, Alan (2004), Celebrity-in-Chief: How Show Business Took Over the White House, Westview Press, ISBN 0-8133-4137-X 
  • Spada, James (1991), Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-07185-8 
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen (2006), The Leading Men of MGM, Carroll & Graf, ISBN 0-7867-1768-8 

Further reading[edit]

  • Aaker, Everett (2006). Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters: All Regular Cast Members in American Crime and Mystery Series, 1948–1959. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2476-1. 
  • Lawford, May; Galon, Buddy (1986). The Autobiography of Lady Lawford As Told to Buddy Galon. Brookline, Mass.: Branden Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8283-1995-2. 
  • Seaton, Patricia (1988). The Peter Lawford Story. New York: Carroll and Graf. ISBN 0-515-10264-4. 

External links[edit]