Paul Scofield

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Paul Scofield

Paul Scofield Allan Warren.jpg
Scofield in 1975
David Paul Scofield

(1922-01-21)21 January 1922
Died19 March 2008(2008-03-19) (aged 86)
Resting placeSt Mary's Churchyard, Balcombe
Years active1940–2006[1]
Joy Parker
(m. 1942)

David Paul Scofield CH CBE (21 January 1922 – 19 March 2008) was an English actor. During a career that spanned six decades, Scofield achieved the Triple Crown of Acting, winning an Academy Award, Emmy, and Tony for his work. He won the three awards in a seven-year span, the fastest of any performer to accomplish the feat.

Scofield received Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play at the 1962 Tony Awards for portraying Sir Thomas More in the Broadway production of A Man for All Seasons. Four years later, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor when he reprised the role in the 1966 film adaptation, making him one of nine to receive a Tony and Academy Award for the same role. His Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie was achieved for the 1969 television film Male of the Species.

Preferring the stage to the screen and putting his family before his career, Scofield nonetheless established himself as one of the greatest Shakespearean performers. Among other accolades, his performance as Mark Van Doren in Quiz Show (1994) earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he won Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the BAFTA Awards for portraying Thomas Danforth in The Crucible (1996). Scofield declined the honour of a knighthood, but was appointed CBE in 1956 and became a Companion of Honour in 2001.

Early life[edit]

Paul Scofield was born on 21 January 1922 in Edgbaston,[2] Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, the son of Mary and Edward Harry Scofield.[3] When Scofield was a few weeks old, his family moved to Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, where his father served as the headmaster at the Hurstpierpoint Church of England School.[4] Scofield told his biographer, Garry O'Connor, that his upbringing was divided. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Roman Catholic. Baptised into his mother's faith, Scofield said, "some days we were little Protestants and, on others, we were all devout little Catholics."[5] He added, "A lack of direction in spiritual matters is still with me."[6]

Scofield recalls, "I was a dunce at school. But at the age of twelve I went to Varndean School at Brighton where I discovered Shakespeare. They did one of his plays every year, and I lived just for that."[7][8]

In 1939, Scofield left school at the age of seventeen and began training at the Croydon Repertory Theatre. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Scofield arrived for a physical examination and was ruled unfit for service in the British Army. He later recalled, "They found I had crossed toes. I was unable to wear boots. I was deeply ashamed."[9]


Scofield began his stage career in 1940 with a debut performance in American playwright Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms at the Westminster Theatre, and was soon being compared to Laurence Olivier. He played at the Old Rep in Birmingham. From there he went to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford, where he starred in Walter Nugent Monck's 1947 revival of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.[10]

In 1948, Scofield appeared as Hamlet at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford alongside a then unknown Claire Bloom as Ophelia. Scofield's performance was so highly praised that it caused him to be dubbed, "The Hamlet of his generation."[11]

J.C. Trewin commented, "He is simply a timeless Hamlet... None could forget Scofield's pathos, the face folded in grief, at, 'When you are desirous to be blessed, I'll blessing beg of you.' We have known many correct, almost formal Hamlet's, aloof from Elsinore. Scofield was ever a prisoner within it's bounds: the world had many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one of the worst."[12]

John Harrison later recalled of Scofield's Hamlet, "'Get thee to a nunnery,' so often delivered with rage or scorn, he says so gently. You have visions of quiet and prayer. A future for Ophelia."[13]

In her later book, Leaving a Doll's House: A Memoir, Claire Bloom recalls that during the production she had a very serious crush on Scofield. As Scofield was happily married and the father of a son, Bloom hoped only, "to be flirted with and taken some notice of." But Scofield never so much as glanced at Bloom or any of the other pretty actresses in the cast.[14]

Unusually, the production had two Hamlets: Scofield and Robert Helpmann took turns to play the title role. Bloom later recalled, "I could never make up my mind which of my two Hamlets I found the more devastating: the openly homosexual, charismatic Helpmann, or the charming, shy young man from Sussex."[15]

When asked about Claire Bloom decades later, Scofield recalled, "Sixteen years old I think – so very young and necessarily inexperienced, she looked lovely, she acted with a daunting assurance which belied entirely her inexperience of almost timid reticence. She was a very good Ophelia."[16]

Scofield's versatility at the height of his career is exemplified by his starring roles in theatrical productions as diverse as the musical Expresso Bongo (1958) and Peter Brook's celebrated production of King Lear (1962).

In his memoir Threads of Time, director Peter Brook wrote about Scofield's versatility:

The door at the back of the set opened, and a small man entered. He was wearing a black suit, steel-rimmed glasses and holding a suitcase. For a moment we wondered who this stranger was and why he was wandering onto our stage. Then we realised that it was Paul, transformed. His tall body had shrunk; he had become insignificant. The new character now possessed him entirely.[17]

In a career devoted chiefly to the classical theatre, Scofield starred in many Shakespeare plays and played the title role in Ben Jonson's Volpone in Peter Hall's production for the Royal National Theatre (1977). Scofield was known for preferring the stage to film.

In a 1994 interview, he explained, "One of the great strengths of the theater is that it is ephemeral. It does exist only in what you remember and you can't check up on it afterwards and think, 'That's not as good as I remember.' If any performance I've ever given stays in someone's mind that's so much more exciting than being able to put it on the video and play it again. It's not that I don't want to take risks - the opposite is true, in fact. But the more you know about acting, the more you're aware of the pitfalls and the more nerve-racking it becomes. When I was young, I wasn't nervous at all. Even doing Hamlet, I just had a go."[18]

Highlights of Scofield's career in modern theatre include the roles of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons (1960); Charles Dyer in Dyer's play Staircase, staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966; the definitive Laurie in John Osborne's A Hotel in Amsterdam (1968); and Antonio Salieri in the original stage production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (1979).

He was subsequently the voice of the Dragon in another play by Robert Bolt, a children's drama The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew. Expresso Bongo, Staircase and Amadeus were filmed with other actors, but Scofield starred in the screen versions of A Man for All Seasons (1966) and King Lear (1971).

Other major screen roles include the art-obsessed Wehrmacht Colonel von Waldheim in The Train (1964), Strether in a 1977 TV adaptation of Henry James's novel The Ambassadors, Tobias in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (1973), Professor Moroi in the film of János Nyíri's If Winter Comes (1980), for BBC Television; poet Mark Van Doren in Robert Redford's film Quiz Show (1994), and Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth in Nicholas Hytner's film adaptation (1996) of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Scofield was cast in the lead role of Sir Randolph Nettleby in the 1985 film The Shooting Party, but was forced to withdraw due to an injury he suffered on set. According to the DVD extras documentary for the film, Scofield and the other male lead actors were to come into shot on a horse-drawn shooting brake driven by the renowned film horse-master George Mossman as the first shot of the first day of filming. As they turned the first corner, the plank that Mossman was standing on broke in two and he was hurled forward and down, falling between the sets of wheels and taking the reins with him. He was struck by a horse's hoof and concussed. The horses shied and broke into a gallop.

Actor Rupert Frazer admitted that he was the first to jump off, landing safely, but bruised. Out of control, the horses turned to the right when confronted by a stone wall, causing the shooting brake to roll completely, catapulting the actors into a pile of scaffolding that had been stacked next to the wall. Robert Hardy stood up and realised to his amazement that he was unhurt. He looked across to see Edward Fox stand up, "turn completely green and collapse in a heap", having broken five ribs and his shoulder-blade. He noticed that Scofield was lying very still on the ground "and I saw that his shin-bone was sticking out through his trousers". As the film takes place in October during the partridge-shooting season, the filmmakers had to make a choice whether to delay filming for a year or re-cast. The Shooting Party schedule was ultimately changed to allow James Mason to take over the part of Sir Randolph Nettleby six weeks later.[19] His broken leg also deprived Scofield of the part of O'Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which he was replaced by Richard Burton.[20]

Helen Mirren, who appeared with Scofield in the 1989 film When the Whales Came, said, "He aspires to the soul rather than the character. He has no sense of personal ambition. He's one of our great, great actors. We're lucky to have him."[21] Scofield also portrayed the Ghost in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet alongside Mel Gibson in the title role. Gibson, who had grown up idolizing Scofield, compared the experience of performing Shakespeare alongside him to being, "thrown into the ring with Mike Tyson".[22]

Scofield was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1956 New Year Honours.[23] He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for A Man for All Seasons and was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Quiz Show. Theatrical accolades include a 1962 Tony Award for A Man for All Seasons.

Honours and awards[edit]

In 1969, Scofield became the sixth performer to win the Triple Crown of Acting, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Male of the Species. He accomplished this in only seven years (1962–1969), which is still a record.

He was also one of only nine actors to win both the Tony and the Oscar for the same role on stage and film, for A Man for All Seasons.

Scofield declined the honour of a knighthood on three occasions,[24][25] but was appointed CBE in 1956 and became a Companion of Honour in 2001.[26] In 2002 he was awarded the honorary degree of D. Litt by the University of Oxford.[27]

When asked the reason for his decision to decline the knighthood, Scofield responded, "I have every respect for people who are offered [a knighthood] and accept it gratefully. It is just not an aspect of life that I would want."[28] Gary O'Connor described being knighted as, "The kind of honour from which [Scofield] instinctively recoiled. Never the actor before the part he plays."[29]

In 2004, a poll of actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Ian McKellen, Donald Sinden, Janet Suzman, Ian Richardson, Antony Sher and Corin Redgrave, acclaimed Scofield's Lear as the greatest Shakespearean performance ever.[30] Scofield appeared in many radio dramas for BBC Radio 4, including in later years plays by Peter Tinniswood: On the Train to Chemnitz (2001) and Anton in Eastbourne (2002). The latter was Tinniswood's last work and was written especially for Scofield, an admirer of Anton Chekhov. He was awarded the 2002 Sam Wanamaker Prize.

Personal life[edit]

Paul and Joy Scofield's gravestone in St Mary's churchyard, Balcombe, West Sussex

Paul Scofield married actress Joy Mary Parker on 15 May 1943.[2] They had met while he played Hamlet to her Ophelia.[31] Scofield later said "Joy and I simply decided to be married. We were both of age and were determined. Any doubts from our families were overruled, and they were the usual ones – too young, etc. We had a week out at the end of The Moon Is Down tour, married during that week, and went straight into the Whitehall Theatre."[32]

Paul and Joy Scofield had two children: Martin (born 1945) who became a senior lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Kent[24] and Sarah (born 1951). When asked by Garry O'Connor how he wished to be remembered, Scofield responded "If you have a family, that is how to be remembered."[33] Filmmaker Michael Winner once described the Scofields as "one of the few very happily married couples I've ever met."[34]


Scofield died from leukaemia[35] on 19 March 2008 at the age of 86 at the Royal Sussex County Hospital[2] in Brighton, East Sussex, England. His memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on the first anniversary of his death.[2] His wife Joy died four years later on 7 November 2012, aged 90.


Year Title Role Notes
1955 That Lady King Philip II of Spain BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Tony Fraser
1964 The Train Col. von Waldheim
1966 A Man for All Seasons Sir Thomas More
1968 Tell Me Lies
1970 Bartleby The Accountant
Nijinsky: Unfinished Project Sergei Diaghilev
1971 King Lear King Lear Bodil Award for Best Actor
1973 Scorpio Zharkov
A Delicate Balance Tobias
1983 Ill Fares the Land Voice
1984 Summer Lightning Old Robert Clarke
1985 1919 Alexander Scherbatov
1989 When the Whales Came Zachariah “The Birdman” Woodcock
Henry V Charles VI of France
1990 Hamlet The Ghost
1992 Utz Doctor Vaclav Orlik
London Narrator
1994 Quiz Show Mark Van Doren
1996 The Crucible Judge Thomas Danforth
1997 Robinson in Space Narrator
1999 Animal Farm Boxer Voice
Rashi: A Light After the Dark Ages Voice

(For a slightly different, more exhaustive list, see this note.[37])


Year Title Role Notes
1965 The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill (ITV) Narrator
1969 Male of the Species Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1980 If Winter Comes Professor Moroi
The Curse of King Tut's Tomb
1981 The Potting Shed James Callifer
1984 Arena: The Life and Times of Don Luis Bunuel Narrator
1985 Anna Karenina Karenin
1987 Mister Corbett's Ghost Mr. Corbett
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Otto Frank
1994 Genesis: The Creation and the Flood Voice
Martin Chuzzlewit Old Martin Chuzzlewit / Anthony Chuzzlewit Nominated – British Academy Television Award for Best Actor
1999 The Disabled Century

(for a different and more exhaustive list, see this note.[38])


Paul Scofield led the cast in several dramas issued by Caedmon Records:

  • King Lear, directed by Howard Sackler (Text edited by G.B. Harrison), with Pamela Brown (Goneril), Rachel Roberts (Regan), Ann Bell (Cordelia); Wallace Eaton (France), John Rogers (Burgundy), Trevor Martin (Cornwall), Michael Aldridge (Albany), Andrew Keir (Kent), Cyril Cusack (Gloucester), Robert Stephens (Edgar), John Stride (Edmund), Ronnie Stevens (Fool); Arthur Hewlett (Curan, Doctor), Ronald Ibbs (Gentleman, Knight), Willoughby Goddard (Oswald). Eight sides, SRS 233 (first published 1965).
  • Hamlet, directed by Howard Sackler, (Unabridged), with Diana Wynyard (Queen), Roland Culver (Claudius), Donald Houston (Laertes), Zena Walker (Ophelia), Wilfrid Lawson. Eight sides, SRS 232 (first published 1963).
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Howard Sackler, with Barbara Jefford, Joy Parker, John Stride, etc. Six sides, SRS 208 (first published 1964).
  • T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion, with Flora Robson, Sybil Thorndike, Alan Webb. Six sides, TRS 308.
  • Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, with Ralph Richardson as Scooge. Scofield only narrated. (Caedmon),


  • Homage to T.S. Eliot, with Laurence Olivier, John Le Mesurier, Cleo Laine, Bernard Cribbins, George Devine, Groucho Marx, Alec McGowen, Anna Quayle, Clive Revill, Ian Richardson, and Nicol Williamson (1965)
  • King Lear, with Harriet Walter (Goneril), Sara Kestelman (Regan), Emilia Fox (Cordelia), Alec McCowen (Gloucester), Kenneth Branagh (Fool), David Burke, Richard A. McCabe, Toby Stephens, etc. Released 2002 to coincide with Scofield's 80th birthday. (Naxos Audiobooks, 3-CD set).
  • Virgil, The Aeneid, Paul Scofield (narrator), Jill Balcon and Toby Stephens (readers). (Naxos Audiobook CD).
  • T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Four Quartets (BBC Radiobooks CD).
  • Sandor Marai, Embers (Penguin Audiobooks) – Narrator
  • With David Suchet and Ron Moody, Scofield led the cast of a radio dramatization of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, which are available as CD issues. (Tynedale Entertainment) – Narrator
  • Scofield recorded abridged readings of Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Bleak House (Blackstone Audiobooks).
  • Façade (Sitwell-Walton), performed by Paul Scofield and Peggy Ashcroft, with London Sinfonietta conducted by William Walton. (Argo Records, 1972)
  • Don Quixote: The Musical, with Roy Hudd as Sancho Panza. Based on Purcell and D'Urfey's The Comical History of Don Quixote. Later released on CD.(Musica Oscura, 1994)

(For a more exhaustive list, see this note:[39])


  1. ^ Ian McKellen says Scofield's last public performance was on 19 April 2004, Scofield recorded his last radio play, "Swan Song" in 2006. He is credited with an appearance on BBC's "Poetry Please" program on 27 January 2008, but it is not clear if the recording was made from a live performance or whether material from the BBC archives was used.
  2. ^ a b c d "Scofield, (David) Paul (1922–2008)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/100133. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ "Full text of "The Player A Profile Of An Art"". Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  4. ^ Interview. Ross, Lillian and Helen. The Player: A Profile of An Art. New York, NY 1966. ISBN 978-0-87910-020-9
  5. ^ O'Connor (2002), pp. 19–20.
  6. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 21.
  7. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, p. 11.
  8. ^ Paul Scofield biography. Access date: 16 November 2007.
  9. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 25.
  10. ^ Film Reference biography. Access date: 16 November 2007.
  11. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Books (2002), p. 70.
  12. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Books (2002), p. 72.
  13. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Books (2002), p. 76.
  14. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Books (2002), p. 76.
  15. ^ Leaving A Doll's House, p. 43.
  16. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Books (2002), p. 76.
  17. ^ Peter Brook, Threads of Time. A Memoir. Counterpoint, 1999.
  18. ^ Garry O'Connor, Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons, Applause Books (2002), p. 69.
  19. ^ "Obituary: Paul Scofield". BBC News. 20 March 2008.
  20. ^ 'In Conversation with Michael Radford', Sky Arts 18 October 2013
  21. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 300.
  22. ^ "Paul Scofield's career highlights". The Daily Telegraph. London. 20 March 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  23. ^ "No. 40669". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1955. p. 12.
  24. ^ a b O'Connor, Garry. Paul Scofield: An Actor for All Seasons. Applause Theatre Book Publishers. February 2002. ISBN 1-55783-499-7.
  25. ^ Paul Scofield biography. Barnes & Noble. Access date: 16 November 2007.
  26. ^ "No. 56070". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2000. p. 4.
  27. ^ "Oxford University Gazette Encaenia 2002" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 25 March 2008.
  28. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 320.
  29. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 106.
  30. ^ Scofield's Lear voted the greatest Shakespeare performance. 22 August 2004.
  31. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 38.
  32. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 39.
  33. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 150.
  34. ^ O'Connor (2002), p. 250.
  35. ^ "Oscar-winning actor Scofield dies". BBC News Online. 20 March 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2008.
  36. ^ "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  37. ^ "Scofield". Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  38. ^ "Television". Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  39. ^ "Paul Scofield Audio Performances (radio drama, Audio Books, Spoken Word), 1940s–1950s". Retrieved 22 February 2011.

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