Richard Johnson (actor)
Richard Johnson, c. 2008
|Died||5 June 2015 (aged 87)|
(m. 1957; div. 1962)
(m. 1965; div. 1966)
(m. 1982; div. 1989)
(m. 2004; his death 2015)
Richard Keith Johnson (30 July 1927 – 5 June 2015) was an English actor, writer and producer, who starred in several British films of the 1960s and also had television roles and a distinguished stage career.
Early life and career
Johnson went to Felsted School, and wanted to act instead of going into the family paint business. He trained at RADA and due to the manpower shortage of wartime made his first professional appearance relatively quickly, on stage in Manchester with John Gielgud's company in a production of Hamlet in 1944.
Early screen appearances
Johnson made his screen debut in an adaptation of Tusitala for BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. He made his film debut with an uncredited part in Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) and was also uncredited in Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951).
He was at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre from 1952 to 1957. "It was an electric time to be in that company," he later recalled.
Johnson played Mr Wickham in a 1952 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (with Peter Cushing as Darcy) and was D'Artagnan in a TV adaptation of The Three Musketeers (1952). He could be seen in Lady in the Fog (1952), "The Mayor of Torontal" for Wednesday Theatre (1952), The Heir of Skipton (1953), Saadia (1953) for MGM, A Party for Christmas (1954), The Queen Came By (1954), "The Rescue" for ITV Television Playhouse, "The Orderly" for Theatre Royal, and Plaintiff in a Pretty Hat (1955).
Royal Shakespeare Company
Hall took over the direction of the company in 1959 - it was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and he invited Johnson to be part of the first group of actors to be named an Associate Artist of the RSC, a position he retained until he died. 
Johnson's stage performances had received excellent reviews. MGM offered him a long term contract in June 1959. His first work for the studio was small part in Never So Few (1959) with Frank Sinatra.
"I never took myself very seriously as a movie star," said Johnson later. "But it was thrilling to be among the idols I'd worshipped as a kid. I did a test with Gary Cooper, went to a party with Spencer Tracy, made a film with Frank Sinatra."
Johnson was director Terence Young's preferred choice for the role of James Bond in the first film in the series, but Johnson turned the role down as he was under contract to MGM. Johnson said later, "Eventually they offered it to Sean [Connery], who was completely wrong for the part. But in getting the wrong man they got the right man, because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny. And that's what propelled it to success."
Johnson did Ondine on stage for the RSC with Leslie Caron and director Peter Hall (this was filmed in 1961). Also for TV he did productions of Journey's End, This Happy Breed, Sword of Vengeance and The Sponge Room.
Johnson was then in The Haunting (1963) also featuring Claire Bloom and Julie Harris. It was directed by Robert Wise who said Johnson has "the attack of the young Gable" and predicted he would be a big star.
In 1964 Johnson did a Kingsley Amis script, A Question of Happiness #1: A Question About Hell for TV, followed by A Question of Happiness #2: Another Port, Another Storm.
Johnson had a support role in The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and went to France for The Other Woman (1964). He did episodes of Armchair Mystery Theatre, The Human Jungle, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also portrayed Duncan Sandys in Operation Crossbow (1965).
Johnson was second billed to Kim Novak in The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), directed by Terence Young. When filming ended, Johnson and Novak were married. Around this time Johnson expressed interest in writing and directing as well as acting.
Johnson was top billed in the Italian horror film The Witch (1966) then was cast as Bulldog Drummond in Deadlier Than the Male (1967) with Elke Sommer for director Ralph Thomas, a James Bond-style adventure.  Johnson said about playing Johnson "I consciously tried to use more of myself than in anything else I've done... I said, all right, if you want me, you'll get me, but this is a braver, more physical version of me.
Johnson supported Anthony Quinn and Rita Hayworth in The Rover (1967), again directed by Young. He starred in another James Bond-type spy film, Danger Route (1967) for director Seth Holt. He announced he had formed his own company and would star in An Alibi for a Playboy but it was not made.
Johnson later recalled in 2000 that "It comes as a curious shock to me now to realise that I was making around pounds 1m a year in today's money. And I managed to spend it all having a hell of a good time... I knew it wasn't going to last for ever, but I also knew I had to enjoy it while the time was right.'"
Johnson did The Fifth Day of Peace (1970) with Franco Nero, Hamlet (1970) with Richard Chamberlain, The Beloved (1971) with Raquel Welch, A Man About a Dog (1972), A Marriage (1972) and I Want to Marry Your Son (1973).
Return to theatre
Johnson returned to theatre in 1972, going to Stratford play Antony, opposite Janet Suzman's Cleopatra, in one of Trevor Nunn's season of Roman plays. He continued to act on TV in such shows as Thriller (1973) and Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, and filmed his Anthony and Cleopatra (1974) for TV.
Johnson was in episodes of Quiller, Space: 1999, and Hart to Hart. He was in the films Aces High (1976), Take All of Me (1976) in Italy, The Four Feathers (1978) for Sharp, The Comeback (1978), Screamers (1979), Zombi 2 (1979), The Flame Is Love (1979), Island of the Fishmen (1979) and The Great Alligator (1979). He had the lead in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979) directed by Thomas.
In the 1980s Johnson could be seen in Spy!, Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger (1980), Haywire (1980), The Marquise (1980), The Monster Club (1981), The Member for Chelsea (1981), The Kenny Everett Television Show, Tales of the Unexpected (several episodes), Cymbeline (1982) in the title role, Magnum, P.I., The Aerodrome (1983), and Mr. Palfrey of Westminster (1984).
In 1982 Johnson helped set up United British Artists, the film and theatre-producing company, along with fellow actors Albert Finney, Maggie Smith and Glenda Jackson. Johnson said, "In this profession it is mighty irritating always to be in the hands of other people, waiting on the end of a telephone, unable to guide your ship. When I propounded the idea that we all get together to do high-quality work on a continuing commercial basis, they were very enthusiastic."
He acted in and was executive producer on The Biko Inquest (1984). Johnson acted in What Waits Below (1985) for Don Sharp, and acted in and produced Turtle Diary (1985). He worked as a producer on Castaway (1986) and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987).
Johnson says however that the company "didn't quite come off. Unfortunately we ran out of money. We didn't have enough to start with... One day I was in Hollywood with my old friend Angela Lansbury and she said, `Anybody can be a producer. You've got talent and you're wasting it.' I decided to get back to what I've always wanted to do since I was seven acting. I'd like to be on test. I need challenges."
As an actor only he was in Lady Jane (1986), Dempsey and Makepeace, Murder, She Wrote, A Man for All Seasons (1988) with Heston, Voice of the Heart (1989), Treasure Island (1990) with Heston as Squire Trelawney, The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (1990), Made in Heaven, Diving In (1990), Duel of Hearts (1991), The Crucifer of Blood (1991) with Heston as Sherlock Holmes and Johnson as Watson, The Camomile Lawn (1992), and Anglo Saxon Attitudes (1992). According to one reviewer, his performance in Anglo Saxon earned him "a sheaf of golden notices and put him at the top of the ratings for mature heart-throbs. The key attraction was his effortless screen technique in saying so little yet conveying so much. There was much virtuoso eyebrow work and a wonderful use of the crinkled tissue around the eyes." He did Anthony and Cleopatra on stage again in 1991.
In 1992 Johnson returned to the RSC after a 25-year absence under the direction of Peter Hall, appearing in a production of All's Well that Ends Well. "It would have been nice to be able to afford to go back more often,' he said. "Unfortunately, what my agent used to call the `shit factor' comes into play the better quality the work, the less the money."
Johnson appeared in Heavy Weather (1995), Kavanagh QC, Murder Most Horrid, Tales from the Crypt, Breaking the Code (1996), The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (1996), Supply & Demand, The Echo, Milk (1999), and Happy Days (2000). He did the original story for A Kind of Hush (1999).
A third divorce and the financial failure of a hotel he co owned meant he needed to work. In a 2000 interview he said "Now I'm constantly worried where the next job is coming from. At least at my age the opposition gets less and less because they keep dying."
Johnson's later career appearances included doing The Seagull at Stratford in 2000, plus The Whistle-Blower (2001), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), The Royal, The Robinsons, Whatever Love Means (2005) as Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Wallis & Edward (2005) (as Stanley Baldwin), Rebus, Scoop (2006), Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Waking the Dead, The Raven (2007), Two Families (2007), and Jump! (2008) (which he also helped produce).
Film-wise he was in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008), MI-5, Inspector Lewis, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (2011), and Silent Witness. He had a good role in Radiator (2015), saying "Right from the off I felt it was a superior piece of writing for the screen."
Throughout his career Johnson continued to teach young actors and students. He toured American universities and taught summer schools at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He was appointed to the Council of RADA in 2000, and served as a Council Member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in the 1970s. Johnson wrote the original story for the 1975 thriller, Hennessy.
Johnson founded the British production company United British Artists (UBA) in 1981, and served as the company's CEO until 1990, when he resigned in order to resume his acting career. During his tenure at UBA he produced the films Turtle Diary (starring Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley, with a screenplay commissioned from Harold Pinter), and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. In London, he produced Pinter's Old Times, a revival of Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (Old Vic), and for theatre and television, the docudrama Biko, about the death of Steven Biko.
By his first marriage, to Sheila Sweet, Johnson had two children, tabletop games designer Jervis Johnson (b. 1959) and actress Sorel Johnson. His second wife was American actress Kim Novak, with whom he appeared in the film The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965); they had no children. He also had another daughter, Jennifer Johnson, by his third wife, Marie-Louise Norlund, and a fourth child, Nicholas Johnson, by Françoise Pascal. Johnson then married Lynne Gurney on a beach in Goa, India, in 1989, following this with a discreet civil wedding at Kings Road, Chelsea in 2004.
|1952||Pride and Prejudice||Mr Wickham||3 episodes|
|1953||The Heir of Skipton||John Lord Clifford/ Henry Clifford||3 episodes|
|1973-74||Moses the Lawgiver||Narrator||Voice|
|1974||Antony and Cleopatra||Mark Antony||TV movie|||
|1975||Churchill's People||Claudius||Episode: The Lost Island|
|Space: 1999||Lee Russell||Episode: Matter of Life and Death|
|1978||The Four Feathers||Abou Fatma||TV movie|||
|1979||Hart to Hart||Alex Constantine||Episode: With This Gun, I Thee Wed|
|1980||Tales of the Unexpected||Dr James Carpenter||Episode: Back for Christmas|
|1981||Tales of the Unexpected||Archaeologist, Tanner||Episode: Would you believe it?|
|Magnum, P.I.||Alistair Ffolkes||Episode: No need to know|
|1981-82||The Kenny Everett Television Show||Various||3 episodes|||
|1988||A Man for All Seasons||Duke of Norfolk||TV movie|
|1992||The Camomile Lawn||Oliver (older)||one episode|
|1999||Midsomer Murders - Death of a Stranger||James Fitzroy||1 episode|
|2005||The Robinsons||Hector Robinson||6 episodes|
|2007||Midsomer Murders - The Animal Within||Rex Masters||1 episode|
|2008||Spooks||Bernard Qualtrough||4 episodes, released as MI-5 in USA|
|2013||Silent Witness||Sir William Embleton||Episodes: The Legacy Pts. 1 & 2|||
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- "Richard Johnson profile". Filmreference.com. 30 July 1927. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
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- Lewis, Peter (1992). "Return of an old stage hand; Richard Johnson; Drama", The Times, 28 June 1992.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (1960). "Diane Baker Will Co-star With Egan: Wyler's 'Not for Children', Players and Writers Assigned", Los Angeles Times, 18 October 1960: C9.
- FILMLAND EVENTS: Nancy Walters Gets Contract at MGM Los Angeles Times, 3 June 1959: A9.
- Cinema Retro magazine issue #10
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- The Complaisant Lover, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Manhattan, November 1, 1961—January 27, 1962. Internet Broadway Database (IBDB), The Broadway League, New York, N.Y. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
- Sultan and Worth Hit Comedy Jackpot: Brooklyn Boy Wonders Click: Van Johnson Booked in Grove Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 28 Mar 1962: C13.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (1962). "Julie Harris Seen as 'Haunting' Hit: Director Wise Lauds Cast; Landau on 'Lost Audience'", Los Angeles Times, 11 December 1962: E13.
- BUSINESS LEADER TO PRODUCE PLAY: Fogelson Names Partner for 'Golden Age' at Lyceum British Laughter: on Cue By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]24 Sep 1963: 44.
- The Golden Age, Lyceum Theatre, Manhattan, November 18, 1963—November 23, 1963. IBDB. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
- Theater: 'Golden Age': Elizabethan Anthology Opens at the Lyceum By HOWARD TAUBMAN. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y], 19 November 1963: 48.
- "Kim Novak Wed in Colorado To Richard Johnson, Actor", archives of The New York Times (1923-Current file), 16 March 1965: 42.
- Clifford, Terry (1965). "Will Marriage Spoil Mrs. Richard Johnson?" Chicago Tribune, 25 July 1965: H48.
- Alpert, Don (1966). "Why Johnson Got Into Act", Los Angeles Times, 25 September 1966: M9.
- Martin, Betty (1966). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Richard Johnson in Drama", Los Angeles Times, 8 November 1966: C11.
- Bryce, Allan (2000), editor. Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood (Winter Park, Florida: Stray Cat Publishing, 2000): 47-48.
- Muir, Florabel Muir (1967). "Johnson to Do 'Alibi for a Playboy'", The Washington Post, Times Herald, 1 May 1967: B11.
- Martin, Betty (1967). "'Oedipus' Goes Universal", Los Angeles Times, 15 May 1967: D25.
- Martin, Betty (1967). "Miss Moore, Wagner to Star", Los Angeles Times, 4 February 1967: 16.
- Arnot, Chris (2000). "Arts: The return of Dicky Boy Former matinee idol Richard Johnson tells Chris Arnot why he can't resist his old love, the Royal Shakespeare Company", The Guardian, 24 January 2000: 2.10.
- Farquhar, Simon (8 June 2015). "Richard Johnson: Leading light of the Royal Shakespeare Company and stalwart of the National who refused to play James Bond". independent.co.uk. Independent. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
- "Interview with Richard Johnson". The Consulting Detective. 27 March 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
- Obituary at New York Times
- Staff. "The Shakespeare Masterclass". The Shakespeare Masterclass. Archived from the original on 31 March 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- "Richard Johnson". IMDb. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
- Pendreigh, Brian (8 June 2015). "Obituary: Richard Johnson, actor". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016.
- "It's a Green Green World". Itsagreengreenworld.com. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
- "Actor Richard Johnson dies, aged 87". BBC News. 6 June 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2016.