Equal Time For Peter O’Toole

May 13th, 2008at 11:37am Posted by Eli

Well, since I already did a post on Richard Burton’s rugby reminiscences, I think it’s only fair that Peter O’Toole should get a post as well.  (Hey, if the LAT can write about the candidates’ handwriting, I can write about Peter O’Toole reattaching his own finger.) I was perhaps most surprised to realized that he was 75 – every time I’ve seen him in the past few years, I thought he was much older.  Maybe it was all that drinking.

This was a man who travelled the world yet never wore a watch or carried a wallet. Nor, on leaving his house, did he ever take his keys with him.

“I just hope some bastard’s in,” he’d say.

More than once, when someone was not in, O’Toole found himself having to explain to the police why he was breaking into his own property.


The neighbourhood where O’Toole grew up was rough, and three of his playmates were later hanged for murder. “I’m not from the working class,” O’Toole liked to say. “I’m from the criminal class.”

Although it was his mother, Connie, who instilled in O’Toole a strong sense of literature, by far the biggest influence in his young life was his father, Patrick, a bookie who was often drunk.

One day, Patrick stood his young son up on the mantelpiece and said: “Jump, boy. I’ll catch you. Trust me.”

When O’Toole jumped, his father withdrew his arms, leaving the boy splattered on the hard stone floor. The lesson, said his father, was “never trust any bastard”.


In 1959, O’Toole was cast as a Cockney sergeant in the play The Long And The Short And The Tall at the Royal Court Theatre.

His understudy was a young Michael Caine, and one Saturday night after the show O’Toole invited him to a restaurant he knew.

Eating a plate of egg and chips was the last thing Caine remembered, until he woke up in broad daylight in a strange flat.

“What time is it?” he inquired. “Never mind what time it is,” said O’Toole. “What f***ing day is it?”

It turned out that it was five o’clock in the afternoon two days later. Curtain-up was at eight.

Back at the theatre, the stage manager was waiting for them with the news that the restaurant owner had been in and banned them from his establishment for life.

Caine was about to ask what they’d done when O’Toole whispered: “Never ask what you did. It’s better not to know.”

Most evenings after the show, O’Toole would enjoy a long walk around Covent Garden. Sometimes if he was in the mood, he’d scale the wall of Lloyds bank.

The first time he took his future wife, the actress Sian Phillips, on one of these nocturnal jaunts, she was startled when he began his ascent of the north face of the building.

But after a few nights she came to accept that, by O’Toole’s standards anyway, it was quite normal.


At one after-show party O’Toole held court on stage sitting on a throne, sustained by two pedal bins on either side of him, one full of beer, the other containing hard liquor into which he would alternately scoop two pint mugs.


Lawrence Of Arabia occupied O’Toole for two years, filming in seven different countries.

By the end of it, he’d lost 2st, received third-degree burns, sprained both ankles, torn ligaments in both his hip and thigh, dislocated his spine, broken his thumb, sprained his neck and been concussed twice.

But his extraordinary performance made him a star. Lawrence Of Arabia was a world-wide smash when it opened in 1962 and was hailed as one of cinema’s true masterpieces.

“I woke up one morning to find I was famous,” he said. “I bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard, wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum.

“Nobody took any f***ing notice, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.”


The filming of the 1968 historical drama The Lion In Winter, in which O’Toole starred with Katharine Hepburn, was notable for a series of bizarre incidents.

Shooting a scene on a lake one day, O’Toole trapped his finger between two boats. “Bloody agony it was,” he said. “Took the top right off.”

O’Toole carried the tip of his finger back to shore, dipped it into a glass of brandy to sterilise it and then pushed it back on, wrapping it in a poultice.

Three weeks later he unwrapped it and there it was, all crooked and bent.

“I’d put it back the wrong way, probably because of the brandy, which I drank,” explained O’Toole.

Another time, he awoke at 4am to discover that his bed was on fire.

“At first I tried to put the thing out myself, but I couldn’t read the small print on the fire extinguisher,” he said.

“By the time the first fireman arrived, I was so glad to see him I kissed him.”

O’Toole didn’t have much luck with fires. During a cottage holiday in Wales with Sian, he had decided to cook, although she had never seen him do so before.

“I can make the best French toast,” he told her. Minutes later the stove exploded into flames.

They tried to extinguish the fire, but it was impossible, and they were driven out into the garden, where they watched in the rain as the kitchen burnt down.

Awesome.  If even half this stuff is true, he’s a complete madman.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Movies,Weirdness

Contact Eli



Most Recent Posts




May 2008
« Apr   Jun »

Thinking Blogger

Pittsburgh Webloggers

Site Meter

View My Stats *