October 1, 1928– Laurence Harvey
He was born Zvi Mosheh Hirsh Skikne in Joniškis, Lithuania. Thin, dry, Laurence Harvey was one of film history’s strangest success stories. He was never a major star, or even the subject of some sort of a cult following. His films were rarely hits and those that were seemed to achieve their popularity in spite of him. A cold, remote actor, he proved highly unsuited to the majority of the roles which came his way and his performances were often the subject of unanimous critical dismissal, even his fellow actors derided his abilities. Yet, Harvey had a career much longer and more prolific than many of his contemporaries.
His resumé includes one important classic. There are many milestone films that I have not gotten around to seeing. I have never caught Casablanca (1942) or Lawrence Of Arabia (1962). I have only watched To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Women (1939) or Double Indemnity (1944) in the past half-decade (all three are now favorites). I don’t know why I get embarrassed, but as a film fan who has taken Film History and Film Theory classes, I had not seen one of the best election themed films of all-time, the original The Manchurian Candidate (1962), starring Harvey in his best role, until spring of 2014 while I was enjoying a little chemotherapy, but somehow I had managed to fit in Drive (2011), Crazy, Stupid Love (2011) and Blue Valentine because Ryan Gosling appeared in them shirtless, plus I seemed to have caught all four films in the Scream series (1996-2011). Oh well, who needs the classics?
In his late teens, Harvey became involved with actor Hermione Baddeley, who was twice his age. He was married three times, in 1957 to actor Margaret Leighton, a woman of style, but old enough to be his mother, to Joan Perry Cohn in 1968, the very rich widow of movie mogul Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures, and lastly, to Paulene Stone. Harvey had met Stone on the set of A Dandy In Aspic (1968) while he was still married to Cohn. He became a father for the first time when Stone gave birth to their daughter in 1969. Harvey divorced Cohn to marry Stone in 1972. Got that?
But shockingly, Harvey was actually bisexual. Very bisexual, it turns out. Franks Sinatra‘s assistant, George Jacobs, author of Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra (2001), recounts that Harvey often made passes at him while visiting Sinatra. According to Jacobs, Sinatra, who starred with Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate, was aware of Harvey’s bisexuality and he did not care. Sinatra joked:
“He has the three handicaps of being a homo, a Jew, and a Polack, so people should go easy on him.”
In his memoir Close Up: An Actor Telling Tales (2006), British actor John Frasier writes that Harvey was not really bi, but full time gay, and that his longtime lover was his manager James Wolfe who had “discovered” Harvey in the 1950s.
Dame Judi Dench worked with Harvey in William Shakespeare’s Henry V at The Old Vic in 1959. In her terrific memoir And Furthermore (2010), Dench tells of feeling flummoxed at how Harvey would never actually look at her during his speeches. Actor Joss Ackland who appeared with Dench and Harvey in Twelfth Night wrote:
“Americans seemed to think Harvey was some sort of great actor, which his colleagues certainly did not.”
In his autobiography Knight Errant (1995), actor Robert Stephens described Harvey:
“He was an appalling man and even more unforgivably, an appalling actor.”
Harvey was regularly dismissed by critics also. He was often accused of being unprofessional, with cast and crew commenting on his chronic tardiness on the set.
Amazing really, Harvey received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for playing a conniving, ruthless, heartless social-climber (hardly a stretch) in Room At The Top (1959) with Simone Signoret and former beard Hermione Baddeley.
Darling (1965) was one of the first films to depict sympathetic gay characters, but on the set, the closets must have been full. Besides Harvey, the cast included the deeply closeted Dirk Bogarde, with both actors enjoying affairs with the director John Schlesinger, who was also having sex with cast member Roland Curram.
Harvey played a de-gayed Christopher Isherwood in the film version of I Am A Camera (1955), which was later reimagined as the stage and screen musical Cabaret.
He must have had something because Elizabeth Taylor had a thing for him while they were filming Butterfield 8 (1960). But, she also had significant crushes on Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift and we know how those turned out. Most of Harvey’s leading ladies are on record as saying they hated him, including: Shirley MacLaine, Barbara Stanwyck and Kim Novak. Oddly, the two actors that had good things to say about Harvey were Sinatra and John Wayne, who personally chose him to star in The Alamo (1960).
Harvey’s screen presence seemed to simply ooze arrogance, conceit and snobbery, although he also came across as suave and sophisticated too. Harvey’s career brings an important lesson for all aspiring actors: It is entirely possible to have real success without managing to gain much audience interest or sympathy, and despite critical antipathy and overwhelming public apathy. Remember that, kids.
In 1963, Harvey built a famed modernistic 9200 sq. ft. house in Beverly Hills that was later the home of gay Broadway songwriter Jerry Herman who sold it to openly gay Max Mutchnick, the co-creator of Will & Grace. The house was next owned by Ellen Degeneres who sold it to Ryan Seacrest. Make of that what you will.
Harvey took a final bow in 1973, taken by liver cancer at just 45 years old after decades of heavy drinking. Domino Harvey was his openly gay, disarmingly beautiful daughter, who became a Beverly Hills socialite before launching a career as a model in NYC. She eventually became most famous as a professional bounty hunter. For realz. She died at an early age from a drug overdose. They are together in The Santa Barbara Cemetery.