Laurence Harvey (October 1, 1928 – November 25, 1973) was a Lithuanian-born actor. In a career that spanned a quarter of a century, Harvey appeared in stage, film and television productions primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States. His performance in Room at the Top (1959) resulted in an Academy Award nomination. That success was followed by the role of the ill-fated Texan commander William Barret Travis in The Alamo (1960), produced by John Wayne, and as the brainwashed Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate (1962).
Harvey's civil birth name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne. His Hebrew names were Zvi Mosheh. He was born in Joniškis, Lithuania, the youngest of three sons of Ella (née Zotnickaita) and Ber Skikne, Lithuanian Jewish parents. When he was five years old, his family emigrated to South Africa, where he was known as Harry Skikne. He grew up in Johannesburg, and was in his teens when he served with the entertainment unit of the South African Army during the Second World War.
After moving to London, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but left RADA after 3 months, and began to perform on stage and film.
Harvey made his cinema debut in the British film House of Darkness (1948), but its distributor British Lion thought someone named Larry Skikne (as he was then known) was not commercially viable. Accounts vary as to how the actor acquired his stage name of Laurence Harvey. One version has it that it was the idea of talent agent Gordon Harbord who decided Laurence would be an appropriate first name. In choosing a British-sounding last name, Harbord thought of two British retail institutions, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. Another is that Skikne was travelling on a London bus with Sid James who exclaimed during their journey: "It's either Laurence Nichols or Laurence Harvey." Harvey's own account differed over time.
Associated British Picture Corporation quickly offered him a two-year contract, which Harvey accepted, and he appeared in several of their lower budget films such as Cairo Road (1950). His career gained a boost when he appeared in Women of Twilight (1952); this was made by Romulus Films who signed Harvey to a long-term contract. He secured a supporting role in a Hollywood film, Knights of the Round Table (1953), which led to being cast with Rex Harrison and George Sanders in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954). That year he also played Romeo in Renato Castellani's adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, narrated by John Gielgud. He was now established as an emerging British star. According to a contemporary interview, he turned down an offer to appear in Helen of Troy (1955) to act at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Harvey was cast as the writer Christopher Isherwood in I Am A Camera (1955), with Julie Harris as Sally Bowles (Cabaret is a musical from the same source texts). He also appeared on American TV and on Broadway, making his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play Island of Goats, a flop which closed after one week, though his performance won him a 1956 Theatre World Award. Harvey appeared twice more on Broadway, in 1957 with Julie Harris, Pamela Brown and Colleen Dewhurst in William Wycherley's The Country Wife, and as Shakespeare's Henry V in 1959, as part of the Old Vic company, which featured a young Judi Dench as Katherine, the Daughter of the King of France.
Harvey's breakthrough to international stardom came after he was cast by director Jack Clayton as the social climber Joe Lampton in Room at the Top (1959) produced by British film producer brothers John and James Woolf of Romulus Films. For his performance, Harvey received a BAFTA Award nomination and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Simone Signoret and Heather Sears co-starred as Lampton's married lover and eventual wife respectively. Harvey was cast in a role originally performed by Peter O'Toole in the West End for the film version of the play The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961).
Meanwhile, Harvey's career in America had begun to take off. He starred in John Wayne's epic The Alamo (1960). Harvey was John Wayne's personal choice to play Alamo commandant William Barret Travis. He had been impressed by Harvey's talent and ability to project the aristocratic demeanor Wayne believed Travis possessed. Harvey and Wayne would later express their mutual admiration and satisfaction at having worked together. Harvey also starred in two films with Elizabeth Taylor, BUtterfield 8 (1960) and, later, the suspense film Night Watch (1973). He co-starred with Geraldine Page in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke (1961).
Harvey appeared as the brainwashed Raymond Shaw in the Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Film critic David Shipman wrote: "Harvey's role required him to act like a zombie and several critics cited it as his first convincing performance." In Walk on the Wild Side (also 1962), he was cast along with Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Fonda and Capucine. Fonda was not positive about the experience of working with him: "There are actors and actors – and then there are the Laurence Harveys. With them, it's like acting by yourself." The same year, he recorded an album of spoken excerpts from the book This Is My Beloved by Walter Benton, accompanied by original music by Herbie Mann. It was released on the Atlantic label. Harvey's portrayal of Wilhelm Grimm in the film The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) earned him a nomination for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.
Harvey played King Arthur in the 1964 London production of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical Camelot, at Drury Lane.
Harvey and Kim Novak took an almost instant dislike to each other when they first met to work on a remake of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1964). Their acting styles were found to be incompatible, which caused problems for director Henry Hathaway. During filming, kidnap threats were made against both Harvey and Novak. The Outrage (1964) was director Martin Ritt's remake of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese film Rashomon (1950). Besides Harvey, the film starred Paul Newman and Claire Bloom, but was unsuccessful. Harvey reprised his role as Joe Lampton in Life at the Top (1965).
Harvey starred in Darling (1965) and co-starred with Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde. While his role in the film is short, his involvement enabled director John Schlesinger to gain financial backing for the project. Harvey co-starred with Israeli actress Daliah Lavi in the comedy The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966), a parody of the James Bond films.
Harvey owned the rights to the book on which John Osborne's early script for the film The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) was partially based, Cecil Woodham-Smith's book The Reason Why (1953). He intended to make his own version. A lawsuit was filed against director Tony Richardson's company Woodfall Film Productions on behalf of the book's author. There was a monetary settlement, and Harvey insisted on being cast in a cameo role (being cast as Prince Radziwell) as part of the agreement for which he was paid £60,000. Charles Wood was brought in to re-write the script. Harvey's scenes were cut from the movie at Richardson's insistence, except for a brief glimpse as an anonymous member of a theatre audience which, technically, still met the requirements of the legal settlement. John Osborne asserted in his autobiography that Richardson shot the scenes with Harvey "French," which is film jargon for a director going-through-the-motions because of some obligation, but with no film in the camera.
Harvey completed direction of the spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic (1968) after director Anthony Mann died during production. The film co-stars Mia Farrow. Harvey provided the narration for the Soviet film Tchaikovsky (1969), directed by Igor Talankin. Harvey had a cameo role in The Magic Christian (also 1969), a film based on the Terry Southern novel of the same name. His character gives a rendition of Hamlet's soliloquy that develops unexpectedly into a striptease routine. He was also guest murderer of the week on Columbo: The Most Dangerous Match in 1973 as a chess champion who murders his opponent.
Joanna Pettet and her husband Alex Cord had been friends of Harvey's since the 1960s. They were both fond of Harvey and enjoyed his sense of humour, but Cord also acknowledged Harvey could be cruel with anyone he didn't like. Pettet appeared with Harvey in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery ("The Caterpillar," 1972), in which Harvey's character attempts to assassinate a romantic rival by having a burrowing insect dropped in the man's ear. Harvey directed and starred in his final film Welcome to Arrow Beach, which co-starred his friend Joanna Pettet, John Ireland and Stuart Whitman. The film deals with a type of war-related Post-traumatic stress disorder that turns a military veteran to cannibalism.
Just before Harvey died he was planning to star and direct two films, one on Kitty Genovese, the other a Wolf Mankowitz comedy called Cockatrice. Harvey's death in 1973 ultimately put an end to any hope that Orson Welles's The Deep would ever be completed. With Harvey and Jeanne Moreau in the leading roles, Welles worked on the film in between his other projects, although the production was also hampered by financial problems.
Early in his career, Harvey had a live-in relationship with Hermione Baddeley. A British stage actress who appeared on Broadway in several productions and became known to American audiences by playing Nell Naugatuck in the Maude TV series, she was twenty-two years older than Harvey. Although Harvey proposed marriage to her, Baddeley thought the age difference was too great.
He left Baddeley in 1951 for actress Margaret Leighton, who was six years older than Harvey and at the time was married to the publisher Max Reinhardt. Leighton and Reinhardt divorced in 1955, and she married Harvey in 1957 off the Rock of Gibraltar. The couple divorced in 1961.
In 1968 he married Joan Perry Cohn, seventeen years his senior. Although often referred to as the widow of film mogul Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures, she had a brief post-widowhood marriage to shoe store magnate Harry Karl that lasted for three weeks in 1959. Her marriage to Laurence Harvey lasted until 1972.
Harvey's third marriage was to British fashion model Paulene Stone. She gave birth to his only child Domino in 1969 while he was still married to Cohn. In 1972, Harvey and Stone married at the home of Harold Robbins.
In his account of being Frank Sinatra's valet, Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra (2003), George Jacobs writes that Harvey often made passes at him while visiting Sinatra. According to Jacobs, Sinatra was aware of Harvey's sexuality. In his autobiography Close Up (2004), British actor John Fraser claimed that Harvey was gay and that his long-term lover was Harvey's manager James Woolf, who had cast Harvey in several of the films he produced in the 1950s.
After working in two films with her, Harvey remained friends with Elizabeth Taylor for the rest of his life. She visited him three weeks before he died, but Harvey's wife Paulene felt the visit tired him and was counterproductive. Upon his death, Taylor issued the statement, "He was one of the people I really loved in this world. He was part of the sun. For everyone who loved him, the sun is a bit dimmer." She and Peter Lawford held a memorial service for Harvey in California.
Harvey once responded to an assertion about himself: "Someone once asked me, 'Why is it so many people hate you?' and I said, 'Do they? How super! I'm really quite pleased about it."
A heavy smoker and drinker, Harvey died from stomach cancer on Sunday, November 25, 1973 at the age of 45. His daughter, Domino, who later became a bounty hunter, was only 4 when he died, and only 35 when she died in 2005. They are buried together in Santa Barbara Cemetery in Santa Barbara, California.
According to his obituary in the New York Times:
With his clipped speech, cool smile and a cigarette dangling impudently from his lips, Laurence Harvey established himself as the screen's perfect pin-striped cad. He could project such utter boredom that willowy debutantes would shrivel in his presence. He could also exude such charm that the same young ladies would gladly lend him their hearts, which were usually returned utterly broken... The image Mr Harvey carefully fostered for himself off screen was not far removed from some of the roles he played. "I'm a flamboyant character, an extrovert who doesn't want to reveal his feelings", he once said. "To bare your soul to the world, I find unutterably boring. I think part of our profession is to have a quixotic personality."