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Sir John Gielgud
Brother of Val

Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH (14 April 1904 – 21 May 2000), known as Sir John Gielgud, was an English theatre and film actor, regarded by many as one of the greatest British actors in history.

Arthur John Gielgud was born in Kensington in London to a Protestant mother, Kate Terry, and a Catholic father of Lithuanian descent, Frank Gielgud (the original Lithuanian form of the name was Gelgaudas) and was raised a Protestant. Gielgud had a head start in the theatrical profession, being a great nephew of Dame Ellen Terry. His elder brother was Val Gielgud who was one of the most pioneering and influential leaders of BBC Radio.

After Westminster School, where he gained a King's Scholarship, he trained at RADA and had his initial success as a stage actor in classical roles. He starred and directed in many Royal Shakespeare Company productions at Stratford-upon-Avon. His Hamlet of 1936 was particularly admired and widely acclaimed. In his later years, Gielgud would play the Ghost of Hamlet's Father in productions of the play, first to Richard Burton's Melancholy Dane on the Broadway theatre stage, and then on television with Richard Chamberlain.

Photograph by Angus McBean

Although he began to appear in British films as early as the 1930s, he would not make an impact in the medium until the last decades of his life. His film roles included: Benjamin Disraeli in The Prime Minister (1940), Cassius in Julius Caesar (1953) and George, Duke of Clarence to Laurence Olivier's Richard III (1955). Unlike Olivier, he remained primarily a stage actor, and so the rivalry between them was minimal.

John as 'Hamlet'

He won an Academy Award for his supporting role as a sardonic butler in the 1981 comedy Arthur, starring Dudley Moore, and his performance in Shine (1996) was critically acclaimed. Gielgud was also one of the few people who has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award.

Gielgud's final onscreen appearance in a major release motion picture was as Pope Paul IV in Elizabeth which was released in 1998. His final acting performance was in a film adaptation of Samuel Beckett's short play Catastroph, opposite longtime collaborator Harold Pinter and directed by American playwright David Mamet.

Awards and honours
He was knighted in the 1953 coronation honours, became a Companion of Honour in 1977, and was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1996.

In 1982 he received an Evening Standard Special Award.

John with his mother and Eleanor, his sister, at Buckingham Palace

Laurence Olivier Awards
1985: Special Award

Academy Awards
1964: Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, for Becket
1981: Winner for Best Supporting Actor, for Arthur

Emmy Awards
1982: Nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Special for Brideshead Revisited
1984: Nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Special for The Master of Ballantrae
1985: Nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Special for Romance on the Orient Express
1989: Nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special for War and Remembrance
1991: Winner for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special for Summer's Lease

Tony Awards
1959: Winner, Special Award, for contribution to theatre for his extraordinary insight into the writings of Shakespeare as demonstrated in his one-man show, Ages of Man
1961: Winner, Best Director (Dramatic), for Hamlet
1963: Nominated for Best Director (Dramatic), for The School for Scandal
1965: Nominated for Best Actor (Dramatic), for Tiny Alice
1971: Nominated for Best Actor (Dramatic), for Home

Grammy Awards
1959: Nominated for Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording, for Ages of Man
1960: Nominated for Best Spoken Word Recording, for Hamlet with Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn, Alfred Drake, George Voskovec, Eileen Herlie, William Redfield and George Ross
1964: Nominated for Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording, for Ages of Man, Volume 2 (One Man in His Time) Part Two - Shakespeare
1979: Winner for Best Drama Recording, for Ages of Man - Recordings from Shakespeare
1982: Nominated for Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording, for No Man's Land with Ralph Richardson
1983: Nominated for Best Spoken Word for Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats with Irene Worth
1986: Nominated for Best Spoken Word for Gulliver
1988: Nominated for Best Spoken Word for A Christmas Carol
1989: Nominated for Best Spoken Word for Sir John Gielgud Reads Alice in Wonderland
1991: Nominated for Best Album for Children, for The Emperor's New Clothes with Mark Isham

New York Film Critics Circle Awards
1977: Best Actor, for Providence

An early publicity still

There is also the Sir John Gielgud Award for "Excellence in the Dramatic Arts" presented by the US-based Shakespeare Guild. Past winners include Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline and Judi Dench

Selected Filmography:
Secret Agent (1936)
Julius Caesar (1953)
Richard III (1955)
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
Becket (1964)
Chimes at Midnight (1965)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
Julius Caesar (1970)
Lost Horizon (1973)
Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
11 Harrowhouse (1974)
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Providence (1977)
Caligula (1979)
The Elephant Man (1980)
The Formula (1980)
Lion of the Desert (1981)
Arthur (1981)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Gandhi (1982)
Wagner (1983)
The Wicked Lady (1983)
The Master of Ballantrae (1984)
The Far Pavilions (1984)
Plenty (1985)
The Whistle Blower (1986)
Appointment with Death (1988)
Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988)
Getting it Right (1989)
Prospero's Books (1991)
Shining Through (1992)
Scarlett (1994)
First Knight (1995)
Merlin (1996)
Hamlet (1996)
Shine (1996)
Elizabeth (1998)

Gielgud died at home at the age of 96 of natural causes.

John at his home in Wooton Underwood, Bucks

The Globe Theatre in London was renamed the Gielgud Theatre in 1994 in his honour.

The Gielgud Theatre
Photograph by Darren Dalglish 1996

© 2007 Gielgud Films Ltd