Nationality: British. Born: Arthur John Gielgud in London, England, 14 April 1904; brother of the writer Val Gielgud; grandnephew of the actress Ellen Terry. Education: Attended Hillside preparatory school, Godalming; Westminster School, London; studied acting at Lady Benson's School; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, under Claude Rains. Career: 1921—super at Old Vic, London; in London production of The Wheel ; 1922–24—with J. B. Fagan's company in Shakespeare repertory; 1924—film debut in Who Is the Man? ; 1928—New York debut in The Patriot ; 1930—in Hamlet at the Old Vic, the first of several celebrated productions of the role: in 1936 on Broadway, his Hamlet set a Broadway performance record; 1947—directed The Importance of Being Earnest in New York, followed by directing and acting in plays; also actor on television, including the mini-series QB VII , 1974, Edward VII , 1974, Brideshead Revisited , 1981, War and Remembrance , 1988–89, The Strauss Dynasty , 1991, and Scarlett , 1994. Awards: Best British Actor, British Academy, for Julius Caesar , 1953; Best Supporting Actor, British Academy, for Murder on the Orient Express , 1974; Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for Providence , 1977; Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for Arthur , 1981; Best Supporting Actor Award, U.S. National Society of Film Critics, for Plenty and The Shooting Party , 1985. Knighted, 1953. Died: 21 May 2000.
Who Is the Man? (Summers) (as Daniel)
The Clue of the New Pin (Maude) (as Rex Trasmere)
Insult (Lachman) (as Henri Dubois)
The Good Companions (Saville) (as Inigo Jollifant)
Full Fathom Five (Lye—short) (as voice)
Secret Agent (Hitchcock) (as Edgar Brodie)
Hamlet (Boisen—doc) (title role)
The Prime Minister (Dickinson) (as Disraeli); An Airman's Letter to His Mother (Powell—short) (as voice)
Unfinished Journey (Cekalski—short)
Shakespeare's Country (Lawrence—short) (as voice)
A Diary for Timothy (Jennings)
Hamlet (Olivier) (as voice of Ghost)
Julius Caesar (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Cassius)
Romeo and Juliet ( Giulietta e Romeo ) (Castellani) (as narrator of prologue)
Richard III (Olivier) (as Clarence)
Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as Foster)
Saint Joan (Preminger) (as Warwick); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin) (as Mr. Barrett)
The Immortal Land (Wright—doc) (as narrator)
Becket (Glenville) (as Louis VII); Hamlet (Colleran—for TV, filmed record of Gielgud's New York theater production) (as voice of the ghost)
The Loved One (Richardson) (as Sir Francis Hinsley)
Campanadas a Medianoche ( Chimes at Midnight ; Falstaff ) (Welles) (as Henry IV)
Assignment to Kill (Sheldon Reynolds) (as Curt Valayan); To Die in Madrid (English-language version of Mourir à Madrid ) (Rossif) (as narrator); October Revolution (English-language version of Revolution d'Octobre ) (Rossif) (as narrator)
Mr. Sebastian ( Sebastian ) (David Greene) (as Head of British Intelligence); The Charge of the Light Brigade (Richardson) (as Lord Raglan); The Shoes of the Fisherman (Anderson) (as the Elder Pope)
Oh! What a Lovely War (Attenborough) (as Count Berchtold)
Eagle in a Cage (Cook) (as Lord Sissal); Julius Caesar (Burge) (title role)
Lost Horizon (Jarrott) (as Chang); Probe ( Search ) (Mayberry—for TV)
Frankenstein: The True Story (Smight—for TV)
11 Harrowhouse (Avakian) (as Meecham); Gold (Hunt) (as Farrell); Murder on the Orient Express (Lumet) (as Beddoes); Galileo (Losey) (as Cardinal)
Aces High (Gold) (as Headmaster); Joseph Andrews (Richardson) (as Doctor)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Strick) (as Preacher); Providence (Resnais) (as Clive Langham)
Murder by Decree (Clark) (as Lord Salisbury); Caligula ( Gore Vidal's Caligula ) (Brass) (as Nerva); Les Misérables (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Valjean's father)
The Conductor (Wajda) (title role); The Human Factor (Preminger) (as Brigadier Tomlinson)
The Elephant Man (Lynch) (as Carr Gomm); The Formula (Avildsen) (as Dr. Esau); Priest of Love (Miles) (as Herbert G. Muskett)
Arthur (Gordon) (as Hobson); Sphinx (Schaffner) (as Abdu); Lion of the Desert ( Omar Mukhtar ) (Akkad—produced in 1979) (Akkad) (as Sharif el Gariani); Chariots of Fire (Hudson) (as Master of Trinity); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Tuchner—for TV) (as Torturer); Inside the Third Reich (Chomsky—for TV) (as Speer's father)
Gandhi (Attenborough) (as Lord Irwin); The Vatican Pimpernel (as Pope Pacelli)
The Wicked Lady (Winner) (as Hogarth); Wagner (Palmer—for TV) (as Pfistermeister); The Scarlet and the Black (London—for TV)
Scandalous (Cohen) (as Uncle Willie); The Shooting Party (Bridges) (as Cornelius Cardew); Buddenbrooks (Wirth—for TV) (as narrator); Camille (Desmond Davis—for TV); Frankenstein (Ormerod—for TV); Ingrid (Feldman—for TV); Invitation to the Wedding (Joseph Brooks) (as the Rev. Clyde Ormiston); The Far Pavilions (Duffell—for TV)
Romance on the Orient Express (Clark—for TV); Plenty (Schepisi) (as Sir Leonard Darwin); Leave All Fair (Reid) (as John Middleton Murry); Time after Time (Hays) (as Jasper Swift)
Theban Plays by Sophocles (for TV); The Whistle Blower (Langton) (as Sir Adrian Chapple); The Canterville Ghost (Bogart—for TV)
Quartermaine's Terms (Hays—for TV); Barbablu, Barbablu ( Bluebeard, Bluebeard ) (Carpi)
Appointment with Death (Winner) (as Colonel Carbury); Arthur 2: On the Rocks (Yorkin) (as Hobson); A Man for All Seasons (Charlton Heston—for TV) (as Wolsey)
Getting It Right (Kleiser) (as Sir Gordon Munday); Summer's Lease (Friend—for TV)
A TV Dante (Greenaway and Phillips); Strike It Rich (James Scott) (as Herbert Dreuther)
Prospero's Books (Greenaway) (as Prospero)
Shining Through (Seltzer) (as Konrad Friedrichs, "Sunflower"); The Power of One (Avildsen) (as Headmaster St. John); Swan Song (Branagh—short) (as Svetlovidov)
Lovejoy: The Lost Colony (for TV) (as Wakering); Hand in Glove (for TV) (as Percival Pike Period); The Best of Friends (for TV) (as Sydney Cockerell)
First Knight (Zucker) (as Oswald)
Gulliver's Travels (Sturridge—for TV); Hamlet (Branagh) (as Priam); Looking for Richard (Pacino); Shine (Hicks) (as Cecil Parkes); The Leopard Son (Van Lawick) (as Narrator); The Portrait of a Lady (Campion) (as Mr. Touchett); Hamlet (Branagh) (Priam)
A Dance to the Music of Time (Morahan, Rakoff—for TV) (as St. John Clarke)
The Tichborne Claimant (Yates) (as Cockburn); Elizabeth (Kapur) (as Pope Paul IV); Merlin (Barron) (as King Constant); Quest for Camelot (Du Chau) (as Merlin)
Catastrophe (Mamet—for TV)
Early Stages , London, 1939; rev. ed., 1987.
Stage Directions , London, 1963.
Distinguished Company , London, 1972.
An Actor and His Time , with John Miller and John Powell, London, 1979; rev. ed., 1989.
Backward Glances: Part One, Times for Reflection; Part Two, Distinguished Company , London, 1989.
Shakespeare: Hit or Miss? , with John Miller, London, 1991; American edition as Acting Shakespeare , New York, 1992.
The Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection Presents John Gielgud's Notes from the Gods: Playgoing in the Twenties , edited by Richard Morgan, London, 1994.
Acting Shakespeare , with John Miller, New York, 1999.
Hayman, Ronald, John Gielgud , New York, 1971.
Brandreth, Gyles Daubeney, John Gielgud: A Celebration , London, 1984.
Harwood, Ronald, editor, The Ages of Gielgud: An Actor at 80 , London, 1984.
Tanitch, Robert, Gielgud , London, 1988.
Francis, Clive, Sir John: The Many Faces of Gielgud , London, 1994.
Ecran (Paris), December 1979.
"Richardson and Gielgud," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), April 1983.
Current Biography 1984 , New York, 1984.
Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), April 1984.
"Mastaren och Erland," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol 33/2(233), 1991.
Case, Brian, "A Knight to Remember," in Time Out (London), 14 August 1991.
Gussow, M., "His Own Brideshead, His Fifth 'Lear'," in New York Times , 28 October 1993.
Mazierska, E., "Ksiegi Prospera," in Filmowy Serwis Prasowy (Warsaw), vol. 38 no. 8–10, 1993.
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Sir John Gielgud belongs to a dynastic acting family that goes back through the nineteenth century, and included his great-aunt Ellen Terry, whose work with Henry Irving illuminated the later nineteenth-century theater in Britain and America. He was therefore destined by family connections to go on the stage, and he was blessed with romantic good looks and a uniquely beautiful voice. Trained at Britain's leading drama school, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), he started his stage career in 1921. By the 1930s, he and Laurence Olivier had become the leading Shakespearean actors of their generation. Indeed, Gielgud, Olivier, and Ralph Richardson are considered by many to be the three best English actors, ever. Gielgud never played romantic leads in movies as a youth, as he registered better on stage. Nevertheless, he has always given his all to whatever role he is cast in. Even playing the butler in Arthur , Gielgud brought depth to his character.
The theater was always to remain his principal artistic outlet, as his best film appearances have tended to be in Shakespearean adaptations—as an incisive Cassius in Joseph Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar , as a benign Clarence in Olivier's Richard III , as a coldly formal Henry IV in Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight , and as a proudly imperious Caesar in Stuart Burge's Julius Caesar . His work for the screen dates back to the silent film Who Is the Man? , but belongs essentially to sound film. He made an effective young lead in the adaptation of J. B. Priestley's The Good Companions , appeared in Hitchcock's Secret Agent , played the autocratic father in Sidney Franklin's version of The Barretts of Wimpole Street , and was nominated for an Oscar for his Louis VII of France in Becket . He has claimed that he learned the hard way to recast his image from the new generation of theater-film directors, notably Lindsay Anderson. "You need a young public to strip your work of its affectations," he said in 1979. As a whole, his later films have scarcely been distinguished, with the exception of cameo appearances in The Charge of the Light Brigade , The Shoes of the Fisherman , Murder on the Orient Express , and Joseph Strick's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , but he gave a masterly performance as the elderly and disillusioned writer in Alain Resnais's Providence .
In more recent years, Gielgud made appearances on PBS's Mystery series. Even in his advancing age, he did not let his acting lapse into "cruise control"—he gave a brilliant, intense performance every time.
—Roger Manvell, updated by Linda J. Stewart