Nationality: British. Born: Westhoughton, Lancashire, 9 August 1927. Education: Attended Truro School, Cornwall; Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London. Family: Married 1) the actress Jennifer Bourke, 1952 (divorced), four daughters; 2) the actress Mary Ure, 1963 (died 1975), four children; 3) Virginia Hansen, 1976, two children. Career: 1948–49—member of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford upon Avon; 1951—West End debut in Hamlet ; joined Old Vic troupe, and toured in Europe and South Africa; film debut in The Lavender Hill Mob ; 1956—in TV series The Scarlet Pimpernel ; 1956–57—in TV series The Buccaneers ; 1959—first of several prize-winning novels, The Hiding Place ; later dramatized by Shaw; 1961—Broadway debut in The Caretaker ; 1968—his play The Man in the Glass Booth , based on his novel, produced in both London and New York, and in 1975 made into a movie; 1976—co-host of Academy Awards show. Died: In Tourmakeady, Ireland, 28 August 1978.
The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton) (as police scientist)
The Dam Busters (Anderson) (as Flight Sgt. Pulford)
Doublecross (Squire); A Hill in Korea ( Hell in Korea ) (Amyes) (as Lance-Cpl. Hodge)
Sea Fury (Enfield) (as Gorman); Libel (Asquith) (as first photographer)
The Valiant ( L'affondamento della Valiant ) (Roy Ward Baker) (as Lt. Field)
Tomorrow at Ten (Comfort) (as Marlow); The Caretaker ( The Guest ) (Clive Donner) (as Aston); From Russia with Love (Terence Young) (as Red Grant)
The Luck of Ginger Coffey (Kershner) (title role); Carol for Another Christmas (Joseph L. Mankiewicz—for TV)
Battle of the Bulge (Annakin) (as Col. Hessler)
A Man for All Seasons (Zinnemann) (as King Henry VIII)
Custer of the West ( Good Day for Fighting ) (Siodmak) (as Gen. George Custer); The Birthday Party (Friedkin) (as Stanley Weber)
Battle of Britain (Hamilton) (as Squadron Leader Skipper); The Royal Hunt of the Sun (Lerner) (as Francisco Pizarro)
Figures in a Landscape (Losey) (as MacConnachie, + sc)
A Town Called Hell ( A Town Called Bastard ) (Parrish) (as town priest)
Young Winston (Attenborough) (as Lord Randolph Churchill)
A Reflection of Fear ( Labyrinth ; Autumn Child ) (Fraker) (as Michael); The Hireling (Bridges) (as Steven Leadbetter); The Sting (George Roy Hill) (as Doyle Lonnegan)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Sargent) (as Blue)
Jaws (Spielberg) (as Quint); Der Richter und sein Henker ( Murder on the Bridge ; End of the Game ) (Schell) (as Richard Gastmann)
Robin and Marion (Lester) (as Sheriff of Nottingham); Swashbuckler ( The Scarlet Buccaneer ) (Goldstone) (as Ned Lynch); Diamonds (Golan) (as Charles/Earl Hodgson)
Black Sunday (Frankenheimer) (as Kabakov); The Deep (Yates) (as Romer Treece)
Force Ten from Navarone (Hamilton) (as Mallory)
Avalanche Express (Robson) (as Marenkov)
The Hiding Place (novel), London, 1959.
The Sun Doctor (novel), London, 1961.
The Flag (novel), London, 1965.
The Man in the Glass Booth (play), London, 1967 (also novel version, 1967).
A Card from Morocco (novel), New York, 1969.
Cato Street (play), London, 1972.
"Running Figure in Landscape," interview with A. Guerin and H. Grossman, in Show (Hollywood), January 1970.
"Robert Shaw: No More Food for Fish," interview with B. Drew, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1977.
Carmean, Karen, and Georg Gaston, Robert Shaw: More than a Life , Lanham, Maryland, 1993.
French, John, Robert Shaw: The Price of Success , London, 1993.
Current Biography 1968 , New York, 1968.
Obituary, in Washington Post , 29 August 1978.
Thomson, David, "Ryan and Shaw," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1994.
Murphy, Robert, "Unfashionably Macho," in Sight & Sound (London), March 1994.
Stars (Mariembourg), Autumn 1994.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 22 June 1996.
* * *
At the time Robert Shaw died of a heart attack in 1978, his status as a bona fide movie star was still in its infancy. But this late recognition was preceded by a long and memorable career as a character actor and villain. His classical training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art interested him in writing as well as acting. Shaw was a playwright, scenarist, and award-winning novelist, bringing a literate and literary sensibility to his screen acting.
But it was the other side of Shaw's personality—that of an extremely competitive, quick-tempered, greedy man whose infidelities resulted in his first and second wives each giving birth to one of his children within a five-week span, and led his second wife, the actress Mary Ure, and mother of four of his ten children to suicide—that provided the raw material for his initial film image. Built on a foundation of harnessed anger, Shaw's image was cemented through numerous performances in character roles and as arch-villains. Most notable of these were his roles as Red Grant, stalking James Bond and sporting outrageously dyed blond hair, in From Russia with Love ; Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill, in Attenborough's Young Winston ; and perhaps the role that best-suited the dark side of Shaw's psyche, King Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons , for which, appropriately enough, he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
The two films most responsible for altering Shaw's career were The Sting and Jaws . In co-starring roles he fixed himself indelibly in the public eye and secured his status as a leading man. This new position however, was unfortunately brief. The few films that followed granted him top-billing but little else in terms of popular or critical acceptance. Had he lived, he might have been able to create a leading man as colorful, memorable, or dynamic as his best villains. His failed attempts at heroic stardom seem to indicate that Shaw's particular brand of blustery ferocity was best utilized in support of, or in opposition to, the protagonist of a film.
—Bill Wine, updated by David E. Salamie