The personal archive of Peter O’Toole, one of the great actors of stage and screen who died in 2013, has been bought by the University of Texas for $400,000 (€373,000).
Among the memorabilia are unpublished manuscripts and letters, a spiral notebook from his early days working as a newspaper reporter and a sword used to fight — and occasionally scare — fellow actor Derek Jacobi in a 1963 production of Hamlet at the National Theatre in London.
The collection includes letters to equally famous film and stage actors like Marlon Brando, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman.
O’Toole’s stamina, hellraising ways and his capacity to drink copious amounts of alcohol were as legendary as his film and stage roles.
Jacobi will never forget his nervousness when playing opposite him as Laertes in the last scene of Hamlet as O’Toole was often well lubricated on stage.
“If he gave me a wink — and he usually did, this wild Irishman — it meant a very hard fight,” he told The Guardian newspaper.
“It was even dangerous to be sitting in the front row when he flashed out his sword like Douglas Fairbanks.”
Eric Colleary of the university’s Harry Ransom Center which bought the collection, is curating it.
The Ransom Center already houses manuscripts of David Foster Wallace, Julia Alvarez, and Gabriel García Márquez, as well as the hat that accompanied the green curtain dress worn by Vivien Leigh in the movie Gone With The Wind.
“The personal nature of his archive reveals a more complex and nuanced individual who fiercely stood by his friends, who deeply cared for his family, who worried about his career and its direction, and who had an incredible curiosity about the world around him,” Colleary told the newspaper.
While often playing the part of the quintessential Englishman, O’Toole always saw himself as Irish, insisting that he was born in Connemara, though his birthplace was most likely to have been Leeds.
He loved the ‘craic’ in Ireland and once gatecrashed the Connacht Tribune office party where he sang and drank like one of the staff.
Part of the collection shows the actor’s playfulness and his tendency to be unfazed by anyone, even Peter Hall, who led the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In a hastily scribbled letter he turns down the part of Henry II in Becket, telling the the pre-eminent British theatre director: “Had to dash to New York. I think the play fine but the part not for me suggestions for anything else welcome. O’Toole.”
What the letter failed to reveal was that the reason for going to New York was to be announced for his role in Lawrence of Arabia, the movie that made him famous and prompted the playwright and composer Noel Coward to quip: “If he was any prettier, he’d be Florence of Arabia.”
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