Sir Ralph Richardson

Definition

Theater

  • (1902 - 83) British actor. Richardson's first job in thetheater was to simulate the sound of a Zeppelin raid using two emptypetrol cans; in his enthusiasm, he drowned the leading man's speechwith the noise. He made his acting debut as Lorenzo in The Merchantof Venice in 1921, subsequently joining Barry Jackson's BirminghamRepertory Theatre. After successful seasons at the Old Vic and theMalvern Festival, he made his name in the West End in plays by Shakespeareand J. B. Priestley.

    In 1944, after wartime service with the Fleet Air Arm, hebecame joint director of the Old Vic company with Laurence Olivier.During this period he consolidated his reputation as one of Britain'sgreatest actors in a series of classic roles that included Ibsen'sPeer Gynt, Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.He later appeared opposite John Gielgud in both David Storey's Home(1970) and Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (1975).

    In his long career Richardson appeared in over 200 parts onstage and some 50 film roles, the latter including the 'Supreme Being'in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits. His greatest success, however,was as Falstaff, a role to which he returned many times.

    Richardson was well known for his eccentricities, which includedriding around Hampstead on a motorbike with his pipe in his mouthand a pet parrot called José seated on his shoulder. On oneoccasion he is said to have walked up to Alec Guinness in a hotelin Madrid and knocked him to the floor, saying "Who can onehit if not one's friends?"

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