Peter O’Toole – The One I Never Met

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Peter O'Toole
Peter O'Toole

Peter O'Toole
Peter O’Toole
THUNDER BAY – ENTERTAINMENT – On a drowsy overcast and rainy recent Lake Superior morning my workplace was brightened listening to Irish radio tapes. Peter O’Toole was on before
his passing. He said acting was the meshing of a trinity. The three began with the letter ‘a.’ They were: the author of a script. The actor’s version of it.

Yet, most importantly, how the audience received it. “In its final form,” O’Toole said, “What I aim for is to have the word made flesh. That’s really what it all involves. Always will. Always has been.”

While listening to O’Toole, I was reflecting on former vignettes where O’Toole and I crossed my paths.

In 1977, I was extremely impressed noticing this International actor—at first– from a fair distance. But it was the second image, on a glistening sun splashed day featuring classic cars parked along curbs, near Lake Ontario, that stopped me in my tracks. There, below the overpass I was on happened to be one of the most incredible sights of vintage vehicles from the 30’s and 40’s.

Yet what was on my mind was whether the actor dressed so sportingly in Panama whites and striding so athletically as he approached, had he arrived on the same scene to make a new film? Or, were these automotive wonders merely part of an Metro Toronto Extensive Antique Extravaganza?

However my train to the University was sounding. I caught the downtown train to Toronto. Never forgetting that elegant, swashbuckling image of Peter (Seamus) O’Toole pacing his way to wherever?

Peter O’Toole was one of those performers you wish you might have had a chance to share an extra moment with. From his Academy nominated majestic initial appearance on the screen in Lawrence of Arabia. To his particularly glowing part with Katherine Hepburn in Lion of Winter. A film quite renown for its beauty, and mutually effective roles of two rising stars while garnering another Academy Award nomination for O’Toole.

During his life as an actor O’Toole was chosen nine times as a nominee for an Oscar. Simply remarkable. Well beyond any other actor at the time. Only a few years ago when the Academy were in the midst of finally anointing an aging O’Toole with an honorary Oscar, he curtly replied, “There’s time”. O’Toole gave one of his theatrical pauses, “But, I’m keen to win the bugger myself. In my next part.”

But that, sadly, wouldn’t happen.

In 1968 I had been in his presence another time. At the Shaftesbury Theatre, in London, during a performance of the American play Hair.

During intermission O’Toole slipped from a knotted clench of those around him. He wore a dashing sports coat with an elan vital ascot in a spectrum of autumn colours. O’Toole looked right up to our balcony as his name was hailed by admirers. He waved demurely. His sapphire eyes sparkled beneath the muted interior lighting. Soon he dissolved into a little stream of VIPs making their way back to their special loges. Not more than a gentle stone’s throw away from our perch.

At the end of the night the glow of his radiant eyes had made the day much more than brilliant. In the end, I stood in a vacant darkness. Lights dimmed. Then gone. Though we, as travelling students, had been spellbound merely a short time before. By a noble one whose acting career evolved both in LIVE theatre, in the beginning, then celluloid cinema later. Where the three ‘A’s of his trinity were in any performance. It was O’Toole’s lifelong mantra.

Yet Peter O’Toole had appeared, really, so casually directly before us. Encapsulating who we were. In a lasting, endearing image. No photos taken. No Ipads recording, or, visual framing of anything. As unsuspecting as it all was, then.

Where the word marvelous just begins to complete this sidebar.

Ronn Hartviksen