Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE (2 April 1914 – 5 August 2000) was an English actor. After an early career on the stage he was featured in several of the Ealing comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters. He later won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness was also nominated for a further four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for what is possibly his best-known role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. Other popular portrayals included Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia, and George Smiley in the original TV adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
His first job in the theatre was on his 20th birthday, while he was still a drama student, in the play Libel, which opened at the old King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, and then transferred to the Playhouse where his status was raised from a walk-on to understudying two lines and his salary increased to £1 a week. In 1936 at the age of 22, playing the role of Osric in John Gielgud’s successful production of Hamlet.
Guinness continued playing Shakespearean roles throughout his career. In 1937 he played Aumerle in Richard II and Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice under the direction of John Gielgud. He starred in a 1938 production of Hamlet which won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He also appeared as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet (1939), Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and as Exeter in Henry V in 1937, both opposite Laurence Olivier, and Ferdinand in The Tempest, opposite Gielgud as Prospero.
In 1939, he adapted the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations for the stage, playing the part of Herbert Pocket. The play was a success. One of its viewers was a young British film editor, David Lean, who would later have Guinness reprise his role in Lean’s 1946 film adaptation of the play.
Guinness served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in World War II, serving first as a seaman in 1941 and being commissioned the following year. He commanded a landing craft taking part in the invasion of Sicily and Elba and later ferried supplies to the Yugoslav partizans.
Guinness returned to the Old Vic in 1946 and stayed until 1948, playing in The Alchemist, King Lear, Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard II. After leaving the Old Vic, he played in An Inspector Calls, The Cocktail Party and the title role of Hamlet.
Guinness won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance as poet Dylan Thomas in Dylan. He next played the title role in Macbeth opposite Simone Signoret in 1966, a conspicuous failure.
His final performance was at the Comedy Theatre on May 30, 1989 in the play A Walk in the Woods. Sandwiched between April 2, 1934, and May 30, 1989, he played 77 parts in the theatre.
In films, Guinness was initially associated mainly with the Ealing comedies, and particularly for playing eight different characters in the classic Kind Hearts and Coronets. Other notable films from this period included The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers and The Man in the White Suit.
He won particular acclaim for his work with director David Lean. After appearing in Lean’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, he was given a starring role opposite William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai. For his performance as Colonel Nicholson, the unyielding British POW leader, Guinness won an Academy Award. Despite a difficult and often hostile relationship, Lean, referring to Guinness as “my good luck charm”, continued to cast Guinness in character roles in his later films: Arab leader Prince Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia; the title character’s half-brother, Bolshevik leader Yevgraf, in Doctor Zhivago; and Indian mystic Godbole in A Passage to India. He was also offered a role in Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970), but declined.
Other notable film roles of this period included The Swan (1956); The Horse’s Mouth (1958) in which Guinness played the part of drunken painter Gulley Jimson as well as contributing the screenplay, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award; the lead in Our Man in Havana (1959); The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964); The Quiller Memorandum (1966); Marley’s Ghost in Scrooge (1970); Charles I in Cromwell (1970); Pope Innocent III in Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972); and the title role in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), which he considered his best film performance, though critics disagreed. Guinness also played the role of Jamessir Bensonmum, the blind butler, in the 1976 Neil Simon film Murder By Death.
Guinness’s role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy, beginning in 1977, brought him worldwide recognition by a new generation, as well as Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. He was one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be a box office hit; he negotiated a deal for 2% of the gross royalties paid to the director, George Lucas, who received one fifth of the box office takings. This made him very wealthy in his later life, and he agreed to take the part of Kenobi on the condition that he would not have to do any publicity to promote the film. Upon his first viewing of the film, Guinness wrote in his diary that “It’s a pretty staggering film as spectacle and technically brilliant. Exciting, very noisy and warm-hearted. The battle scenes at the end go on for five minutes too long, I feel, and some of the dialogue is excruciating and much of it is lost in noise, but it remains a vivid experience.”
Guinness died on 5 August 2000, from liver cancer, at Midhurst in West Sussex. He was interred at Petersfield, Hampshire, England.
Aside from The Dead Zone (1983) and The Fly, Cronenberg has not generally worked within the world of big-budget, mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, although he has had occasional near misses. At one stage he was considered by George Lucas as a possible director for Return of the Jedi but was passed. Cronenberg also worked for nearly a year on a version of Total Recall but experienced “creative differences” with producers Dino De Laurentis and Ronald Shusett. A different version of the film was eventually made by Paul Verhoeven. A fan of Philip K. Dick, author of “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale,” the short story upon which the film was based, Cronenberg related (in the biography/overview of his work, Cronenberg on Cronenberg) that his dissatisfaction with what he envisioned the film to be and what it ended up being pained him so greatly that for a time, he suffered a migraine just thinking about it, akin to a needle piercing his eye.
In the late 1990s, Cronenberg was announced as director of a sequel to another Verhoeven film, Basic Instinct, but this also fell through. His recent work, the thriller A History of Violence (2005), is one of his highest budgeted and most accessible to date. He has said that the decision to direct it was influenced by his having had to defer some of his salary on the low-budgeted Spider, but it is one of his most critically acclaimed films to date, along with Eastern Promises (2007) a film about the struggle of one man to gain power in the Russian Mafia.
Cronenberg has collaborated with composer Howard Shore on all of his films since The Brood (1979), with the exception of The Dead Zone (1983), which was scored by Michael Kamen. Other regular collaborators include actor Robert Silverman, art director Carol Spier, sound editor Bryan Day, film editor Ronald Sanders, his sister, costume designer Denise Cronenberg, and, from 1979 until 1988, cinematographer Mark Irwin. In 2008, Cronenberg directed Howard Shore’s first opera, The Fly.
Since 1988’s Dead Ringers, Cronenberg has worked with cinematographer Peter Suscitzsky on each of his films. Suschitzky was the director of photography for The Empire Strikes Back, and Cronenberg remarked that Suschitzky’s work in that film “was the only one of those movies that actually looked good”, which was a motivating factor to work with him on Dead Ringers.
Cronenberg remains a staunchly Canadian filmmaker, with nearly all of his films (including major studio vehicles The Dead Zone and The Fly) having been filmed in his home province Ontario. Notable exceptions include M. Butterfly and Spider, most of which were shot in China and England, respectively. Rabid and Shivers were shot in and around Montreal. Most of his films have been at least partially financed by Telefilm Canada, and Cronenberg is a vocal supporter of government-backed film projects, saying “Every country needs [a system of government grants] in order to have a national cinema in the face of Hollywood”.
Cronenberg has also appeared as an actor in other directors’ films. Most of his roles are cameo appearances, as in Into The Night, Jason X, To Die For, and Alias, but on occasion he has played major roles, as in Nightbreed or Last Night. He has not played major roles in any of his own films, but he did put in a brief appearance as a gynecologist in The Fly; he can also be glimpsed among the sex-crazed hordes in Shivers; he can be heard as an unseen car-pound attendant in Crash; his hands can be glimpsed in eXistenZ; and he appeared as a stand-in for James Woods in Videodrome for shots in which Woods’ character wore a helmet that covered his head.
In 2008 Cronenberg realized two extra-cinematographic projects: the exhibition Chromosomes at the Rome Film Fest and the opera The Fly at the LaOpera in Los Angeles and Theatre Châtelet in Paris. In July 2010, Cronenberg completed production on A Dangerous Method, an adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, starring Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen. The film was produced by independent British producer Jeremy Thomas.
In the October 2011 edition of Rue Morgue, Cronenberg stated that he has written a companion piece to his 1986 remake of The Fly, which he would like to direct if given the chance. He has stated that it is not a traditional sequel, but rather a “parallel story”. His next movie, Cosmopolis, is due later this year, followed by a TV series called Knifeman, based on the novel by Wendy Moore, centers on an eccentric surgeon who engages in far-reaching methods in order to learn more about the human body.
Ralph McQuarrie (June 13, 1929 – March 3, 2012) was a conceptual designer and illustrator who designed the original Star Wars trilogy, the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Cocoon, for which he won an Academy Award.
Born in Gary, Indiana, McQuarrie moved to California in the 1960s. Initially he worked as a technical illustrator for Boeing, as well designing film posters and animating CBS New’s coverage of the Apollo space program at the three-man company Reel Three. While there, McQuarrie was asked by Hal Barwood to produce some illustrations for a film project he and Matthew Robbins were starting.
Impressed with his work, director George Lucas met with him to discuss his plans for a space-fantasy film. Several years later, in 1975, Lucas commissioned McQuarrie to illustrate several scenes from the script of the film, Star Wars. McQuarrie designed many of the film’s characters, including Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO and drew many concepts for the film’s sets. McQuarrie’s concept paintings, including such scenes as R2-D2 and C-3PO arriving on Tatooine, helped convince 20th Century Fox to fund Star Wars, which became a huge success upon release in 1977. Neil Kendricks of The San Diego Union-Tribune stated McQuarrie “holds a unique position when it comes to defining much of the look of the “Star Wars” universe.” McQuarrie noted “I thought I had the best job that an artist ever had on a film, and I had never worked on a feature film before. I still get fan mail — people wondering if I worked on Episode I or just wanting to have my autograph.”
McQuarrie played the uncredited role of General Pharl McQuarrie in The Empire Strikes Back. An action figure in his likeness as “General McQuarrie” was produced. Action figures based on McQuarrie’s concept art, including conceptual versions of the Imperial Stormtrooper, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3Po, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and other characters have also been made.
McQuarrie designed the alien ships in Steven Spielberg’s films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), while his work as the conceptual artist on the 1985 film Cocoon earned him the Academy Award for Visual Effects.He also worked on the 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica, and the films Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, *batteries not included and Jurassic Park.
Rick McCallum offered McQuarrie a role as designer for the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but he rejected the offer, noting he had “run out of steam” and Industrial Light & Magic animator Doug Chiang was appointed instead. He retired and his Star Wars concept paintings were subsequently displayed in art exhibitions, including the 1999 Star Wars: The Magic of Myth.
Lucas commented after McQuarrie’s death: “His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘do it like this’.”