Guinness, Sir Alec


Guinness, Sir Alec
▪ 2001
Alec Guinness de Cuffe 
      British actor (b. April 2, 1914, Marylebone, London, Eng.—d. Aug. 5, 2000, Midhurst, West Sussex, Eng.), was one of the 20th century's best-known, most distinguished, and most versatile stage and screen performers. Although his style was low-key and economical—he so disappeared into his characters that he was often unrecognized in public—he had a quiet intensity that was all the more powerful for being unostentatious and that thereby aided him in inhabiting his characters. Guinness had an impoverished childhood and never knew who his father was. After leaving school at the age of 18, he took a job at a London advertising agency. At the same time, as he had enjoyed the acting he had done in school, he began taking acting lessons. Guinness made his professional stage debut in Libel! (1934) in a nonspeaking part and soon thereafter was cast in three small parts in Queer Cargo (1934) and then as Osric and the Third Player in John Gielgud's (q.v.) production of Hamlet. That year he also made his film debut as an extra in Evensong. He continued working with Gielgud and also performed with Tyrone Guthrie. After service in the Royal Navy during World War II, Guinness resumed his stage career and pursued film work, finding success as two Charles Dickens characters, Herbert Pocket in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) and Fagin in Lean's Oliver Twist (1948). In 1949 he began his association with the Ealing Studios comedies that gained him an international following. In his first Ealing film, Kind Hearts and Coronets, he played eight members of a family successively—and amusingly—“done in” by a fortune-seeking relative. Other Ealing comedies included The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and The Ladykillers (1955). Guinness returned to Lean for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he was rewarded with a best actor Academy Award, and further collaborated with him on Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984). Others of his best films were The Horse's Mouth (1958) and Tunes of Glory (1960), and in 1977 came one of his most famous—and possibly his least favourite—roles, Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, a role he reprised in the following two films of that series. Throughout the years Guinness continued to perform on stage and also triumphed on television as George Smiley in two miniseries based on John le Carré's works, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) and Smiley's People (1982), and in 1987 he returned to Dickens for another notable screen role, William Dorrit in Little Dorrit. In 1980 Guinness was awarded a second Oscar, an honorary one for his contribution to the art of screen acting. He recorded his memories in his books Blessings in Disguise (1985), My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor (1996), and A Positively Last Appearance (1999). Guinness was made CBE in 1955, was knighted in 1959, and was named a Companion of Honour in 1994.

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▪ British actor
original name  Alec Guinness de Cuffe 
born April 2, 1914, London, England
died August 5, 2000, Midhurst, West Sussex
 British actor famous for the variety and excellence of his stage and screen characterizations. Tall and unremarkable in appearance, he played a great range of characters throughout his long career. His trademarks were subtle but telling facial expressions and exquisitely nuanced performances.

      From his youth, Guinness was interested in acting, though he was not much encouraged. At age 18 he began working for an advertising agency, but he soon began to study acting and made his stage debut in 1934 as an extra at the King's Theatre in Hammersmith, London. Three years later he got his first real break when he joined the acting company of John Gielgud (Gielgud, Sir John). As a member of the company he appeared in such classics as Richard II (1937), The School for Scandal (1937), The Three Sisters (1937), and The Merchant of Venice (1938). In 1938 he starred in a popular modern-dress version of Hamlet at London's Old Vic. While on leave from the Royal Navy during World War II, he made his New York stage debut in a 10-day Christmas run of Flare Path (1942–43), and in later years he appeared there in T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party (1964) and in a play about the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Dylan (1964).

      Guinness's initial screen role was as Pip's friend Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), an adaptation of the novel by Charles Dickens. After this he performed in Oliver Twist (1948) and a series of Ealing Studios comedies, notably the internationally popular Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played the roles of each of eight heirs to a dukedom, as well as The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and The Ladykillers (1955).

      One of the more unique aspects of Guinness's talent was his ability to disappear into a role, thus belying the dictum that actors without a consistent screen persona are not likely to become stars. Fellow actor Peter Ustinov (Ustinov, Sir Peter) once called Guinness “the outstanding poet of anonymity,” in reference to Guinness's ability to create complex characterizations without incorporating his own recognizable personal traits and mannerisms. Guinness's characters ranged from meek to malevolent, from timid bank clerks to fiery military officers, and all were noted for their depth and credibility, even those that called for him to wear layers of heavy makeup and prosthetics. As the actor once described his approach, “I try to get inside a character and project him—one of my own private rules of thumb is that I have not got a character unless I have mastered exactly how he walks…. It's not sufficient to concentrate on his looks. You have got to know his mind….”

      Among Guinness's other notable films are The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won a best actor Academy Award; The Horse's Mouth (1958), in which he played the artist Gulley Jimson; and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), in which he played Prince Feisal. He won a whole new generation of fans for his role as the Jedi warrior Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi in Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). Despite this newfound popularity, however, Guinness hated his role in these movies, later stating in an interview that he had encouraged George Lucas to kill off his character: “I just couldn't go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I'd had enough of the mumbo jumbo.” Roles that were more to his liking were those of Professor Godbole in A Passage to India (1984) and William Dorrit in Little Dorrit (1987). In 1980 he won a special Academy Award for memorable film performances.

      Guinness also starred as the master spy George Smiley in two television miniseries, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1980) and Smiley's People (1982). The multitalented actor, who was knighted in 1960, also wrote dramatizations (The Brothers Karamazov and Great Expectations) and a film script (The Horse's Mouth) and coauthored the play Yahoo (1976). His autobiography, Blessings in Disguise, was published in 1986; in the following decade he released two volumes of personal diary entries: My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor (1997) and A Positively Final Appearance (1999).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Guinness,Sir Alec — Guin·ness (gĭnʹĭs), Sir Alec. Born 1914. British actor known for his extraordinary range of roles. His films include The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won an Academy Award. * * * …   Universalium

  • Sir Alec — Guinness (actor) …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Sir Alec Guinness — noun English stage and screen actor noted for versatility (1914 2000) • Syn: ↑Guinness, ↑Alec Guinness • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actor, ↑histrion, ↑player, ↑thespian, ↑role player …   Useful english dictionary

  • Guinness stout, Sir Alec Guinness —  (1914–2000), Guinness Book of World Records, etc …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Guinness, (de Cuffe), Sir Alec — born April 2, 1914, London, Eng. died Aug. 5, 2000, Midhurst, West Sussex British actor. He made his stage debut in 1934. His reputation soared after 1936, when he joined the Old Vic company and starred in plays by William Shakespeare, George… …   Universalium

  • Guinness, (de Cuffe), Sir Alec — (2 abr. 1914, Londres, Inglaterra–5 ago. 2000, Midhurst, West Sussex). Actor británico. Debutó en el teatro en 1934, y dos años después se incorporó a la compañía Old Vic. Ahí se convirtió en un reputado actor al protagonizar obras de William… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Alec Guinness — Sir Alec Guinness Sir Alec Guinness in 1973 by Allan Warren Born Alec Guinness de Cuffe 2 April 1914(1914 04 02) Paddington, London …   Wikipedia

  • Alec Guinness — Nombre real Alec Guinness de Cuffe Nacimiento 2 de abril de 1914 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Guinness — (sir Alec) (1914 1995) acteur anglais: Noblesse oblige (1949), le Pont de la rivière Kwaï (1957) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Alec Guinness — noun English stage and screen actor noted for versatility (1914 2000) • Syn: ↑Guinness, ↑Sir Alec Guinness • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actor, ↑histrion, ↑player, ↑thespian, ↑role player * * * …   Useful english dictionary


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