Biography of Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier was a twentieth century stage and film actor.

When and Where was he Born?

22nd May 1907, Dorking, Surrey, England.

Family Background:

Laurence Olivier was the son of Gerard Olivier, an Anglican Minister.


Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art under Elsie Fogerty.

Timeline of Laurence Olivier:

1922: Olivier acted at Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time in a schoolboy production of “The Taming of the Shrew”, playing Katharine.

1925: He played Lennox in “Macbeth”.

1926: Joined Barry Jackson’s Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, which was the leading company in the country at the time. Worked a summer season at Clacton.

1927: He played in “Uncle Vanya” and “She Stoops to Conquer” at Birmingham.

1928: Laurence Olivier created the part of Stanhope in “Journey’s End”.

1929: Olivier took the title role in “Beau Geste” at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London. Played in “Murder on the Second Floor” at the Eltinge Theatre in New York.

1930: Played the West End in Private Lives with Noel Coward al,though he found Coward difficult.

1931: Olivier appeared in his first Hollywood film “Yellow Ticket”.

1934: He played Bothwell in “Queen of Scots” a play directed by John Gielgud.

1935: He swapped roles with John Gielgud in “Romeo and Juliet” at the New Theatre, London.

1937: Laurence Olivier played Hamlet at Elsinore alongside Vivien Leigh.

1939: He appeared as Heathcliffe in the Hollywood film version of “Wuthering Heights”.

1940: He gets divorced from his first wife Jill Esmond and later marries the actress Vivien Leigh..

1941: Olivier enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

1944: He was appointed co-director of the “Old Vic” theatre in London with Ralph Richardson and John Burrell.

1945: He directed “The Skin of Our Teeth” in which Vivien Leigh played a staring role at the Phoenix Theatre, London.

1947: Olivier knighted. He won an “Outstanding Achievement Oscar for directing “Henry the Fifth”.

1948: Tours of Australia and New Zealand with the Old Vic company. He won Best Film and Best Actor Academy Awards (Oscars) for his film version of “Hamlet”.

1950: He became Actor/Manager at St. James Theatre, London.

1951: Olivier took part in the Festival of Britain productions in association with the Arts Council.

1957: He played Archie Rice in “The Entertainer” by John Osborne at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

1960: He is divorced from Vivien Leigh.

1961: He marries Joan Plowright. He is appointed Director of the Chichester Festival.

1963: Olivier became the first director at the National Theatre Company which began life at the Old Vic in London.

Statue of Laurence Olivier
Statue to Olivier outside the National Theatre, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1965: He directed “The Crucible” for the National Theatre at the Old Vic.

1971: He became Baron Olivier of Brighton, the first actor to be given a life Peerage. He was upset that Peter Hall was chosen as his successor at the National Theatre without his knowledge. He appeared in “Long Days Journey into Night” at the New Theatre, London.

1973: Laurence Olivier resigned as a director of the National Theatre.

1975: New National Theatre building opened.

1976: He appeared in a television production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.

1979: He was given a Special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences” for “the full body of his work”.

1981: Olivier given the Order of Merit.

1982: He appeared in the television production of “Brideshead Revisited”.

1983: He won the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes. He appeared in a television production of “King Lear”.

1986: Laurence Olivier appeared in a television production of “Peter the Great”.

When and Where did he Die?

11th July 1989.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1984: “Confessions of an Actor” – Autobiography.


1. To Jill Esmond. (Divorced 1940).
2. 1940: to Vivien Leigh. (Divorced 1960).
3. 1961: To Joan Plowright.

Site of Grave:

Westminster Abbey, London.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey, London
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


National Theatre, South Bank.
The Old Vic.
Various other London Theatres.


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford -upon-Avon.