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Definition: Gielgud from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Sir (Arthur) John Gielgud 1904–2000 Eng. actor

Summary Article: Gielgud, Sir (Arthur) John
From Chambers Biographical Dictionary


English actor and producer

John Gielgud was born in London and made his debut at the Old Vic Theatre there in 1921. He established his reputation in The Constant Nymph (1926), Hamlet (1929) and The Good Companions (1931), becoming a leading Shakespearean actor in the British theatre and directing many of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre productions, as well as Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1954) and Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden (1956) in London. He also appeared in many films, notably as Disraeli in The Prime Minister (1940) and as Cassius in Julius Caesar (1952). He played Othello at Stratford (1961) and Prospero at the National Theatre (1974). Like Laurence Olivier, he adapted to changing dramatic styles and to the new wave of plays popularized by the Royal Court Theatre, appearing during the 1960s and 1970s in plays by David Storey, Edward Bond and Harold Pinter. He went on to appear increasingly in cameo roles in films, although he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Arthur (1981), and played the lead role and voiced all the others in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991). Later film appearances include Shine (1996) and Portrait of a Lady (1996). He also returned to the stage (1988), playing in Hugh Whitemore's Sir Sydney Cockerell: The Best of Friends. He was awarded the BAFTA fellowship award for his lifetime contribution to showbusiness (1992). His first autobiography, Early Stages, was published as early as 1938 (rev edn 1976); other books include Stage Directions (1963), Distinguished Company (1972), Gielgud: An Actor and His Time (1979, with John Miller and John Powell), Shakespeare: Hit or Miss (1991; also published in 1992 as Acting Shakespeare) and Notes from the Gods (1994). He was knighted in 1953 and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1996.

  • Croall, Jonathan Gielgud: A Theatrical Life 1904-2000 (2001).

"Acting is half shame, half glory. Shame at exhibiting yourself, glory when you can forget yourself."

- Quoted in Ronald Harwood (ed), The Ages of Gielgud (1984).

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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