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Alec Guinness Edit Profile


Sir Alec Guinness was a British actor. Decorated Commander Order British Empire, 1955 (United Kingdom); knight bachelor, 1959 (United Kingdom); recipient Academy award for services to cinema, 1980, Swet/Olivier Special award for lifetimes's contribution to theatre, 1989; Film Society of Lincoln Center Tribute, 1987; Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear Tribute, 1988.


Guinness, Alec was born on April 2, 1914 in London.


Studied at Pembroke Lodge, England, Roborough School, England, Fay Compton Studio Dramatic Art.

Doctor of Fine Arts (honorary), Boston College, 1962. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Oxford University, England, 1977. Doctor of Letters (honorary), Cambridge University, England, 1991.


He made his debut in Evensong (34, Victor Saville), but Great Expectations (46, Lean) was the true beginning, and it was his Fagin in Oliver Twist (48, Lean) that drew attention. The real man was unrecognizable within that wonderfully Dickensian performance. Then the multiplicity of roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets (49, Robert Hamer) established him as a master of makeup and artful disguise.

He worked steadily in the fifties, in English films: A Run for Your Money (49, Charles Frend); as the man who thinks he is dying in Last Holiday (50, Henry Cass); playing Disraeli in The Mudlark (50, Jean Neguleseo); the inventor in The Man in the White Suit (51, Alexander Mackendrick); The Card (52, Neame); The Captain’s Paradise (53, Anthony Kimmins); in a dismal war picture. The Malta Story (53, Brian Desmond Hurst); as Father Brown (54, Hamer); quite frightening in The Ladijkillers (55, Mackendrick); To Paris With Love (55, Hamer); and to Hollywood to do The Swan (56, Charles Vidor), which began a great friendship with Grace Kelly.

After Kwai (which really is a thoughtful rendering of an English bureaucrat, even if the film vields to Lean’s overemotionalism), Guinness had a new stature that did not quite suit him. He got higger parts, but they were not always suitable: Onr Man in Havana (59, Carol Reed); uneasy with Bette Davis in The Scapegoat (59, Hamer); over the top in Tunes of Glory (60, Neame)— without Dickens or Jimson as an inspiration, he was happier playing reticent men; A Majority of One (62, Mervyn Le Rov), which required him to be Japanese; the captain in H.M.S. Defiant (62, Lewis Gilbert): an Arab king, but rather empty in Lawrence of Arabia (62, Lean); Marcus Aurelius in The Fall of the Roman Empire (64, Anthony Mann); and Doctor Zhivago (65, Lean).

What followed was his least distinguished period, with many poor films and sho\Yy parts: Situation Hopeless—But Not Serious (65, Gottfried Reinhardt); Hotel Paracliso (66, Glemille); The Quiller Memorandum (66, Michael Anderson); The Comedians (67. Glemille); Charles I in Cromwell (70, Ken Hughes); Scrooge (70, Neame); a Pope in Brother Sun, Sister Moon (72, Franco Zeffirelli); Hitler in The Last Ten Days (73, Ennio de Coneini); Murder by Death (76, Robert Moore); and magisterial as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (77, George Lucas).

He created the role of John le Carres George Smiley for TV in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (79, John Irvin), and he was very good in it—yet there was something too cautious in Smiley for Guinness’s alertness. One wanted more aberration, more poetry—it became all too clear, at such length, that Guinness could do Smiley standing on his head.

He was also in Raise the Titanic (SO, jerry Jameson); on TV in Little Lord Fauntleroy (80, Jack Gold); Smiley’s People (82, Simon Langton); Lovesick (83, Marshall Brickman); sadly at odds with David Lean playing an Indian in A Passage to India (84); Edwin (84, Rodney Bennett); Monsignor Quixote (85, Bennett); Little Dorrit (85, Christine Edzard); as Mr. Todd in A Handful of Dust (88, Charles Sturridge), settling to listen to Dickens, like a dinosaur hatching an egg; as Heinrich Mann in a TV Tales from Hollywood (92, Howard Davies); A Foreign Field (93, Sturridge); Mute Witness (94, Anthony Waller); Eskimo Day (96, Piers Haggard).


  • role in film

    • The Fool in "King Lear"

    • The urbane psychiatrist in "The Cocktail Party"

    • Herbert Pocket in "Great Expectations" (1946)

    • Fagin in "Oliver Twist"

    • 8 different characters in "Kind Hearts and Coronets"

    • Egocentric British officer in "The Bridge on the River Kwai"

  • roles in films

    • appeared in a series of British comedies

  • Other Work

    • British intelligence officer


Served in Volunteer Reserve, Royal Navy, 1941-1945. Commissioned lieutenant 1942. Fellow British Academy Film and television Arts, British Film Institute, Companion of Honour.


Of all the British “theatrical knights,” Guinness had the most interesting career in films. Not that he ever forsook theatre. But Guinness had a remote, reflective personality that often worked well in movies. Perhaps film taught him a love of detail best noticed by the camera. It may also be that he enjoyed the challenge to stay hidden or secret when under intense scrutiny. His 1985 autobiography was called Blessings in Disguise, and it made clear his tranquil pleasure doing films, as well as the dreamy Catholic assurance that nothing in life is too important.

Despite his Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai (57, David Lean) and an honorary Oscar in 1979; despite his high reputation in America, where he was seen as the key actor in Ealing comedies—and he was nominated for best actor in The Lavender Hill Mob (51, Charles Crichton); despite all of that, he never went Hollywood.

Instead, he sometimes pursued personal projects that must have seemed farfetched. Thus his superb, monstrous Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (59, Ronald Neame), which he scripted out of love for the Joyce Car)- novel (and he got an Oscar nomination for the script—in the same year, Spencer Tracy was nominated for The Old Man and the Sea, but Guinness’s Jimson was ignored—you see, nothing is too important); and the religious The Prisoner (55, Peter Glenville), from a Bridget Boland play.


Married Merula Salaman. 1 child, Matthew.

Merula Salaman