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TCM Film Festival: Peter O'Toole on camels, booze and an Oscar 'outrage'

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Peter O’Toole condemned the Motion Picture Academy, revealed that he’s writing a memoir called “The Professional,” and reminisced about riding camels with Omar Sharif and drinking with Richard Burton during a free-wheeling conversation Friday with Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne at the TCM Film Festival.

“Most of me functions,” said a garrulous O’Toole, 78, who played the role of pub raconteur for the audience of a few hundred who crowded into Hollywood’s Music Box Theater. “Except one in particular--[remembering] names. The other thing is, I ramble.”

On Saturday, O’Toole will dip his hands and feet in wet cement as he is honored in the court of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

On Friday afternoon, Osborne led the audience through a discursive tour of O’Toole’s career. Stops included the first movie O'Toole ever saw (the Marx Brothers comedy “A Day at the Races,” with his father, who was a bookie); his time as a journalist (an early career ambition was to edit Life magazine); and stints in the British navy and on the London stage.

O’Toole described the agony of David Lean’s nearly two-year “Lawrence of Arabia” desert shoot, including the dangerous battle of Aqaba scene. “It was a mass of camels, sheiks, horses, cutlasses, guns,” he said. After one particularly chaotic rehearsal, O’Toole’s co-star Sharif sat wearing his character’s black headscarf and fingering some worry beads. “Omar looked like a nun with a mustache. He said, ‘I’m going to tie myself to my camel.’ I said, ‘Well I'm going to get drunk.’” Both men did as they said they would. When the sequence was done, Sharif was upside-down hugging the camel’s belly, O'Toole said, and O’Toole was to be cited by a film critic for the “messianic zeal” on his face. “Messianic zeal!” he snorted.

Drink was a theme of O’Toole’s stories –- he said he and Burton pledged to each other that they wouldn’t touch a drop of alcohol during the week while filming “Becket.” “But on Friday,” O’Toole said, pausing a beat, “Oooooh.”

The actor delivered spot-on impressions of Sharif, Burton and Katharine Hepburn, and told Osborne he had named his daughter, Kate, after his “Lion in Winter” co-star. Hepburn, O’Toole said, “told everyone off. A delightful woman. The best of America.” However, she and O’Toole were, he said, “simply friends.”

An eight-time Oscar nominee, O’Toole is the most-nominated actor never to win the award, or, as he described it, “the biggest loser of all time.” He did, however, win an honorary Oscar in 2003, and described himself as “outraged” by the Academy’s 2009 decision to remove its honorary awards from the show’s telecast.

The Irish-born actor now lives in London, and said he is working on a memoir of his acting life. He has written two books, “Loitering with Intent: The Child,” and “Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice” and said the final volume of his memoirs will be called “The Professional” (presumably with the same prelude).

O’Toole dismissed the idea of ever acting in theater again -- “I don’t want to shuffle on being a butler,” he said, but would like to do a one-man show. When Osborne asked what he’d want if he could have anything in the world right now, O’Toole answered, “a good part.”

The Music Box event was recorded for airing on TCM at a future date.

 -- Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Peter O'Toole and his daughter, Kate Phillips O'Toole, arrive at the Turner Classic Film Festival/Credit: TCM

For the record, 8:17 a.m., April 30: An earlier version of this post misspelled Katharine Hepburn's first name as Katherine.


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Damian Miles Hollywood 101 Show Here....All The Best and Congratulations to
"The Elegant, Handsome & Magnificent Mr. Peter O'Toole.....and His Family! He is Hollywood Royalty and This Weekend the Fab. TCM Team Treated Him Just That Way!
The Fans All Clammered & Screamed LIke Me as Mr. O;Toole Was Immortalized at the World Famous Grauman's Theater....Along with Shirley Temple, Jackie Cooper and Clark Gable! Mr. O'Toole Your Great and We All Adore You and Your Amazing Body of Work....Damian Miles Hollywood 101 Show ...Over & Out! "Today in Hollywood A Star Will Be Born and it Could Be You"

Mr. Waycool Incorporated...

God broke the mold...

I remember seeing O'Toole on the stage in London. We went with great expectations, but he was on the sauce. So drunk he garbled his words, and almost fell down a couple of times. Not a very polished performance, but memorable (for the wrong reasons).

My favorite year comes back like a lion in

Definitely, Lawrence of Arabia is one of my favorite films ever. It's an amazing and bizarre story, an incredible character, that fortunately could never be "refried", "remasterized" or 3D-ed. Mr. O'Toole was fantastic and in general the movie had become an icon, a milestone in films history. Don't worry Mr. O'Toole, you don't need an Oscar, we all know who you are, your talent and the 40 carats actor you'd become.

I always thought he should have won an award for the most made-up actor since Rudy Valentino.

Peter O'Toole is a treasure. A great actor and Irish imp rolled into one. He was truly beautiful in Lawrence, as well as Becket. His physical beauty was never really spoken of, but he was gorgeous. I also agree that How to Steal a Million with Audrey Hepburn was a hidden treasure. They were two of the most beautiful people alive at the time and they made a great couple. The Academy Awards, especially with some of the ones they have given out lately, should be ashamed that this man does not have one or more. He deserved them.

My favorite actor of all time. Can't wait to read his memoirs.

Ever since "Beckert", O'Toole has been one of my favorites....a truly honorable actor highly trained in the English tradition ... Shakespear first, then modern films. His "Lion in Winter" was exquisite with Hepburn and all else that followed were highly entertaining. Shame it took so long to get his handprints .... when he was one of the first to make a real immpression on the big screen.

i remember going to the theatre in 1966 and seeing "Lawrence" for the first time...What a great moment....the music, the motorcycle crash, the desert scenes, the battles and the actors...O'toole, Quinn, and Sharif...I recently bought a copy of the movie and watch it over and over again...The real irony is thanks to the British and T.E.Lawrence the "Arabs" are one and almost united against us and have much of our dollars and even own part of the United states today...Lawrence probably laughs from his grave everytime the price of oil goes up......

I remember seeing Mr. O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. I thought he was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. Those gorgeous eyes of his--and they call Mr. Sinatra--ole blue-eyes--Ha. I'm glad he is being honored at Grauman's (okay, so it isn't Grauman's?It was Grauman"s longer than what they're calling it now)so there. Too bad his peers didn't think his works were Oscar worthy. Yeah,yeah,they nominated him,but he never won. Not unlike being a bridesmaid,but not the bride.Next to Lawrence of Arabia my favorite O'Toole movie would have to be, How To Steal a MIllion with Audrey Hepburn. Thanks for the memories Mr. O'Toole.

Lovely, lovely picture. Thanks for posting it so large. Re "a good part": O'Toole challenges Hollywood!


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