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

April 30, 2011 |  7:30 am

Otoole
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

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

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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