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Peter Sydney Vaughn Aylen (September 7, 1923 – December 24, 1984), better known as Peter Lawford, was an English actor, member of the "Rat Pack," and brother-in-law to President John F. Kennedy, perhaps more noted in later years for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting. In his earlier professional years (late 1930s through the 1950s) he had a strong presence in popular culture and starred in a number of highly acclaimed films.

Early life

Born in Londonmarker, he was the son of English World War I veteran Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford and May Somerville Bunny. At the time of his birth, May Somerville Bunny was married to Captain Ernest Vaughn Aylen. After his birth, Bunny confessed to Aylen that the child was not his and he promptly divorced her. Sir Sydney Lawford and Bunny were married in September 1924.Lawford spent his early childhood in Francemarker and owing to his family's travels, was never formally educated. In America, Sir Sydney and Lady Lawford were treated as royalty among the well-to-do in their new neighborhood of Palm Beach, Floridamarker, and were always invited to events and social occasions. However, they lost whatever source of money they had when war was declared by the UK in 1939.

At the age of 14, Lawford severely injured his right arm when it went through a glass door. The injury left his arm disfigured which he later learned to hide. The injury was considered damaging enough to keep him from entering World War II, but this turn of fate was probably the greatest boon to his career. At that time, Hollywoodmarker was infatuated with heroic Englishmen, and as war movies were being churned out by the dozens and American actors volunteered or were drafted for the war, Lawford put his talents to work "stateside".

Career

Films

Prior to World War II, Lawford had gained a contract position with the MGM studios. Once he signed with MGM, his mother, Lady May, insisted that studio head Louis B. Mayer pay her a salary as her son's personal assistant. Mayer declined. Lady Lawford responded by claiming her son to be "a bummer" and that he needed to be "supervised." When Lawford learned of his mother's actions their relationship was never the same.

Lawford's first movie role was at age seven in the film Poor Old Bill. Eight years later, he made his Hollywood debut in a minor part in Lord Jeff. His first major movie role was A Yank At Eton (1942), where he played a snobbish bully opposite Mickey Rooney. The picture was a smash hit, and Lawford's performance was widely praised. Lawford also made uncredited appearances as an RAF pilot in Mrs. Miniver (1942) and as a sailor in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943). He won even greater acclaim for his performance in The White Cliffs Of Dover (1944), in which he played a young soldier in World War II. MGM gave him another important role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Lawford also made Son of Lassie (1945) and won a Modern Screen magazine readers' poll as the most popular actor in Hollywood. His fan mail jumped to thousands of letters a week. Lawford had become a major star.

Lawford's busiest year as an actor was 1946, when two of his films opened within days of each other: Cluny Brown (1946) and Two Sisters From Boston (1946). With heartthrobs such as Clark Gable and stalwarts like James Stewart off to war, Lawford was recognized as the romantic lead on the MGM lot. He appeared with Frank Sinatra for the first time in the musical It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). Lawford received rave reviews for his work in the film while Sinatra's were lukewarm. Lawford later admitted that the most terrifying experience of his career was the first musical number he performed (the Jitterbug). He also made his first comedy that same year: My Brother Talks To Horses (1947). It was in the musical Good News (1947) that he won his greatest acclaim as a performer, holding his own against other cast members with far more training in song and dance.

Lawford was given other important roles in MGM films over the next few years, including On an Island with You (1948), Easter Parade (1948), Little Women (1949), and It Should Happen to You (1954). The casino caper Ocean’s Eleven (1960) was a project Lawford first brought to Sinatra's attention. It became the first film to feature the so-called "Rat Pack" of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Lawford.

Later films included The Longest Day (1962), and a role as a United States senator in Advise and Consent (1962). In 1963, Lawford produced his first film, Johnny Cool, starring Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. He would go on to produce the 1965 Patty Duke film Billie, and his two films with fellow Rat Pack member Sammy Davis, Jr.: Salt and Pepper and One More Time.

Television

Lawford made his television debut in a guest starring role on the anthology series General Electric Theater in 1953. The following year, he starred as a newspaper advice-to-the-lovelorn colunnist named Bill Hastings in the short-lived NBC series Dear Phoebe with Marcia Henderson and Charles Lane. From 1957 to 1959, Lawford co-starred with Phyllis Kirk in The Thin Man, an NBC series based on 1930s films of the same name.

Lawford also guest starred on various television series including Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Wild Wild West, The Virginian, Bewitched, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. Besides guest spots, he also guest-starred on variety shows such as The Judy Garland Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and game shows What's My Line?, Password, and Pyramid.

Personal life

His first marriage, in 1954, was to Patricia Kennedy, sister of then-US Senator John F. Kennedy. They had four children; actor Christopher Kennedy Lawford, and daughters Sydney Maleia Kennedy Lawford, Victoria Francis Lawford, and Robin Elizabeth Lawford.

Lawford became an Americanmarker citizen in 1960, in time to vote for his brother-in-law in the presidential elections. Lawford, along with other members of the "Rat Pack," helped campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic Party. Sinatra famously dubbed him "Brother-in-Lawford" at this time. Lawford and Kennedy divorced in 1966.

Lawford married his second wife, Mary Rowan, the daughter of comedian Dan Rowan, in October 1971 when she was 21. Rowan and Lawford separated two years later and divorced in January 1975. In June 1976, he married aspiring actress Deborah Gould. Lawford and Gould separated two months after marrying and divorced in 1977. During his separation from Gould, Lawford met Patricia Seaton who would become his fourth and final wife in July 1984.

Death

Lawford died in at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angelesmarker on Christmas Eve 1984 of cardiac arrest complicated by kidney and liver failure. His body was cremated and the ashes were interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemeterymarker. Owing to a dispute between his widow and the cemetery, Lawford's ashes were removed and scattered in the Pacific Oceanmarker off the coast of California by his widow, Patricia Seaton Lawford, who invited the National Enquirer" tabloid to photograph the event. Westwood Village Memorial Park still has, as of 2006, a plaque bearing Lawford's name. It is not known if any ashes remain at the site.

For his contribution to the television industry, Peter Lawford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker located at 6920 Hollywood Blvd.

In popular culture

Lawford was portrayed by Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen in The Rat Pack, a 1998 made-for-television movie about the group of entertainers.

Selected filmography

Film
Year Film Role Notes
1931 A Gentleman of Paris Child Uncredited
1942 Random Harvest Soldier Uncredited
1943 Above Suspicion Student Uncredited
1944 The Canterville Ghost Anthony de Canterville
1948 Easter Parade Jonathan Harrow III
1948 Julia Misbehaves Ritchie Lorgan
1949 The Red Danube Major John "Twingo" McPhimister
1950 Please Believe Me Jeremy Taylor
1951 Royal Wedding Lord John Brindale Alternative title: Wedding Bells
1952 The Hour of 13 Nicholas Revel
1953 Rogue's March Capt. Dion Lenbridge/Pvt. Harry Simms
1959 Never So Few Capt. Grey Travis Alternative title: Campaign Burma
1960 Ocean's 11 Jimmy Foster
1962 Sergeants 3 Sgt. Larry Barrett
1962 The Longest Day Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat
1964 Dead Ringer Tony Collins Alternative title: Dead Image
1965 Harlow Paul Bern
1966 The Oscar Steve Marks
1968 Skidoo The Senator
1969 Hook, Line & Sinker Dr. Scott Carter
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters Campbell
1975 Rosebud Lord Carter
1979 Angels Revenge Burke Alternative title: Angels' Brigade
Seven from Heaven
1981 Body and Soul Big Man
1983 Where Is Parsifal? Montague Chippendale
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1955 Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre Stephen 1 episode
1956 Playhouse 90 Willis Wayde 1 episode
1957 Producers' Showcase Lord Brinstead 1 episode
1959 Goodyear Theatre Major John Marshall 1 episode
1966 Run for Your Life Larry Carter 1 episode
1967 I Spy Hackaby 1 episode
1971-1973 The Doris Day Show Dr. Peter Lawrence 8 episodes
1978 Hawaii Five-O Kenneth Kirk 1 episode
1979 Supertrain Quentin Fuller 1 episode
1981 The Jeffersons Museum Guide 1 episode


References



Further reading

  • The Peter Lawford Story, by Patricia Seaton Lawford, New Yorkmarker, Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1988, ISBN 0-515-10264-4.
  • Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets, by James Spada, New York, Bantam Books, 1991, ISBN 0-553-07185-8.


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