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Sir Reginald “Rex” Carey Harrison (5 March 1908 – 2 June 1990) was an Englishmarker actor of stage and screen. Harrison won both an Academy Award and a Tony Award.

Youth and stage career

Harrison was born in Huytonmarker, then part of Lancashiremarker, and educated at Liverpool Collegemarker.After a bout of childhood measles, Harrison lost most of the sight in his left eye which on one occasion caused some on-stage difficulty. He first appeared on the stage in 1924 in Liverpoolmarker. Harrison's acting career was interrupted during World War II whilst he served in the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He acted in various stage productions until 11 May 1990. He acted in the West End of Londonmarker when he was young, appearing in the Terence Rattigan play French Without Tears, which proved to be his breakthrough role.

He alternated appearances in London and New York in such plays as Bell, Book and Candle (1950), Venus Observed, The Cocktail Party, The Kingfisher, and The Love of Four Colonels, which he also directed. He won his first Tony Award for his appearance as Henry VIII in Anne of the Thousand Days and international superstardom (and a second Tony Award) for his Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady. Later appearances included 's Pirandello's Enrico IV, a 1984 appearance at the Haymarket Theatremarker with Claudette Colbert in Frederick Lonsdale's Aren't We All?, and one on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre presented by Douglas Urbanski, at the Haymarket in J. M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton with Edward Fox. He returned as Henry Higgins in a highly paid revival of My Fair Lady in 1981, cementing his association with the plays of George Bernard Shaw which included a Tony nominated performance as Shotover in Heartbreak House, Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra, and General Burgoyne in a Los Angelesmarker production of The Devil's Disciple.

In film

Harrison's film debut was in The Great Game (1930), and other notable early films include The Citadel (1938), Night Train to Munich (1940), Major Barbara (1941), Blithe Spirit (1945), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), and The Foxes of Harrow (1947). He was best known for his portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady, based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, especially after he reprised the role in the 1964 film version, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar. The 1956 cast album set sales records at the time. He revived the role on stage in the early 1980s. He also starred in 1967's Doctor Dolittle. Harrison was not by general terms a singer; thus, the music was generally written to allow for long periods of recitative, generally identified as "speaking to the music".

Although excelling in comedy (Noël Coward described him thus: "the best light comedy actor in the world-except for me."), he attracted favourable notices in dramatic roles such as his portrayal of Julius Caesar in Cleopatra (1963) and as Pope Julius II in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), opposite Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. He also appeared as an aging homosexual man opposite Richard Burton as his lover in Staircase. He also acted in a Hindi movie Shalimar alongside Indian Bollywood star Dharmendra.

Personal life

Harrison was married six times. In 1942 he divorced his first wife, Colette Thomas, and married actress Lilli Palmer the next year; the two later appeared together in numerous plays and films, including The Fourposter.

In 1947, while married to Palmer, Harrison began an affair with actress Carole Landis. Landis committed suicide in 1948 after spending the night with Harrison. Harrison's involvement in the scandal surrounding Landis' death damaged his career and his contract with FOX was ended by mutual consent.

Harrison and Lilli Palmer divorced in 1957. That same year, Harrison married actress Kay Kendall. Kendall died of leukemia in 1959. He was subsequently married to Welsh-born Rachel Roberts from 1962 to 1971 (Roberts committed suicide in 1980). Harrison then married Elizabeth Rees-Williams and, finally, Mercia Tinker, who would become his widow in 1990.

Chronology of Harrison's six marriages:

Grandchildren (all by Noel Harrison):

  • Granddaughters: Cathryn, Harriott and Chloe
  • Grandsons: Will and Simon


Having retired from films in the late 1970s, Harrison continued to act on Broadwaymarker until the end of his life, despite suffering from glaucoma, painful teeth, and a failing memory. In 1989 he appeared on Broadway in The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham, opposite Glynis Johns and Stewart Granger, when he fell ill. He died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Manhattanmarker on 2 June 1990 at the age of 82.

Harrison's autobiography, A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy (ISBN 0553073419), was published posthumously in 1991.


On 25 July 1989 Harrison was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palacemarker. An orchestra played the music of songs from My Fair Lady.

Rex Harrison has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker: one at 6906 Hollywood Boulevardmarker for his contribution to motion pictures, and another at 6380 Hollywood Boulevard for his contribution to the television industry.

According to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, the character Stewie Griffin is based on an "evil version" of Harrison.

Quotes about Harrison

  • "A pompous cad" - Cesar Romero, actor and close friend of Carole Landis.


Year Film Role Notes
1930 The Great Game George
School for Scandal Bit part Uncredited
1934 Get Your Man Tom Jakes
Leave It to Blanche Ronnie
1935 All at Sea Aubrey Bellingham
1936 Men Are Not Gods Tommy Stapleton
1937 Storm in a Teacup Frank Burdon
School for Husbands Leonard Drummond
1938 Sidewalks of London Harley Prentiss Alternative title: St. Martin's Lane
The Citadel Dr. Frederick Lawford
1939 The Silent Battle Jacques Sauvin Alternative title: Continental Express
Over the Moon Dr. Freddie Jarvis
1940 Ten Days in Paris Bob Stevens Alternative titles: Missing Ten Days
Spy in the Pantry
Night Train to Munich Gus Bennett Alternative titles: Gestapo
Night Train
1941 Major Barbara Adolphus Cusins
1945 Blithe Spirit Charles Condomine
I Live in Grosvenor Square Major David Bruce Alternative title: A Yank in London
Journey Together Guest Uncredited
The Rake's Progress Vivian Kenway Alternative title: Notorious Gentleman
1946 Anna and the King of Siam King Mongkut
1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Captain Daniel Gregg
The Foxes of Harrow Stephen Fox
1948 Escape Matt Denant
Unfaithfully Yours Sir Alfred De Carter
1951 The Long Dark Hall Arthur Groome
1952 The Four Poster John Edwards
1954 King Richard and the Crusaders Emir Hderim Sultan Saladin
1955 The Constant Husband William Egerton Alternative title: Marriage a la Mode
1958 The Reluctant Debutante Jimmy Broadbent
1960 Midnight Lace Anthony "Tony" Preston
1962 The Happy Thieves Jimmy Bourne
1963 Cleopatra Caesar
1964 My Fair Lady Professor Henry Higgins
The Yellow Rolls-Royce Lord Charles Frinton - The Marquess of Frinton
1965 The Agony and the Ecstasy Pope Julius II
1967 The Honey Pot Cecil Sheridan Fox Alternative titles: It Comes Up Murder
The Honeypot

Fox of Venice

Doctor Dolittle Dr. John Dolittle
1968 Fenomenal e il tesoro di Tutankamen A man in the street Uncredited
A Flea in Her Ear Victor Chandebisse/Poche
1969 Staircase Charles Dyer
1977 Crossed Swords The Duke of Norfolk Alternative title: The Prince and the Pauper
1978 Shalimar Sir John Locksley Alternative titles: Deadly Thief
Raiders of Shalimar
Raiders of the Sacred Stone

1979 Ashanti Brian Walker Alternative title: Ashanti, Land of No Mercy
The Fifth Musketeer Colbert Alternative titles: Behind the Iron Mask
The 5th Musketeer
1981 Titanic in a Tub: The Golden Age of Toy Boats Narrator
1982 A Time to Die Van Osten Alternative title: Seven Graves for Rogan

Year Title Role Notes
1938 Villa for Sale Television movie
1950 The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre 1 episode
1952 Omnibus Henry VIII 1 episode
1953 The United States Steel Hour Raymond Dabney 1 episode
1957 DuPont Show of the Month Englishman 1 episode
1960 Startime Fred Cortin 1 episode
Dow Hour of Great Mysteries Cyril Paxton 1 episode
1971-1973 Play of the Month Mikhail Platonov, schoolmaster
Don Quixote
2 episodes
1983 The Kingfisher Cecil Television movie
1985 Heartbreak House Captain Shotover Television movie
1986 Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna Grand Duke Cyril Romanov Television movie

Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Category Film, series or play
1964 Academy Award Nominated Best Actor in a Leading Role Cleopatra
1965 Won My Fair Lady
1966 BAFTA Award Nominated Best British Actor My Fair Lady
1984 Drama Desk Award Nominated Outstanding Actor in a Play Heartbreak House
1985 Won Drama Desk Special Award
1964 Golden Globe Award Nominated Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama Cleopatra
1965 Won Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy My Fair Lady
1966 Nominated Henrietta Award (World Film Favorite - Male)
Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama The Agony and the Ecstasy
1968 Nominated Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy Dr. Doolittle
1964 Laurel Awards Nominated Top Male Dramatic Performance Cleopatra
1965 Nominated Male Star
Won Musical Performance, Male My Fair Lady
1966 Nominated Male Star
Dramatic Performance, Male The Agony and the Ecstasy
1963 National Board of Review Won Best Actor Cleopatra
1964 New York Film Critics Circle Awards Won Best Actor My Fair Lady
1949 Tony Award Won Best Actor Anne of the Thousand Days
1957 Won Best Actor in a Musical My Fair Lady
1969 Won Special Tony Award
1984 Nominated Best Actor (Dramatic) Heartbreak House


  1. Sir Rex Harrison Biography at
  2. The Adam Carolla Podcast 3/17/09 in which Seth discusses the origin of various Family Guy Characters.
  3. Behind-the-scenes Featurette, Family Guy Volume 1 DVD.

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