Peter O’Toole’s recent announcement that he has retired from acting made us think of the old cliche: “Actors never retire, they’re just between engagements.”
Ok, we take the 79-year-old Irish actor at his word, that “it’s time to chuck in the sponge…the heart has gone out of its for me.” (His most recent movie appearance was as a Catholic priest in this year’s Mexican civil war drama, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada.)
But look at O’Toole’s retirement announcement in this historical light: when Mary Pickford, Jean Hershold and others who headed The Motion Picture Relief Fund bought property in Woodland Hills to build a refuge for actors who were old, down on their luck and broke, Pickford insisted the place be called “The Country House.”
It was not to be thought of as a “Home.” In her view, “Actor’s are just between engagements.”
Hershold (above) was a great humanitarian. The Jean Hershold Award given out each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is, of course, named in his honor.
The “House” (various cottages and buildings) was completed in the 1940s. A Hospital was added in 1948. Today it’s called The Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital and is a full service retirement community. It is open to anyone who has worked in any capacity in the industry.
Over the years Joe has interviewed many stars (Mary Astor, Rose Hobart, Mae Clarke) who spent their final years there. None of them had ever officially “retired.”
Some stars do end up penniless and need assistance. Others, like the character Norma Desmond, the silent screen star from Sunset Boulevard, may be forgotten but have enormous wealth.
Mary Pickford (above), enormously wealthy, never really retired. Although she hadn’t made a film since 1933, Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett in 1949 approached her about portraying Norma Desmond. Until her death at 88 in 1979 she was merely “between engagements.”
Yes, Peter O’Toole has lived hard, and looks it (see below). After all, it’s been a half century since he electrified international audiences in the title role of director David Lean’s classic, Lawrence of Arabia.
It wouldn’t surprise us that health considerations contributed to his retirement decision. Still in all, we suspect that O’Toole, too, would consider returning to the screen if “the right part” came along. We kinda hope it will.