Birthday: September 7, 1923
Nationality: American, British
Died At Age: 61
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford
Born Country: England
Born in: London
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'0" (183 cm), 6'0" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Patricia Seaton (m. 1984), Deborah Gould (m. 1976; div. 1977), Mary Rowan (m. 1971; div. 1975), Patricia Helen Kennedy (m. 1954; div. 1966)
father: Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford
mother: May Sommerville Bunny
children: Christopher Lawford, Robin Elizabeth Lawford, Sydney Maleia Kennedy Lawford, Victoria Francis Lawford
Died on: December 24, 1984
City: London, England
Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford was a British-born actor, filmmaker, socialite, and entertainer who spent most of his adult life in the United States of America. He was a Hollywood heartthrob in the 1940s and the 1950s and later joined the famous informal group of entertainers called the Rat Pack. Born in a military family, Lawford was raised in France and did not receive a formal education. Instead, he was home-schooled by his governesses and tutors. He demonstrated a deep interest in art and literature, prompting his mother to formulate his education around that. In 1931, at the age of seven, Lawford made his acting debut in the British comedy film ‘Poor Old Bill’. He suffered a serious accident at the age of 14, which caused irreversible nerve damage in his right arm. Because of this, he could not enlist in the British military when the World War II broke out. He then decided to pursue his passion of acting. Most roles he landed in the early phase of his career were uncredited appearances but after leading men such as Clark Gable and James Stewart went to serve in the war, Lawford emerged as a new romantic lead. In 1953, he made his small-screen debut in Ronald Reagan's anthology series ‘General Electric Theater’. In 1959, Frank Sinatra invited him to join the Rat Pack. In 1963, he began his career behind the camera. Imbued with a true passion for the craft, Lawford continued to work until his death in 1984. He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his television work in 1960.
Childhood & Early Life
Lawford was born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen on September 7, 1923, in London, England. His parents were Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford, KBE (1865–1953) and May Sommerville Bunny (1883–1972); he was their only child. At the time of his birth, both his parents were married to other people. His mother’s husband was Capt Dr Ernest Vaughn Aylen, who served under Sydney, while his father’s wife was a woman named Muriel Williams.
At the time his mother became pregnant with him, she and her husband were living separately. She later told Aylen everything and a double divorce ensued. In September 1924, Sydney and May got married after they were legally cleared to do so.
Lawford had relations in the British aristocracy and grew up in relative affluence. He was raised in France. He could not attend a regular school as his family was always travelling. Instead, his parents chose to get him home-schooled. Governesses and private tutors were hired to provide him with a sound education. He also took tennis and ballet lessons.
According to his mother, he displayed a love for fairy tales and English and French literature from an early age. He was also taught Spanish, German, music, and dramatic arts. His mother categorically omitted subjects such as Latin and mathematics from his curriculum as she felt that “he was unfitted for any career except art”.
Peter Lawford was seven years old, when he was cast in his first film, ‘Poor Old Bill’. He starred in one more film as a child, the 1931 crime drama ‘A Gentleman of Paris.’
When he was 14 years old, Lawford was involved in an accident that caused severe injuries to his right arm. He lost the use of the lower arm and hand because of irreversible nerve damage. In time, he would learn how to hide it. At the advent of the World War II, his parents wanted him to enlist in the British military. His injury, however, prevented him from doing so. Lawford decided to become an actor instead.
He already had some experience in the industry, having appeared in two films as a child actor. After his accident, he returned to the film industry with Sam Wood’s directorial venture ‘Lord Jeff’ in 1938. This was his first American film.
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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. reached out to Peter Lawford at the beginning of the World War II with a contract offer but it did not work out initially. His first important role was in ‘A Yank at Eton’, a comedy-drama film released in 1942. Lawford played a character named Ronnie Kenvil.
Subsequently, he portrayed uncredited roles in a series of films. He was cast as a pilot in ‘Mrs. Miniver’ (1942) and ‘Eagle Squadron’ (1942); a soldier in ‘random Harvest’ (1942), ‘Immortal Sergeant’ (1943), ‘Pilot No. 5’ (1943), and ‘Sahara (1943); and a sailor in ‘Sherlock Holmes Faces Death’ (1943).
He eventually signed a long-term contract with MGM in June 1943. The inaugural role he played under this was of a young soldier during the World War II in ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ (1944). He was cast as David Stone in the 1945 cinematic rendition of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.
He appeared in ‘Son of Lassie’ in 1945 which made Lawford a Hollywood star. At the height of his popularity, he was receiving thousands of fan letters every week. By 1946, he has become the new romantic lead at MGM as Gable and Stewart were serving in the war at the time.
He starred in ‘Cluny Brown’ (1946), ‘Two Sisters from Boston’ (1946), and ‘My Brother Talks to Horses’ (1947). His first work with Frank Sinatra was the 1947 musical ‘It Happened in Brooklyn’. Lawford garnered rave reviews for his performance.
He continued to work for MGM well into the 1950s, playing supporting roles in films such as ‘On an Island with You’ (1948), ‘Easter Parade’ (1948), ‘Little Women’ (1949), ‘Royal Wedding’ (1951) and ‘You for Me’ (1952). His last film with MGM was ‘Rogue's March’, which was released in 1953.
After he was released by MGM, the first film he worked in was ‘It Should Happen to you’, in which he shared screen space with Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon. Lawford had developed a friendship with Sinatra in the intermediate years and was asked by the renowned singer to join the Rat Pack in 1959. Furthermore, Sinatra cast him in his film ‘Never So Few’. In 1960, he played Jimmy Foster opposite Sinatra’s Danny Ocean in the heist film ‘Ocean’s Eleven’.
Lawford’s TV debut came about in 1953, in Ronald Reagan's anthology series ‘General Electric Theater’. From 1957 to 1959, he played Nick Charles in NBC’s mystery series ‘The Thin Man’. Also starring Phyllis Kirk, it was the first television series produced by MGM.
Lawford and his manager, Milt Ebbins, set up Chrislaw Productions in 1961 and released their first film ‘Johnny Cool’ in 1963. They went on to make three more films: ‘Billie’ (1965), ‘Salt and Pepper’ (1968), and ‘One More Time’ (1970).
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In 1965, he guest-starred as General Alexander William Doniphan in NBC’s historical anthology series ‘Profiles in Courage’. He was cast as the titular character in the 1971 telefilm ‘Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You’. Lawford played multiple characters in ABC’s ‘Fantasy Island’ between 1977 and 1982. He also served as the narrator of NBC’s ‘Highcliffe Manor. Lawford’s last TV role was in an episode of ‘The Jeffersons’ in 1981.
Lawford was active as an actor till the very end. The final film he worked on was ‘Where Is Parsifal?’ which was either released in 1983 or 1984.
Peter Lawford’s career really took off after he played the adult version of Joe Carraclough in ‘Son of Lassie’, the 1945 sequel of the iconic 1943 technicolour family film ‘Lassie Come Home’. Set during the World War II, the film finds Carraclough, now a Royal Air Force pilot, shot down over Nazi-occupied Norway along with a stowaway, Lassie's son Laddie (played by Pal, the same male Rough Collie performer that played Lassie in the original film).
Peter Lawford was married four times. His first wife was socialite Patricia “Pat” Kennedy, whom he married on April 24, 1954. All of Lawford’s four children (one son, three daughters) were from this relationship. His oldest child, Christopher, was born on March 29, 1955. Sydney Maleia Kennedy Lawford was born on August 25, 1956, Victoria Francis Lawford on November 4, 1958, and Robin Elizabeth Lawford on July 2, 1961. Lawford and Kennedy eventually divorced in February 1966.
He was granted American citizenship on April 23, 1960. Patricia was a younger sister of the then-US Senator John F. Kennedy. By the time Lawford was preparing to vote as an American for the first time, his brother-in-law was running in the presidential election. He actively campaigned for Kennedy and got many of his friends from Hollywood involved. Sinatra famously started calling him ‘Brother-in-Lawford’.
Lawford and Sinatra had a falling out in 1962. During President Kennedy’s west-coast tour, he was supposed to make a scheduled visit at Sinatra’s home. However, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy advised the president against it because of Sinatra’s alleged underworld ties. Sinatra came to know about the changes in the president’s plans at the last minute, after he had gone to extensive lengths to prepare for the presidential visit.
Lawford was subsequently thrown out of the Rat Pack as Sinatra thought that he had failed to intercede with the Kennedys on his behalf. Lawford was supposed to star with him in his upcoming film ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods’. He was replaced with Bing Crosby, in whose house, ironically, President Kennedy stayed during the visit.
His marriage to second wife Mary Rowan, daughter of comedian Dan Rowan, took place on October 30, 1971. They divorced four years later, in January 1975. He married his third wife, aspiring actress Deborah Gould, on June 25, 1976. He was 52 and she was 25. However, the marriage did not last long as they divorced a year later, in 1977.
While going through the separation process with Gould, Lawford was introduced to 18-year-old Patricia Seaton. They had a relationship and were married on July 5, 1984, five months prior to his death.
On December 24, 1984, Lawford passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles due to cardiac arrest. He was 61 years old. His kidney and liver had also failed because of years of substance abuse. His body was cremated as per his wishes and the ashes were buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. However, after a dispute between Seaton and the cemetery, his ashes were exhumed in 1988 and scattered into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.