Paul Scofield

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Paul Scofield

Paul Scofield Allan Warren.jpg
Scofield in 1975
David Paul Scofield

(1922-01-21)21 January 1922
Died19 March 2008(2008-03-19) (aged 86)
Resting placeSt Mary's Churchyard, Balcombe
Years active1940–2006 [1]
Joy Parker
(m. 1943)

David Paul Scofield CH CBE (21 January 1922 – 19 March 2008) was an English actor. During a six-decade career, Scofield achieved the Triple Crown of Acting, winning an Academy Award, Emmy, and Tony for his work. Scofield established a reputation as one of the greatest Shakespearean performers. He declined the honour of a knighthood, but was appointed CBE in 1956 and became a CH in 2001.


Scofield received the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for portraying Sir Thomas More in the Broadway production of A Man for All Seasons (1962). Four years later, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor when he reprised the role in the 1966 film adaptation, making him one of eleven to receive a Tony and Academy Award for the same role. He received the Primetime Emmy Award for Male of the Species (1969).

He garnered acclaim for his roles in films such as The Train (1964), King Lear (1971), A Delicate Balance (1973), Henry V (1989), and Hamlet (1990). He portrayed Mark Van Doren in the historical drama Quiz Show (1994), for which he earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. For his role as Thomas Danforth in the film adaptation of The Crucible (1996) he received the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Early life and education

Paul Scofield was born on 21 January 1922 in Edgbaston, [2] Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, the son of Mary and Edward Harry Scofield. [3] When Scofield was a few weeks old, his family moved to Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, where his father served as the headmaster at the Hurstpierpoint Church of England School. [4] Scofield told his biographer, Garry O'Connor, that his upbringing was divided. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Roman Catholic. Baptised into his mother's faith, Scofield said, "some days we were little Protestants and, on others, we were all devout little Catholics." [5] He added, "A lack of direction in spiritual matters is still with me." [6]

Scofield recalls, "I was a dunce at school. But at the age of twelve I went to Varndean School at Brighton where I discovered Shakespeare. They did one of his plays every year, and I lived just for that." [7] [8] In 1961, Scofield wrote, "I don't have a psychological approach to acting; fundamentally, I have an intuitive approach. For me, the totally intellectual approach is never satisfactory. What matters to me is whether I like the play, for one thing, and, for another, whether I can recognize and identify myself with the character I'm to play." [9] In 1939, Scofield left school at the age of seventeen and began training at the Croydon Repertory Theatre. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Scofield arrived for a physical examination and was ruled unfit for service in the British Army. He later recalled, "They found I had crossed toes. I was unable to wear boots. I was deeply ashamed." [10]


1940–1959: Rise to prominence

Scofield began his stage career in 1940 with a debut performance in American playwright Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms at the Westminster Theatre, and was soon being compared to Laurence Olivier. He played at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. From there he went to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford, where he starred in Walter Nugent Monck's 1947 revival of Pericles, Prince of Tyre . [11]

In 1948, Scofield appeared as Hamlet at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford alongside a then unknown Claire Bloom as Ophelia. Scofield's performance was so highly praised that it caused him to be dubbed, "The Hamlet of his generation." [12] He was also Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice with Bloom as an Attendee. J.C. Trewin commented, "He is simply a timeless Hamlet... None could forget Scofield's pathos, the face folded in grief, at, 'When you are desirous to be blessed, I'll blessing beg of you.' We have known many correct, almost formal Hamlets, aloof from Elsinore. Scofield was ever a prisoner within its bounds: the world had many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one of the worst." [13]

John Harrison, Director of the Leeds Playhouse, later recalled of Scofield's Hamlet, "'Get thee to a nunnery,' so often delivered with rage or scorn, he says so gently. You have visions of quiet and prayer. A future for Ophelia." [14] In her later book, Leaving a Doll's House: A Memoir , Claire Bloom recalls that during the production she had a very serious crush on Scofield. As Scofield "was happily married and the father of a son", Bloom hoped only "to be flirted with and taken some notice of." But Scofield never so much as glanced at Bloom or any of the other pretty actresses in the cast. [14] Unusually, the production had two Hamlets: Scofield and Robert Helpmann took turns playing the title role and Bloom later recalled, "I could never make up my mind which of my two Hamlets I found the more devastating: the openly homosexual, charismatic Helpmann, or the charming, shy young man from Sussex." [15]

Scofield's versatility at the height of his career is exemplified by his starring roles in theatrical productions as diverse as the musical Expresso Bongo (1958) and Peter Brook's celebrated production of King Lear (1962). Brook wrote in his memoir, Threads of Time, "The door at the back of the set opened, and a small man entered. He was wearing a black suit, steel-rimmed glasses and holding a suitcase. For a moment we wondered who this stranger was and why he was wandering onto our stage. Then we realised that it was Paul, transformed. His tall body had shrunk; he had become insignificant. The new character now possessed him entirely." [16]

1960–1979: A Man for All Seasons and acclaim

Scofield portrayed Sir Thomas More in the film and stage version of A Man for All Seasons Hans Holbein, the Younger - Sir Thomas More - Google Art Project.jpg
Scofield portrayed Sir Thomas More in the film and stage version of A Man for All Seasons

One of the highlights of Scofield's career in modern theatre is the role of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons , which opened in July 1960. Scofield later referred to the part as the only time "my intuition for the part has failed me." [17] Theatre reviewers published very harsh criticism of Scofield's performance at first, which forced him to "start from scratch and just work on facts, making myself totally faithful to what was on the page". After realizing "I had to find the way the man would feel; then I was able to find the way he should sound", and the vital importance of conveying complete sincerity and humility when "playing a man of spiritual depth", Scofield successfully developed a means of performing as Thomas More through trial and error. [18]

Austrian-American filmmaker Fred Zinnemann later recalled of seeing the play onstage, "It dealt with the sixteenth-century English statesman Thomas More, beheaded on the orders of his King, Henry VIII, for refusing to sanction his marriage to Anne Boleyn. With Paul Scofield in the lead, the play was a powerful emotional experience. It dramatized the nation's unquestioning submission to the absolute power of the king, in stark contrast to More, whose last words before the execution were, 'I die the Kings good servant, but God's first.'" [19]

When Fred Zinnemann was first approached about directing the 1966 film adaptation of A Man For All Seasons by Columbia Pictures executive Mike Frankovich in 1965 and enthusiastically agreed, the studio did not wish to cast Scofield as the lead. Preferring a more internationally bankable cast, the studio desired either Laurence Olivier or Richard Burton as Thomas More, Alec Guinness as Cardinal Wolsey, and Peter O'Toole as King Henry VIII. Both Zinnemann and screenwriter Robert Bolt disagreed, however, but still went through the motions of meeting with Olivier and then informing him politely that he had not been chosen. [20] Scofield, who was cast after Columbia grudgingly "fell in with Zinnemann's wishes", later recalled, "I was surprised and honoured to be chosen for the film, being almost unknown in the movie world... My own task was unaltered except that I now focused on my thoughts on to a camera instead of an audience." [21]

Even though defying the studio's casting wishes forced him to film A Man For All Seasons on a shoestring budget, Fred Zinnemann felt very differently about Scofield and later recalled of the film shoot, "For the first few days the crew did their usual work very well, the way they would have done any job, but on the third day, when Scofield made his speech about the majesty of the law, they were suddenly mesmerized by the magic of those words and they remained that way throughout the rest of the filming. So totally did Paul convey the scope of More's character that for months afterwards I couldn't help but look at him in awe, as a saint rather than an actor." [22]

Burt Lancaster and Scofield in The Train (1964) The Train (1964 film) trailer 1.jpg
Burt Lancaster and Scofield in The Train (1964)

In 1964, Scofield acted in the John Frankenheimer war film The Train alongside Burt Lancaster. The film is set in August 1944 during World War II, it pits French Resistance-member Paul Labiche (Lancaster) against German Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Scofield), who is attempting to move stolen art masterpieces by train to Germany. The film received positive acclaim and was ranked as one of the best films by the National Board of Review.

Writing in 1961, Scofield explained, "Output in the theatre requires greater energy than anything else I know. Doubt of one's energy is the worst of all. One's output in the theatre requires energy of a sort that is never a factor in family life. Family energy generates itself. Social life outside the family can be exhausting. I don't care much for social life with people in the theatre. I'm rather good at being with people when I want to make the effort, but I'm bad at listening to people when I know what they're going to say. It isn't very interesting, and on the whole it's very draining. The interesting thing in the theatre is the work and working with people. I usually like the people in the work, but I can't go on with them outside the work as long as most actors can. And when I'm working on a part I'm thinking about it all the time, going over all the possibilities in my mind. I like to be alone when I'm working." [23]

In a career devoted chiefly to the classical theatre, Scofield starred in many Shakespeare plays and played the title role in Ben Jonson's Volpone in Peter Hall's production for the Royal National Theatre (1977). In a 1994 interview, Scofield explained, "One of the great strengths of the theatre is that it is ephemeral. It does exist only in what you remember and you can't check up on it afterwards and think, 'That's not as good as I remember.' If any performance I've ever given stays in someone's mind that's so much more exciting than being able to put it on the video and play it again. It's not that I don't want to take risks - the opposite is true, in fact. But the more you know about acting, the more you're aware of the pitfalls and the more nerve-racking it becomes. When I was young, I wasn't nervous at all. Even doing Hamlet, I just had a go." [24]

Scofield also appeared as Charles Dyer in Dyer's play Staircase , staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966; Laurie in John Osborne's A Hotel in Amsterdam (1968); and Antonio Salieri in the original stage production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (1979). He was subsequently the voice of the Dragon in another play by Robert Bolt, a children's drama The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew. Expresso Bongo, Staircase and Amadeus were filmed with other actors, but Scofield starred in the screen version of King Lear (1971). Other major screen roles include the art-obsessed Wehrmacht Colonel von Waldheim in The Train (1964), Strether in a 1977 TV adaptation of Henry James's novel The Ambassadors , and Tobias in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (1973).


Scofield was cast in the lead role of Sir Randolph Nettleby in the 1985 film The Shooting Party , but was forced to withdraw due to an injury he suffered on set. According to the DVD extras documentary for the film, Scofield and the other male lead actors were to come into shot on a horse-drawn shooting brake driven by the renowned film horse-master George Mossman as the first shot of the first day of filming. As they turned the first corner, the plank that Mossman was standing on broke in two and he was hurled forward and down, falling between the sets of wheels and taking the reins with him. He was struck by a horse's hoof and concussed. The horses shied and broke into a gallop. Actor Rupert Frazer admitted that he was the first to jump off, landing safely, but bruised. Out of control, the horses turned to the right when confronted by a stone wall, causing the shooting brake to roll completely, catapulting the actors into a pile of scaffolding that had been stacked next to the wall. Robert Hardy stood up and realised to his amazement that he was unhurt. He looked across to see Edward Fox stand up, "turn completely green and collapse in a heap", having broken five ribs and his shoulder blade. He noticed that Scofield was lying very still on the ground "and I saw that his shin-bone was sticking out through his trousers". As the film takes place in October during the partridge-shooting season, the filmmakers had to make a choice whether to delay filming for a year or re-cast. The Shooting Party schedule was ultimately changed to allow James Mason to take over the part of Sir Randolph Nettleby six weeks later. [25] Scofield's broken leg also deprived him of the part of O'Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which he was replaced by Richard Burton. [26]

Helen Mirren, who appeared with Scofield in the 1989 film When the Whales Came , said, "He aspires to the soul rather than the character. He has no sense of personal ambition. He's one of our great, great actors. We're lucky to have him." [27] Scofield also portrayed the Ghost in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet alongside Mel Gibson in the title role. Despite being an A-list actor at the time, Gibson, who had grown up idolising Scofield, compared the experience of performing Shakespeare alongside him to being, "thrown into the ring with Mike Tyson". [28] Scofield, on the other hand, never felt similarly intimidated and later recalled about working with Gibson, "Not the actor you'd think would make an ideal Hamlet, but he had enormous integrity and intelligence." [29] Scofield portrayed Professor Moroi in the film of János Nyíri's If Winter Comes (1980), for BBC Television; poet Mark Van Doren in Robert Redford's film Quiz Show (1994), and Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth in Nicholas Hytner's film adaptation (1996) of Arthur Miller's The Crucible .

Personal life and death

Paul and Joy Scofield's gravestone in St Mary's churchyard, Balcombe, West Sussex Paul Scofield's gravestone.JPG
Paul and Joy Scofield's gravestone in St Mary's churchyard, Balcombe, West Sussex

Paul Scofield married actress Joy Mary Parker on 15 May 1943. [2] They had met while he played Hamlet to her Ophelia. [30] Scofield later said "Joy and I simply decided to be married. We were both of age and were determined. Any doubts from our families were overruled, and they were the usual ones – too young, etc. We had a week out at the end of The Moon Is Down tour, married during that week, and went straight into the Whitehall Theatre." [31]

Paul and Joy Scofield had two children: Martin (born 1945) who became a senior lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Kent [32] and Sarah (born 1951). When asked by Garry O'Connor how he wished to be remembered, Scofield responded "If you have a family, that is how to be remembered." [33] When O'Connor asked about his seventieth birthday, Scofield replied, "Birthdays are a bore, really. It's true, I do like my fallow times... I hate missing anything that might be happening outside on a summer evening, something in the garden." [34] Filmmaker Michael Winner accordingly described Paul and Joy Scofield as "one of the few very happily married couples I've ever met." [35]

Scofield died from leukaemia [36] on 19 March 2008 at the age of 86 at the Royal Sussex County Hospital [2] in Brighton, East Sussex, England. His memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on the first anniversary of his death. [2] His wife Joy died four years later on 7 November 2012, aged 90.



1955 That Lady King Philip II of Spain Terence Young
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Tony Fraser Lewis Gilbert
1964 The Train Col. von Waldheim John Frankenheimer
1966 A Man for All Seasons Sir Thomas More Fred Zinnemann
1968 Tell Me Lies GuestPeter Brook
1969 The Red Tent The Main Judge Mikhail Kalatozov Uncredited
1970 Bartleby The AccountantAnthony Friedman
Nijinsky: Unfinished ProjectSergei DiaghilevTony Richardson
1971 King Lear King Lear Peter Brook
1973 Scorpio Zharkov Michael Winner
A Delicate Balance Tobias Tony Richardson
1983Ill Fares the LandNarrator Bill Bryden Voice
1984 Summer Lightning Old Robert Clarke Paul Joyce
1985 1919 Alexander Scherbatov Hugh Brody
1989 When the Whales Came Zachariah "The Birdman" WoodcockClive Reeves
Henry V Charles VI of France Kenneth Branagh
1990 Hamlet The Ghost Franco Zeffirelli
1992 Utz Doctor Vaclav Orlik George Sluizer
LondonNarrator Patrick Keiller
1994 Quiz Show Mark Van Doren Robert Redford
1996 The Crucible Judge Thomas Danforth Nicholas Hytner
1997Robinson in SpaceNarrator Patrick Keiller
1999 Animal Farm Boxer John Stephenson Voice
Rashi: A Light After the Dark AgesAshley LazarusVoice

(For a slightly different, more exhaustive list, see this note. [37] )





The Ambassadors

1965The State Funeral of Sir Winston ChurchillNarratorITV television special
1969Male of the SpeciesSir Emlyn BowenTelevision movie
1980If Winter ComesProfessor MoroiTelevision movie
The Curse of King Tut's Tomb NarratorVoice; Television movie
1981 Celebrity Playhouse James CalliferEpisode: The Potting Shed
1984Arena: The Life and Times of Don Luis BuñuelNarrator
1985 Anna Karenina KareninTelevision Movie
1987Mister Corbett's GhostMr. CorbettTelevision movie
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Otto Frank Television movie
1994 Genesis: The Creation and the Flood NarratorVoice
Martin Chuzzlewit Old Martin Chuzzlewit
Anthony Chuzzlewit
6 episodes
1999The Disabled CenturyNarratorVoice; 3 episodes

(for a different and more exhaustive list, see this note. [38] )

Awards and honours

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResultsRef.
1966 Academy Awards Best Actor A Man for All Seasons Won [39]
1994 Best Supporting Actor Quiz Show Nominated [40]
1971 Bodil Awards Best Actor King Lear Won [41]
1955 British Academy Film Awards Most Promising Newcomer to Film That Lady Won [42]
1967 Best British Actor A Man for All SeasonsWon [43]
1994 Best Actor in a Supporting Role Quiz ShowNominated [44]
1996 The Crucible Won [45]
1994 British Academy Television Awards Best Actor Martin Chuzzlewit Nominated [46]
1994 Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Quiz ShowNominated
1966 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama A Man for All SeasonsWon [47]
1996 Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture The CrucibleNominated
1967 Grammy Awards Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording A Man for All SeasonsNominated [48]
1968 Best Spoken Word Recording Murder in the Cathedral Nominated
1966Kansas City Film Critics Circle AwardsBest ActorA Man for All SeasonsWon [lower-alpha 1] [49]
1966 Laurel Awards Top Male Dramatic PerformanceNominated
1997 London Film Critics Circle Awards Lifetime Achievement AwardWon [50]
1966 Moscow International Film Festival Best ActorA Man for All SeasonsWon [51]
1966 National Board of Review Awards Best Actor Won [52]
1966 National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor 4th Place [53]
1994 Best Supporting Actor Quiz Show3rd Place
1966 New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor A Man for All SeasonsWon [54]
1994 Best Supporting Actor Quiz ShowNominated
1969 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Male of the SpeciesWon [55]
1996 Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama The CrucibleNominated [56]
1996Southeastern Film Critics Association AwardsBest Supporting ActorRunner-up [57]
1962 Tony Awards Best Leading Actor in a Play A Man for All Seasons Won [58]

Scofield was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1956 New Year Honours. [59] When Scofield was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for A Man for All Seasons, he declined to travel to Los Angeles to attend the ceremony. When Scofield won the award, his leading lady Wendy Hiller, whom Fred Zinnemann had cast as Lady Alice More for being, "particularly marvelous at doing a 'slow burn'", [60] went up on stage to receive the Award Statue on Scofield's behalf. According to his biographer Garry O'Connor, Scofield always kept his Oscar Statue, "put... away in the corner of his workroom". Scofield explained, "Although it was nice to get, it's not decorative, really. I suppose that's why I don't display it. But if anyone wants to see it I'll get it out." [61]

Scofield was subsequently nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Quiz Show. His many theatrical accolades include a 1962 Tony Award for A Man for All Seasons. In 1969, Scofield became the sixth performer to win the Triple Crown of Acting, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Male of the Species. He accomplished this in only seven years (1962–1969), which is still a record. He was also one of only eleven actors to win both the Tony and the Oscar for the same role on stage and film, for A Man for All Seasons. Scofield declined the honour of a knighthood on three occasions, [32] [62] but was appointed CBE in 1956 and became a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2001. [63] In 2002 he was awarded the honorary degree of D. Litt by the University of Oxford. [64]

When asked the reason for his decision to decline the knighthood, Scofield responded, "I have every respect for people who are offered [a knighthood] and accept it gratefully. It is just not an aspect of life that I would want." [65] Gary O'Connor described being knighted as, "The kind of honour from which [Scofield] instinctively recoiled. Never the actor before the part he plays." [66] In 2004, a poll of actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Ian McKellen, Donald Sinden, Janet Suzman, Ian Richardson, Antony Sher and Corin Redgrave, acclaimed Scofield's Lear as the greatest Shakespearean performance ever. [67] Scofield appeared in many radio dramas for BBC Radio 4, including in later years plays by Peter Tinniswood: On the Train to Chemnitz (2001) and Anton in Eastbourne (2002). The latter was Tinniswood's last work and was written especially for Scofield, an admirer of Anton Chekhov. He was awarded the 2002 Sam Wanamaker Prize.


Paul Scofield led the cast in several dramas issued by Caedmon Records:


(For a more exhaustive list, see this note: [68] )


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Sir Alec Guinness was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played eight different characters, The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination, and The Ladykillers (1955). He collaborated six times with director David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won both the Academy Award for Best Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), General Yevgraf Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Professor Godbole in A Passage to India (1984). In 1970, he played Jacob Marley's ghost in Ronald Neame's Scrooge. He also portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy; for the original 1977 film, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 50th Academy Awards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Garry O'Connor (writer)</span> English playwright, biographer and novelist

Garry O'Connor is an English playwright, biographer and novelist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paapa Essiedu</span> English actor

Paapa Kwaakye Essiedu is a British actor. He started his career in 2012 when he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company acting in numerous production including The Merry Wives of Windsor (2012), King Lear (2014), Hamlet (2016), and Romeo and Juliet (2016).


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