Ralph Richardson

Ralph Richardson


Also Known As
Sir Ralph Richardson, Ralph David Richardson
Birth Place
Cheltenham, England, GB
December 19, 1902
October 10, 1983


Described by the Times of London as "equipped to make an ordinary character seem extraordinary, or an extraordinary one seem ordinary," Sir Ralph Richardson was one of the most celebrated British actors of the 20th century. He regularly brought humor and humanity to every role he played, from unsympathetic fathers in "The Heiress" (1949) and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1962) to near...

Family & Companions

Meriel Forbes
Actor. Born on September 13, 1913; died in April 2000 at age 86.


"Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life for Me"
Gary O'Connor (1982)


Described by the Times of London as "equipped to make an ordinary character seem extraordinary, or an extraordinary one seem ordinary," Sir Ralph Richardson was one of the most celebrated British actors of the 20th century. He regularly brought humor and humanity to every role he played, from unsympathetic fathers in "The Heiress" (1949) and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1962) to nearly every great Shakespearean role and even playing God in Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits" (1981). A friend and frequent collaborator with the three great "knights" of the English acting profession - Lord Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Alec Guinness - Richardson joined them in their domination of the stage in the 1940s and 1950s. And if his film career was not as celebrated as that of Olivier or Guinness, he rarely endured bad films or overwhelming critical expectations. Viewers knew that Richardson would deliver a quietly mesmerizing performance every time he appeared on stage or screen, capturing attentions through carefully considered gestures and inflections. In doing so, he remained a presence in films from the late 1930s until the early 1980s, when he received a posthumous Oscar nomination as the Earl of Greystoke in "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). A gently eccentric but extraordinarily focused actor, he was also endearingly self-effacing, once describing the secret of his acting talent as "the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing." His accomplishments as an actor remained the high water mark for his profession after nearly six decades.

Born Ralph David Richardson in the borough of Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, England, on Dec. 19, 1902, he was the son of Arthur Richardson, an art teacher at Cheltenham Ladies' College, and his wife, Lydia Russell. Richardson's mother left his father when their son was still a baby, and she raised him in a series of homes in nearby Gloucester and other towns. He spent much of his childhood alone, and amused himself through play-acting, which spurred his interest in the theater. However, both parents had distinct ideas about Richardson's career path; his father hoped that he would take up art, while Russell wanted him to become a priest. But after brief tenures at both art school and a Jesuit seminary, he took his inheritance of 500 pounds from a grandmother and auditioned for a theater company in Brighton. The tryout went poorly, and Richardson was forced to pay 10 shillings a week to remain in the company. He was initially put in charge of the sound props, but bungled the job badly.

But after a year's time, he showed enough promise as an actor to graduate from walk-on roles to minor speaking parts and eventually, supporting and lead characters. He joined a Shakespearean repertory company and toured the United Kingdom for five seasons before joining the esteemed Birmingham Repertory Company, which counted Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield and Derek Jacobi among its later members. In 1926, he made his London stage debut in "Oedipus at Colonus," which was soon followed by his West End debut in "Yellow Sands," which co-starred his wife, actress Muriel Hewitt. Richardson's stage career hit its stride after he joined the Old Vic Theatre for two seasons; there, he performed with John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier in celebrated productions of Shakespeare's plays, which resulted in a lifelong friendship between the three men.

Richardson made his feature film debut in "The Ghoul" (1933), an atmospheric British horror film with Boris Karloff as a mystic who appeared to return from the grave, and Richardson as a seemingly harmless local vicar. By this point in his career, he was well established as one of the leading performers of the world stage, thanks to a series of acclaimed turns in W. Somerset Maugham's "Sheppy," the 1934 production of "Romeo and Juliet," for which he replaced Orson Welles as Mercutio, and Barre Lyndon's "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse," which ran for 492 performances in 1936. That same year, he signed a multi-picture deal with producer Alexander Korda, which resulted in several classic films. In William Cameron Menzies' adaptation of "The Shape of Things to Come" (1936), he was "The Boss," a brutal, petty warlord who rose to power in the wake of global devastation, while in the Technicolor comedy "The Divorce of Lady X" (1938), he played a school friend of Laurence Olivier, who was convinced that the woman he had fallen in love with (Merle Oberon) was Richardson's wife. And in the epic adventure "The Four Feathers" (1939), he gave one of the title objects, a sign of cowardice, to British officer John Clements, who in turn saved Richardson's life in battle against the Sudanese. Richardson earned his first lead in "On the Night of the Fire" (1939), a dark drama about a town barber whose impulsive theft of 100 pounds led to devastating personal ruin.

During WWII, Richardson joined Olivier in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Volunteer Reserve, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. The period was an emotionally devastating one for him; not only had his wife succumbed to sleeping sickness in 1942, but the Old Vic had been badly damaged during the German bombing raids on London. Both Richardson and Olivier were released early in 1944 to take over the company with director John Burrell. There, Richardson delivered what many would consider his finest performance, including Falstaff in a 1945 production of "Henry IV" and the title role in "Peer Gynt." His tenure at the head of the Old Vic was regarded as the greatest period in the theater's history - an opinion not shared by its board of governors, who sacked him and Olivier over fears that their popularity would overshadow that of the theater itself.

In 1947, Richardson was knighted for his contributions to the British theater. The following year, he appeared as Alexei Karenina, whose chilly relationship with his wife, Anna (Vivien Leigh) drove her to infidelity in the Korda-produced adaptation of "Anna Karenina" (1948). It preceded an acclaimed period in Richardson's film career, which included Carol Reed's "The Fallen Idol" (1948), which provided him with one of his best film roles as a butler whose young charge (Bobby Henrey) accidentally implicated him in his wife's death. In 1949, he made his Hollywood film debut in William Wyler's "The Heiress" (1949), for which he repeated his role from the stage production as Olivia de Havilland's emotionally distant father, who bullied her into rejecting her suitor (Montgomery Clift). Richardson earned an Oscar nomination for his performance, as well as the National Board of Review's award for best actor.

Richardson's stage career took something of a downward turn in the early 1950s, with critically savaged turns in "The Tempest" and a Gielgud-directed "Macbeth." He also turned down the chance to appear in the English-language debut of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," a decision he regretted for the rest of his career. Greater success was found in feature films, most notably in "Breaking the Sound Barrier" (1952), Carol Reed's drama about a wealthy airplane designer whose single-minded drive to conquer the sound barrier resulted in the death of his daughter's husband (Nigel Patrick). Richardson won his second National Board of Review Award for his stern performance, as well as the BAFTA and the New York Film Critics Award, but not the Oscar, as nearly all NYFC winners had done. Other superior film roles during this period came in "The Holly and the Ivy" (1952) as a clergyman who devoted more attention to his parish than his family, and as the corrupt Duke of Buckingham in Olivier's celebrated 1955 film version of "Richard III."

Richardson's stage career rebounded in the late 1950s with acclaimed turns in "The Flowering Cherry" in London and "The Waltz of the Toreadors" on Broadway, which brought him a Tony nomination. He also settled into a string of character turns in Hollywood and British features, most notably as the mysterious operative "C" in Reed's "Our Man in Havana" (1959) and an English general overseeing a Jewish internment camp in "Exodus" (1960). In 1962, he received one of his best screen roles as the miserly ex-actor and patriarch in Sidney Lumet's adaptation of "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1962). Abetted by Katherine Hepburn, as well as Jason Robards - the leading interpreter of O'Neill on the American stage - and Dean Stockwell, Richardson gave a searing portrait of a man no longer able to abide reality, who has descended into drink and dissolution. He and each of his castmates were each rewarded with the Best Actor and Actress Awards at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, and he soon followed it with a string of expert turns in historical epics like "The 300 Spartans" (1962) for Rudolph Mate, and "Woman of Straw" (1964), Basil Dearden's tense British noir with Sean Connery and Gina Lollobrigida as scheming lovers who plan to murder Connery's cruel uncle (Richardson). In 1965, he played Sasha Gromeko, the kindly medical professor who took Omar Sharif under his wing in David Lean's epic "Doctor Zhivago" (1965).

After "Zhivago," Richardson devoted more time to rebuilding his stage career than on screen, and his '60s era features were relegated to small but notable supporting turns as government officials in "Khartoum" (1966), opposite Olivier and Charlton Heston, "The Battle of Britain" (1969), and the espionage thriller "The Looking Glass War" (1969), based on a novel by John le Carre. He also appeared in the black comedy "The Wrong Box" (1966) alongside Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, John Mills and Michael Caine and in Spike Milligan's surreal anti-war film, "The Bed-Sitting Room" (1969), as an English lord who transformed, due to nuclear fallout, into the title room. The stage continued to be his greatest showcase, and he proved his mastery of the art in the 1960s in productions of Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and the original 1969 production of Joe Orton's controversial "What the Butler Saw" as a doctor overseeing an outbreak of sexual hysteria at a psychiatrist's office. He also teamed with Gielgud in "Home" (1970), which was filmed for broadcast on the BBC series "Play for Today" (1970-1984). The TV version was historic in that it was the sole recording of Richardson's monumental work on stage. The pair later appeared together in Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land," which, like "Home," traveled to Broadway for a successful run.

Richardson became remarkably active on film and in television during the 1970s at an age when most actors would consider a slower pace. In interviews, he stated that he could not afford to retire, not for financial reasons, but to sate his own boundless curiosity about his fellow man. There were oddities along the way, like a turn as the malevolent Crypt Keeper in the 1972 horror anthology "Tales from the Crypt," and as the Caterpillar in a 1972 adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." But he lent considerable charm and wisdom to offbeat films like Lindsay Anderson's "O Lucky Man!" (1973) and "Rollerball" (1975), and brought the weight of his theater experience to a little-seen production of "A Doll's House" (1975) with Anthony Hopkins. He also appeared alongside nearly every leading English actor, including Olivier, James Mason, Peter Ustinov, Ian Holm, Ian McShane and Michael York in "Jesus of Nazareth" (NBC, 1977).

Richardson's career eventually wound down on a positive note. After appearing as an ancient wizard in the costly, Disney-produced fantasy "Dragonslayer" (1981), he gave a charming comic performance as a disinterested Supreme Being in Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits". He then filmed his final screen appearances - as a mysterious and possibly supernatural old man in the Paul McCartney vanity project, "Give My Regards to Broadstreet" (1984) and then as the aged Earl of Greystoke in "Greystoke" The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." Richardson's warm and thoughtful performance was the high point of the latter film, which introduced audiences to Christopher Lambert. The stage was never very far away, even at this late point in his life, and he was earning rave reviews as the lead in 1983's "Inner Voices" before falling ill. On Oct. 10, 1983, he suffered a stroke and died. Both "Greystoke" and "Broad Street" were released after his passing, and Richardson earned a posthumous Oscar nomination for the former film.

Biographical data supplied by TCMdb

, 1983, he suffered a stroke and died. Both "Greystoke" and "Broad Street" were released after his passing, and Richardson earned a posthumous Oscar nomination for the former film.

Biographical data supplied by TCMdb



Director (Feature Film)

Home at Seven (1952)

Cast (Feature Film)

Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)
Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984)
Sixth Earl Of Greystoke
Witness for the Prosecution (1982)
Sir Wilfred Robarts
Dragonslayer (1981)
Time Bandits (1981)
Supreme Being
Watership Down (1978)
The Man In The Iron Mask (1977)
Rollerball (1975)
A Doll's House (1973)
Dr Rank
O Lucky Man! (1973)
Invitation to the Wedding (1973)
Eagle in a Cage (1972)
Sir Hudson Lowe
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972)
Lady Caroline Lamb (1972)
Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971)
Mr. Benton
David Copperfield (1970)
Mr Micawber
Battle of Britain (1969)
British minister in Switzerland
The Bed Sitting Room (1969)
Lord Fortnum
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
Sir Edward Grey
The Looking Glass War (1969)
Midas Run (1969)
The Wrong Box (1966)
Joseph Finsbury
Khartoum (1966)
Prime Minister Gladstone
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Alexander Gromeko
Chimes at Midnight (1965)
Woman of Straw (1964)
Charles Richmond
Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)
James Tyrone
The 300 Spartans (1962)
Exodus (1960)
Brig. Gen. Bruce Sutherland
Our Man in Havana (1960)
Oscar Wilde (1960)
Smiley (1957)
Rev. Lambeth
The Passionate Stranger (1957)
Professor Roger Winter; Sir Clement Hathaway
Richard III (1955)
Duke of Buckingham
Home at Seven (1952)
The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
Reverend Gregory
The Sound Barrier (1952)
Outcast of the Islands (1951)
Captain Lingard
The Heiress (1949)
Dr. Austin Sloper
Anna Karenina (1948)
The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Silver Fleet (1943)
The Lion Has Wings (1940)
W. C. Richardson
Clouds over Europe (1939)
Major [Charles] Hammond
The Four Feathers (1939)
Captain John Durrance
South Riding (1938)
Robert Carne
The Citadel (1938)
The Divorce of Lady X (1938)
Lord Mere
The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937)
Colonel Winstanley
Thunder in the City (1937)
Things to Come (1936)
The Boss
Alias Bulldog Drummond (1935)
Friday the 13th (1934)
Java Head (1934)
The Return of Bulldog Drummond (1934)
Hugh Drummond
The Ghoul (1933)
Nigel Hartley

Cast (Special)

Twelfth Night (1990)
Sir Toby Belch
Early Days (1986)
Laurence Olivier -- A Life (1986)
Directed By William Wyler (1986)
William (1973)

Cast (Short)

Moscow in Madrid (1965)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Jesus of Nazareth (Do Not Use) (1977)
Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
Mr Lacey

Life Events


Professional stage debut as Lorenzo in "The Merchant of Venice"


Film acting debut in "The Ghoul"




Only film as director (also starred), "Home at Seven"

Photo Collections

The Fallen Idol - Movie Poster
Here is the 1-sheet movie poster from the American release of the British film The Fallen Idol (1948), starring Ralph Richardson. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.


Movie Clip

Woman Of Straw (1964) -- (Movie Clip) I Want A Pretty Nurse Wealthy grouch Charles Richmond (Ralph Richardson), slick nephew Anthony (Sean Connery) and their attitudes are introduced in the opening sequence from director Basil Dearden's Woman Of Straw, 1964, from the Catherine Arley novel, shooting at Audley End House, Saffron Walden, Essex, UK.
Woman Of Straw (1964) -- (Movie Clip) A Gross, Clumsy, Vulgar Oaf Shooting on a yacht off Mallorca, now plotting with his nephew (Sean Connery as Anthony) to marry Richmond (Ralph Richardson) for his money, nurse Maria (Gina Lollobrigida) discusses Anthony’s mother, whom Richmond married after driving his brother, Anthony’s father, to suicide, with each of them, in Woman Of Straw, 1964.
Things to Come (1936) -- (Movie Clip) Opening, 1940, War The ominous credit and opening sequence from Things to Come, 1936, from H.G. Wells' screenplay and novel, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by famed production designer William Cameron Menzies.
Holly And The Ivy, The (1952) -- (Movie Clip) The Conquest Of Peru On Christmas eve, Jenny (not-yet Dame Celia Johnson, until 1958) is just explaining to David (John Gregson) that she can’t marry him and move to South America because she dares not leave her widower vicar father (Ralph Richardson, only six years Johnson’s senior) whom we meet now, and who hasn’t even realized they’re involved, in The Holly And The Ivy, 1952.
Holly And The Ivy, The (1952) -- (Movie Clip) You've Always Got A Headache Relations arriving for Christmas at the Norfolk vicarage where Jenny (Celia Johnson) keeps house for her widow father Rev. Gregory (Ralph Richardson), greeting brother in law Richard (Hugh Williams), seeing off her semi-secret beau David (John Gregson), managing aunts (Maureen Delany, Margaret Halstan) and soldier brother (Denholm Elliott), Margaret Leighton traveling alone, in The Holly And The Ivy, 1952.
Four Feathers, The (1939) -- (Movie Clip) Plenty For Other Men The four young officers introduced as adults, Ralph Richardson as Captain John, John Clements, Jack Allen and Donald Gray as lieutenants Harry, Willoughby and Peter, tension as their mission to Egypt is revealed, in Zoltan Korda's version of the A.E.W. Mason novel, The Four Feathers, 1939.
Four Feathers, The (1939) -- (Movie Clip) Captain Durrance British Captain Durrance (Ralph Richardson) on patrol in the Sudan, locates the enemy but fails to make it back to warn his colleagues, director Zoltan Korda shooting in Technicolor on the genuine location, in The Four Feathers, 1939.
Bed Sitting Room, The (1969) -- (Movie Clip) I Don't Want A Bathroom! In the underground, Father (Arthur Lowe) finds 17-months pregnant Penelope (Rita Tushingham) with Alan (Richard Warwick), then Nurse (Marty Feldman) examines Lord Fortnum (Ralph Richardson), in Richard Lester's post-nuclear-war comedy The Bed Sitting Room, 1969.
Bed Sitting Room, The (1969) -- (Movie Clip) The Nuclear Misunderstanding From director Richard Lester's post-apocalytic comedy, Frank Thornton (as "The BBC") updates Capt. Martin (Michael Hordern) on pre-war events (Bill Wallis as "The Prime Minister," Ralph Richardson as "Lord Fortnum") in The Bed Sitting Room, 1969.
Chimes At Midnight (1965) -- (Movie Clip) The Days That We've Seen Writer-director Orson Welles as Falstaff and Alan Webb as Shallow open, Ralph Richardson narrates and John Gielgud as Henry IV assumes control, in Welles’ under-financed project, shot over two years in Spain, sampling Falstaff’s story from five Shakespeare plays, Chimes At Midnight, 1965.
Exodus (1960) -- (Movie Clip) Up To Our Necks In Jews From director Otto Preminger’s opening, American nurse Kitty (Eva Marie Saint) learns from Sutherland (Ralph Richardson), the British commander on Cyprus, about the death of her journalist husband, and meets Caldwell (Peter Lawford), who has views about Jewish refugees, in Exodus, 1960.
Fallen Idol, The (1948) -- (Movie Clip) I Mostly Let Them Live Director Carol Reed shooting at the zoo in London’s Regent’s Park, diplomat’s son Phil (Bobby Henrey) with his beloved but self-aggrandizing and philandering butler Baines (Ralph Richardson), meeting his lover (Michele Morgan), whom he’s explained is his niece, in The Fallen Idol, 1948.


Doll's House, A (1973) -- (Original Trailer) British trailer for the 1973 adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play, by the well known English theater director Patrick Garland, starring Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Richardson, A Doll’s House.
Khartoum - (Original Trailer) Charlton Heston stars as the British general Gordon sent to stop The Mahdi (Laurence Olivier) from taking Khartoum (1966).
Exodus - (Textless trailer) Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint lead an all-star cast in Otto Preminger's epic about the formation of the modern state of Israel, Exodus (1960).
Doctor Zhivago - (Academy Award Trailer) Illicit lovers fight to stay together during the turbulent years of the Russian Revolution in David Lean's epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago (1965).
Long Day's Journey Into Night - (Wide release trailer) Katharine Hepburn and a great cast star in Sidney Lumet's movie of Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), Eugene O'Neill's play about his own family's terrible secrets.
Battle Of Britain - (Original Trailer) Michael Caine and Sir Laurence Olivier head an all-star cast in the story of the Battle Of Britain (1969).
Rollerball - (Original Trailer) The star of a bloodthirsty future sport tries to clean up the game before it kills him in Rollerball (1975) starring James Caan.
Citadel, The - (Original Trailer) A struggling doctor is tempted to give up his ideals for a posh high-society practice in The Citadel (1938), directed by King Vidor.
Heiress, The - (Original Trailer) Olivia de Havilland earned her second Academy Award playing The Heiress (1949) whose money attracts fortune hunter Montgomery Clift.


Charles Richardson
Born on January 1, 1945; deceased.


Meriel Forbes
Actor. Born on September 13, 1913; died in April 2000 at age 86.


"Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life for Me"
Gary O'Connor (1982)