Oscar Winner Paul Scofield Dies
By Josh Grossberg
Thu, 20 Mar 2008
Paul Scofield, the British stage legend often hailed as the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation and an Oscar winner for his soaring performance in 1966's A Man for All Seasons, has died. He was 86.
His agent, Rosalind Chatto, told reporters Scofield passed away peacefully Wednesday in a hospital near his home in southern England. He was suffering from leukemia and had been ill for some time.
Scofield was considered one of the giants of the British theater during its post-World War II heyday, playing virtually every major Shakespearean role and conquering both the West End and Broadway with his authoritative presence, weather-beaten countenance and low, rumbling voice.
But it wasn't until he originated the part of rebellious Tudor statesman Sir Thomas More in the 1960 London stage production of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons that Scofield finally earned the international fame he so richly deserved. He reprised the role a year later along the Great White Way, nabbing a Tony for his efforts.
Four years later, director Fred Zinneman brought the thesp back for the film version, which garnered six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and a Best Actor Oscar for Scofield.
In 1969, Scofield became just the sixth performer to win what's often referred to as the Triple Crown of Acting—a Tony, an Academy Award and an Emmy, the last honor collected for the 1969 NBC telefilm Male of the Species.
Despite the acclaim, Scofield preferred the boards to TV and film, routinely turning down offers. But when he did appear on the screen, the results were marvelous.
Aside from A Man for All Seasons, Scofield's other memorable celluloid turns included a German colonel in John Frankenheimer's 1964 espionage thriller The Train, costarring Burt Lancaster and Jeanne Moreau; a 1970 adaptation of Herman Melville's Bartleby; the title role in Peter Brook's 1971 film version of King Lear; reuniting with Lancaster again for another spy flick, 1973's Scorpio; the French king in Kenneth Branagh's bloody, action-packed take on Henry V; and the Ghost in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson.
More recently he played poet Mark Van Doren in 1994's Quiz Show, which earned him another Oscar nomination, and merciless Judge Thomas Danforth opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in 1996's The Crucible, Scofield's last major motion picture.
On the tube, Scofield distinguished himself in BBC2 Playhouse productions; appeared as Karenin opposite Christopher Reeve and Jacqueline Bisset in 1985's TV movie Anna Karenina; and played Anne Frank's father, Otto Frank, in the 1988 telefilm The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank.
But the stage remained his first love.
"Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's," Richard Burton once said of his contemporary, regarding him as the true successor to the likes of Sir Lawrence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud.
Scofield displayed an unusual humility, reportedly declining numerous offers of knighthood, though he did accept an invitation to become a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Instead, he preferred to lead a quiet life with his wife and two children in the small country village of Balcome outside of London, not far from the West End theaters where he made his name.
In a rare 1992 interview, Scofield summed up his attitude.
"If you want a title, what's wrong with Mister? If you have always been that, then why lose your title? I have a title, which is the same one that I have always had. But it's not political. I have a CBE, which I accepted very gratefully."
However, he was eventually appointed a Companion of Honor on the 2001 New Year's Honours List.
Born in Sussex, England, on Jan. 21, 1922, to the son of a village headmaster, David Paul Scofield took to acting early in life. After getting a taste of the stage during his primary-school years in Brighton, he went on to train at some of Britain's elite theatrical schools.
When the war started, Scofield was ineligible for military service because of a medical condition and ended up joining an acting troupe and entertaining the troops.
It wasn't until after the war that he took to the stage, appearing in everything from Love's Labour's Lost and Cymbeline to Hamlet and a 1956 stage version of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory.
Among his greatest latter-day roles was as Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus in 1979, which he played on both sides of the Atlantic. His last great performance came in a 1996 National Theatre production of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman.
Scofield is survived by his wife, actress Joy Parker, a son and a daughter.