Mostly Credited As: Rex Harrison
Sometimes Credited As: Sir Rex Harrison
Sir Reginald “Rex” Carey Harrison
Birth Name: Reginald Carey Harrison
Date Of Birth: March 05, 1908 (Age 82)
Country Of Birth: United Kingdom
Birth Place: Huyton-with-Roby, Lancashire, NW England
Date Of Death: June 02, 1990
Cause Of Death: Pancreatic Cancer (New York, New York, USA)
Height: 6' 1" (1.85 m)
Debonair, fastidious British star, in his early years a roguish leading man in sophisticated drawing-room comedies, but later a superb character actor, best remembered as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964), an Oscar-winning reprise of the part he created on Broadway. A starstruck youngster who always wanted to be an actor, Harrison joined a repertory company while still in his teens; by 1930 he'd worked his way to the London stage. During the 1930s he made a name for himself in witty, urbane comedies, and he charmed American audiences upon hitting Broadway in 1936. Harrison broke into films shortly after scoring his initial stage success, appearing in The Great Game, School for Scandal (both 1930), Get Your Man (1934), All at Sea (1935), Men Are Not Gods (1936), Over the Moon, School for Husbands, Storm in a Teacup (all 1937), The Citadel, Sidewalks of London (both 1938), and Ten Days in Paris (1939), mostly in support.
Night Train to Munich (1940), a Hitchcockian thriller directed by Carol Reed, gave Harrison top billing and was the first of his films to receive significant U.S. distribution. He costarred with Wendy Hiller in the delightful adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara (1941) before taking a hiatus to serve in the R.A.F. (achieving the rank of flight lieutenant) during World War 2. Immediately after the war, in 1945, he starred in three successive hits-Noël Coward and David Lean's Blithe Spirit, A Yank in London and The Rake's Progress (aka Notorious Gentleman-and was wooed to Hollywood by 20th Century-Fox's DarrylF. Zanuck.
Harrison was initially served well by his relationship with Fox. He played the Oriental potentate in Anna and the King of Siam (1946, opposite Irene Dunne), a philandering colonial in The Foxes of Harrow (opposite Maureen O'Hara), and a suave spirit in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir oppo site Gene Tierney (both 1947). He was then cast opposite Linda Darnell in Unfaithfully Yours (1948), a mordant comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges, in which he played a jealous symphony conductor who fantasizes about murdering the devoted wife he suspects of infidelity. It was one of Harrison's favorites, a brilliant comedy-though a flop in its day.
In 1948 Harrison, at that time married to actress Lilli Palmer, was implicated in the suicide of actress Carole Landis, with whom he'd had an affair. Harrison, whom the gossip columnists referred to as "Sexy Rexy," fled to England, where he filmed Escape (1948), and found his popularity unaffected by the scandal. After several years of stage work, he returned to movies in The Long Dark Hall (1951), and even returned to the States, this time with Palmer in tow, to star in the charming two-character piece The Four Poster (1952). (They also made a cameo appearance as themselves in 1953's Main Street to Broadway Thereafter he alternated stage appearances with British film chores and Hollywood assignments, starring in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), The Constant Husband (1955, with Kay Kendall, whom he was to marry in 1957), The Reluctant Debutante (1958, again with Kendall), Midnight Lace (1960), The Happy Thieves (1962), Cleopatra (1963, Oscar-nominated for his turn as Julius Caesar), and The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1965).
After his My Fair Lady triumph, an elegantly middle-aged Harrison appeared in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965, as Pope Julius II opposite Charlton Heston's Michelangelo), The Honey Pot (1967, as a modern Volpone), andDoctor Dolit- tle (also 1967, as the amiable eccentric who talks to the animals, one of his most charming portrayals). But there were fewer leading roles available to him onscreen. After completing the French farce A Flea in Her Ear (1968) and Staircase (1969, in which he took the unexpected role of Richard Burton's gay lover), he was offscreen for nearly a decade before appearing in Crossed Swords (1978), a Prince and the Pauper remake. He made three films in 1979-The Fifth Musketeer, Ashanti and A Time to Die (the latter unreleased until 1983)-before saying goodbye to motion pictures. He appeared in one lone telefilm,Anastasia: The Mys tery of Anna (1986), and then returned to the stage for good, working in London, on Broadway, and on tour in a series of popular stage revivals (including "My Fair Lady") right up to the time of his death from cancer. Harrison, whose six wives also included actress Rachel Roberts, was knighted in 1989. He wrote an autobiography, "Rex," in 1974; another book about the art of comedy, "A Damned Serious Business," was released posthumously in 1990.
Copyright © 1994 Leonard Maltin