Oscar Directors: Glenville, Peter (Becket)

Peter Glenville (Peter Patrick Brabazon Browne) was born on October 28, 1913; he died June 3, 1996.

Born in Hampstead, London, into a theatrical family, Glenville was the son of Shaun Glenville, an Irish-born comedian, and Dorothy Ward, both pantomime performers.

He attended Stonyhurst College and then studied Law at Christ Church, Oxford. He was President of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and performed in many roles for them.


Glenville appeared as an actor in the UK, where he also started directing. Between 1934 and 1947 he appeared in leading roles “ranging from Tony Pirelli in Edgar Wallace’s gangster drama ‘On the Spot’ and Stephen Cass in Mary Hayley Bell’s horror thriller ‘Duet For Two Hands’ to Romeo, Prince Hal and an intense Hamlet in a production which he also directed for the Old Vic company in Liverpool…”

Glenville’s directorial debut on Broadway was Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version in 1949, which starred Maurice Evans.

Other notable productions which followed included The Innocents (1950), the stage adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which starred Douglass Watson, Jack Hawkins and marked the Broadway debut of Olivia de Havilland (1951), Rattigan’s Separate Tables (1954) and Georges Feydeau’s Hotel Paradiso (1957).

Glenville directed the Bridget Boland play The Prisoner at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in March 1954 and then at the Globe Theatre in London, starring Alec Guinness.[8] Glenville directed the 1955 film version of The Prisoner, his film directorial debut. The film also starred his friend Alec Guinness.[9]

In the 1960s, Glenville and Smith moved from London to New York and continued to work in the theatre and in films.[citation needed] From that period he directed the musical Take Me Along (1959–60), based on Eugene O’Neill’s play Ah, Wilderness!, with Jackie Gleason, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Morse, Una Merkel and Eileen Herlie.[10] In 1960, Glenville also directed Barbara Bel Geddes and Henry Fonda on Broadway in Silent Night, Lonely Night by Robert Anderson.

In 1961, he directed Jean Anouilh’s play Becket which starred Laurence Olivier as Thomas Becket and Anthony Quinn as Henry II. An erroneous story arose in later years that during the run, Quinn and Olivier switched roles and Quinn played Becket to Olivier’s King.[citation needed] Critic Howard Taubman, in his book The Making of the American Theatre, supports this story, as does a biographer of Laurence Olivier. In fact, Quinn left the production for a film, never having played Becket, and director Glenville suggested a road tour with Olivier as Henry. Olivier happily acceded and Arthur Kennedy took on the role of Becket for the tour and brief return to Broadway.

On Broadway, in 1962–63, he directed Quinn and Margaret Leighton in Tchin-Tchin. This was followed by the musical Tovarich (1963) with Vivien Leigh and Jean-Pierre Aumont. For Dylan, based on the life of Dylan Thomas (1964),

Glenville worked once again with frequent collaborator Alec Guinness. He also directed Edward Albee’s adaptation of Giles Cooper’s play Everything in the Garden (1967), John Osborne’s A Patriot for Me (1969) with Maximilian Schell, Salome Jens and Tommy Lee Jones in his Broadway debut, and Tennessee Williams’ Out Cry (1973).

He directed the films Me and the Colonel (1958) with Danny Kaye, Summer and Smoke (1961) with Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey, Term of Trial (1962) with Laurence Olivier, Simone Signoret and Sarah Miles, Becket (1964) with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, Hotel Paradiso (1966)[7] with Guinness and Gina Lollobrigida and The Comedians (1967) with Elizabeth Taylor, Burton, Guinness and Peter Ustinov.[15]

In 1970 Glenville directed another new Terence Rattigan play in the West End, A Bequest to the Nation.

In 1971 he began work on the film project of Man of La Mancha, but when he failed to agree with United Artists on the production, he bowed out. In 1973 he directed the original production of Tennessee Williams’s Out Cry on Broadway, after which he retired and eventually moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Glenville was nominated for four Tony Awards, two Golden Globe Awards (Becket and Me and the Colonel), one Academy Award (Becket) and one Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Term of Trial.

He died in New York, June 4, 1996, aged 82, from heart attack.

Glenville met Hardy William Smith (1916-2001) after the end of World War II. Smith, a US Navy veteran, wanted a career in the theater in the UK. According to his biography, Glenville and Smith became professional and life partners, with Smith producing and Glenville directing plays.

Oscar Alert

In 1964, for his helming of “Becket,” Peter Glenville competed for the Best Director Oscar with George Cukor (who won) for “My Fair Lady,” Michael Cacoyannis for “Zorba the Greek,” Stanley Kubrick for “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” and Robert Stevenson for “Mary Poppins.”

Selected Filmography

His Brother’s Keeper (1940)
Return to Yesterday (1940)
Two for Danger (1940)
Uncensored (1942)
Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945)
Becket (1964)
Hotel Paradiso (1966)
The Comedians (1967)