Oscar-winning actor Paul Scofield dies
LONDON – Paul Scofield, a commanding stage and screen actor indelibly stamped on filmgoers’ minds as the doomed philosopher-statesman Sir Thomas More in “A Man For All Seasons,” has died at age 86.
Agent Rosalind Chatto said Thursday that Scofield died in a hospital near his home in southern England. He had been suffering from leukemia and died Wednesday.
Scofield won an Academy Award and international fame for the 1966 film “A Man For All Seasons,” in which he played the Tudor statesman and author of “Utopia” executed for treason in 1535 after clashing with King Henry VIII.
But he followed that breakthrough with relatively few film roles. Scofield was a stage actor by inclination and by his gifts ó a dramatic, craggy face and an unforgettable voice likened to a Rolls-Royce starting up or the sound rumbling out of low organ pipes in an ancient crypt.
“He had a charisma, a hypnotism, a kind of spell that he cast on an audience, which was an extraordinary thing to negotiate as a young actor,” said Simon Callow, who performed alongside Scofield in the play “Amadeus” in 1979. “He was an absolutely towering actor.”
Judi Dench, who appeared with Scofield in Kenneth Branagh’s film of “Henry V” in 1989, remembered him as “a great friend and a great man.”
Even Scofield’s greatest screen role was a follow-up to a play ó the London stage production of Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons,” in which he starred for nine months. Scofield then turned in a performance in the 1961 New York production that won him extraordinary reviews and a Tony Award.
“With a kind of weary magnificence, Scofield sinks himself into the part, studiously underplays it, and somehow displays the inner mind of a man destined for sainthood,” Time magazine said.
Actor Richard Burton, once regarded as the natural heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud at the summit of British theater, said it was Scofield who deserved that place. “Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield’s,” he said.
Scofield’s infrequent films included Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance”; “Henry V,” in which he played the king of France; “Quiz Show,” Robert Redford’s film about a 1950s TV scandal; and the 1996 adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible.”
“Quiz Show” brought Scofield a second Oscar nomination, this time as best supporting actor. He played Mark Van Doren, the famed author and poet whose son, Charles, was the key figure in the scandal.
Scofield was an unusual star ó a family man who lived almost his whole life within a few miles of his birthplace in southern England and hurried home after work to his wife and children. He didn’t seek the spotlight, gave interviews sparingly and, at times, seemed to need coaxing to venture out even onto the stage he loved.
But, he insisted in The Sunday Times in 1992: “My reclusiveness is a myth. … I suppose I’m not wildly gregarious. Yes, I’ve turned down quite a lot of parts. At my age you need to weed things out, but the idea that I can’t be bothered anymore with acting ó that’s quite absurd. Acting is all I can do. An actor: That’s what I am.”
Scofield reportedly had been offered a knighthood, but declined.
“It is just not an aspect of life that I would want,” he once said. “If you want a title, what’s wrong with Mr.?”
In 2001, however, he was named a Companion of Honor, one of the country’s top honors and limited to 65 living people.
His temperament, too, was unexpected in an actor who remained at the very top of his profession.
“It is hard not to be Polyanna-ish about Paul because he is such a manifestly good man, so humane and decent, and curiously void of ego,” said director Richard Eyre, former artistic director of Britain’s National Theatre. “All the pride he has is channeled through the thing that he does brilliantly.”
David Paul Scofield was born Jan. 21, 1922, son of the village schoolmaster in Hurstpierpoint, eight miles from the southern coast of England. When he married actress Joy Parker in 1943, they settled only 10 miles to the north, in the village of Balcombe.
Scofield trained at the Croydon Repertory Theater School and London’s Mask Theater School before World War II. Barred from military service during the war for medical reasons, he toured in plays to entertain troops and acted in repertory in factory towns around the country.
All through the 1940s, he worked repertory and in London and Stratford in plays ranging from Shakespeare and Shaw to Steinbeck and Chekhov.
In his 20s and 30s, he worked with director Peter Brook, touring as Hamlet in 1955. The collaboration included the stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” in 1956, which Gielgud regarded as Scofield’s greatest performance.
Scofield’s huge success with “A Man for All Seasons” was followed in 1979 by another great historical stage role, as the thwarted composer Salieri opposite Callow’s Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus.”
His later stage appearances included “Heartbreak House” in 1992 and the 1996 National Theatre production of Ibsen’s “John Gabriel Borkman.”
He is survived by his wife and children.
Oscar-winning actor Paul Scofield dies