Rex Harrison

(1908 - 1990)

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Rex Harrison
1908 - 1990
Born
March 5, 1908
England United Kingdom
Death
1990
New York, New York County, New York United States
Other Names
Reginald Carey Harrison
Summary
Rex Harrison was born on March 5, 1908 in England. He died in 1990 in New York, New York at 81 years of age.
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Updated: May 20, 2020
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Biography
Rex Harrison
Most commonly known name
Rex Harrison
Full name
Reginald Carey Harrison
Nickname(s) or aliases
New York, New York County, New York 10017
Last known residence
Male
Gender
Rex Harrison was born on in England United Kingdom
Birth
Rex Harrison died in in New York, New York County, New York United States
Death
Rex Harrison was born on in England United Kingdom
Rex Harrison died in in New York, New York County, New York United States
Birth
Death
Heritage
Childhood
Adulthood

Professions

Rex Harrison
Born March 5, 1908 in Huyton, Lancashire, England, UK [now Huyton, Knowsley, Merseyside, England, UK]
Died June 2, 1990 in New York City, New York, USA (pancreatic cancer)
Birth Name Reginald Carey Harrison
Nickname Sexy Rexy
Height 6' 1" (1.86 m)
Mini Bio (1)
Rex Harrison was born Reginald Carey Harrison in Huyton, Lancashire, England, to Edith Mary (Carey) and William Reginald Harrison, a cotton broker. He changed his name to Rex as a young boy, knowing it was the Latin word for "King". Starting out on his theater career at age 18, his first job at the Liverpool Rep Theatre was nearly his last - dashing across the stage to say his one line, made his entrance and promptly blew it. Fates were kind, however, and soon he began landing roles in the West End. "French Without Tears", a play by Terence Rattigan, proved to be his breakthrough role. Soon he was being called the "greatest actor of light comedy in the world". Having divorced his first wife Collette Thomas in 1942, he married German actress Lilli Palmer. The two began appearing together in many plays and British films. He attained international fame when he portrayed the King in Anna and the King of Siam (1946), his first American film. After a sex scandal, in which starlet Carole Landis apparently committed suicide because he ended their affair, the relationship with wife Lilli became strained. Rex (by this time known as "Sexy Rexy" for his philandering ways and magnetic charm) began a relationship with British actress Kay Kendall and divorced Lilli to marry the terminally ill Kay with hopes of a re-marriage to Palmer upon Kay's death. The death of Kay affected Harrison greatly and Lilli never returned to him. During this time Rex was offered the defining role of his career: Professor Henry Higgins in the original production of "My Fair Lady". He won the Tony for the play and an Oscar for the film version. In 1962 Harrison married actress Rachel Roberts. This union and the one following it to Elizabeth Harris (Richard's ex) also ended in divorce. In 1978 Rex met and married Mercia Tinker. He and Mercia remained happily married until his death in 1990. She was also with him in 1989 when he was granted his much-deserved and long awaited knighthood at Buckingham Palace. Rex Harrison died of pancreatic cancer three weeks after his last stage appearance, as Lord Porteous in W. Somerset Maugham's "The Circle".
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Peacham


Quit smoking after suffering from pains in his legs.
Continued to act on Broadway until almost the very end of his life despite suffering from pancreatic cancer, painful teeth and glaucoma in his only eye.
By the time the film version of My Fair Lady (1964), producer Jack L. Warner was concerned that Harrison, by then, in his mid-50s, was too old to play Henry Higgins, as the character was supposed to be in his late 30s.
Contrary to some sources, Harrison was never considered to play James Bond in Dr. No (1962) because of his age.
First came to notice in the London stage version of "French Without Tears" in 1937, but was not considered for the 1940 film version since he was unknown in Hollywood.
Twice appeared with fellow Academy Award winner Claudette Colbert late in their careers in Broadway productions; "The Kingfisher" by William Douglas-Home opening at the Biltmore Theatre on December 16, 1978, running for 181 performances and "Aren't We All" by Frederick Lonsdale, opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 2, 1985, running for 93 performances.
He was created a Knight Bachelor in the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to drama.
Starred in a play at the Santa Monica Playhouse in the 1980s.
Starred in two films that almost ruined Twentieth Century-Fox--Cleopatra (1963) and Doctor Dolittle (1967). The latter effectively destroyed his careers as a leading man.
Was in four Oscar Best Picture nominees: The Citadel (1938) Cleopatra (1963), My Fair Lady (1964) and Doctor Dolittle (1967). My Fair Lady was the only winner.
Wasn't particularly liked by some of his fellow actors. He had been looked upon as egocentric, abusive, disagreeable and generally odious.
He has appeared in one film that has been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: My Fair Lady (1964).
Personal Quotes (18)
[When asked if he received any special privileges upon becoming a knight]: Alas, no. In the old days I believe you at least got a couple of horses out of the deal.
There is always a struggle, a striving for something bigger than yourself in all forms of art. And even if you don't achieve greatness, even if you fail, which we all must, everything you do in your work is somehow connected with your attitude toward life, your deepest secret feelings.
Exhilaration is that feeling you get just after a great idea hits you, and just before you realize what's wrong with it.
When I was ten we moved and I decided that none of the names I was then called - Reggie, Bobby, Baa - suited me. Somehow I hit on Rex. I must have heard someone calling for their dog and thought it sounded rather nice.
Whatever it is that makes a person charming, it needs to remain a mystery once the charmer is aware of a mannerism or characteristic that others find charming, it ceases to be a mannerism and becomes an affectation. And good Lord, there is nothing less charming than affectations!
[After viewing The Sound of Music (1965)]: That was the only time I've ever rooted for the Nazis.
by Rachel Roberts, Harrison's fourth wife]: Rex cannot be pleased. Servants have got slapped with his tongue or hand. Eventually his servants and wives leave him. Rex is one of those who thinks living well is the best revenge. It may be, but the revenge is taken out on his nearest and dearest.
[Rex's son, Noel Harrison, recalling sitting watching a storm with his father and Rex exclaiming this when a bolt of lightning obliterated a tree in their yard]: Well hit, God!
It takes a long time to learn to treat the camera as a friend and confidant, which finally you have to do if you're to become a good film actor.
[1980]: I'm now at the age where I've got to prove that I'm just as good as I never was.
Wives are like gilt-edged stocks. The more you have, the greater your dividends.
Heston is an enormously tall man - if I'm six foot one, he must be about six foot three - and I asked my wardrobe man, as I was wearing long robes, to put a little lift in my shoes, so that I could gain a couple of inches, and meet Heston at his own level. The lifts were duly put in, and I eyed Heston and congratulated myself that at least he no longer towered above me. As the film went on, however, it seemed to me that he was growing. Eyeball to eyeball he was once more a couple of inches taller than I. I looked down at his feet - not a sign of lifts! He must have grown through sheer tenacity. Nether of us made any comment, nor did our wardrobe men - it was a very funny, silent contest. - On making The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) with Charlton Heston
Eliza Doolittle is supposed to be ill at ease in European ballrooms. Bloody Audrey has never spent a day in her life out of European ballrooms. - On My Fair Lady (1964)
The important thing is to learn through experience. The more you do the more you learn. I don't think anyone can teach acting from a podium.
My contract for 'My Fair Lady' was for nine months only - but how could you leave a show like that? It was all far too exciting, and I stayed with it for two years.
Originally I had a block about appearing in a musical. I went to a voice teacher for a while, but that did no good. My range is about one and a half notes. I ended up talking the musical numbers, which was revolutionary at the time. The lyrics are extremely intricate. They move along like a precisely acted scene. If you miss a word - heaven help you - the orchestra rattles past like an express train, and you've got to run like the devil to catch up.
His reply to how he felt being Knighted by the Queen on July 25th 1989: It was a marvelous moment kneeling there and getting tapped on the shoulder.
Lana Turner is to an evening gown what Frank Lloyd Wright is to a pile of lumber.
Salary (4)
Anna and the King of Siam (1946) $4,000 /week
Cleopatra (1963) $300,000
My Fair Lady (1964) $250,000
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) $500,000

Personal Life

Spouse (6)
Mercia Tinker (17 December 1978 - 2 June 1990) ( his death)
Elizabeth Rees (26 August 1971 - 16 December 1975) ( divorced)
Rachel Roberts (21 March 1962 - 19 February 1971) ( divorced)
Kay Kendall (22 June 1957 - 6 September 1959) ( her death)
Lilli Palmer (25 January 1943 - 6 February 1957) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
Noel Marjorie Collette Thomas (1933 - 1942) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
Trade Mark (3)
Adopted his "Henry Higgins" hat as his favorite form of headwear
A clipped, witty, off-the-cuff line delivery
The role of Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady"
Trivia (45)
Winner of two Tony Awards for Best actor for "Anne of the Thousand Days" and "My Fair Lady".
Hated the nickname given to him by the press, "Sexy Rexy".
Turned down the role of The King in The King and I (1956). The role went to Yul Brynner. Harrison had previously played the role in the non-musical Anna and the King of Siam (1946).
Died three weeks after his final stage appearance as Lord Porteous in "The Circle" (1990).
Was so fanatical about wine that he often sent the bottles back if it was not to his liking, sometimes even to his own wine cellar.
Frequently wore a specific ring with a dark square-cut stone, on his little finger of his left hand. It appears in almost all of his films.
Was almost completely blind in one eye as the result of a childhood bout of measles.
Has a style of hat named after him.
Father, with Lilli Palmer, of Carey Harrison, born in 1944.
Father, with Collette Thomas, of Noel Harrison.
Grandfather of Cathryn Harrison, Harriet Harrison, Simon Harrison, Chloe Harrison and Will Harrison.
Was cremated and part of his ashes were scattered in Italy in Portofino and on the grave of his second wife, Lilli Palmer.
Won three Tony Awards: in 1949, as Best Actor (Dramatic) for "Anne of the Thousand Days"; in 1957, as Best Actor (Musical) for "My Fair Lady", which he recreated in an Oscar-winning performance in the film version of the same title, My Fair Lady (1964) and a Special Tony Award in 1969. He was also nominated in 1984 as Best Actor (Play) for his role as Capt. Shotover in George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House".
Member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965.
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England at the age of 81. At the time of his investiture as a knight, Harrison stated that he thought his best film performance was not as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964), for which he'd won his Oscar, but as Julius Caesar in Cleopatra (1963), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. [1989]
Turned down the role of the Prince in the Broadway production of Noël Coward's "The Girl Who Came To Supper" in order to do My Fair Lady (1964). The role went to José Ferrer.
Once punched Frank Sinatra in the jaw, thinking the singer was hitting on his wife, Lilli Palmer. Afterwards the two men became good friends.
Turned down the lead role in 13 Rue Madeleine (1946). It then went to James Cagney.
When he accepted his Academy Award for My Fair Lady (1964), he dedicated it to his "two fair ladies", Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews. Andrews had played Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway production, but was passed over for the film version in favor of Hepburn.
Is the basis for the voice of Stewie Griffin on Family Guy (1999).
One of only nine actors to have won both a Tony and an Oscar for having portrayed the same role on stage and screen (My Fair Lady (1964)). The others are: Joel Grey (Cabaret (1972)); Shirley Booth (Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)); Yul Brynner (The King and I (1956)); Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker (1962)); Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons (1966)); Jack Albertson (The Subject Was Roses (1968)), José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)) and Viola Davis (Fences (2016))..
To accommodate Harrison's inability to sing, composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner reworked Henry Higginis's numbers into "patter songs," whose lyrics can be spoken rather than sung, with just the orchestra carrying the melody.
He had a reputation for being very abrupt with his fans. One night, after a stage performance of "My Fair Lady," it was late, cold and pouring rain and an old woman was standing alone outside the stage door. As Rex emerged, she asked him for his autograph. Rex told her abruptly to "Sod off"; the old woman was so enraged that she rolled up her program and struck him with it. Harrison's co-star Stanley Holloway, who had followed Rex out in time to see this, commented sarcastically that, for the first time in theater history, "The fan has hit the s***!".
Discovered Carole Landis' body the day she committed suicide. He had dined with her the previous night.
Brother-in-law of David Maxwell Fyfe, one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, later British Home Secretary from 1951-54 and Lord Chancellor from 1954-62.
The name he took professionally, Rex, is the Latin word for "king.".
Chuck Jones has stated that Bugs Bunny's character was based on an amalgam of Rex Harrison, Dorothy Parker and D'Artagnan.
His character in Doctor Dolittle (1967) may have been able to talk to the animals, but Harrison couldn't avoid being bitten by them during filming.
He was reportedly considered for the role of Nicholas II in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971); the part ultimately went to British stage actor Michael Jayston. However, a recent biography of producer Sam Spiegel claims that Harrison was in fact never offered the part, since at 63 he was too old to play the Tsar, who was only 50 at the time of his death. Harrison was in fact offered the role of Count Witte, but replied, "Tell him [Spiegel] that I don't play bit parts." Laurence Olivier apparently had no reservations as to accepting a "bit part," and accepted the role of Count Witte.
Won a 1969 Special Tony Award (New York City).
In a 1963 interview his friend Dirk Bogarde named Harrison as the actor who had influenced him most.
Retired from films in 1979 after making A Time to Die (1982), but continued to act on Broadway and television.
Entirely self-taught, Harrison never took acting lessons.
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Rex Harrison died in 1990 in New York, New York at 81 years old. He was born on March 5, 1908 in England. We are unaware of information about Rex's family or relationships.

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Rex's lifetime.

In 1908, in the year that Rex Harrison was born, President Theodore Roosevelt held the White House Conservation Conference, which lead to the establishment of the National Conservation Commission. Preparing the first inventory of the United State's natural resources, the commission was divided into four parts: water, forests, lands, and minerals.

In 1964, Rex was 56 years old when on February 9th, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. 73 million people watched - although the Beatles couldn't be heard because of the loud screaming of the female teenage audience.

In 1977, Rex was 69 years old when on January 20th, Jimmy Carter became the 39th President of the United States. Running against incumbent Gerald Ford, he won 50.1% of the popular vote to Ford's 48.0%. He was elected to only one term.

In 1982, by the time he was 74 years old, on September 14th, Princess Grace of Monaco (American actress Grace Kelly), 52, died of injuries when her car plunged off a mountain road. Her 17 year old daughter, Stephanie, was also in the car and suffered serious injuries but recovered. It's believed that the accident was caused when Princess Grace, who was driving, had a mild stroke.

In 1990, in the year of Rex Harrison's passing, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, the leader of the movement to end South African apartheid was released on February 11th 1990.

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