Alec Guinness Overview:

Legendary actor, Alec Guinness, was born Alec Guinness de Cuffe on Apr 2, 1914 in Marylebone, England. Guinness died at the age of 86 on Aug 5, 2000 in Midhurst, london and was laid to rest in Petersfield Cemetery in Petersfield Hampshire, England.

Early Life

Alec Guinness de Cuffe was born on April 2nd, 1914 in Passington, London, England. By all accounts his childhood was not an easy one. Not only was his mother, Agnes se Cuffe, an insecure young lass, the young Alec grew up never even knowing the true identity of his father either. Agnes eventually married a British solider who fought in the Irish War of Independence and developed shell-shock (now known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) as a result. Due to lack of both understanding and treatment of the disease, Guinness's stepfather was violent towards his new family and often terrified the sensitive child.  

Guinness suspected a man named Andrew Geddes was his father. Geddes routinely visited his mother, posing as an uncle and financed Guinness's expensive boarding education at Fettes College. Guinness would graduate from Fette in 1932 and started to work as an apprentice copywriter for an advertising agency in London. It was during this time that Guinness found his passion for acting and would go to the theatre multiple times a week. He began to study the it as an art form and eventually received a scholarship to the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art. Upon his graduation, he was awards the school's annual graduation prize, which was presented to him by John Gielgud.

Early Acting Career

In 1934 Guinness made his theatre debut with a small non-speaking role in play Libel at the old King's Theatre, Hammersmith. When the play moved to the Playhouse, so did Guinness along with a nifty increase in salary. In 1936 Guinness was then approached by Gielgud to play the part of Osric in his production of Hamlet at the Albery Theatre. The role was the first major turning point in his career and soon Guinness was signed onto the Old Vic theatre. He played a variety of classic and Shakespeare roles, acting in plays such as The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth Night. He received particular acclaim for his modern interpretation with leading role of Hamlet.

During this time, Guinness began to build a network of actors and actress that he would work with for much of his career including his mentor John Gieldgud, Anthony Qualye and Ralph Richardson. In 1939 Guinness received wide-acclaim for his stage adaption the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations, playing the Herbert Pocket. He would later reprise the role on screen.

World War II

Guinness remained at the Old Vic until the outbreak of World War II, which prompted him into military service. In 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, serving as a seaman. The next year he was commissioned as a first lieutenant of a Tank Landing Craft before he was dispatched to the United States to take command of a Landing Craft Infantry. The acting bug never left Guinness, even during wartime. While in America he was granted to leave to act in a Broadway Play Flare Path, playing Flight Lieutenant Graham.

Guinness would spend his the remainder of his service in command of a landing craft. In 1943 he landed troops in Italy for the Allied Invasion of Sicily. The next year he navigated through a hurricane and succeeded in entering the Italian port of Termoli. Later Guinness took command of another Landing Craft Infantry, ferrying supplies to the Yugoslav partisans, and taking their injured to the Mediterranean, now in Allied control.

Post-War Career

After his discharge from the military, Guinness returned to acting. He continued his tenure at the Old Vic, appearing as the Fool in King Lear opposite Laurence Olivier, following that with Cyrano de Bergerac as DeGuiche opposite his friend Ralph Richardson. He later made his leading debut in Shakespeare's Richard II. During this time Guinness also began to develop his film career. In 1946 director David Lean pursued the stage actor to appear in his silver screen adaption of Great Expectations. Lean had seen Guinness's portrayal of Hebert Pocket on the stage seven years ago and wanted no one else for the role. The film marks Guinness's first speaking role on the big screen and would ultimately lead to a long-time albeit usually strained working relationship with David Lean, including his next film Oliver Twist.

Guinness quickly became a favorite comedic leading man and heavily featured in the Ealing comedies, a series of comedic films release by the London based Ealing Studios. His association with the studio began in 1949 with the film Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which he played eight roles, including women. He continued to display his comedic talents with the films A Run for Your Money and Last Holiday. In 1959 Guinness returned dramatic acting as the conservative British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in The Mudlark. The next year he starred in two popular comedies The Man in the White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob.


By 1951, Guinness had been voted the most popular British Star by British filmgoers. He continued his work with Ealing Studios in the late 1950s, staring in popular fanfare such as The Captains Paradise, To Paris with Love, and The Ladykillers. In 1956 he would make his first Hollywood appearance, starring opposite Grace Kelly in The Swan.

 In 1957 Guinness once again teamed with David Lean for the World War II action/drama Bridge on the River Kwai. In the film Guinness plays the arrogant and unyielding British Colonel Nicholson.  The film was a wild success, pleasing both the critics and general audiences across the world. It would gross over 30 million dollars and go on to win eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and, of course, Guinness would take home the Best Actor Award. The next year Guinness wrote and starred in The Horse's Mouth, a comedy depicting the lengths an artist will go to complete his lofty vision. For his writing efforts, Guinness received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He ended the decade by being knighted.

1960s and 70s

Guinness continued to work both in London and Hollywood into then next two decades. In 1960 he starred in the wartime psychological drama Tunes of Glory. Although he did not win an Oscar for the role, many critics believe it to be best his best performance on the silver screen. In 1962 he once again teamed with director David Lean, this time to play the supporting role of Arab Leader Prince Feisal in the historical epic Lawrence of Arabia. He continued to appear in a series of large budget, epic landmark films such as The Fall of Roman Empire and the David Lean helmed Doctor Zhivago. He returned to comedy, co-starring with the biggest power couple at the time, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in the 1968s The Comedians.

In 1973 Guinness gave what he considered his best film performance as Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days. He then stared in two TV movies, one ambitious and one low-keys, Caesar and Cleopatra and The Gift of Friendship. In 1973 Guinness starred as the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi in the massive blockbuster hit, Star Wars. Although he thought the story to be trite fantasy/sci-fi, he saw it's potential as a moneymaker and negotiated to get some of the films overall royalties. Although Guinness became a very rich thanks to Star Wars, he grew to hate the recognition the film brought him, as most people knew little of his accomplished stage and film work before he donned the Jedi robes.

Later Career and Life

Thanks to his Star Wars royalties, his could afford to take only the roles that interested him, as money was no longer an issue in his old age. In 1979 he starred in the TV mini-series serialization of the John Le Carre novel Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and later won the BAFTA TV for his performance. He would later star in another John Le Carre TV adaptation, Smiley's People. He worked with David Lean one last time in the film Passage to India.

He continued to act into the 1990s. In 1991 he played the supporting role of the Chief Clerk in Steven Soderbergh's Kafka. He then worked on mostly television shows and TV movies before making his final screen appearance in the 1996 TV film Interview Day and then entered quiet retirement. He received an Academy Awards Lifetime Achieved Award in 1980 and a BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 1989.

Alex Guiness died on August 5th, 2000 of liver cancer. He was 86 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Alec Guinness was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Actor for The Bridge on the River Kwai (as Colonel Nicholson) in 1957. He also won one Honorary Award in 1979 for advancing the art of screen acting through a host of memorable and distinguished performances .

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1952Best ActorThe Lavender Hill Mob (1951)HollandNominated
1957Best ActorThe Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)Colonel NicholsonWon
1958Best WritingThe Horse's Mouth (1958)N/ANominated
1977Best Supporting ActorStar WarsN/ANominated
1988Best Supporting ActorLittle Dorrit (1988)William DorritNominated

Academy Awards (Honorary Oscars)

1979Honorary Awardfor advancing the art of screen acting through a host of memorable and distinguished performances


He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

BlogHub Articles:

The Best Films of

By 4 Star Film Fan on Jul 31, 2014 From 4 Star Films

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai 2. Star Wars 3. Kind Hearts and Coronets 4. Great Expectations 5. Lawrence of Arabia 6. Doctor Zhivago 7. The Lavender Hill Mob 8. The Lady Killers 9. Oliver Twist 10. The Man in the White Suit 11. The Horse’s Mouth 12. The Empire Strikes Back 13. Our Man in Hav... Read full article

The Best Films of

By 4 Star Film Fan on Jul 31, 2014 From 4 Star Films

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai 2. Star Wars 3. Kind Hearts and Coronets 4. Great Expectations 5. Lawrence of Arabia 6. Doctor Zhivago 7. The Lavender Hill Mob 8. The Lady Killers 9. Oliver Twist 10. The Man in the White Suit 11. The Horse’s Mouth 12. The Empire Strikes Back 13. Our Man in Hav... Read full article

Cromwell (1970) with Richard Harris and

By Orson De Welles on May 28, 2014 From Classic Film Freak

Share This! England has long been known for its epic films especially those involving well, English things. 1970’s Cromwell makes what would be for some time the last attempt at such a film. Ken Hughes and a cast led by stalwart actors and Richard Harris take us through Oliver Cr... Read full article

(3 August SUTS) (1)

By Margaret Perry on Aug 3, 2013 From The Great Katharine Hepburn

(3 August SUTS) This post is written in conjunction with the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Scribe Hard on Film. Full listings for SUTS programming on Turner Classic Movies can be found HERE. English actor has been one ... Read full article

Day 3:

By Jill Blake on Aug 3, 2013 From Sittin' on a Backyard Fence

Our Day 2 tribute to Doris Day was a great success! Thanks to all who contributed and stopped by to read all the entries. For the next 24 hours we honor the great . He’s more than Obi-Wan Kenobi, you know… Some fun trivia on Sir : I must off to studio and work&... Read full article

See all articles

Alec Guinness Quotes:

[Speaking about the "art" of interrogation]
The Interrogator: It's a pity it's a sport that has to be played with living men.

[the contents of Father Brown's pockets are being inventoried by the police]
Patrolman: One Bible.
Father Brown: [Correcting the patrolman] One breviary.
Station sergeant: One... book.
Patrolman: One bar of milk chocolate.
Station sergeant: One bar... of chocolate. Your glasses, please.
Father Brown: Oh. Is that really necessary? I'm as blind as a bat without them. Though I often wonder whether all bats are really blind, any more than all lords drunk or all judges sober.

The Parson: [Describing his country church] I always say my West window has all the *exuberance* of Chaucer without, happily, any of the concomitant crudities of his period.

read more quotes from Alec Guinness...

Share this page:
Visit the Classic Movie Hub Blog CMH
Also an Aries

See All Aries >>
Best Actor Oscar 1957

See more Best Actor awards>>
Alec Guinness on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame

See All Walk of Fame Stars >>
Alec Guinness Facts
Had his first speaking role on the professional stage in the melodrama "Queer Cargo" (he did not appear in the film). At the age of 20, the tyro actor played a Chinese coolie in the first act, a French pirate in Act 2 and a British sailor in Act 3, a foreshadowing of the shape-shifting he would do in his cinema career, where he once played as many as eight roles in a single film (Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)).

He was one of the last surviving members of a great generation of British actors, which included Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson.

His name is an anagram of "genuine class".

See All Related Facts >>