Peter Lawford

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Peter Lawford
Peter Lawford 1955.jpg
Peter Lawford in 1955
Born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen[1]
(1923-09-07)7 September 1923
London, England
Died 24 December 1984(1984-12-24) (aged 61)
Los Angeles, California, US
Cause of death Cardiac arrest complicated by renal and liver failure
Occupation Actor, film producer, socialite
Years active 1930–1983
Patricia Helen Kennedy
(m. 1954; div. 1966)

Mary Rowan
(m. 1971; div. 1975)

Deborah Gould
(m. 1976; div. 1977)

Patricia Seaton
(m. 1984)
Children 4, including Christopher Lawford
Parent(s) Sir Sydney Lawford
May Sommerville Bunny
Relatives John F. Kennedy (brother-in-law)

Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford (born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen; 7 September 1923 – 24 December 1984) was a British actor, producer, and socialite, who lived in the United States throughout his adult life.[1][2][3]

He was a member of the "Rat Pack" and the brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy, and the senators Robert F. Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. From the 1940s to the 1960s, he was a well-known celebrity and starred in a number of highly acclaimed films. In later years, he was noted more for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting; it was said that he was "famous for being famous".[4]

Early life

Born in London in 1923, he was the only child of Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford, KBE (1865–1953) and May Sommerville Bunny (1883–1972). At the time of Peter's birth, however, his mother was married to Lieutenant colonel Dr Ernest Vaughn Aylen D.S.O,[5] one of Sir Sydney's officers, while his father was married to Muriel Williams.[1] At the time, May and Ernest Aylen were living apart. May confessed to Aylen that the child was not his, a revelation that resulted in a double divorce. Sydney and May wed in September 1924 after their divorces were finalised and when their son was one year old.[6]

Lawford's family was connected to the English aristocracy through his uncle Ernest Lawford's wife (a daughter of the 14th Earl of Eglinton) as well as his aunt Ethel Turner Lawford (who married a son of the 1st Baron Avebury). His aunt, Jessie Bruce Lawford, another of his father's sisters, was the second wife of the Hon Hartley Williams, senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of the colony of Victoria, Australia. A relative, through his mother, was Australian artist Rupert Bunny.[citation needed]

He spent his early childhood in France and, owing to his family's travels, was never formally educated. Instead, he was schooled by governesses and tutors, and his education included tennis and ballet lessons.[7] "In the beginning," his mother observed, "he had no homework. When he was older he had Spanish, German and music added to his studies. He read only selected books: English fairy stories, English and French classics; no crime stories.[citation needed] Having studied Peter for so long, I decided he was quite unfitted for any career except art, so I cut Latin, Algebra, high mathematics and substituted dramatics instead."[7] Because of the widely varying national and religious backgrounds of his tutors, Lawford "attended various services in churches, cathedrals, synagogues and for some time was an usher in a Christian Science Sunday School...."[8] Around 1930, aged seven, he made his acting debut in the English film Poor Old Bill.[9]

At the age of 14, Lawford severely injured his right arm in an accident when it went through a glass door.[10] The injury greatly compromised the use of his lower arm and hand with irreversible nerve damage,[11] which he later learned to hide.[12] The injury was judged to be serious enough to prevent his entrance into the armed forces, which his parents had planned.[13] Instead, Lawford decided to pursue a career as an actor, a decision that resulted in one of his aunts refusing to leave him her considerable fortune, as originally planned.[14]



Lawford's first film role was at age seven in the British film Poor Old Bill.

Prior to the Second World War, Lawford was offered a contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1938, he made his Hollywood debut in a minor part in the film Lord Jeff.[15] His first role in a major film production was in A Yank at Eton (1942), starring Mickey Rooney, in which Lawford played a snobbish bully.[16] He had uncredited roles as a pilot in Mrs. Miniver (1942) and as a sailor in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943).[17]

MGM career

In June 1943, MGM signed Lawford to a long-term contract. His first role under this was The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), in which he played a young soldier during the Second World War.[18] MGM gave him another important role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Lawford's first leading role came in Son of Lassie (1945), and he later won a Modern Screen magazine readers' poll as the most popular actor in Hollywood of 1946. His fan mail jumped to thousands of letters a week.[17]

In Royal Wedding (1951)

With actors such as Clark Gable and James Stewart away at war, Lawford was recognised as a new romantic lead on the MGM lot. Lawford's busiest year as an actor was 1946, when two of his films opened within days of each other: Cluny Brown and Two Sisters from Boston. He made his first comedy film that year, My Brother Talks to Horses (released in 1947). He appeared with Frank Sinatra for the first time in the musical It Happened in Brooklyn (1947). Lawford received rave reviews for his work in the film,[19] while Sinatra's were lukewarm.[citation needed]

Lawford later admitted that the most terrifying experience of his career was the first musical number he performed in the musical Good News (1947). Using an American accent for his role, he won acclaim as a performer. Over the next few years, he was given supporting roles in MGM films, including On an Island with You (1948), Easter Parade (1948), Little Women (1949), Royal Wedding (1951) and You for Me (1952).[17]


Eva Marie Saint, Paul Newman and Lawford in Exodus (1960)

Lawford's first film after Metro released him and several other players from their contracts was the comedy It Should Happen to You, wherein he starred alongside Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon. In 1959, Sinatra invited Lawford to join the "Rat Pack" and also got him a role in Never So Few. The casino caper Ocean's 11 (1960) was a project Lawford first brought to Sinatra's attention.[20] Other films included the acclaimed Israeli-set drama Exodus (1960); The Longest Day (1962), a war film with a star-studded cast; and the political drama Advise & Consent (1962) (in which he played a United States Senator).[17] He reunited with the Rat Pack for the western adventure Sergeants 3.

In 1961, Lawford and his manager Milt Ebbins formed Chrislaw Productions, which was named after Peter's son Christopher,[21] and produced the 1963 action film Johnny Cool starring Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. He went on to produce the 1965 Patty Duke film Billie as well as two films with Sammy Davis, Jr., Salt and Pepper and One More Time. He returned to MGM for They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), which reunited him with several former MGM contract players. His last role was as Montague Chippendale in Where Is Parsifal? (1983).[17]


Members of the "Rat Pack", L-R: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lawford, and Joey Bishop

Lawford made his television debut in 1953 in a guest-starring role on Ronald Reagan's anthology series General Electric Theater. In 1954, he starred as a newspaper advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist named Bill Hastings in the short-lived NBC series Dear Phoebe with Marcia Henderson and Charles Lane.[17]

From 1957 to 1959, Lawford co-starred with Phyllis Kirk in The Thin Man, an NBC series from MGM based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. He had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show from 1971 to 1973 as the love interest to Day's character.[17]

Lawford guest-starred on various television series, including The Doris Day Show, The Martha Raye Show, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Wild Wild West, The Virginian, Bewitched, The Patty Duke Show, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and The Bob Cummings Show.[17]

Aside from guest spots, he also guest-starred on variety shows, such as The Judy Garland Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and game shows, such as What's My Line?, Password and Pyramid.[17]

Personal life

Lawford sailing with his brother-in-law President John F. Kennedy aboard the yacht "Manitou", a former USCG training vessel that was used as a "floating White House', off the coast of Johns Island, Maine, August 12, 1962

His first marriage, in 1954, was to socialite Pat Kennedy, a younger sister of then-US Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA). They had four children: a son, actor and author Christopher Lawford (1955−2018), and daughters Sydney Maleia Lawford (b. 1956), Victoria Francis Lawford (b. 1958), and Robin Elizabeth Lawford (b. 1961).[citation needed]

Lawford became an American citizen on 23 April 1960. He had prepared for this in time to vote for his brother-in-law in the upcoming presidential election.[22] Lawford, along with other members of the "Rat Pack", helped campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic Party.[23] Sinatra famously dubbed him "Brother-in-Lawford" at this time.[24][25] Lawford and Patricia Kennedy divorced in February 1966.[26][27]

Lawford was originally cast as Alan A. Dale in the film Robin and the 7 Hoods but was replaced by Bing Crosby following a break in Sinatra's relationship with Lawford. The break stemmed from a scheduled visit to Sinatra's home by Lawford's brother-in-law, President Kennedy, during a 1962 West Coast trip. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who was long concerned about Sinatra's rumoured ties with underworld figures, encouraged the President to change his plans and stay at Crosby's home, which (it was maintained) could provide better security for the President. The change came at the last minute, after Sinatra had made extensive arrangements for the promised and eagerly awaited presidential visit, including the construction of a helipad. Sinatra was furious, believing that Lawford had failed to intercede with the Kennedys on his behalf, and ostracised him from the Rat Pack.[28]

Sinatra and Lawford's friendship was over. They only spoke when Sinatra called after his son Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped on 8 December 1963, and he needed the help of Lawford's brother-in-law Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General. With the exception of Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey's 1968 presidential race, Sinatra never endorsed another Democratic candidate. Crosby, a staunch Republican, ended up cast in Lawford's role.[29]

Lawford married his second wife, Mary Rowan, daughter of comedian Dan Rowan, in October 1971.[30] Rowan and Lawford separated two years later and divorced in January 1975. In June 1976 he married aspiring actress Deborah Gould, whom he had known for three weeks.[31] Lawford and Gould separated two months after marrying and divorced in 1977. During his separation from Gould, Lawford met Patricia Seaton who became his fourth and final wife in July 1984, just months before his death.[32]


Lawford died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1984, aged 61, from cardiac arrest. He had suffered from kidney and liver failure after years of substance abuse.[33] His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.[34] Owing to a dispute between his widow and the cemetery, Lawford's ashes were removed from the cemetery in 1988 and scattered into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California by his widow Patricia Seaton Lawford, who invited the National Enquirer tabloid to photograph the event.[35]

For his contribution to the television industry, Peter Lawford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6920 Hollywood Blvd.[36]

A plaque bearing Lawford's name was erected at Westwood Village Memorial Park[citation needed]


Year Film Role Notes
1930 Poor Old Bill Horace
1931 A Gentleman of Paris Child Uncredited
1938 Lord Jeff Benny Potter
1942 Mrs. Miniver Pilot Uncredited
1942 Eagle Squadron Pilot
1942 A Yank at Eton Ronnie Kenvil
1942 Thunder Birds English Cadet Uncredited
Alternative title: Soldiers of the Air
1942 Junior Army Cadet Wilbur
1942 Random Harvest Soldier Uncredited
1943 Immortal Sergeant Soldier Uncredited
1943 London Blackout murders Percy – Soldier on Train Uncredited
1943 Assignment in Brittany Navigator Uncredited
1943 The Purple V Roger
1943 Flesh and Fantasy Pierrot (Episode 1) Uncredited
1943 Above Suspicion Student Uncredited
1943 Pilot No. 5 British Soldier Uncredited
1943 The Sky's the Limit Naval Commander Uncredited
1943 The Man from Down Under Mr. Jones Uncredited
1943 Someone to Remember Joe Downes Alternative title: Gallant Thoroughbred
1943 The West Side Kid Jerry Winston
1943 Sahara British soldier Uncredited
1943 Sherlock Holmes Faces Death Young Sailor at Bar Uncredited
1943 Corvette K-225 Naval Officer Uncredited
1943 Paris After Dark Frenchman Uncredited
1943 Girl Crazy Student Uncredited
1944 The Adventures of Mark Twain Young Oxford Celebrant Uncredited
1944 The White Cliffs of Dover John Ashwood II as a Young Man
1944 The Canterville Ghost Anthony de Canterville
1944 Mrs. Parkington Lord Thornley
1945 The Picture of Dorian Gray David Stone
1945 Son of Lassie Joe Carraclough
1945 Ziegfeld Follies Porky in "Number Please" Voice, Uncredited
1945 Perfect Strangers Introduction – USA Version Uncredited
Alternative title: Vacation from Marriage
1946 Two Sisters from Boston Lawrence Tyburn Patterson, Jr.
1946 Cluny Brown Andrew Carmel
1947 My Brother Talks to Horses John S. Penrose
1947 It Happened in Brooklyn Jamie Shellgrove
1947 Good News Tommy Marlowe
1948 On an Island with You Lt. Lawrence Y. Kingslee
1948 Easter Parade Jonathan Harrow III
1948 Julia Misbehaves Ritchie Lorgan
1949 Little Women Theodore "Laurie" Laurence
1949 The Red Danube Major John "Twingo" McPhimister
1950 Please Believe Me Jeremy Taylor
1951 Royal Wedding Lord John Brindale Alternative title: Wedding Bells
1952 Just This Once Mark MacLene IV
1952 Kangaroo Richard Connor Alternative title: The Australian Story
1952 You for Me Tony Brown
1952 The Hour of 13 Nicholas Revel
1953 Rogue's March Capt. Dion Lenbridge / Pvt. Harry Simms
1954 It Should Happen to You Evan Adams III
1959 Never So Few Capt. Grey Travis Alternative title: Campaign Burma
1960 Ocean's 11 Jimmy Foster
1960 Exodus Major Caldwell
1960 Pepe Himself
1962 Sergeants 3 Sgt. Larry Barrett
1962 Advise & Consent Senator Lafe Smith
1962 The Longest Day Brigadier Lord Lovat
1963 Johnny Cool
Executive producer
1964 Dead Ringer Tony Collins Alternative title: Dead Image
1965 Sylvia Frederic Summers
1965 Harlow Paul Bern
1965 Billie
Executive producer
1966 The Oscar Steve Marks
1966 A Man Called Adam Manny
1967 Dead Run Stephen Daine Alternative title: Geheimnisse in goldenen Nylons
1968 Quarta parete Papá Baroni
1968 Salt and Pepper Christopher Pepper Executive producer
1968 Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell Justin Young
1968 Skidoo The Senator
1969 Hook, Line & Sinker Dr. Scott Carter
1969 The April Fools Ted Gunther
1970 One More Time Christopher Pepper / Lord Sydney Pepper Executive producer
1970 Togetherness Prince Solomon Justiani
1971 Clay Pigeon Government Agent Alternative title: Trip to Kill
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters Lee Campbell
1974 That's Entertainment!
1975 Rosebud Lord Carter
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Slapstick Star
1979 Angels Revenge Burke Alternative title: Angels' Brigade
Seven from Heaven
1980 Gypsy Angels
1981 Body and Soul Big Man
1984 Where Is Parsifal? Montague Chippendale (final film role)
Year Title Role Notes
1953 General Electric Theater John Episode: "Woman's World"
1953–1954 The Ford Television Theatre Various roles 3 episodes
1954–1955 Dear Phoebe Bill Hastings 32 episodes
1954–1957 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Various roles 3 episodes
1955 Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre Stephen Episode: "Stephen and Publius Cyrus"
1955 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Charlie Raymond Episode: "The Long Shot"
1955 Screen Directors Playhouse Tom Macy Episode: "Tom and Jerry"
1956 Playhouse 90 Willis Wayde Episode: "Sincerely, Willis Wade"
1956–1957 Studio 57 Various roles 2 episodes
1957 Producers' Showcase Lord Brinstead Episode: "Ruggles of Red Gap"
1957 Climax! Tom Welles Episode: "Bait for the Tiger"
1957–1959 The Thin Man Nick Charles 72 episodes
1958 The Bob Cummings Show Himself Episode: "Bob Judges a Beauty Pageant"
1959 Goodyear Theatre Major John Marshall Episode: "Point of Impact"
1961 The Jack Benny Program Lord Milbeck Episode: "English Sketch"
1962 Theatre '62 Glen Morley Episode: "The Farmer's Daughter"
1965 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Ernie Mullett Episode: "Crimson Witness"
1965 Profiles in Courage General Alexander William Doniphan Episode: "General Alexander William Doniphan"
1965 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Lt. Philip Cannon Episode: "March From Camp Tyler"
1966 Run for Your Life Larry Carter Episode: "Carnival Ends at Midnight"
1966 The Wild Wild West Carl Jackson Episode: "The Night of The Returning Dead"
1967 How I Spent My Summer Vacation Ned Pine Television film
1967 I Spy Hackaby Episode: "Get Thee to a Nunnery"
1971 A Step Out of Line Art Stoyer Television film
1971 The Virginian Ben Hunter Episode: "The Town Killer"
1971 Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You Ellery Queen Television film
1971–1973 The Doris Day Show Dr. Peter Lawrence 8 episodes
1972 Bewitched Harrison Woolcott Episode: "Serena's Richcraft"
1974 The Phantom of Hollywood Roger Cross Television film
1974 Born Free John Forbes Episode: Pilot
1977–1982 Fantasy Island Various roles 4 episodes
1978 Hawaii Five-O Kenneth Kirk Episode: "Frozen Assets"
1979 The Love Boat Teddy Smith Episode: "Murder on the High Seas/Sounds of Silence/Cyrano de Bricker"
1979 Highcliffe Manor Narrator 6 episodes
1979 Supertrain Quentin Fuller Episode: "A Very Formal Heist"
1979 Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women Gordon Duvall Television film
1981 The Jeffersons Museum Guide (Voice) Episode: "The House That George Built"

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1949 Lux Radio Theatre Green Dolphin Street[37]
1953 Suspense The Moonstone[38]

See also



  1. ^ a b c (Lawford 1986, p. 34)
  2. ^ (Hischak 2008, p. 420)
  3. ^ Obituary Variety, 26 December 1984.
  4. ^ "Biography for Peter Lawford". Turner Classic Movies. 
  5. ^ "ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS". London Gazette (32841): 4617. 3 July 1923. Retrieved 11 September 2018. 
  6. ^ (Wayne 2006, p. 280)
  7. ^ a b (Lawford 1986, p. 44)
  8. ^ (Lawford 1986, p. 48)
  9. ^ "Peter Lawford - Biography & History - AllMusic". AllMusic. 
  10. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 47–48)
  11. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 50)
  12. ^ (Wayne 2006, p. 281)
  13. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 65)
  14. ^ (Lawford 1986, p. 52)
  15. ^ "Fanny Brice to Team in Comedy: Nan Grey Assigned Novel Short Planned Diamond Story Set Film World Pageant", Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif], 24 March 1938, p. 10.
  16. ^ "DRAMA: Alice Faye to Return in 'Frisco' Feature 'Hattie' Work Resumed Glider Yarn Announced Three Holt Films Set Texas 'Find' Gets Role Rowe to Screen-Debut", Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif], 7 April 1942, p. A8.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Peter Lawford IMDb profile". Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  18. ^ Universal to Make 'Chamber of Horrors' – Bogart Ban Lifted – 4 New Films This Week, The New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, NY], 7 June 1943: p. 9.
  19. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 111)
  20. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 213)
  21. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 339)
  22. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 233)
  23. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 228)
  24. ^ (Schroeder 2004, pp. 81–82)
  25. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 207)
  26. ^ (Rorabaugh 2002, p. 146)
  27. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 366)
  28. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 292–93)
  29. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 294)
  30. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 410, 408)
  31. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 433)
  32. ^ (Bly 1999, pp. 187–88)
  33. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 468)
  34. ^ (Spada 1991, p. 469)
  35. ^ (Spada 1991, pp. 470–71)
  36. ^ "Peter Lawford | Hollywood Walk of Fame". 8 February 1960. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  37. ^ "Radio's Golden Age". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (2): 40–41. Spring 2013. 
  38. ^ Kirby, Walter (22 November 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved 8 July 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read


  • Aaker, Everett (2006). Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters: All Regular Cast Members in American Crime and Mystery Series, 1948–1959. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2476-1. 
  • Bly, Nellie (1999), The Kennedy Men: Three Generations of Sex, Scandal and Secrets, E-Reads Ltd., ISBN 0-7592-1233-3 
  • Hischak, Thomas S. (2008), The Oxford Companion to the American Musical:Theatre, Film, and Television: Theatre, Film, and Television, Branden Pub Co, ISBN 0-195-33533-3 
  • Lawford, May (1986), Bitch! The Autobiography of Lady Lawford, Branden Pub Co, ISBN 0-828-31995-2 
  • Lawford, May; Galon, Buddy (1986). The Autobiography of Lady Lawford As Told to Buddy Galon. Brookline, Mass.: Branden Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8283-1995-2. 
  • Rorabaugh, W.J. (2002), Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-81617-3 
  • Schroeder, Alan (2004), Celebrity-in-Chief: How Show Business Took Over the White House, Westview Press, ISBN 0-8133-4137-X 
  • Seaton, Patricia (1988). The Peter Lawford Story. New York: Carroll and Graf. ISBN 0-515-10264-4. 
  • Spada, James (1991), Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-07185-8 
  • Wayne, Jane Ellen (2006), The Leading Men of MGM, Carroll & Graf, ISBN 0-7867-1768-8 

External links

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