Peter O'Toole Collection Joins T.E. Lawrence's Archives at Harry Ransom Center


Studio photo of Peter O'Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.


The Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at the University of Texas at Austin recently announced its acquisition of the archives of Peter O'Toole (1932-2013), the legendary British-Irish actor who began his career as a promising drama student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the 1950s. His Academy-Award-nominated turn as T.E. Lawrence--whose archives are also at HRC--in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) catapulted O'Toole into the spotlight. (See the 60-second O'Toole montage HRC put together celebrating the acquisition here.)

Having the Lawrence and O'Toole archives in the same place offers rich opportunity for studying and comparing the two collections. "A nearly endless amount of research can come out of the collections of T.E. Lawrence and Peter O'Toole individually, but one of the particularly interesting stories is seeing how T. E. Lawrence the person began documenting his own life, and how that story grew into the legend he's become," said Eric Colleary, the HRC's Cline Curator of Theatre and Performing Arts.

The creation of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the inspiration for the 1962 film, is "as much a part of the Lawrence legend as his time in the Middle East," said Colleary. Lawrence lost the first draft at a train station in 1919, so he began rewriting the story from memory. This handwritten second draft, the earliest existing draft of what would become Seven Pillars of Wisdom, is part of the HRC archives. (Finding Aid for the Lawrence Collection:



Unidentified photographer. T. E. Lawrence. Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

                                                                                                                                                    Now, the addition of the O'Toole papers extends the Lawrence-O'Toole connection. A trove of press materials, photographs from the shooting of Lawrence of Arabia, and fan letters all demonstrate that this was a seminal role for O'Toole.                                                              

"O'Toole's script for Lawrence of Arabia is here, but like many British actors of his generation, the script is mostly clean," explained Colleary. "O'Toole was publicly critical of the American method style of acting, where scripts are often heavily marked with gesture, movement, and character motivation."

The O'Toole collection reveals the actor's talent as a writer, though Colleary isn't surprised by that. "He had an incredible gift for the English language, and a style and wit that you can see in candid interviews. His archive includes unproduced screenplay adaptations of Uncle Vanya and Juno written by O'Toole himself, along with notes on drama and acting." Interestingly enough, O'Toole once considered becoming a college educator in the United States, but rather than focus on acting, he envisioned a course dedicated to his beloved Shakespeare.

Like the Lawrence archives, O'Toole's collection is deeply personal. "Peter O'Toole was a very private person who nearly always turned down interview requests from biographers. Speculation led to wild stories about O'Toole's life and escapades - some true, some pure fiction. His archive reveals a much more complex person. Like Lawrence, his papers reveal the man behind the legend."



Peter O'Toole. Unidentified photographer. Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.