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Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison

The British actor Reginald Carey Harrison, Rex Harrison (1908–90) was born on March 5, 1908, in Tarbock Road, Huyton, and as a young boy changed his name to 'Rex' as it was Latin for king.

Liverpool College Cricket Team 1925,
17 year old Rex Harrison standing far right.

He was educated at Liverpool College and after catching measles as a child he lost the sight in his left eye. He first took to the stage at the age of 18 at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, The Playhouse, before moving to the West End. By 1936 he had become a bona fide British star, starring in the Terrence Rattigan play 'French Without Tears', in which he showed himself to be very skilled in black-tie comedy.

Liverpool Playhouse

During World War II he was a flight lieutenant in the RAF which interrupted his career somewhat, however, he quickly re-established himself with a number of British films, after the war had ended. In 1942, Harrison divorced his first wife Collette Thomas, whom he had married in 1933, and married German actress Lili Palmer.

In 1945 he moved to Hollywood, where his career continued to prosper, starring in 'Blithe Spirit', 'I Live in Grosvenor Square' and 'The Rake's Progress' all in 1945. Among his many roles was that of the king in the 1946 production of 'Anna and the King of Siam'.

He was the subject of a scandal in 1947 when actress Carole Landis committed suicide after he had apparently ended their affair, putting a strain on his marriage with his wife Lili Palmer. Rex Harrison had earned the name Sexy Rexy due to his philandering ways. He divorced Lili Palmer, in 1957 so that he could marry terminally ill Kay Kendall and return to Palmer afterwards. Kendall died in 1959, but Lili Palmer did not come back to him.

Harrison will probably be best remembered for his performance as Professor Henry Higgins in the musical 'My Fair Lady', a character he played on Broadway from 1956-1958 and in London in the late 1950s. In 1964 he also picked up an Oscar for his onscreen version of the role. He had previously received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Julius Caesar in 'Cleopatra' in 1963. He also won a Tony award for Best Actor (Dramatic) for his portrayal of Henry VIII in the stage production of 'Anne of the Thousand Days' in 1948. He later played the monarch again in 1952 in an episode of 'Omnibus' about the trial of Anne Boleyn.

Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady

In 1962, he married Rachel Roberts but this ended in divorce in 1971. Harrison then wed Richard Harris's ex wife Elizabeth in 1971 but this again ended in divorce in 1975. He continued to act on both the stage and screen in the 1970s and into the 1980s. He published his autobiography, 'Rex', in 1975 and four years later he edited and published an anthology of poetry - 'If Love Be Love'. In 1978, he wed Mercia Tinker who accompanied him to Buckingham Palace to collect his knighthood and they remained happily married until his death.

Knighted in 1989, he starred in the Broadway revival of Somerset Maugham's 'The Circle', until one month before his death from pancreatic cancer in 1990.

 Rex Harrison Documentary

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