Peter Lawford

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File:Rat Pack.jpg
The Rat Pack. Lawford is first from the left in this photograph

Peter Sydney Lawford (September 7, 1923December 24, 1984) was a Hollywood actor and member of Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack," more noted for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting.

Born in London, UK, the son of actor Sydney Turing Lawford and the former May Somerville Bunny, he spent his early childhood in France, and began acting as a child. He was the victim of sexual abuse several times in childhood. Also as a child he severely injured his arm when he put the arm through a door's glass pane. Doctors were able to save the arm, but the injury bothered him for many years. The arm injury kept him from being drafted into the armed forces for the Second World War. Prior to the war, Lawford had a gained a contract position with the MGM studios. Lawford's first major movie role was A Yank At Eton (1942). He played a snobby bully opposite Mickey Rooney. The picture was a smash hit and Lawford's performance was widely praised. He won even greater kudos for his performance in The White Cliffs Of Dover (1944). He played a young soldier in World War II. MGM gave the young actor another important role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Lawford's father also had a role in the film. Lawford also made Son Of Lassie (1945) and won a Modern Screen magazine readers poll as the most popular actor in Hollywood. His fan mail jumped to thousands of letters a week.

Lawford's busiest year as an actor was in 1946 when two of his films opened within days of each other Cluny Brown (1946) and Two Sisters From Boston (1946). Lawford was recognized as the romantic lead on the MGM lot. Lawford appeared with Frank Sinatra for the first time in the musical It Happened In Brooklyn (1947). Lawford later admitted the most terrifying experience of his career was the first musical number he performed. Lawford also made his first comedy that same year My Brother Talks To Horses (1947). It was in Good News (1947) that Lawford won his greatest acclaim as an actor. He also got to dance and sing as well and held his own against the other cast. Lawford was given other important roles in MGM films the next few years such as On An Island With You (1948), Easter Parade (1948) and Little Women (1949 film) (1949).

Lawford became an American citizen in 1960, in time to vote for his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy. Lawford, along with the other members of the Rat Pack helped to campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic party.

He married four times. He married his first wife, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, sister to President John F. Kennedy, in 1954. They had four children, including actor Christopher Lawford. They divorced in 1966 due to his alcoholism and infidelity. He married his second wife, Mary Rowan, daughter of Dan Rowan, in 1971. They divorced in 1975. He was married to his third wife, Deborah Gould from 1976-1977. His fourth wife, and widow, whom he married in 1984, was Patricia Seaton. Lawford had a reputation as a ladies' man and was reported to have had many affairs with famous ladies of movies, song, and politics including Ava Gardner, June Allyson, Lana Turner, Janet Leigh, Rita Hayworth, Dorothy Dandridge, Lucille Ball, Anne Baxter, Judy Holliday, Gina Lollobrigida, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Remick, Nancy Reagan, and Elizabeth Taylor just to name a few.

He and his brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy are reported to have visited Marilyn Monroe on the day she died, although this is not known for sure. The Kennedy family distanced itself from Lawford as his antics proved to be an embarrassment. Lawford was close to Frank Sinatra for a number of years. Sinatra, however, threatened him with bodily harm when he learned that Lawford had lunch with Ava Gardner. Lawford's friends managed to convince Sinatra that nothing was going on between Gardner and Lawford, but Sinatra refused to speak with Lawford for a number of years. The two were later reconciled, but Sinatra ultimately broke off the friendship. Sinatra's feelings were such that one time, when he learned that Lawford was in the audience he was about to perform in front of, that he refused to come out until Lawford and his wife were removed from the audience.

Later in life, Lawford fell into drug and alcohol abuse. Such abuse, plus strained relationships with others and financial difficulties caused a great deal of stress on his increasingly fragile health. Lawford was reduced to doing television guest shots on such shows as Fantasy Island, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Profiles In Courage, The Wild Wild West, I Spy, The Name Of The Game, The Jeffersons, The Love Boat, The Virginian, Bewitched, The Patty Duke Show, The Doris Day Show, and Hawaii Five-O. Besides sitcoms, he also guest-starred on variety shows such The Judy Garland Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and game shows such as What's My Line?, Password, and Pyramid.

Lawford died in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1984 of liver and kidney disease culminating in cardiac arrest at the age of 61. His body was cremated and the ashes were inurned at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. His original burial location was near that of Marilyn Monroe. According to his son, actor Christopher Lawford, talking on Larry King's CNN talk-show on September 27, 2005, none of the Rat Pack members attended the funeral, though a number of the Lawford/Kennedy cousins came. Because of a dispute between the family and the cemetery, however, his cremains were removed and then scattered in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.


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