LEO MCKERN Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Leo McKern                                                                       
Born: 16 March 1920 Sydney, Australia                                                 
Died: 23 July 2002 Bath, England                                                       
Leo McKern, AO (March 16, 1920 - July 23, 2002) was an Australian actor who           
appeared in numerous British television programs, movies and in over 200 stage         
roles. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1983.                 
McKern was born Reginald McKern in Sydney, Australia, the son of Vera (nee             
Martin) and Norman Walton McKern. After an accident at age 15 he lost his             
left eye. He first worked as an engineering apprentice, then as an artist,             
followed by serving in the Australian Army during World War II. During the war,       
he made his first stage appearance in Sydney in 1944.                                 
Having fallen in love with actress Jane Holland, McKern moved to the United           
Kingdom to be with her and they married in 1946. He soon became a regular             
performer at London's Old Vic theatre and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now       
called the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) in Stratford-upon-Avon, despite the             
difficulties posed by his glass eye and Australian accent. In 1949, he played         
Forester in Love's Labours Lost at the Old Vic. His most notable Shakespearean         
role was as Iago to Anthony Quayle's Othello in 1952. On the West End in London,       
McKern originated the role of the Common Man for Robert Bolt's A Man for All           
Seasons in 1960, but for the show's Broadway production, he was shifted to the         
role of Thomas Cromwell, which he would reprise in the film version. He also           
memorably played Subtle in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist in 1962.                         
McKern's film debut came in 1952's Murder in the Cathedral. His other notable         
film appearances included the Beatles film Help! (1965), the Academy Award-winning     
adaptation of A Man for All Seasons (1966), Ryan's Daughter (1970), The Omen (1976),   
and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981). He was given the Australian Film             
Institute Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Travelling North (1987). In       
Monsignor Quixote (1989), he co-starred as Sancho Zancas with Alec Guinness as         
Father Quixote.                                                                       
McKern was one of several Number Twos in the 1960s cult classic television             
series The Prisoner. Along with Colin Gordon, he was one of only two actors to         
play Number Two more than once. He first played the character in "The Chimes of       
Big Ben" and later reprised his role in the final two episodes of the series, "Once   
Upon a Time" and "Fall Out". Filming "Once Upon a Time" was a particularly             
intense experience for McKern and according to The Prisoner: The Official             
Companion to the Classic TV Series by Robert Fairclough, the strain of filming         
this episode caused McKern to suffer either a nervous breakdown or a heart             
attack (accounts differ), forcing production to stop for a time.                       
In 1975, he made his first appearance as his most famous character, Horace             
Rumpole, whom he played in Rumpole of the Bailey for seven series on television       
until 1992. John Mortimer, the writer and creator of the show, created the part       
with McKern in mind and had to persuade the actor to continue playing the             
character. McKern enjoyed the role but had shown concern regarding the fame and       
how much his life was becoming intertwined with Rumpole's. In the later series,       
his daughter Abigail McKern joined the cast as Liz Probert.                           
McKern became an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1983. He told his daughter       
Abigail that he suffered from stage fright, which became more difficult to cope       
with as he grew older. He had also worried that his stout frame would not appeal       
to audiences. His final acting appearances came in the film Molokai: The Story         
of Father Damien (1999) and on stage in 2000. Suffering from diabetes and other       
health problems, he was moved to a nursing home near Bath, Somerset in 2002. He       
died there a few weeks later at the age of 82. McKern was survived by his wife         
Jane, daughters Abigail and Harriet, and a grandchild.                                 
In the last decade of his life, McKern also starred in a series of commercials         
for Lloyds Bank, widely shown on British television.