Happy birthday to the late Sir Alec Guinness! Although he may be best known to Unbound Worlds readers as the original Star Wars trilogy’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sir Alec’s distinguished acting career had begun many, many years before he took up the brown robe and lightsaber.
Born in London on this day in 1914, Sir Alec’s career began at age 20 with a walk-on role in a small play. His talent evident even at a young age, the actor soon began to land leading roles in major stage productions. In 1941, Sir Alec saw action in World War II as an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, where he took part in the invasion of Sicily. Not one to let a World War stand in his way, Sir Alec still managed to appear in Flare Path, a play about the Royal Air Force Bomber Command.
Sir Alec maintained his presence on the stage while simultaneously pursuing roles in the motion picture industry. Prior to his work on Star Wars, his best known film role was as Lt. Colonel Nicholson in 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. You might not be familiar with the movie, but you likely know this song.
Sir Alec’s role as Obi-Wan Kenobi brought him to the attention to a new generation of young fans, but sadly, his work on Star Wars became a great source of personal embarrassment and frustration. He didn’t care for the films and loathed discussing them. Regardless, his cast members recalled him as polite and professional. Despite his own professional reservations, Sir Alec was one of the few who believed Star Wars: A New Hope would be a box office success, negotiating for two percent of the profits; a decision that paid healthy dividends for the rest of his life.
Sir Alec died in 2000 at the age of 86, leaving behind an impressive body of work, including appearances in over 50 films and many stage productions. While he may have only reluctantly taken the role that brought him to my attention, and probably yours, his commitment to the role on screen lives on as testament to the man’s incredible talent.