Becket (1964)… The Lion in Winter (1968)… and, of course, the immortal film Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
He was also a legendary drinker. From The Guardian:
Early in his career O’Toole became emblematic of a new breed of hard-drinking Hollywood hellraiser.
“We heralded the ’60s,” he once said. “Me, [Richard] Burton, Richard Harris; we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now. We drank in public, we knew about pot.”
From an old article on O’Toole in the Daily Mail is this great drinking anecdote:
In 1959, O’Toole was cast as a Cockney sergeant in the play The Long And The Short And The Tall at the Royal Court Theatre.
His understudy was a young Michael Caine, and one Saturday night after the show O’Toole invited him to a restaurant he knew.
Eating a plate of egg and chips was the last thing Caine remembered, until he woke up in broad daylight in a strange flat.
“What time is it?” he inquired. “Never mind what time it is,” said O’Toole. “What f***ing day is it?”
It turned out that it was five o’clock in the afternoon two days later. Curtain-up was at eight.
Back at the theatre, the stage manager was waiting for them with the news that the restaurant owner had been in and banned them from his establishment for life.
Caine was about to ask what they’d done when O’Toole whispered: “Never ask what you did. It’s better not to know.”
The same article has this wonderful anecdote of O’Toole immediately post-Lawrence:
When director David Lean was casting the lead in Lawrence Of Arabia in 1959, he favoured O’Toole, but producer Sam Spiegel had reservations because of his reputation.
Having seen his screen test, however, he had to admit they’d found their Lawrence.
Lawrence Of Arabia occupied O’Toole for two years, filming in seven different countries.
By the end of it, he’d lost 2st, received third-degree burns, sprained both ankles, torn ligaments in both his hip and thigh, dislocated his spine, broken his thumb, sprained his neck and been concussed twice.
But his extraordinary performance made him a star. Lawrence Of Arabia was a world-wide smash when it opened in 1962 and was hailed as one of cinema’s true masterpieces.
“I woke up one morning to find I was famous,” he said. “I bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard, wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum.
“Nobody took any f***ing notice, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Here’s a repost of 1963 video featuring a bombastic Orson Welles and an unpretentiously cerebral Peter O’Toole, discussing Hamlet. At the time of this TV exchange, O’Toole was playing Hamlet in a Laurence Olivier-directed production at the National Theatre. (The host is Huw Wheldon and the older actor is Ernest Milton.)