23 January 2017

Michael York

English actor Michael York (1942) is the athletic star of several Shakespeare adaptations and three popular Musketeer films. His blond, blue-eyed boyish looks and plummy accent incarnated a traditionally English public-school manliness in such classic films as Joseph Losey's Accident (1967) and Cabaret (1972).

Michael York in Logan's Run (1976)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for Logan's Run (Michael Anderson, 1976).

Michael York
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. C.P.C.S. 43033.

Something for Everyone

Michael York, OBE was born Michael Hugh Johnson in 1942, in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire. He is the son of Florence Edith May (née Chown), a musician; and Joseph Gwynne Johnson, an executive with Marks & Spencer department stores.

At age three, Michael broke his nose when he jumped off the roof of a coal house while trying to fly. During his teenage years, York was educated at Bromley Grammar School for Boys, Hurstpierpoint College and University College, Oxford.

He began his career in a 1956 production of The Yellow Jacket. In 1959 he made his West End debut with a small part in a production of Hamlet. York was a member of National Youth Theatre in London's East End and on international tour. He also performed with the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the University College Players. In 1964, he graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in English.

After some time with the Dundee Repertory Theatre, where he played in Brendan Behan's The Hostage, York joined the National Theatre under Laurence Olivier where he worked with Franco Zeffirelli during the 1965 staging of Much Ado About Nothing.

Following his role on British TV as Jolyon (Jolly) in The Forsyte Saga (1967), York made his film debut as Lucentio in William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (Franco Zeffirelli, 1967), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He also appeared in Accident (Joseph Losey, 1967), Harold Pinter's dramatic film adaptation of the 1965 novel by Nicholas Mosley. At the 1967 Cannes Film Festival the film won the award for Grand Prix Spécial du Jury.

Then York was cast as Tybalt Capulet in Zeffirelli’s innovative Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968). He starred in The Guru (James Ivory, 1969) as a rock star who wants to learn to play the sitar, and he played an amoral bisexual drifter in the black comedy Something for Everyone (Harold Prince, 1970) with Angela Lansbury.

Michael York in The Three Musketeers (1973)
East-German postcard by Progress Film-Verleih, Berlin, no. 115/76. Photo: publicity still for The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973).


Michael York starred in the British World War I action-drama Zeppelin (Étienne Périer, 1971), which depicts a fictitious German attempt to raid on Great Britain in a giant Zeppelin to steal the Magna Carta from its hiding place in one of Scotland's castles.

He then portrayed the bisexual Brian Roberts in Bob Fosse's film version of Cabaret (1972) opposite Liza Minelli. Cabaret opened to glowing reviews and strong box office, eventually taking in more than $20 million. The film won eight Oscars and seven British Academy Film Awards.

York then starred as D'Artagnan in Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973), and he made his Broadway debut in the original production of Tennessee Williams's Out Cry. One year later the sequel to The Three Musketeers was released (roughly covering events in the second half of the book) titled The Four Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1974). Fifteen years later, most of the cast and crew joined together in a third film titled The Return of the Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1989), based on the Alexandre Dumas novel Twenty Years After.

York was among the ensemble cast of the British mystery film Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974), based on the 1934 novel by Agatha Christie. It was another box-office hit. He played a young officer in India in the British drama Conduct Unbecoming (Michael Anderson, 1975), and the title character in the American science fiction film Logan's Run (Michael Anderson, 1976).

The following year, he starred opposite Burt Lancaster in The Island of Dr. Moreau (Don Taylor, 1977), based on H.G. Wells novel of the same name. He also reunited with Zeffirelli as John the Baptist in the TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli, 1977), starring Robert Powell as Jesus, and he played Marty Feldman’s twin brother in the American historical comedy The Last Remake of Beau Geste (Marty Feldman, 1977).

His next films, Fedora (Billy Wilder, 1978), the English spy thriller The Riddle of the Sands (Tony Maylam, 1979) and the Canadian spy caper Final Assignment (Paul Almond, 1980) were all box office flops, and York started to work more and more for television.

Michael York
American postcard by Coral-Lee, Rancho Cordova, CA, no. Cl/Personality #48-1979. Photo: Douglas Kirkland / Contact.

International Man of Mystery

In the following decades, Michael York enjoyed a busy and varied career in television and on the stage. On television he starred in such TV films as The Master of Ballantrae (Douglas Hickox, 1984), Sword of Gideon (Michael Anderson, 1986), and The Lady and the Highwayman (John Hough, 1989), and he appeared in two episodes of the series Road to Avonlea (1991).

His Broadway theatre credits include Bent (1980), The Crucible (1992), Someone Who'll Watch Over Me (1993) and the ill-fated musical The Little Prince and the Aviator (1982), which closed during previews. He also has made many sound recordings as a reader, including Harper Audio's production of C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

He kept returning to the cinema. Remarkable was the French-British drama Success Is the Best Revenge (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1984), which was entered into the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. He appeared in the Dutch costume drama Eline Vere (Harry Kümel, 1991). He played Basil Exposition in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jay Roach, 1997) and its two sequels. He was also in the action-adventure The Omega Code (Robert Marcarelli, 1999) with Casper Van Dien.

On TV, he appeared as Mason Fairbanks, Homer Simpson's possible father in an 2006 episode of The Simpsons, and played the character Bernard Fremont (inspired by real life serial killer Charles Sobhraj) in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode Slither (2006). In 2009, he lent his voice to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and in 2016, he returned to The Simpsons as Dr. Budgie.

In the cinema, he was seen in the remarkable Polish film Młyn i krzyż/The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski, 2011), starring Rutger Hauer. His autobiography (1993) was issued as Accidentally on Purpose in the U.S. and Travelling Player in Britain. He also co-wrote a book with Adrian Brine called A Shakespearean actor prepares.

York was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to drama. Michael York is married to photographer Patricia McCallum. They met in 1967 when she was assigned to photograph him, and they married in 1968. His stepson is Star Wars producer Rick McCallum. In 2013, York announced he was suffering from the rare disease amyloidosis (a blood disorder). Doctors initially thought he had bone cancer, and in 2012, he had undergone a stem cell transplant, which can alleviate symptoms.

Trailer Cabaret (1972). Source: Warner Movies On Demand (YouTube).

Trailer The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973). Source: TheTrailerGal (YouTube).

Trailer for Logan's Run (Michael Anderson, 1976). Source: Movieclips Trailer Vault (YouTube).

Sources: Andrew Spicer (Encyclopedia of British Film), Ed Stephan (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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