"I do admire you Robert and I think you have a lot of ability and I'd like to
help you...but you make me so nervous."
Robert Archibald Shaw (9th August 1927 – 28th August 1978) was an English actor, novelist, and playwright. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his role as Henry VIII in the drama film A Man for All Seasons (1966). He played the conned mobster Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting (1973) and the shark hunter Quint in Jaws (1975).
Shaw's other notable film roles include From Russia with Love (1963), Battle of Britain (1969), Young Winston (1972), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Robin and Marian (1976) and Black Sunday (1977).
Beginning his career in theatre, Shaw joined the Royal Shakespeare Company after the Second World War and appeared in productions of Macbeth, Henry VIII, Cymbeline, and other Shakespeare plays. With the Old Vic company (1951–52), he continued primarily in Shakespearean roles. In 1959 he starred in a West End production of The Long and the Short and the Tall.
Robert Archibald Shaw was born on 9 August 1927 at 51 King Street in Westhoughton, Lancashire, the son of former nurse Doreen Nora (née Avery), who was born in Piggs Peak, Swaziland, and Thomas Archibald Shaw, a doctor of Scottish descent.
For a brief period, he was a teacher at Glenhow Preparatory School in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in the North Riding of Yorkshire, before attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, graduating in 1948.
He had a small part in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), playing a police laboratory technician towards the end of the film; the following year he made his London debut, in the West End, at the Embassy Theatre in Caro William. That year he appeared on TV in A Time to Be Born (1952). He returned to Stratford in 1953.
Shaw had small roles in The Dam Busters (1955), a TV version of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1956), the films Doublecross (1956) and A Hill in Korea (1956) (alongside other young actors like Michael Caine), and a TV version of Hindle Wakes (1957).
Shaw became a TV star in England when he starred as Captain Dan Tempest in The Buccaneers (1956-57) which ran for 39 episodes.
He was by this time a TV leading man, having lead roles in TV films such as Success (1957) and a TV version of Rupert of Hentzau (1957). He had a big stage success with The Long and the Short and the Tall on the West End in 1959, directed by Lindsay Anderson, a performance which was filmed for television (though Shaw did not appear in the feature film version).
Shaw had small roles in Sea Fury (1958) and Libel (1959) and guest-starred on William Tell, ITV Television Playhouse, The Four Just Men, and Danger Man. He was also appearing in TV plays like The Dark Man, Misfire and The Train Set.
In 1961, he appeared in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker alongside Donald Pleasence and Alan Bates. Shaw replaced Peter Woodthorpe, who had performed with the others on stage in London. It ran for 165 performances.
He had good roles in The Valiant, a war film, and Tomorrow at Ten (both 1962), a thriller. Shaw played the leads in TV versions of The Winter's Tale and The Father (both 1962). He, Pleasence, and Bates reprised their performances in a film version of The Caretaker (1963); Shaw was part of the consortium who helped finance the latter.
Shaw became well known as a film actor when cast as assassin Donald "Red" Grant in the second James Bond film, From Russia with Love (1963). For TV he adapted and appeared in a production of A Florentine Tragedy (1963), and was Claudius in Hamlet at Elsinore (1964) with Christopher Plummer.
He played the title role in The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), shot in Canada alongside Mary Ure, who became his second wife. He had a role in Carol for Another Christmas (1964). Shaw later said of his early career, "I could have been a straight leading man but that struck me as a boring life."
In 1964, Shaw returned to Broadway in a production of The Physicists directed by Peter Brook but it ran for only 55 performances. "I want very much to avoid doing bad commercial pictures for lots of money", he said. "It's difficult to avoid with six kids and two wives."
Shaw then embarked on a trilogy of novels – The Flag (1965), The Man in the Glass Booth (1967) and A Card from Morocco (1969). He also adapted The Hiding Place into a screenplay for the film Situation Hopeless ... But Not Serious starring Sir Alec Guinness.
Shaw was the relentless panzer German Army officer Colonel Hessler in Battle of the Bulge (1965), produced by Philip Yordan; a young Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons (1966), which earned him a nomination for the Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; General George Armstrong Custer in Custer of the West (1967), again for Yordan; Martin Luther in Luther (1968); and top billed in another film version of Pinter, The Birthday Party (1968), directed by William Friedkin.
His play The Man in the Glass Booth was a success in London in 1967. It transferred to Broadway the following year and was a hit, running for 264 performances. His adaptation for the stage of The Man in the Glass Booth gained him the most attention for his writing.
The book and play present a complex and morally ambiguous tale of a man who, at various times in the story, is either a Jewish businessman pretending to be a Nazi war criminal, or a Nazi war criminal pretending to be a Jewish businessman. The play was quite controversial when performed in the UK and the US, some critics praising Shaw's "sly, deft and complex examination of the moral issues of nationality and identity", others sharply critical of Shaw's treatment of such a sensitive subject.
Shaw was one of many stars in Battle of Britain (1969), with the role of Sailor Malan written specifically for him. He had the lead in The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969) and Figures in a Landscape (1970); his fee for the latter was reportedly $500,000.
In 1970, Shaw returned to Broadway playing the title role in Gantry, a musical adaptation of Elmer Gantry which ran for just one performance, despite co-starring Rita Moreno. His play Cato Street, about the 1820 Cato Street Conspiracy, was produced for the first time in 1971 in London. He did Old Times on Broadway in 1971.
As an actor he appeared in A Town Called Bastard (1971), a spaghetti Western; Young Winston (1972), as Lord Randolph Churchill; A Reflection of Fear (1972); The Hireling (1973); had a cameo in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973); played mobster Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting (1973), a huge hit; was the subway-hijacker and hostage-taker "Mr. Blue" in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). "Most of the time about 50 times larger than the part," he later said.
He made his final appearance on Broadway, in a production of Dance of Death, in 1974.
The Man in the Glass Booth was further developed for the screen, but Shaw disapproved of the resulting screenplay and had his name removed from the credits. However, Shaw viewed the completed film before its release and asked to have his name reinstated.
Shaw achieved his greatest film stardom after playing the shark-obsessed fisherman Quint in Jaws (1975). Shaw was reluctant to take the role since he did not like the book, but decided to accept at the urging of both his wife, actress Mary Ure, and his secretary—"The last time they were that enthusiastic was From Russia with Love. And they were right."
Shaw then appeared in End of the Game (1975); Diamonds (1975), because "I wanted to play a wonderfully elegant Englishman" Robin and Marian (1976) as the Sheriff of Nottingham opposite Audrey Hepburn (Maid Marian) and Sean Connery (Robin Hood); Swashbuckler (1976); playing the lighthouse keeper and treasure-hunter Romer Treece in The Deep (1977), for which his fee was $650,000 and as Israeli Mossad agent David Kabakov in Black Sunday (1977).
During filming Force 10 from Navarone (1978) Shaw said "I'm seriously thinking that this might be my last film ... I no longer have anything real to say. I'm appalled at some of the lines ... I'm not at ease in film. I can't remember the last film I enjoyed making."
He made one more film, Avalanche Express (1979). He said he would use this to pay off his taxes, then focus on writing and making the "occasional small film".
Shaw was married three times and had 10 children, two of whom were adopted. His first wife was Jennifer Bourke from 1952 to 1963, with whom he had four daughters. His second wife was actress Mary Ure from 1963 to 1975, with whom he had four children, including daughters Elizabeth (born 1963) and Hannah (born 1965).
He adopted son Colin (born 1961) from his wife's previous marriage to playwright John Osborne; according to an interview with Colin, he was Shaw's son born during an affair while Ure was still married to Osborne. Shaw's son Ian (born 1969) also became an actor. This marriage ended with Ure's death from an overdose.
His third and final wife was Virginia Jansen from 1976 until his death in 1978, with whom he had one son, Thomas, and adopted her son, Charles, from a previous relationship. Shaw's grandson (via his daughter Deborah and film producer Evzen Kolar) is American musician and composer Rob Kolar and via his son Colin, the child star of the new Disney movie Artemis Fowl, Ferdia Shaw.
Like his father, Shaw was an alcoholic for most of his life.
He suddenly became ill, stopped the car, stepped out, and then collapsed and died on the roadside. He was accompanied by his wife Virginia and his son Thomas at the time. He was rushed to Castlebar General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
He had just completed acting in the film Avalanche Express. His body was cremated and its ashes scattered near his home in Tourmakeady. A stone memorial to him was unveiled there in his honour in August 2008.
His estate amounted to £92,416. His London home, which he had shared with his wife, the late actress Mary Ure, was at 56 Curzon Street, Mayfair, which at the time was an exclusive residential block of apartments.
Robert Shaw Tribute Video
A moving compilation of stills from his famous roles accompanied by the haunting Jaws score by John Williams.