One of my favorite actors is the handsome, talented and all-around extraordinary Terence Stamp who is celebrating his 68th birthday today. Stamp got interested in acting at the tender age of four after seeing Gary Cooper in Beau Geste (1939), but he didn’t decide to seriously pursue acting until he was seventeen years old. On New Years Eve in 1956 Stamp went to a screening of Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955) which starred James Dean and the film completely overwhelmed him. Terence Stamp related to Dean in a way that he hadn’t with other performers and soon after Stamp decided to enroll at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London to study acting.
In the early sixties Stamp started appearing in various stage productions where he met fellow actor Michael Caine. The two young men with working class backgrounds shared a lot in common and they quickly became friends and roommates. After landing the starring role in Peter Ustinov’s critically acclaimed film adaptation of the Herman Melville novel Billy Budd (1962), Terence Stamp was suddenly hailed as one of Britain’s brightest new stars. The role of Billy Budd won Stamp a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer and also landed him an Oscar nomination.
Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar in The Collector (1965)
Soon after Terence Stamp and Michael Caine became familiar faces in swinging London and they were regularly seen together at Peter Cook’s popular Soho nightclub The Establishment. The two handsome actors entertained many lovely British actresses and models at the flat they shared and together they earned a reputation for being extremely popular with the ladies. One of these ladies was the lovely actress Julie Christie who Stamp was said to be romantically involved with for a brief time. Their relationship was memorialized in The Kinks song Waterloo Sunset which contains the lines; “Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station every Friday night.”
Amid all the partying Stamp continued to act and after making Billy Budd he starred in William Wyler’s brilliant adaptation of John Fowles novel The Collector (1965). His role as the rather sad and disturbed Freddie Clegg in The Collector was a huge departure from the sensitive and sweet character of Billy Budd that Stamp had previously played and it gave him the chance to really show off his impressive acting abilities. The Collector was nominated for many awards and Stamp won Best Actor for his performance at Cannes in 1966. He also continued to act on stage and appeared in the popular London stage production of Bill Naughton’s play Alfie. Stamp was offered the starring role in the film version of Alfie (1966) as well but he decided to turn it down and suggested that his roommate and friend Michael Caine take the role instead. Caine did, and his performance as Alfie won him a lot of well-earned critical attention. Together Stamp and Caine became two of London’s most recognized celebrities.
While making the The Collector Terence Stamp met and fell deeply in love with the beautiful British model and occasional actress Jean Shrimpton. Sometime afterward Stamp decided to move out of the place he shared with Michael Caine and into his own flat at The Albany which was an exclusive gentlemen’s apartment in the heart of London that had previously been home to historic figures such as the poet Lord Byron. I had the chance to briefly visit The Albany when I was in London seven years ago and it’s an incredibly lovely old building that sits across the street from the wonderful Hatchards Bookshop.
During this time Stamp was offered the starring role in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966), but Antonioni decided to replace Stamp at the last minute with actor David Hemmings. This incident supposedly devastated Stamp and many critics have written about how it seemed to throw a wrench into his career, but I would disagree with that. Stamp would appear in many great films throughout the sixties including Jospeh Losey’s terrific pop art spy spoof Modesty Blaise (1966), John Schlesinger’s beautiful adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), Ken Loach’s gritty kitchen sink drama Poor Cow (1967), the interesting western Blue (1968), Fellini’s amazing segment of the horror and fantasy anthology Spirits of the Dead (a.k.a. Histoires Extraordinaires, 1968) and Pasolini’s fascinating and brilliant Teorema (1968). Many of the films he appeared in met with mixed critical reviews but his performances were often singled out as being consistently good. The starring role in Antonioni’s Blowup would have been a nice addition to Terence Stamp’s filmography, but his excellent and varied career as an actor is just as impressive without it.
As the sixties came to a close, Stamp’s relationship with Jean Shrimpton supposedly fell apart when he found out she was having an affair with another man. This discovery was said to have destroyed Stamp and much like the British actor James Fox who I wrote about earlier this year, Stamp decided to take a break from acting and devote himself to spiritual studies. Before his self-imposed sabbatical, Stamp appeared in a couple of worthwhile films in the early seventies including the British science fiction film The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970) and Nello Risi’s Una Stagione all’inferno (1970) where he appeared as the French poet Arthur Rimbaud alongside Jean-Claude Brialy as Paul Verlaine. I’ve recently had the chance to view The Mind of Mr. Soames so you can expect a review from me very soon, but I still haven’t been able to track down a copy Una Stagione all’inferno and I would love to see that film. Hopefully it will become available sooner or later.
Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp with his horse Modesty in 1965.
Jean gave Modesty to Terence for his birthday after he got the role
in the film Modesty Blaise.
For the next decade Terence Stamp would spend most of his time traveling the world and living in such varied places as Spain, Japan and India where he studied the teachings of spiritual leaders such as Krishnamurti and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He occasionally took roles in interesting films like Hu-Man (1975), Divina Creatura (1975), Striptease (1976) and Black-Out (1977) but his popular roles in Richard Donner’s Superman – The Movie (1978) and Peter Brook’s Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979) really brought Terence Stamp back into the spotlight.
For the past thirty years Terence Stamp has continued to act in some good, and not so good films. I think some of his best performances in recent years can be found in The Hit (1985), The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994) and The Limey (1999). Hopefully Stamp will be offered more challenging roles in the future that make full use of his versatility and incredible skills an an actor. Even at age 68 Stamp continues to look terrific and Esquire magazine recently voted him Britain’s best dressed man.
If you’d like to learn more about Terence Stamp I recommend visiting the fan site:
– Terence Stamp : Meetings With A Remarkable Man