Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE was an English actor. He was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters. He later won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. His most prominent role in his later career was as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Guinness was born at 155 Lauderdale Mansions South, Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale, London as Alec Guinness de Cuffe. His mother’s maiden name was Agnes Cuff. She was born 8 December 1890 to Edward Cuff and Mary Ann née Benfield. On Guinness’s birth certificate, the field for mother’s name displays Agnes de Cuffe. In the field for the infant’s name, it says Alec Guinness. There is nothing written in the column for name and surname of father. On this basis it has been frequently speculated that the actor’s father was a member of the Irish Guinness family. However, it was a Scottish banker named Andrew Geddes who paid for Guinness’s private school education. From 1875, English law required both the presence and consent of the father when the birth of an illegitimate child was registered in order for his name to be put on the certificate. Guinness and Geddes never met, and the identity of Guinness’s father has never been confirmed. Guinness hated his mother, who later had a short marriage to a violent shell shocked veteran of the Anglo-Irish War.
Guinness first worked writing advertising copy. He made his debut at the Albery Theatre in 1936 at the age of 22, playing the role of Osric in John Gielgud’s successful production of Hamlet. During this time he worked with many actors and actresses who would become his friends and frequent co-stars in the future, including John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Anthony Quayle, and Jack Hawkins. An early influence from afar was Stan Laurel, whom Guinness admired.
Guinness continued playing Shakespearean roles throughout his career. In 1937 he played Aumerle in Richard II and Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice under the direction of John Gielgud. He starred in a 1938 production of Hamlet which won him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He also appeared as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet, Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night and as Exeter in Henry V in 1937, both opposite Laurence Olivier, and Ferdinand in The Tempest, opposite Gielgud as Prospero.