British-Australian actor Peter Finch worked in Australia in vaudeville, radio and film during the Great Depression but later returned to Britain, portraying a wide variety of film roles, such as in The Nun's Story and Sunday Bloody Sunday. Finch is probably best known for his portrayal of anchorman Howard Beale in Network, for which he received the first-ever posthumous acting Oscar. He died in 1977.
Born on September 28, 1916, in London, Peter Finch attended French schools until he and his family moved to Australia when he was 10 years old. After high school, Finch trained briefly to be a reporter, bummed around Australia and finally landed on the stage as an actor. Around age 20, he toured across the country in a production of While Parents Sleep and worked in the radio business. In 1945, Finch, serious now about an acting career, founded a stage company called Mercury Players, a name he took from Orson Welles's legendary Mercury Theater. Around this time, Finch returned to England for a stint after he was discovered by Sir Lawrence Olivier and cast in a production of Daphne Laureola at the Old Vic.
On the Big Screen
After acting in several Australian films, Finch began a long and successful run in the British cinema, which began in 1949 with a role in Train of Events. The 1950s were flush with roles, and Finch appeared in such films as The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), Father Brown (1954), A Town Like Alice (1956) and The Shiralee (1957). Finch’s colorful personas on screen kept him in leading roles, and he was also colorful off-screen, and his womanizing and drinking brought him nearly as much attention as his talent.
While the 1950s gave him the launch pad for his career, the 1960s found Finch in flight.
The titular role in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) and roles in such films as The Pumpkin Eater (1964), Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and Sunday Bloody Sunday would all gain Finch considerable attention. With his wide array of films, Finch racked up numerous awards, including four BAFTAs, a Golden Globe and an Oscar, the last of which was for his performance in the newsroom drama Network. The Oscar was the first posthumous acting Oscar in Academy Award history, and it came soon after Finch’s January 1977 death.
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