Cleavage Kay Kendall nudes (39 photo) Cleavage, panties
This year, the great actor would have been 100 years old.
There are two other major stars whose centenaries are close to his - the widely admired Michael Redgrave and the much-loved John Mills.
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Star quality: Rex Harrison loved actress Kay Kendall, but his treatment of other women was atrocious
Of the three, Sir Rex is the least missed within the business. He had a lovely line in playing rotters, rakes and cads, but his behaviour offstage was legendary - and appalling.
He was cordially loathed by almost everybody.
The star who personified the ultimate suave bachelor and who played Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (Lerner and Loewe's great musical masterpiece) was, in life, comically awful.
Even his several biographers can't quite bring themselves to spell out just how ghastly.
He was an abusive, philandering, self-serving, gluttonous egomaniac with a blind indifference to the thoughts and feelings of others.
Nobody escaped his vile temper or his scathing tongue - not even his fans.
One night, after a stage performance of My Fair Lady, an elderly woman was standing alone in the rain outside the stage door and asked for his autograph.
Rex told her to "sod off", which so enraged the old woman she promptly rolled up her programme and hit him with it.
Fellow actor Stanley Holloway, who witnessed the scene, remarked that it was the first time "the fan has hit the s!".
Like the character he played in the 1945 film film The Rake's Progress, Rex Harrison was quite simply a bounder. And he kept it up to the very end.
When he last appeared on the stage in London in the Eighties, a promising young female member of the cast sought a private word with him and was foolish enough to suggest he was getting a line slightly wrong.
He smiled his deadliest smile: "Mmmmm, how very interesting to be given advice from quite the worst actress on the English stage."
She sobbed into her make-up box for weeks.
Rex had wanted to be an actor since he was a child, growing up with his sister in Huyton, then a village outside Liverpool.
But as a child staging shows at home, he didn't actually act at all. He just came on and took curtain calls and God help his family if they didn't clap furiously.
According to his memoirs, his background was one of faded grandeur and mystery, and his version of his early life is littered with stories of a grandmother being pushed around her extensive estate in a bathchair while bemoaning the decline in the family's fortunes.
The director Patrick Garland, who knew Rex well and wrote a perceptive memoir of him, once sent a highly experienced researcher to Liverpool to find out more about the star's past.
The researcher found no trace of the big house, no lawns, no road where the house once stood, nothing.
Harrison, it seems, had made the whole thing up. There was a persistent rumour (but no evidence) that Harrison was the son of a local butcher.
Whatever the truth, young Rex was his own invention. He turned his life into an act in which everyone else was the supporting cast.
His artistic education was obtained by leaning over the balcony at the Liverpool Alhambra, watching the great heroes of the day - many of them gentleman stars of the Edwardian era such as Gerald Du Maurier and Sir Seymour Hicks.
Their seemingly effortless grace and perfect comic timing fascinated him.
A great actor, he once concluded, could make you feel as if their entire performance was being directed at you personally. He made it his business to emulate them.
The fact that he succeeded in this ambition was down to two remarkable assets that set him apart: a magnetic charm (when he bothered to exercise it) and an acting technique that was unrivalled.
With his batty headgear (Britain's tweed hat makers adored Rex), his long limbs encased in immaculate tailoring, nobody came anywhere near him for sheer panache. He even managed to make cardigans look sexy.
His voice had a wonderful astringent rasp. In the jungle of high comedy, Rex was the alpha male silverback, his harem of females lounging around him.
It was just as well that he lived in an age long before political correctness.
To Rex Harrison, the very concept would have been quite beyond comprehension. To him, waiters were all "wops". Producers were all "bastards" or worse. And women were put on earth entirely for his comfort.
He once shouted at one of his wives - "come back here ... (long pause) ... you!"
The resort to the pronoun was because he simply couldn't remember her name. There had been too many wives and too many affairs.
When he died in New York in 1990, from pancreatic cancer, at the age of 82, his funeral posed a problem.
Where to have it? One wag suggested a telephone box - ample room for all Rex's friends.
And then another interesting facet was revealed at the sale of his effects.
The auction catalogues of wealthy actors usually tell you a lot about them.
I have, for example, the catalogue for Ralph Richardson's things (indeed, I am the proud owner of the great man's wallet) and it is full of lovely English furniture and Georgian good taste.
By contrast, John Gielgud's furniture and effects amounted to an endearingly feminine riot of gilt and ormolu.
Rex Harrison's one most memorable relic looked like a flat, dead hamster. It turned out to be his hair-piece.
It went for 5 (£62), presumably to a bald fan.
There is, as John Cleese once observed, nothing funnier on this planet than a man's toupee.
Rex Harrison would not, however, have got the joke. He never laughed about the one most important thing in his life - himself.
"Sexy Rexy" (a Press epithet he disliked as it smacked of the end of the pier) was the nearest thing showbusiness has produced to Henry VIII, whom Rex once played in Anne Of A Thousand Days.
He and Henry Tudor had a lot in common. They were similarly tyrannical, both got through six wives, and both enjoyed fine dining.
The matrimonial death toll in both cases was impressive. Two of Rex's women - his lover, the actress Carole Landis, and wife number four, the actress Rachel Roberts - killed themselves.
He was often amorously involved with an ex-wife, a current wife and a lover at the same time.
Hardly a surprise, then, that he frequently got their names mixed up when making love to them.
In the case of Landis, goosebumps of horror erupt as you read the accounts of their fling in 1947. She was in her 20s and had already been married several times.
She was said to be great company, free with her favours, if a tad unstable. Rex homed in on her like a shark, although he was married to his second wife, Lilli Palmer, at the time.
The following year, realising the affair was going nowhere, Landis took an overdose. Rex found her when she was still alive but her pulse was very weak.
Instead of immediately calling an ambulance, he spent half an hour thumbing through her address book looking for her private doctor, in the hope of keeping a scandal at bay. By the time he had found it, it was too late.
Yet to set against this appalling stain on his ledger, there was his heroic treatment of the bubbly actress Kay Kendall, best known for the film Genevieve, and with whom Harrison began a relationship with her on the set of The Constant Husband.
Kendall had leukaemia - a fact her doctor kept from her but he told Rex about.
Harrison and Lilli Palmer, his wife at the time, calmly agreed to divorce in 1957 (planning to later remarry) so he could marry Kendall who believed she had only anaemia.
Harrison then nursed her, protecting her from the truth to the last. Some people say she knew her fate all along, but they both found pretence the best way of coping. He was genuinely devastated by her death.
But if Palmer seriously believed they would remarry, she was badly let down.
In 1962, he married Rachel Roberts who would later take the same way out of the relationship as Landis had: an overdose of sleeping pills.
Meanwhile, Harrison's boorish behaviour to others continued undaunted. When My Fair Lady was on Broadway, the orchestra was conducted by the European maestro, Franz Allers.
He memorably compared Rex's talent to a magical fly fisherman who could coax laughter out of an audience by the gentle and precision casting of a line.
Gracious as ever, Rex returned the compliment by referring to Allers as "that Nazi in the pit".
Rex never fully approved of his Eliza Doolittles, certainly not Audrey Hepburn - "bloody Audrey" he called her.
As for Higgins, he invested so much of his life and romantic appeal in the part that it is now his most lasting monument.
For those of us who never saw him perform the role on stage, there is at least the consolation of that wonderful film version.
It would be wrong to suggest that Rex Harrison belonged to some mythical golden age of acting.
There are probably more great actors around today than there have ever been before.
Britain's actors are a seriously bluechip export - about the only thing left at which the Chinese can't touch us.
Senior members of the profession, the knights and dames, are an admirably unpompous lot deeply concerned about their industry.
There is, though, a rather boring conformity of opinion (I can't see Rex Harrison caring a fig about Arts Council funding cuts or Aids awareness) that makes one nostalgic for his damn-you hauteur and romantic sense of high style.
The more you know about him, the more he seems to have lived inside an old drawing room comedy.
Rex employed a butler, to whom he was so obnoxious that the man once threatened him with a shotgun.
What sort of hellish treatment drove this Jeeves to commit such sacrilege one can only guess at.
It is hard to imagine the likes of today's top thespians being thumped by a waiter. Harrison was. Twice.
The first incident, on tour during the war, happened when he was served some not-so-fresh fish in a hotel.
Never mind that U-boats made fishing difficult, the fish had not been caught that morning and Rex hurled the offending item across the table.
The appalled maitre d'hotel came over and cuffed him one. Rex bellowed back: "How dare you, you ing Italian!"
On the second occasion, a waiter lost it completely and swung a haymaker at the actor, who fell to the floor, blood gushing.
His putupon wife, Lilli Palmer, said it was the best day of her life.
Servants of all sorts posed problems for him. It must have infuriated him that, as a tax exile living in Italy, the locals never took the trouble to learn English.
His one word of Italian was "buffoono". He once tried to speak French when his meat was cooked for a few seconds too long in a restaurant in Nice.
"Ce bifstek est brule comme la buggere!" he complained to the baffled waiter.
Colossal outgoings and alimony required him to stay on top of his professional tree.
As Maggie Smith (his only living equal in the world of high comedy) once observed, once you're accustomed to money, there's no going back.
My Fair Lady, in which he appeared over many years, facilitated his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces and accounts in the outfitters of Piccadilly, where hats, shirts, boots and wines were ordered by the ton.
In Manhattan, he lived in the same apartment block as Greta Garbo, though whether he ever interrupted her famous solitude with a knock on her door, a chilled bottle and two glasses, the old Rexy charm turned to the max, no one knows. Indeed, he should really have married his wine cellar.
Top of his list of weaknesses, apart from women, were Premier Cru white burgundies, for which he had an elephant's thirst.
He was an inveterate cork sniffer and woe betide the sommelier in a restaurant who contradicted him.
Movie producers and agents who took Harrison to lunch and invited him to choose the wine made the mistake only once.
He went straight to bottles costing three figures at the steep end of the list, pronouncing each vintage served as "insufficiently burnished by the sun" or from "the wrong side of vineyard".
His authority on the subject was apparently dazzling.
The actor John Standing - a friend and the son of his French Without Tears co-star Kay Hammond - has an intriguing theory that he actually knew nothing at all about wine.
It was all an act. He knew how to order, sniff, sluice and announce solemn verdicts.
These table rituals were matchlessly executed, but behind it all was a glorious ignorance. The performance, however, was always gripping.
Unsurprisingly, he never got on with the other greats of his remarkable era. Laurence Olivier, he resented. When Larry made a remark about doing the play Dance Of Death, Harrison said: "Only on your grave, old boy."
During his old age, Harrison never saw eye to eye with the subsidised theatre or its proponents. If the public wanted to see him, they should pay properly and dress properly.
One reason he couldn't face the egalitarian oik-infested new National Theatre was that there were no star dressing rooms and the billing was alphabetical.
"Would it help," he once asked the director Peter Hall, "if I changed my name to 'Arrison?"
It is a great loss that he didn't embrace the modern theatre. Sadly he never attempted either much Shakespeare or Elizabethan drama (he disliked "those Tudor buggers") but, instead, made himself a masterly exponent of the works of Bernard Shaw - whose play Major Barbara, opened this week at the National in a centenary salute to Rex who, in the 1941 film version, was sensational in the part of Adolphus Cusins.
Rex Harrison's reputation 100 years on? A brilliant Shavian actor, perhaps the best ever. A wonderful and terribly English performer - a true one-off.
But he is perhaps best remembered as a magnificent bird of paradise, one which if he ever landed in your life you'd want to throttle ... very slowly.
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