About this Famous Person
Lawford was the only child of Lieutenant-General Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford, KBE (1865-1953) and May Aylen (née May Sommerville Bunny, 1883-1972). At the time of Lawford's birth, however, his mother was married to her second husband, Dr. Capt. Ernest Vaughn Aylen, one of Sir Sidney's officers, while his father was married to the former Muriel Williams. At the time, May and Ernest Aylen were living apart. May confessed to Aylen that the child was not his, a revelation that resulted in a double divorce. Sir Sydney and May Aylen then wed in September 1924, after their divorces were finalized and when their son was one year old.
Lawford's family was connected to the British aristocracy through his uncle Ernest Lawford's wife (a daughter of the 14th Earl of Eglinton) as well as his aunt Ethel Turner Lawford (who married a son of the first Baron Avebury). His aunt Jessie Bruce Lawford, another of his father's sisters, was the second wife of the Hon Hartley Williams, senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of the colony of Victoria, Australia. A relative, through his mother, was Australian artist Rupert Bunny.
He spent his early childhood in France, and owing to his family's travels, was never formally educated. Instead he was schooled by governesses and tutors and his education included tennis and ballet lessons. "In the beginning," his mother observed, "he had no homework. When he was older he had Spanish, German, and music added to his studies. He read only selected books—English fairy stories, English and French classics; no crime stories. Having studied Peter for so long, I decided he was quite unfitted for any career except art, so I cut Latin, Algebra, high mathematics and substituted dramatics instead." Due to the widely varying national and religious backgrounds of his tutors, Lawford "attended various services in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and for some time was an usher in a Christian Science Sunday School ..." Around 1930, aged seven, he made his acting debut in the English film Poor Old Bill.
At the age of 14, Lawford severely injured his right arm in an accident when it went through a glass door. The injury greatly compromised the use of his lower arm and hand with irreversible nerve damage, which he later learned to hide. The injury was considered damaging enough to keep him from entering the military, which his parents had planned. Instead, Lawford decided to pursue a career as an actor, a decision that resulted in one of his aunts refusing to leave him her considerable fortune, as originally planned.
- Category Actor