Out of Luck: The Rise and Fall of Peter Lawford

For this and the forthcoming post, Ivy-Style looks at two clients of legendary clothier Chipp, as recounted in our recent interview with Paul Winston. First up is Peter Lawford, who Winston credits with introducing the Kennedy clan to Chipp. Contributing writer Tom Ryan tells the story of the man who had it all and then lost it.

On the surface, Peter Lawford lived a charmed life. He enjoyed a successful career as an entertainer and leading man, married into one of the most high-profile families in American history, and was a member of the famed Rat Pack. Yet despite his success Lawford ultimately died a tragic figure.

From the beginning, English-born Lawford was destined for debonair roles, landing his first major part in 1942 opposite Mickey Rooney in “A Yank At Eton.” By the late ‘40s Lawford became a bonafide star, garnering critical acclaim for several roles, including his turn as quarterback Tommy Marlowe in the 1947 collegiate film “Good News,” set in the Roaring Twenties at the fictitious Tait College. The musical also features Mel Tormé, and includes the standards “The Best Things in Life Are Free” and “The Varsity Drag.”

In 1953 the actor struck up a romance with Patricia Kennedy, sister of then-senator John F. Kennedy, and the two were married a year later. Lawford would go on to campaign for his brother-in-law during the 1960 Presidential Election, and his newly gained American citizenship allowed him to vote for JFK.

The Lawford-Kennedy marriage produced four children, but ended in 1966 amid numerous reports of Lawford’s alcoholism and extramarital affairs.

Lawford continued to work steadily, with roles in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Sergeants 3” alongside his Rat Pack brethren. He would also marry three more times. He sunk heavily into drug and alcohol abuse during his later years; attempts at treatment were unsuccessful.

Despite his vices Lawford continued to enjoy his reputation as a dashing playboy. It’s said he was the first to kiss Elizabeth Taylor onscreen, and the last to speak with Marilyn Monroe before her death.

Although Lawford displayed charm and elegance throughout his career, hard living ultimately cost him his life. He died in 1984, heavily in debt, from cardiac arrest complicated by kidney and liver failure. — TOM RYAN

7 Comments on "Out of Luck: The Rise and Fall of Peter Lawford"

  1. Richard M | May 31, 2009 at 12:36 pm |

    Later in life, he switched from Chipp to a Beatles haircut, jean jackets etc.; a clear example of dissipation.

  2. He also had a supporting role in the Fred Astaire flick “Royal Wedding,” which he played well (the film is noted for its Astaire dancing on the ceiling scene). So sad that his addictions cost him everything.

  3. And he pimped his friend Marilyn Monroe out to all his buddies. The guy was a loser, who wanted more than anything to play with the talented celebrities in Hollywood. He was a “B” grade actor, and if it wasn’t for marrying a Kennedy, he would be a piss hole in the snow

  4. It’s been said he advised Jack Kennedy on looking his best for the camera, and steered him away from his button down/repp stripe tie look, saying it was too “schoolboy” for public consumption.

  5. Vern Trotter | December 21, 2016 at 3:07 pm |

    He also claimed that JFK once stole $700 off his bureau top while he (Lawford) was in the shower, leading to a falling out between them. I hate when that happens.

  6. Have only read a few things about Lawford over the years, but the boy doesn’t seem to have a lot of defenders. What I saw of him onscreen, he was an attractive-enough supporting character type.

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