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John Cleese Biography

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John Cleese
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John Cleese Biography

John Cleese was born on October 27, 1939, in Weston-Super-Mare, England. He was born into a family of modest means, his father being an insurance salesman, but he was nonetheless sent off to private schools to obtain a good education. Here he was often tormented for his height, having reached a height of six feet by the age of twelve, and eventually discovered that being humorous could deflect aggressive behavior in others. He loved humor in and of itself, collected jokes, and, like many young Britons who would grow up to be comedians, was devoted to the radio comedy show, "The Goon Show," starring the legendary Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe.

Cleese did well in both sports and academics, but his real love was comedy. He attended Cambridge to read (study) Law, but devoted a great deal of time to the university's legendary Footlights group, writing and performing in comedy reviews, often in collaboration with future fellow Python Graham Chapman. Several of these comedy reviews met with great success, including one in particular which toured under the name "Cambridge Circus." When Cleese graduated, he went on to write for the BBC, then rejoined Cambridge Circus in 1964, which toured New Zealand and America. He remained in America after leaving Cambridge Circus, performing and doing a little journalism, and here met Terry Gilliam, another future Python.

Returning to England, he began appearing in a BBC radio series, "I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again", based on Cambridge Circus. It ran for several years and also starred future 'Goodies' Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden. He also appeared, briefly, with Brooke-Taylor, Chapman & Marty Feldman in "At Last the 1948 Show" (1967), for television, and a series of collaborations with some of the finest comedy-writing talent in England at the time, some of whom - Eric Idle, Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Chapman - eventually joined him in Monty Python. These programs included "The Frost Report" (1966) and Marty Feldman's program _"Marty" (1966)_ . Eventually, however, the writers were themselves collected to be the talent for their own program, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (1969), which was originally to be a vehicle for Cleese but soon showed itself to be an ensemble program. Monty Python displayed a strange and completely absorbing blend of low farce and high-concept absurdist humor, and remains influential to this day.

After three seasons of the intensity of Monty Python, Cleese left the show, though he collaborated with one or more of the other Pythons for decades to come, including the Python movies released in the mid-70s to early 80s - Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and The Meaning of Life (1983). Cleese and then-wife Connie Booth collaborated in the legendary television series "Fawlty Towers" (1975), as the sharp-tongued, rude, bumbling yet somehow lovable proprietor of a rundown English seaside hotel. Cleese apparently based this character on a proprietor he had met while staying with the other Pythons at a hotel in England. Only a dozen episodes were made, but each was truly hilarious, and he is still closely associated with this program to this day.

Meanwhile Cleese had established a production company, Video Arts, for clever business training videos in which he generally starred, which were and continue to be enormously successful in the English-speaking world. He continues to act prolifically in movies, including in the hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda (1988), in the Harry Potter series, and in the James Bond series as the new Q, starting with The World Is Not Enough (1999), in which he began as R before graduating to Q. Cleese also supplies his voice to numerous animated and video projects, and frequently does commercials.

Besides the infamous Basil Fawlty character, Cleese's other well-known trademark is his rendition of an English upper-class toff. He has a daughter with Booth and a daughter with his second wife, Barbara Trentham. He is currently married to Alice Faye Eichelberger. Education and learning are important elements of his life - he was Rector of the University of Saint Andrews from 1973 until 1976, and continues to be a professor at large of Cornell University in New York. Cleese lives in Santa Barbara, California.


John Cleese Trivia

Member of the comedy group "Monty Python".

Father of Cynthia Cleese.

Holds a law degree from Cambridge University.

Co-wrote several episodes of "Doctor in the House" (1969) and its sequels with Graham Chapman, and also wrote some later episodes as sole author.

He was a cast member of the highly successful radio show "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again". His fellow cast members were Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, David Hatch and Jo Kendall. It was during this radio show that Cleese's famous 'Ferret Song' (later sung on the television series, "At Last the 1948 Show" (1967)) was first heard.

Was a member of the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club.

Went to the United States with the Footlights stage show "Cambridge Circus" in 1964, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" (1948).

When he had to join the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 1989, for his third appearance on American TV, none of the staff at the AFTRA office recognized him, or had any idea who he was.

Ever since one of his most famous Monty Python sketches, The Ministry of Silly Walks, he has found himself continually pestered by admirers to do silly walks for them.

Who's Who lists his recreations as "gluttony, sloth."

Rector of University of St Andrews from 1970-1973.

According to Brian Henson, when Cleese guest-starred on "The Muppet Show" (1976), he enjoyed the show very much and became very close with the writers because he wanted to get involved in the writing. When he did get involved with the writing, he and the other writers came up with a concept where Cleese was being held against his will on the show and would try to get off the show while the Muppets were trying to get him to do his scheduled bits. Of course, in this case, life did not imitate art, as a few years later, Cleese appeared again with the Muppets in the film The Great Muppet Caper (1981).

Is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.

Co-owns the Christine Schell Fine Objects antique shop in Montecito, CA.

John's father's name was Reg Cleese but his grandfather was named John Edwin Cheese. He changed his name when he joined the British army in 1915.

Daughter, Camilla, born 1984 (with second wife Barbara Trentham)

Reached adult height of 6' 4 3/4" by the age of 13.

Said he was to be the first person to say the F-word at a memorial service when he spoke at Graham Chapman's funeral.

His mother, Muriel Cleese (b. Cross, 11 November 1899 - 11 November 2000) died on her 101st birthday.

The inspiration for "Fawlty Towers" (1975) came from a hotel stay he had with the other Pythons in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, England. The hotel manager was called Donald Sinclair, someone Cleese considered to be the rudest man he had ever encountered. He later played a character by the name of Donald P. Sinclair in Rat Race (2001).

When he left the Monty Python team, he was approached by the BBC to do something else, and together with Booth, created "Fawlty Towers (1975)" based on their experiences in a Torquay hotel.

In the late nineties he appeared in German TV commercials for a lottery service. He actually spoke German in some of these spots (while some had no dialogue and others where dubbed later on).

When the Globe Theatre was rebuilt in London, a service was offered whereby you could have your name on a tile in the courtyard, for a donation to the project. Cleese and fellow python Michael Palin both signed up for tiles, but Palin's was spelled wrong. Cleese paid extra to ensure it would be spelled "Pallin."

Was the tallest member of Monty Python, having been about 2 inches taller than Graham Chapman.

Father-in-law of Ed Solomon.

He allegedly refused the British Honour of the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1996.

Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 108-109. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387

He has played the character of the "Black Knight" on two occasions, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and the episode "Mary Loves Scoochie" on the show "3rd Rock from The Sun (1996)" .

Appeared in a series of educational short subjects produced by Video Arts [gb] designed to teach management and trainees how to handle stress and unusual situations. Cleese took advantage of his comic talents and portrayed events as absurd situations so that audiences would better remember their training.

In 2002, he appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), with Maggie Smith, and in Die Another Day (2002), opposite her son, Toby Stephens.

Terry Gilliam noted among his Monty Python co-stars that there seemed to be a division between the taller, more "aggressive" Cambridge men (Cleese, Graham Chapman, & Eric Idle) and the shorter, lighter-humored Oxford men (Michael Palin & Terry Jones), the latter of which the American Gilliam found himself closer to. Gilliam considered Cleese the most "Cambridge" of the group, being the tallest and most "aggressive" member of Monty Python.

Voiced Jean-Bob, a frog who believes he's a prince, in The Swan Princess (1994), then went on to voice a king who used to be a frog in Shrek 2 (2004).

Has played the father of two of the Charlie's Angels. First he played Lucy Liu's father in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). The next year he played Cameron Diaz's father in Shrek 2 (2004).

Has resided for many years in the prestigious Chicago North Shore suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois.

Former supporter of the Liberal Democrat political party.

Has said that Cornell University is set in one of the most beautiful locations on earth.

In 2005, offered a part of his colon, removed due to diverticulitis, for sale on his official website. The proceeds are reportedly to be divided between Cleese himself and his surgeon.

Father Reg Cleese was an insurance salesman.

As a child loved the radio comedy show "The Goon Show".

When he guest starred on "The Muppet Show" (1976), there is a skit in which he plays a pirate, complete with a nagging parrot/possible wife. Shortly before the end of the skit, he asks, "Do you want to be an EX-parrot?" and fires off his gun, missing the parrot. This is a reference to the infamous Parrot Sketch from Cleese's Monty Python's Flying Circus.

A newly discovered species of lemur, avahi cleesei, was named after him in honor of his love of the endangered primates, which figure prominently in his movie, Fierce Creatures (1997).

He and Terry Gilliam are the only members of 'Monty Python' to be nominated for Oscars. Coincidentally, they were both for Best Original Screenplay, Gilliam for Brazil (1985) and Cleese for A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Both screenplays did not win their Oscars, and both films featured Michael Palin.

Campaigned long, hard but unsuccessfully to win the role of Brian in Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) because he wanted to expand his range in his first substantial film role, but the rest of the group favored the late Graham Chapman, and eventually the group persuaded Cleese that Chapman was better suited to the part of Brian and Cleese stepped aside.

Just to see if anyone would notice, during the early 1970s Cleese added one obviously fake film per year to his annual filmography listing in Who's Who. For the record, these fake films were "The Bonar Law Story" (1971), "Abbott & Costello Meet Sir Michael Swann" (1972), "The Young Anthony Barber" (1973) and "Confessions of a Programme Planner" (1974). Although Cleese confessed to the gag in the 1980s, mentions of these bogus films still appear from time to time in scholarly works on Cleese, including the entry in the Encyclopedia of Television, 1st ed. (1996) edited by Horace Newcomb.

One of his favorite TV shows is Disney's Dave The Barbarian.

Is a vegetarian.

Before becoming an actor, Cleese studied to be a lawyer. He went on to play a lawyer in A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Splitting Heirs (1993).




 
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