Sylvester, William

Sylvester, William
   The Oakland, California–born actor William Sylvester, perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Heywood Floyd in 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968),worked extensively 364 n “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” in British stage and screen productions, usually playing Americans. Sylvester had won amateur boxing titles while studying business administration at the University of California at Stanford. He was told by no less than John Barrymore, a friend of the family, that he should go to England and study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA); and he did exactly that after leaving the merchant navy in 1947. While he was at RADA, a student production of Dark of the Moon led to Sylvester’s being cast in Peter Brook’s The Ambassadors in 1949, and to more work in Summer and Smoke. A two-year run in the London production of The Teahouse of the August Moon followed, with Sylvester as Captain Frisby. He also played assorted Shakespearean roles, in productions of As You Like It, Othello, and Macbeth. His screen work was rather less lofty, usually in low-budget British thrillers. Such films as The Devil Doll (1964), Devils of Darkness (1965), The Hand of Night (1966), and Gorgo (1961) make up most of his film résumé prior to 2001.
   In 2001, Sylvester’s Heywood Floyd is usually seen in bureaucratic mode, being met and greeted on his way to the Moon base Clavius, engaging mostly in official chitchat. However, a more human side of Floyd emerges during the famous videophone call that he makes from orbit, during which he speaks to his daughter, “Squirt” (VIVIAN KUBRICK). His warm façade cracks only once, when he bumps into a group of Soviet scientists, with one of whom he is friendly. The warm banter turns very chilly when Dr. Smyslov (LEONARD ROSSITER) brings up the subject of Clavius, and Floyd has to refuse, point-blank, to answer any questions on the matter. Someone quickly changes the topic of conversation, and Floyd is again all good fellowship, as Sylvester ably navigates the twists and turns of a deceptively simple scene.
   Sylvester returned to California in the late sixties, and worked regularly in television and films until his death.
   ■ Bergan, Ronald, “A Yank at Denham Studios,” Manchester Guardian, March 7, 1995;
   ■ “William Sylvester,” Internet Movie Database,
   T. D.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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