You can't build a great career out of collaborations with second-raters- and O'Toole had a talent- a quite remarkable talent- for avoiding working with the best directors. John Wayne worked with Ford and Hawks, James Stewart worked with Capra, Hitchcock and Mann. O'Toole worked with David Lean- once.
On stage it was the same story. He played Hamlet for Olivier then wandered off. He kept away from the great companies- from the National and the RSC. When he showed up in the West End it was in one-off productions- like his famously absurd Macbeth and the triumphant Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell. He didn't, it seems, like to have to share the limelight.
He was a one of a generation of actors- headed up by Brando and Burton- who rather despised acting. It had something to do- I think- with growing up in wartime and finding it a bit sissy to be fighting with buttoned foils when boys a year or two older had commanded tanks and killed nazis. In the absence of a proper war the manly thing to do was to hang about in bars. They were hugely talented- but compared with the generation that came before- the Oliviers and Gielguds and Guinnesses- and the generation that came after- the McKellens and Gambons- they lacked application.
O'Toole was mesmerising when he bothered to turn up. He was good. Very good. The pity is he could have been the greatest.