Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deathday: Peter Cushing 1913-1994 English Actor "Sherlock Holmes"

Peter Wilton Cushing, OBE (26 May 1913 – 11 August 1994) was an English actor, known for his many appearances in Hammer Films, in which he played Baron Frankenstein. Dr. Van Helsing, and Sherlock Holmes, amongst many other roles, often appearing opposite Christopher Lee, and occasionally Vincent Price. A familiar face on both sides of the Atlantic, he also starred as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977) and as Doctor Who in two Doctor Who-based cinema films, Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1965 and 1966.


Early life

Cushing was born in Kenley, Surrey, a son of George Edward Cushing and Nellie Marie (King) Cushing.[1] He was raised in Kenley and in Dulwich, South London. Cushing left his first job as a surveyor's assistant to take a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After working in repertory theatre in Worthing, West Sussex,[2] he left for Hollywood in 1939, debuting in The Man in the Iron Mask, then returned in 1941 after roles in several films. In one, A Chump at Oxford (1940), he appeared alongside Laurel and Hardy. His first major film part was as Osric in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948).

In the 1950s, he worked in television, notably as Winston Smith in the BBC's adaptation of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), scripted by Nigel Kneale. Cushing drew much praise for his performance in this production, although he always felt that his performance in the surviving version of the broadcast — it was performed live twice in one week, then a common practice, and only the second version exists in the archives — was inferior to the first. During many of his small screen performances, Cushing also starred as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC's 1952 production of Pride and Prejudice and as King Richard II in Richard of Bordeaux in 1955.

Hammer Horror

Peter Cushing as Sir Mark Ashley with Christopher Lee in Nothing But the Night (1972).His first appearances in his two most famous roles were in Terence Fisher's films The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). Cushing is closely associated with playing Baron Victor Frankenstein and Van Helsing in a long string of horror films produced by Hammer Horror. He later said that career decisions for him meant choosing roles where he knew the audience would accept him. "Who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein so that's the one I do." He also said "If I played Hamlet, they'd call it a horror film."

Cushing was often cast opposite the actor Christopher Lee, who became his best friend. "People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can't think why. In my macabre pictures, I have either been a monster-maker or a monster-destroyer, but never a monster. Actually, I'm a gentle fellow. Never harmed a fly. I love animals, and when I'm in the country I'm a keen bird-watcher," he said in an interview published in ABC Film Review in November 1964.

In the mid-1960s, he played "Doctor Who" in two movies (Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks — Invasion Earth 2150 AD) based on the television series Doctor Who. He decided to play the part as a lovable, avuncular figure to escape from his image as a "horror" actor. "I do get terribly tired with the neighbourhood kids telling me 'My mum says she wouldn't want to meet you in a dark alley'." he said in an interview in 1966. He also appeared in The Avengers and its successor, The New Avengers. In 1986, he played the role of Colonel William Raymond in Biggles. In Space: 1999, he appeared as a Prospero-like character called Raan.

Cushing was one of many stars to guest on The Morecambe and Wise Show — the standing joke in his case being the idea that he was never paid for his appearance. He would appear, week after week, wearily asking hosts Eric and Ernie, "Have you got my five pounds yet?" When Cushing was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1989, one of the guests was Ernie Wise, who promptly presented him with a five pound note, but then, with typical dexterity, extorted it back from him. Cushing was absolutely delighted with this, and cried: "All these years and I still haven't got my fiver!"

In the Robert Bloch episode, "The Man Who Collected Poe," of the 1967 film Torture Garden, a Poe collector (Jack Palance) murders another collector (Peter Cushing) over a collectable he refuses to show him, only to find his fate with Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Cushing played Sherlock Holmes many times, starting with Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), the first Holmes film made in colour. Cushing seemed a natural for the part and he played the part with great fidelity to the written character - that of a man who is not always easy to live with or be around - which had not been done up to that point. He followed this up with a performance in 16 episodes of the BBC series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (1968), of which only six episodes remain. Finally, Cushing played the detective in old age, in The Masks of Death (1984) for Channel 4.

Personal life

In 1971, Cushing withdrew from the film Blood from the Mummy's Tomb when his wife died. He and actress Helen Beck (8 February 1905 – 14 January 1971) had been married since 1943. The following year, he was quoted in the Radio Times as saying "Since Helen passed on I can't find anything; the heart, quite simply, has gone out of everything. Time is interminable, the loneliness is almost unbearable and the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that my dear Helen and I will be united again some day. To join Helen is my only ambition. You have my permission to publish that... really, you know dear boy, it's all just killing time. Please say that."[3]

Six years later, his feelings were unchanged: "When Helen passed on six years ago I lost the only joy in life that I ever wanted. She was my whole life and without her there is no meaning. I am simply killing time, so to speak, until that wonderful day when we are together again."

In his autobiography, he implies that he attempted suicide the night that his wife died, by running up and down stairs in the vain hope that it would induce a heart attack. He later stated that this was a hysterical reaction to his wife's death, and that he was not consciously trying to end his life - his strong religious beliefs prevented him from attempting suicide "for real."

In 1986, Cushing appeared on the British TV show Jim'll Fix It. His "wish" "granted" by Jimmy Savile, was to have a strain of rose named after his late wife. Cushing's letter to the show, in copperplate handwriting, was shown, as was the identification and naming of a rose named "Helen Cushing."[4]

Peter Cushing appeared in a comedy play written by Ernie Wise (Play what I wrote) in the Morecambe and Wise Show on BBC2 in 1969. Throughout the BBC era of the shows Peter would appear often with Eric and Ernie on stage looking to be paid for his very first appearance on their show. This comedy skit continued when the comedy duo left the BBC and moved to Thames Television in 1978. Peter appeared in their first special for Thames Television on the 18th October 1978 still looking to be paid with Eric and Ernie trying to get rid of him, at the end of the show Ernie placed money in a wallet and connected to a bomb, to try and blow Peter up in a huge comedic style. Finally Peter got the better of Eric and Ernie in the 1980 Christmas Show. He pretended to be the Prime Minister when Eric and Ernie were carol singing in front of Number 10 Downing Street. He actually made them give him money and finally coming out to say "at last, I have been paid!"

Star Wars

In 1976, he was cast in Star Wars, which was shooting at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood. He appeared as one of his (now) most recognized characters, Grand Moff Tarkin, despite having originally been considered for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Cushing found accepting the role in a science fiction fantasy easy. "My criterion for accepting a role isn't based on what I would like to do. I try to consider what the audience would like to see me do and I thought kids would adore Star Wars."

During production Cushing was presented with ill-fitting riding boots for the role and they pinched his feet so much that he was given permission by George Lucas to play the role wearing his slippers. The camera operators filmed him above the knees or standing behind the table of the conference room set.

For Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Lucas wanted Cushing, by then deceased, to reprise his role as Tarkin through the use of archive footage and digital technology, but poor film quality made this impossible. Additionally, the scene required a full-body appearance of Tarkin, which was unavailable due to Cushing's use of slippers instead of boots when performing. Instead, Wayne Pygram took the role. Pygram was cast because it was felt he strongly resembled Cushing, but even so, he underwent extensive prosthetic makeup for his brief cameo.

Later career

After Star Wars, he continued appearing in films and television sporadically, as his health allowed. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but without surgery managed to survive several years, though his health was precarious.

In 1989, Cushing was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, though his close friend Christopher Lee publicly opined that this was "too little, too late." He retired to Whitstable, where he had bought a seafront house in 1959, and continued his hobby of birdwatching, and to write two autobiographies. Cushing also worked as a painter, specialising in watercolours, and wrote and illustrated a children's book of Lewis Carroll style humour, The Bois Saga. He was also the patron of The Vegetarian Society from 1987 up until his death.[5]

His final professional engagement was as co-narrator of Flesh and Blood, the Hammer Heritage of Horror, produced by American writer/director Ted Newsom. As co-narrator, Cushing thus took his "last bow" with friend Christopher Lee, the BBC and Hammer Films. The narration was recorded in Canterbury near Cushing's home. The show was first broadcast in 1994, the week before Cushing's death.


Cushing died of prostate cancer on 11 August 1994, aged 81 in the town of Whitstable, (near Canterbury) in Kent, England where he was well known as a local celebrity resident and had a local beauty spot named after him "Cushing's View." He died just five years after he was made an Officer of the British Empire in recognition of his contributions to the acting profession in Britain and worldwide.

In an interview on the DVD release of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Christopher Lee remarked on his friend's death: "I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again."

Partial filmography

The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) (Played opposite Louis Hayward to facilitate the double exposure scenes, and had a tiny role of his own)
Laddie (1940)
Vigil in the Night (1940)
A Chump at Oxford (1940)
Women in War (1940)
The Howards of Virginia (1940) (uncredited)
Dreams (1940)
They Dare Not Love (1941) (uncredited)
Hamlet (1948)
Pride and Prejudice (1952)
Moulin Rouge (1952)
1984 (1954)
The End of the Affair (1955)
Alexander the Great (1956)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)
The Horror of Dracula (1958, released in the UK under the title Dracula)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The Mummy (1959)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
John Paul Jones (1959)
The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
Suspect (1960)
The Hellfire Club (1960)
Fury at Smugglers' Bay (1961)
Cash on Demand (1961)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
The Gorgon (1964)
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
She (1965)
The Skull (1965)
Island of Terror (1966)
Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Torture Garden (1967)
Blood Beast Terror (1967)
Corruption (1968)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
Incense for the Damned (1970)
Scream and Scream Again (1970)
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Twins of Evil (1971)
Tales From The Crypt (1972)
Dracula AD 1972 (1972)
Fear In The Night (1972)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Asylum (1972)
And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973)
From Beyond the Grave (1973)
The Creeping Flesh (1973)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Horror Express (1973)
Shatter (1974)
Madhouse (1974)
The Beast Must Die (1974)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
Legend of the Werewolf (1975)
Space: 1999 (TV) (1975) - one episode
The Ghoul (1975)
Land of the Minotaur (1976) (aka The Devil's Men)
At the Earth's Core (1976)
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Shock Waves (1977)
The Uncanny (1977)
Arabian Adventure (1979)
A Tale of Two Cities (TV) (1980)
House of the Long Shadows (1983)
The Masks of Death (1984)
Top Secret! (1984)
Sword of the Valiant (1984)
Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986)


1.^ Peter Cushing Biography (1913-)
2.^ Peter Cushing - Films as actor
3.^ Peter Cushing - Biography
4.^ S W A D - Cushing, Peter
5.^ Peter Cushing's Obituary - The Vegetarian (Autumn 1994)

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