Peter Wilton Cushing|
26 May 1913
Kenley, Surrey, England
11 August 1994 (aged 81)|
Canterbury, Kent, England
|Spouse||Violet Helen Beck (m. 1943–71) (her death)|
Peter Wilton Cushing, (26 May 1913 – 11 August 1994) was an English actor, known for his many appearances in Hammer Films, in which he played the distinguished-looking but sinister scientist Baron Frankenstein and the vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, amongst many other roles, often appearing opposite Christopher Lee, and occasionally Vincent Price. A familiar face on both sides of the Atlantic, his most famous roles outside of "Hammer Horror" include his many appearances as Sherlock Holmes, as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977) and as the mysterious Doctor in Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1965 and 1966, two cinema films based on the television series Doctor Who.
Cushing was born in Kenley, Surrey, a son of George Edward Cushing and Nellie Marie (King) Cushing. 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, 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 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.
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 Film Productions. 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 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 The Doctor 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 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!"
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.
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."
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 - a poem left by his wife urged him not to end his life until he had lived it to the full, and thus he felt that ending his life would have been letting his wife down. Though he didn't consider himself religious he also had strong ethical beliefs.
The effects of Helen's death proved physical as well. For his role in Dracula AD 1972, Cushing had been intended to play the father of Stephanie Beacham's character, but had visibly aged so much and lost so much weight that the script was hastily rewritten to make him her grandfather. In a quiet tribute to Helen, a shot of Van Helsing's desk shows a photo of her.
Cushing appeared in a comedy play written by Ernie Wise in The Morecambe and Wise Show on BBC2 in 1969. Throughout the BBC era of the shows he would appear often with Morecambe and Wise 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 18 October 1978, still looking to be paid with the hosts trying to get rid of him; at the end of the show Morecambe placed money in a wallet connected to a bomb, to try and blow Cushing up in a huge comedic style. On the duo's Christmas special, Cushing pretended to be the Prime Minister when they were caroling in front of 10 Downing Street; he actually made them give him money and finally coming out to say "paid, at last!"
In 1976, he was cast in Star Wars, which was shooting at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood. He appeared as 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 because of 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.
After Star Wars, Cushing continued appearing in films and television sporadically, as his health allowed. In 1982, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but managed to survive for the remaining twelve years up to his death without surgery, 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, on the Kent coast, where he had bought a seafront home in 1959, and continued his hobby of birdwatching, and to write two autobiographies. Cushing 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 the patron of The Vegetarian Society from 1987 up until his death.
His final professional engagement was as co-narrator of Flesh and Blood, the Hammer Heritage of Horror, produced by American writer/director Ted Newsom. His narration was recorded in Canterbury near his home. The show was first broadcast in 1994, the week before his 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".
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".
- 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 (TV) (1954)
- The End of the Affair (1955)
- Alexander the Great (1956)
- Time Without Pity (1957)
- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
- The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)
- Violent Playground (1958)
- 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)
- Cash on Demand (1961)
- The Hellfire Club (1961)
- Fury at Smugglers' Bay (1961)
- The Naked Edge (1961)
- Night Creatures (1962)
- 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 A.D. (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)
- Tender Dracula (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)
- Trial by Combat (1976)
- 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)
- Mystery on Monster Island (1981)
- House of the Long Shadows (1983)
- The Masks of Death (1984)
- Top Secret! (1984)
- Sword of the Valiant (1984)
- Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986)
- ↑ Peter Cushing Biography (1913-)
- ↑ Peter Cushing - Films as actor
- ↑ Brosnan, John. The Horror People. 1976, Plume Books. Pg. 190
- ↑ Peter Cushing - Biography
- ↑ I am not a religious man, but I try to live by Christian ethics. Helen has passed on but she is with me still. She is all around. http://uncapp.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/peter-cushings-death-wish/
- ↑ Mallon, Kevin (2002) "My Journey Through The Hammer House of Horror" PeterCushingMuseum.com Retrieved 2010-10-28
- ↑ Hearn, Marcus(2009) "Hammer Glamour: Classic images from the archive of Hammer Films", Titan Books, London, p 20.
- ↑ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS9N91ADlcU&feature=related
- ↑ Peter Cushing's Obituary - The Vegetarian (Autumn 1994)
- Peter Cushing at the Internet Movie Database
- [original research?]
- Peter Cushing at the TCM Movie Database
- Peter Cushing at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Peter Cushing at AllRovi
- Overview of Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes at Baker Street Dozen.
- Literature on Peter Cushing
- Peter Cushing Association
- Peter Cushing in Ausstage
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