BY JEREMY LUNT

Peter Wilton Cushing was born on May 26, 1913, in Kenley, Surry, the son of a quantity surveyor. With several non-immediate family members already working in show business, Peter was soon drawn to the theater, and entertained his relatives with "Punch and Judy" shows. A terrible student by his own admission, he nonetheless excelled in drama, art and sports - basically, anything except major schoolwork. He often indulged himself with comics and model soldiers, and was a big fan of Tom Mix, an American cowboy star.

At the age of twenty, his father procured for him a dreary job at the Drawing Office of the Surveyor's Department at the Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council. Needless to say, he detested it, but managed to hold onto the position for three years, all the while entertaining constant dreams of acting. Finally, he enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and received his first stage credit in 1936, a non-speaking role at the Connaught Theater in Worthing. Cushing spent another three years working on the stage, gaining experience but making little real career progress.

Finally, on January 18, 1939, Cushing left England for New York on the S.S. Champlain, with a one-way ticket paid for by his father. Arriving in the Big Apple, he spent time looking for casting directors, and finally got the attention of Edward Small Productions, who cast him opposite Louis Hayward in "The Man In the Iron Mask". However, as he was just a stand-in (Hayward was playing both parts), his performance ended up being lost in the editing. Cushing stayed in America for several more years, eventually getting more respectable roles in other movies, including one with Laurel and Hardy. As 1941 rolled around, and with Cushing getting severely homesick, he turned down a promise of stardom from MGM. However, as World War II was raging, he was unable to find transport home, and instead headed for Canada, working a variety of odd jobs along the way north. Finding a day job in a Montreal movie theater, and a night job at the local YMCA, Cushing did little entertainment work during his stay in Canada. His only film job was to paint a set of Nazi and Imperial Japanese flags for "The Forty-Ninth Parallel", but another employee at the YMCA misinterpreted this and he was arrested as a spy. Eventually clearing his name, he replaced a deserter on a ship headed for England and was on his way back home.

"Roles of a Lifetime"


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Baron Victor Frankenstein 


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Dr. Van Helsing



Sherlock Holmes

Portrayed by Cushing in  7 films

Portrayed by Cushing in  6 films

Portrayed by Cushing in  3 films

Young Cushing was unable to serve his country's military due to ear problems, but ended up entertaining His Majesty's soldiers. After a leading lady in Noel Coward's "Private Lives" left the production due to exhaustion, Cushing quickly fell in love with her replacement, Helen Beck, and the two were married on April 10, 1943. After the war, he found it difficult to find work in many places, but the entertainment scene was changing, and after a successful screen and stage tour in Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet", he soon found a plethora of work in British film and television. The BBC's 1954 production of "1984" made him a big star in  England, where he won several awards for his role as Winston Smith, and he caught the  attention of the producers at fledgling Hammer Film Productions, who wanted him to play  Victor Frankenstein in their upcoming "Curse of Frankenstein". While the Hammer people were not enthused about the prospect of getting Cushing to appear, they were subsequently surprised to find that he was very interested to play the role. 


"The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)

"Horror of Dracula" (1958)

"The Mummy" (1959)

The worldwide success of "Curse of Frankenstein", and the even more impressive box-office receipts for "Horror of Dracula", solidified Cushing and his close friend Christopher Lee as international stars, and they went on to work together in many films. Just as Lee became closely identified with the role of Count Dracula, Cushing became identified in a similar fashion with Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing in the two Hammer series. As Hammer declined in the late 1960's/early 1970's, Cushing was left more on his own, appearing in a variety of non-Hammer genre films, some great ("Horror Express"), some good ("Tales From the Crypt" and "Shock waves") and some not-so-good ("The Ghoul"). Nonetheless, Cushing was always giving a good performance. He also became identified with the role of Sherlock Holmes; Cushing was a devoted Holmes fan, played the great detective on several occasions, and collected copies of "The Strand", a rare magazine that published many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock-stories.


"Brides of Dracula" (1960)


"Captain Clegg" (1962)

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"Dr Terror's House of Horrors" (1965)

Unfortunately, Helen Beck Cushing died in 1971 from emphysema. Her devoted husband seriously entertained the idea of suicide and began to withdraw from social life and acting, until he found a letter she had left him assuring that they would be re-united in some other incarnation. With that, he went back to work, appearing in numerous mid-to-late 70's films, including the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars". The quality and quantity of  roles began to decline however, and Cushing worked only on sporadic occasions during the 1980's. Although he will be forever identified with horror, a quick look at his screen credits will show that although he made numerous horror films, an even larger chunk of his work was  in Shakespeare, drama and comedy(!). He loved his horror roles, but ironically, did not enjoy horror films very much at all.


"She" (1965)


"Island of Terror" (1966)


"Twins of Evil" (1971)

During his declining years, Cushing was not an idle man, heavens no. In the years before his death he wrote "Peter Cushing - An Autobiography" and "The Bois Saga", an alphonetic history of his homeland, which was forty years in the making. He also indulged in his hobbies of painting, bird watching and answering fan mail. A skilled craftsman, he also worked on many personal projects. The "gentle man of horror", as he was dubbed, died after a long bout with prostate cancer on August 11, 1994, in Cantebury, Kent, England. He had had the disease since the early 1980's, and had made an almost complete recovery when it struck back with a vengeance. His last project was "Flesh and Blood - The Hammer Heritage of Horror", a  documentary he had completed with Christopher Lee just a few weeks before his death. 


"Tales from the Crypt" (1972)

"Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires" (1974)

"Shockwaves" (1977)

 

Peter Cushing Page                                       Peter Cushing's Filmography 

 

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