Peter Cushing –

Peter Cushing in Twins of Evil.

About Peter Cushing (1913 – 1994)

Peter Wilton Cushing was born in Kenley, Surrey, the second son of George Edward Cushing (1881–1956) and Nellie Maria (née King) Cushing (1882–1961). Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Dulwich, South London. After the end of the First World War, they returned close to Kenley; this time to neighboring Purley, Surrey, where in 1926 his quantity surveyor father built Clearview, an Art Deco house on St James Road. It was here that Cushing remained until early adulthood.

Educated at Shoreham College, Cushing left his first job as a surveyor's assistant to take up a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After working in repertory theatre in Worthing, Sussex, he left for Hollywood in 1939, debuting in The Man in the Iron Mask later that year, before returning to England in 1941 after appearing in several films. In one, A Chump at Oxford (1940), he appeared opposite Laurel and Hardy. During the Second World War he served with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

His first major film role was that of Osric in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948).

In the 1950s, he worked in television, notably as Winston Smith in the BBC's 1954 adaptation of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), scripted by Nigel Kneale. Cushing was highly praised for his performance, although he considered his acting 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—to be inferior to the first.

Among other TV appearances, Cushing starred as Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC's production of Pride and Prejudice (1952), as King Richard II in Richard of Bordeaux (1955), and as Raan, a Prospero-like character, in "Missing Link" (1975), an episode of Space: 1999. He also appeared in The Avengers and its successor series, The New Avengers. In 1956, he received the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor.

Cushing is well known for playing Baron Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing in a long series of horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was often cast alongside Christopher Lee, who became his best friend. His first appearances in his two most famous roles were in Terence Fisher's films The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). He later said that his career decisions entailed selecting roles where he knew that he would be accepted by the audience. "Who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein, so that's the one I do."

Cushing also played Sherlock Holmes many times, originally in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), the first Holmes adaptation to be filmed in colour. This was followed by a performance in 16 episodes of the BBC series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (1968), of which only six episodes survive. Cushing reprised the role, now playing the detective in old age, in The Masks of Death (1984) for Channel 4.

In the mid-1960s, Cushing played Dr. Who in two films (Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.) based on the BBC science-fiction TV series Doctor Who, although the films are not considered part of the show's official canon by the BBC. He decided to play the part as a lovable and avuncular figure to counter the public's image of him as a horror actor.

In an interview published in ABC Film Review in November 1964, Cushing stated, "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." In an interview published in 1966, he added, "I do get terribly tired with the neighborhood kids telling me 'My mum says she wouldn't want to meet you in a dark alley'."

In 1971, Cushing withdrew from the filming of Blood from the Mummy's Tomb following the death of his wife, actress Violet Helene Beck (8 February 1905 – 14 January 1971), to whom he had been married since 1943. The following year, he was quoted in the Radio Times as having said, "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 reunited 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."

In his autobiography, Cushing implies that he attempted suicide, he had experienced a nervous breakdown in previous years, on the night of his wife's death by running up and down stairs in the vain hope that it would induce a heart attack. He later stated that this had simply been a hysterical response borne out of grief, and that he had not purposely attempted to end his life; a poem left by Helen had implored him not to die until he had lived his life to the full, and he had resolved that to commit suicide would have meant letting her down. Although not conventionally religious, Cushing maintained a belief both in God and an afterlife. Cushing's colleagues of that period commented on his deeply Christian faith and his conviction that his separation from his wife was only temporary.

The effects of his wife's death proved to be as much physical as mental. For his role in Dracula A.D. 1972, Cushing had originally been cast as the father of Stephanie Beacham's character, but had aged so visibly and lost so much weight that the script was hastily re-written to make him her grandfather: it was done again in the last Dracula film from Hammer, The Satanic Rites of Dracula. In a silent tribute to Helen, a shot of Van Helsing's desk includes a photograph of her. He repeated the role of the man who lost family in other horror films, including Asylum (1972), The Creeping Flesh (1973), and The Ghoul (1975). In 1986, Cushing appeared on the BBC TV show Jim'll Fix It, his wish being to have a strain of rose named after Helen; the "Helen Cushing Rose" was the result.

In 1976, Cushing was cast in Star Wars in the supporting part of Grand Moff Tarkin. Like all of the other actors portraying Galactic Imperial officers, he was presented with ill-fitting riding boots, which pinched his feet so much that he was given permission by director George Lucas to play the role wearing his slippers. As a result, the camera operators filmed him throughout the film only from the knees up, or else standing behind the table of the Death Star conference room set. This costuming discomfort aside, Cushing contrasted sharply with co-star Alec Guinness in that he enjoyed his experience on the film, appreciated the renewed interest in his work from young fans and only regretted that he could not appear in the sequels. In fact Carrie Fisher stated in an interview that she found the interrogation scenes in Star Wars so difficult, not due to the nature of the scenes, but because in real life Peter Cushing was such a nice man it was difficult when acting against him to be intimidated by him and she was quoted as saying she found it difficult to be intimidated by a man wearing carpet slippers.

In late August 2015, it was reported that Cushing, who has been deceased for more than 20 years, would be digitally resurrected via CGI to appear in the role once again for Rogue One, the upcoming first movie from the Star Wars Anthology.

Following Star Wars, Cushing continued to appear sporadically in film and television, as his health permitted. In 1969, he had appeared in a comedy play by Ernie Wise on The Morecambe and Wise Show on BBC2. Throughout the BBC era of the show, he would regularly join Wise and his comic partner, Eric Morecambe, on stage; he would constantly seek payment for his first appearance, wearily asking "Have you got my five pounds yet?"

This running joke continued when the duo left the BBC and moved to Thames Television in 1978. Cushing appeared in their first special for Thames Television on 18 October, still asking to be paid, with the hosts repeatedly trying to get rid of him; at the end of the show, Morecambe placed some money in a wallet wired up to a bomb, in an attempt to blow Cushing up in exaggerated comedic style. In the duo's Christmas special, Cushing pretended to be the Prime Minister while Morecambe and Wise caroled outside 10 Downing Street; he made the comedians give him money and finally came out to declare "Paid, at last!"

Wise was a guest for Cushing's appearance on This Is Your Life in 1990. He promptly presented Cushing with a twenty-pound note, only to extort it back from him, for the price of a taxi getting there and the rental of a suit for that particular night.

Cushing was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1982, but managed to survive for 12 years without surgery, although his health remained fragile. In 1989, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire; his friend Christopher Lee publicly opined that the honour was "too little, too late". Cushing retired to Whitstable, on the Kent coast, where he had bought a seafront home in 1959, and continued his hobby of birdwatching while writing two autobiographies. He also worked as a painter, specializing in watercolors, and wrote and illustrated a children's book of Lewis Carroll–style humor, The Bois Saga. He was the patron of the Vegetarian Society from 1987 until his death.

Cushing's final professional commitment was the co-narration of the TV documentary Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror, produced by American writer and director Ted Newsom. His contribution was recorded in Canterbury, near his home. The programme was broadcast only a few days before his death from cancer on 11 August 1994, aged 81. He was cremated and the location of his ashes is unknown.

In an interview included on the DVD release of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), Lee said of 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."

Peter Cushing's movie credits include...

Year Movie Role
1939The Man in the Iron MaskSecond Officer
1940LaddieRobert Pryor
1940A Chump at OxfordStudent
1940Vigil in the NightJoe Shand
1940Women in WarCaptain Evans
1940The Howards of VirginiaLeslie Stephens
1941They Dare Not LoveSub-Lieutenant Blackler
1952Moulin RougeMarcel de la Voisier
1954The Black KnightSir Palamides
1955The End of the AffairHenry Miles
1955Magic FireOtto Wesendonk
1956Alexander the GreatGeneral Memnon
1957Time Without PityJeremy Clayton
1957The Curse of FrankensteinVictor Frankenstein
1957The Abominable SnowmanDr. Rollason
1958Violent PlaygroundPriest
1958DraculaDoctor Van Helsing
1958The Revenge of FrankensteinVictor Frankenstein
1959The Hound of the BaskervillesSherlock Holmes
1959John Paul JonesCaptain Richard Pearson
1959The MummyJohn Banning
1960The Flesh and the FiendsDr. Robert Knox
1960Cone of SilenceCaptain Clive Judd
1960The Brides of DraculaDoctor Van Helsing
1960SuspectProfessor Sewell
1960Sword of Sherwood ForestSheriff of Nottingham
1961The Hellfire ClubMerryweather
1961Fury at Smugglers' BaySquire Trevenyan
1961The Naked EdgeMr. Evan Wrack
1961Cash on DemandHarry Fordyce
1962Captain CleggParson Blyss
1962The Devil's Agent
1963The Man Who Finally DiedDr. Peter von Brecht
1964The Evil of FrankensteinVictor Frankenstein
1964The GorgonDr. Namaroff
1965Dr. Terror's House of Horrors'Dr. Terror' / Dr. W. R. Schreck
1965SheMaj, Holly
1965The SkullDr. Christopher Maitland
1965Dr. Who and the DaleksDr. Who
1966Island of TerrorDr. Brian Stanley
1966Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.Dr. Who
1967Frankenstein Created WomanVictor Frankenstein
1967Night of the Big HeatDr. Vernon Stone
1967Torture GardenLancelot Canning
1967Some May LiveJohn Meredith
1968The Blood Beast TerrorDetective Inspector Quennell
1968CorruptionSir John Rowan
1969Frankenstein Must Be DestroyedVictor Frankenstein
1970Incense for the DamnedDr. Walter Goodrich
1970Scream and Scream AgainMajor Heinrich Benedek
1970One More TimeDr. Frankenstein
1970The Vampire LoversGeneral von Spielsdorf
1971The House That Dripped BloodPhilip Grayson
1971Twins of EvilGustav Weil
1971I, MonsterFrederick Utterson
1972Tales from the CryptArthur Edward Grimsdyke
1972Dracula A.D. 1972Van Helsing
1972Dr. Phibes Rises AgainCaptain
1972AsylumMr. Smith
1972Fear in the NightMichael Carmichael
1972Horror ExpressDr. Wells
1973Nothing But the NightSir Mark Ashley
1973The Creeping FleshEmmanuel Hildren
1973And Now the Screaming Starts!Dr. Pope
1973The Satanic Rites of DraculaVan Helsing
1974From Beyond the GraveAntique Shop Proprietor
1974Frankenstein and the Monster from HellVictor Frankenstein
1974The Beast Must DieDr. Christopher Lundgren
1974MadhouseHerbert Flay
1974The Legend of the 7 Golden VampiresVan Helsing
1974Tender DraculaMacGregor
1975Legend of the WerewolfProfessor Paul
1975The GhoulDr. Lawrence
1976Trial by CombatSir Edward Gifford
1976At the Earth's CoreDr. Abner Perry
1976Land of the MinotaurBaron Corofax
1977Star WarsGrand Moff Tarkin
1977Shock WavesSS Commander
1977The UncannyWilbur
1977Die Standarte (de)Baron von Hackenberg
1978Son of HitlerHeinrich Haussner
1979Arabian AdventureWazir Al Wuzara
1979A Touch of the SunCommissioner Potts
1981Misterio en la isla de los monstruosWilliam T. Kolderup
1981Black JackSir Thomas Bedford
1983House of the Long ShadowsSebastian Grisbane
1984Top Secret!Bookstore Proprietor
1984Sword of the ValiantSeneschal – Gaspar
1986Biggles: Adventures in TimeAir Commodore William Raymond
2016Rogue OneGrand Moff Tarkin
(Digital Restoration)

Peter Cushing's television credits include...

Year Show/Series Role
1951When We Are MarriedGerald Forbes
1952Pride and PrejudiceMr. Darcy
1952If This Be ErrorNick Grant
1952AsmodéeBlaise Lebel
1952The Silver SwanLord Henriques
1953Epitaph for a SpyJosef Vadassey
1953Rookery NookClive Popkiss
1953The Noble SpaniardDuke of Hermanos
1953A Social SuccessHenry Robbins
1953You are ThereRudolf Hess
BBC Sunday-Night TheatreCharles Appleby
Cyril Beverly
Antoine Vanier
Piotr Petrovsky
Seppi Fredericks
Prince Mikhail Alexandrovitch Ouratieff
Beau Brummell
Winston Smith
Dr. John Rollason
Prime Minister
Mr. Manningham
1954The Face of LoveMardian Thersites
1955Richard of BordeauxRichard II
1955The Browning VersionAndrew Crocker-Harris
1957Home at SevenDavid Preston
1958The Winslow BoySir Robert Morton
1958Uncle HarryUncle Harry
1962Drama 61-67Frederick James Parsons
1962ITV Television PlayhouseFred Parsons
1963The Spread of the EagleCassius
1963Comedy PlayhouseAlbert Fawkes
1964Story ParadeElijah Baley
1965Thirty-Minute TheatreLeonard
1967The AvengersPaul Beresford
1968Sherlock HolmesSherlock Holmes
1972Beyond the Water's Edge
1973Orson Welles' Great MysteriesCount Gerard De Merret
1974The Zoo GangJudge Gautier
1976Space: 1999Raan
1976Looks Familiar
1976The Great HoudiniSir Arthur Conan Doyle
1976The New AvengersVon Claus
1980Hammer House of HorrorMartin Blueck
1980A Tale of Two CitiesDr. Alexander Manette
1983Tales of the UnexpectedVon Baden
1984Helen Keller: The Miracle ContinuesProfessor Charles Copeland
1984The Masks of DeathSherlock Holmes

Memorable Quotes by Peter Cushing

“Who wants to see me as Hamlet? Very few. But millions want to see me as Frankenstein so that's the one I do.”

“If I played Hamlet, they'd call it a horror film.”

“Teeth are a vitally important part of an actor's equipment. I have over 30 toothbrushes at home and always keep a good supply at the studio.”

“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.”

[ on the death of his wife and his loneliness ] “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.”

“Strangely enough, I don't like horror pictures at all. I love to make them because they give pleasure to people, but my favorite types of films are much more subtle than horror. I like to watch films like Bridge Over the River Kwai, The Apartment or lovely musicals.”

Things You May Not Know About Peter Cushing

He considered The Blood Beast Terror (1968) to be the worst film he ever made.

The costume boots they gave Cushing for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) were too small and hurt his feet. Cushing told George Lucas this, and asked if he could wear slippers instead. Lucas agreed, and shot Cushing from the waist up for nearly all his scenes to compensate for Cushing's slippers.

He was an artist, skilled in drawing and painting; as a young struggling actor, he supplemented his income by selling scarves that he hand-painted and later, as an established actor, had showings of his water colors.

He was once the guest of honor at the Famous Monsters of Filmland Convention in New York City in 1975. After receiving a thunderous ovation from those in attendance, he looked at everyone and said, "Have you ever felt unloved?"

His sketch of Sherlock Holmes became the official logo for the Northern Musgraves, a British Sherlock Holmes society.

Carrie Fisher once said in an interview that doing her scenes with him in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope were difficult for two reasons: she thought the lines were ridiculous and she found Peter to be so polite and charming off camera that it was hard to project the sense of disdain that her character, Princess Leia Organa, held for his character, Grand Moff Tarkin.

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Peter Cushing in The Skull (1965)... second picture with
Patrick Wymark... fourth picture with Christopher Lee.
Peter Cushing, with Edwin Richfield, in The Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960).
Peter Cushing in The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).
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Cushing in The Mummy (1959).
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Cushing in The House That Dripped Blood (1971).
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As Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)...
bottom picture with Andre Morell as Doctor Watson.
In The Evil of Frankenstein (1964).
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With Deborah Kerr in The End of the Affair (1955).
Cauterizing a neck wound in The Brides of Dracula (1960).
In what he considered the worst movie he ever made — The Blood Beast Terror (1968).
Cushing in Tales From the Crypt (1972).
In Sword of the Valiant (1984).
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Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)...
opposite Carrie Fisher in bottom picture.
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In Shock Waves (1977).
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Playing the Nazi villain in Scream and Scream Again (1970).
In The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With Vincent Price in Madhouse (1974).
With Robert Stack in John Paul Jones (1959).
With Christopher Lee in Horror Express (1972).
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Cushing in Hamlet (1948)... bottom picture with Laurence Olivier.
Cushing in From Beyond the Grave (1974).
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Cushing in Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) (1958).
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In Dracula AD 1972 (1972).
With Christopher Lee in Doctor Terror's House of Horror (1965).
Opposite Robert Quarry in Doctor Phibes Rises Again (1972).
Cushing in Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966).
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In The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).
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In Corruption (1968).
Peter Cushing and Claire Bloom in Alexander the Great (1956).