What can one say
of the wonderful Peter Cushing, nick-named the ‘gentleman of horror’
he was indeed that – a fine actor and affable, thoughtful and
kind. Born in Surrey on the 26th May 1913, he and his older brother
David were raised first in Dulwich Village, a south London suburb, and
then later back in Surrey by his mother Nellie Marie and father George
Edward, who was a Quantity Surveyor. At an early age, Cushing was attracted
to acting, inspired by his favorite aunt who was a stage actress. He
supported himself as a clerk in a surveyor's office before studying
for a theatrical career under the guidance of Cairns James at the Guildhall
School of Music and Drama. He made his first professional stage appearance
in 1935. Four years later, he came to America, where he was featured
in a handful of Broadway plays and Hollywood feature films.
Peter began his career in pre-war Hollywood in ‘The Man in the
Iron Mask’ (1939) and made several films there - he was second
male lead in the Carole Lombard vehicle ‘Vigil in the Night’
(1940) and after closing out his Hollywood tenure with ‘They Dare
Not Love’ (1941), he returned to stage work in England. He quickly
gained respect in Hollywood, both as an actor and as a man of great
intelligence and integrity.
He was turned down for military service on health grounds and instead
joined a theatre company that performed at military bases. Cushing came
to work with actress Helen Beck, and the two fell deeply in love. They
married in 1943.
His next notably film appearance was as Osric in Laurence Olivier's
‘Hamlet’ (1948), which also featured his future co-star
Christopher Lee in a non-speaking bit (Cushing and Lee's paths would
cross again cinematically in Moulin Rouge (1952), though, as in Hamlet,
they shared no scenes. He was excellent and was very moving as Deborah
Kerrs cuckolded husband in ‘The End of the Affair’ (1954).
In the early 1950s, Peter became a TV star by virtue of his performance
in the BBC production of George Orwell's ‘1984’. Still,
film stardom would elude him until 1957, when he was cast as Baron Frankenstein
in the first Hammer film 'The Curse of Frankenstein'. It was the first
of 19 appearances under the Hammer banner; Cushing went on to play Van
Helsing in ‘Dracula’ (1958) and Sherlock Holmes in ‘The
Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1959), roles which, like Baron Frankenstein,
he would repeat again. Critics argue about which of Hammers roles was
his best. Again on a personal note I would be torn between Sherlock
Holmes and his original Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula. It is of note
that both of these great movies have stood the test of time.
His film career had taken off establishing him at once as a cult hero
of the horror film aficionados, with his now friend, Christopher Lee
as the monster. These two, along with director Terence Fisher and writer
Jimmy Sangster, dictated the course of horror cinema for the next decade.
Hammer was to become the most successful British film company of all
time and Cushing played an integral role. As well as playing the Baron
half a dozen times, he also memorably incarnated Dr Van Helsing in several
reprises of the Dracula myth, including the wonderfully stylish 'The
Brides of Dracula' (1960).
chiseled features, refined, even ascetic speech and bearing, his intense
belief in the scientific mumbo-jumbo he was given to say, are now so
firmly embedded in the public mind that it is an effort of will to remember
that he played many other roles, including Sherlock Holmes. It is arguable,
though, that his most incisive acting performance is as the thin-lipped
bank manager under fearful strain in the excellent `B' thriller ‘Cash
on Demand’ (1961).
In 1971, Peters beloved wife Helen died after a prolonged illness. It
was a loss from which he never fully recovered. He threw himself into
his work, but spent most private hours dreaming of when he and Helen
would be reunited in Heaven. Peter was a deeply Christian man and attended
St. Alphege Church in Whitstable, he also did extensive charity work
and never failed to sign his cards and photos
‘may Gods blessing be with you always
– in all sincerity’
There is a lovely story about Peters genuine but simple faith in God.
Whilst filming 'At the Earths Core' Caroline Munro's grandfather died,
she was very shaken up about the loss. Peter resolved to briefly pray
with her every morning - such was the care and concern of this gentle