Peter Cushing: Centenary Tribute.
26 May 2013 marks exactly 100 years since Peter Cushing – Hammer’s Van Helsing and Baron Frankenstein – was born, in Kenley in Surrey. To celebrate the fact, we’ve dug out this piece from the SFX archives: a back-page tribute to the great man.
I’ve never seen a bad performance by Peter Cushing. Sure, I’ve seen bad Peter Cushing films – that’s inevitable. He made more films than you’ve had hot dinners, cold dinners, breakfasts, packed lunches… and I’ve watched Shockwaves . But the man himself never disappoints. Whether his character was on the side of the angels (like his definitive turn as Van Helsing), or more malign (like Baron Frankenstein) he lent every role a sense of integrity and conviction. As an actor, he was the quintessential “safe pair of hands”. I’ve even got a soft spot for his dotty-inventor take on Dr Who (yes, that’s “Dr Who”, not “Doctor Who”) in the Amicus films of the ‘60s.
I admire the seriousness with which he approached his craft. A perfectionist, when required to play a medical role, he did his homework, visiting his (no doubt bemused) GP to check on the details. Detailed annotations on his scripts bear witness to this: labelled diagrams of the human brain, painted watercolours of ideas for his costume. Cushing could have said, “it’s just a load of nonsense – what does it matter?” Instead, he treated the material with respect, even when it didn’t deserve it. And – unlike some – he didn’t grumble about typecasting, or being perceived as a horror star.
It’s moving to read about the scale of his grief after the death, in 1971, of his beloved wife, Helen, after which he was never the same. The next year he said, “the loneliness is almost unbearable… the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that my dear Helen and I will be united again some day.” And it’s disquieting to think of how shabbily he was treated on Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed , when (to the actor’s evident distress), the studio head insisted on the late inclusion of a gratuitous rape by the Baron.
Everyone who worked with Peter Cushing describes a man entirely unlike the monstrous characters he often played: courteous and considerate, a true gentleman. The OBE he received was scant reward for his contribution to the British film industry; he should have been knighted.
- When he was very young, Cushing’s mother (who was hoping for a daughter, having already had a son), dressed him as a girl – until his father put his foot down…
- Cushing’s hobbies included bird watching, painting and collecting model aeroplanes and toy soldiers.
- While filming his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars , Cushing often wore slippers, since his boots were too tight and hurt his feet.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
Read more of our Peter Cushing centenary features and reviews.