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Michael Gough

Michael Gough

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Also Known As: Died: March 17, 2011
Born: November 23, 1916 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Profession: Cast ... actor
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BIOGRAPHY

A ubiquitous presence in British film and television for nearly 50 years, Michael Gough played well-heeled, occasionally cruel, slightly mad men in films and television ranging from "The Horse's Mouth" (1959) and "The Go-Between" (1970) to "Horror of Dracula" (1958) and "Berserk!" (1967). His saturnine features and resonant voice made him ideal for upper-class gentlemen with a taste for flaunting their power in unpleasant ways, as his many horror and exploitation features evidenced. But he could also play fatherly - and grandfatherly - as evidenced by his four turns as butler Alfred in four of the "Batman" features (1989-1995). A wealth of varied projects were woven through his five decades of screen appearances, but no matter the quality of the role or the film, Gough gave his all, which made him a beloved and well-remembered performer.

Born Nov. 23, 1917 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Gough (pronounced "GOFF") attended Wye Agricultural College before seeing Rex Harrison in a production of "Sailors Don't Care" that convinced him to become an actor. Training at the Old Vic and appearances with their theater company in 1936 preceded his debut on Broadway in "Love of Women" in 1937; his London debut came a year later in "The Zeal of Thy House." For nearly a decade, Gough was seen predominately on British stages, and his association with classical theater would carry him over to the relatively new medium of television, beginning in 1946 with a BBC production of George Bernard Shaw's "Androcles and the Lion." His feature film debut came two years later in the 1948 UK production of "Anna Karenina," with Vivian Leigh in the title role. Gough's commanding voice and steely demeanor made him a natural go-to for men of power and influence, like his fabric mill owner in Alexander Mackendrick's "The Man in the White Suit" (1951), and various noblemen in the Walt Disney-produced "The Sword and the Rose" (1953) and "Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue" (1953). His onscreen efforts frequently linked back to his theatrical origins; he was one of the murderers in Laurence Olivier's "Richard III" (1955), and Cassius in a 1959 BBC production of "Julius Caesar." Gough also showed a comic side in "The Horse's Mouth" (1959) as a sculptor who aids dissolute painter Alec Guinness in completely destroying a patron's apartment.

Despite the critical acclaim of projects like these, Gough was probably best known for a string of wildly overacted performances in U.K.-made horror and exploitation films that spanned from 1958 to the late 1970s. His association with the genre began in 1958 with "Horror of Dracula" for Hammer Films. There, he was relatively restrained as Arthur Holmwood, whose sister and wife fall victim to Christopher Lee's sexually alluring Count. But for his next effort, "Konga" (1961), Gough let loose with an unbridled, scenery-destroying turn as a mad scientist whose experiments cause a chimpanzee to mutate into a giant ape. The performance set the tone for most of his horror efforts that followed; in "Horrors of the Black Museum" (1959), he was a madman who used the torture devices from Scotland Yard's Black Museum to eliminate his enemies, while in "Black Zoo" (1961), he worshipped the big cats under his care at a local zoo - and used them to kill as well. For a time in the mid to late 1960s, Gough was making regular appearances in horror films, including "The Skull" (1965), "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965), "Berserk" (1967) and "Curse of the Crimson Altar" (1969). Gough was frequently the elegant source of the supernatural mayhem in these pictures, or its snide, catty and altogether deserving victim. Gough's villainy extended to television as well; in 1966, he menaced "Doctor Who" (BBC, 1963- ) as the Celestial Toymaker, and contributed similar turns to such cult series as "The Avengers" (ITV, 1961-69) and "The Champions" (ITC, 1968-69).

Gough's film career found some balance between the outré and the arthouse in the late 1960s and early 1970s; there were appearances in Ken Russell's "Women in Love" (1969), Joseph Losey's "The Go-Between" (1971) and "Savage Messiah" (1972), the Charlton Heston-led "Julius Caesar" (1970), and the 1971 miniseries "The Search for the Nile" (BBC) as Dr. David Livingstone. Numerous quality miniseries also followed, including "QB VII" (NBC, 1974), "Brideshead Revisited" (ITV, 1981), "Inside the Third Reich" (NBC, 1982) and "Smiley's People" (BBC, 1982), though there was still plenty of low-budget nastiness that bore Gough's name, including "Satan's Slave" (1976) and "Venom" (1981). The latter seemed to come to an end in the early 1980s, and Gough settled into a long series of quality projects, including "The Dresser" (1983), "Out of Africa" (1985), and Derek Jarman's experimental film, "Caravaggio" (1986). Gough also found time to return to the theater throughout this period, winning a Tony in 1979 for "Bedroom Farce."

Though now in his seventies, Gough worked tirelessly in film and theater and on television throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and found what was to be his greatest screen exposure since his horror efforts in the 1960s. After authoritative supporting turns in such films as "The Fourth Protocol" (1987), "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988) and "Strapless" (1989), Gough was cast as Alfred, faithful manservant to Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. "Batman" (1989) in Tim Burton's big screen revival of the DC Comics franchise. The picture of British gentility and reserve, his Alfred hewed closely to the character as created in the original comics, but with a hint of understanding and infinite patience for his employer's complex psyche. Gough would reprise the role in four sequels, which starred three different Dark Knights: Michael Keaton in "Batman" and "Batman Returns" (1992), Val Kilmer in "Batman Forever" (1995), and George Clooney in the critically reviled "Batman and Robin" (1997). Gough also played Alfred in six American television commercials for the OnStar automobile tracking system.

Gough's participation in the "Batman" franchise made him a favorite of director Burton, who would cast him in several subsequent projects, including "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" (2005), which made excellent use of his sepulchral voice. Meanwhile, Gough, now in his eighties but still remarkably active, continued to essay men of high rank and carriage in features and television, including a hanging judge with an agenda in Peter Medak's "Let Him Have It" (1991), a member of New York's upper crust in Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence" (1993), and a noble servant in his final days in Michael Cacoyannis' adaptation of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" (1999). Gough appeared to retire from the business following his voice contribution to "Corpse Bride" in 2005, but in 2010, he could be heard as the voice of the Dodo Bird in Burton's blockbuster "Alice in Wonderland." The veteran actor passed away on March 17, 2011. He was 94.

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