Peter Cushing


Actor
Peter Cushing

About

Birth Place
Surrey, England, GB
Born
May 26, 1913
Died
August 11, 1994
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

A prolific presence in films and on television for nearly five decades, British actor Peter Cushing, OBE, became an international icon as the star of countless horror films, including "Curse of Frankenstein" (1956), "Horror of Dracula" (1958), "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), "The Mummy" (1959), "The Vampire Lovers" (1970) and "Horror Express" (1973). Frequently cast opposite his ...

Photos & Videos

The Mummy (1959) - Lobby Cards
The Gorgon - Movie Poster
Madhouse - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Helen Beck
Wife
Actor. Met during WWII in England; died in 1971.

Bibliography

"Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years"
Peter Cushing (1988)
"Peter Cushing: An Autobiography"
Peter Cushing (1986)

Notes

Received the Order of the British Empire in 1989.

Among the awards Cushing received in England for his work in the early days of British television are the Daily Mail TV Award for actors (1953-54), the Guild of TV Award (1955) and a News Chronicle TV Top Ten Award (1956).

Biography

A prolific presence in films and on television for nearly five decades, British actor Peter Cushing, OBE, became an international icon as the star of countless horror films, including "Curse of Frankenstein" (1956), "Horror of Dracula" (1958), "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), "The Mummy" (1959), "The Vampire Lovers" (1970) and "Horror Express" (1973). Frequently cast opposite his longtime friend, Sir Christopher Lee, Cushing gave definitive portrayals of monster maker Victor Frankenstein and vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing for England's Hammer Films throughout the 1960s and 1970s while appearing in numerous other horror films for international companies. The worldwide success of Hammer minted Cushing as a horror star, not unlike Boris Karloff or Vincent Price, though in real life, he was a gentlemanly figure who adored his wife and spent his off-screen hours bird watching. After nearly two decades onscreen, he enjoyed a genuine blockbuster in "Star Wars" (1977), which cast him as the reptilian Grand Moff Tarkin. The use of CGI and a stand-in actor to recreate this character for scenes in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016) raised philosophical questions about the use of deceased actors in posthumous films. Illness curtailed his career in the early 1980s, and he would enjoy one final collaboration with Lee as co-narrators of a documentary on Hammer Films before his death in 1994. A fan favorite for his magnetic and always-believable screen presence, his roles for Hammer became the stuff of horror movie legend.

Born Peter Wilton Cushing on May 26, 1913 in Kenley, a district in the county of Surrey, England, he was the younger of two sons by George Edward Cushing, a quantity surveyor, and his wife, Nellie Marie. He initially followed in his father's footsteps, working as a surveyor's assistant, where his innate talent for drawing made him a valuable asset. But he was drawn to acting after seeing a favorite aunt perform on stage, and won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1935, he made his professional stage debut with the Worthing Repertory Company, where he would remain for the next four years before departing for America to find work in Hollywood. His screen debut came with a bit part in James Whale's "The Man in the Iron Mask" (1939), which was soon followed by minor roles in, among other films, "A Chump at Oxford" (1940), starring Laurel and Hardy.

After appearing on Broadway in "The Seventh Trumpet" (1941), he returned to England, where he joined the Entertainments National Service Association, which performed plays for British troops during World War II. While appearing in Noel Coward's "Private Lives," he fell in love with his co-star, actress Helen Beck, and married her in 1943. The couple would remain devoted to one another for the next three decades. Cushing worked almost exclusively in theater for the first few years after the end of the war. He toured Australia with Laurence Olivier's Old Vic company in 1948, shortly before Olivier cast him as the foppish Osric in his Oscar-winning film version of "Hamlet" (1948). Among the background players was a young actor named Christopher Lee, who would soon become forever linked with Cushing through Hammer Films. Cushing soon found his niche on television, where he played Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" (BBC, 1952). Cushing drew his earliest rave notices as Winston Smith, the doomed hero of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (BBC, 1954), which earned him a BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

He soon returned to features, appearing in character turns in the likes of Edward Dmytryk's "The End of the Affair" (1955) opposite Van Johnson. In 1956, he was cast as Baron Victor Frankenstein in "Frankenstein," a loose, low-budget adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel by Hammer Films, a small English company that specialized in genre films. Playing opposite Cushing and buried under layers of makeup was Lee, whose imposing 6'5" frame made him ideal to play the Monster. Though critics deplored the film, moviegoers flocked to it for its gruesome content, made all the more unsettling by being shot in color. But Cushing was also a major draw: a cold, imperious figure, not at all like the sympathetic scientist played by Colin Clive in the 1931 "Frankenstein," Cushing's Frankenstein was the real "monster" of the piece, displaying less humanity in his dogged pursuit of the God-like ability to create life than the Creature, whose disfigured presence drew more pity than terror. Cushing was also completely believable in the role, never displaying an ounce of camp or condescension, which also heightened the terror. A box office smash around the world, it launched Hammer as a major horror studio and Cushing as one of its bona fide stars.

Cushing and Lee were immediately reunited in "Dracula" (1958), which was released in the United States as "Horror of Dracula." Lee's portrayal of the Count as a virile, sexualized being made him an international sensation, while Cushing showed his versatility as the Vampire King's determined nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing. Again, Cushing shattered preconceived notions about the character by playing him as a man of action, willing to grapple with Dracula in a no-holds-barred battle to the death that marked the film's thrilling conclusion. From that point on, Cushing and Lee were a screen duo, not unlike horror legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi some two decades before them. The pair became the closest of friends off screen as well, and belied their screen images with their fondness for Warner Bros. cartoons and broad comedy.

For the better part of the next decade, Cushing would co-star with Lee in some of Hammer's most successful features while also appearing on his own in numerous films for the studio and other companies in Europe. He would play the increasingly fiendish Baron Frankenstein four more times in the 1950s and 1960s, from 1958's "The Revenge of Frankenstein" to "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969) while reprising Van Helsing for the energetic "Brides of Dracula" in 1960. In Hammer's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), he was among the first to play Sherlock Holmes as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote him - moody and combative but brilliant - and would play the master detective for a series of BBC adaptations between 1965 and 1968. On occasion, Hammer would cast him outside the horror genre, most notably in the thriller "Violent Playground" (1958) as a priest trying to reason with psychotic delinquent David McCallum, and "Cash on Demand" (1961) as a bank manager blackmailed into robbing his own bank. He also played the venerable British TV hero Doctor Who in a pair of theatrical features, "Dr. Who and the Daleks" (1965) and "Daleks - Invasion Earth: 2150" (1966). But Cushing had become a star in horror films, and would spend the majority of the decade in the genre, fighting monsters of legend like in "The Gorgon" (1964), evil artifacts in "The Skull" (1965), and giant insects in "Blood Beast Terror" (1967). Like Lee, he complained about his typecasting, but accepted genre assignments with his trademark gentility, citing that he made horror films because he knew that others liked them. Off-camera, he was the epitome of the English country gentleman, finding solace in his wife's companionship, as well as his hobbies of bird watching, painting and collecting model soldiers.

The 1970s saw Cushing busier than ever in horror, though by this point in time, Hammer was in decline due to changing tastes towards more graphic fright films. He reunited with a reluctant Lee for "Dracula AD 1972" (1972) and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973), but found more work with other British companies in anthologies like "From Beyond the Grave" (1973), or in international productions like "Horror Express" (1973), an American-Spanish chiller with Cushing and Lee as scientists aboard a transcontinental trail carrying a deadly creature. Though his professionalism was evident in every frame, Cushing's heart was no longer in the business: his beloved wife had died in January 1971, and he considered his remaining years as a means of biding his time until they could be reunited in the afterlife. He accepted virtually any project that came his way, some of which, like "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" (1974), a horror-kung fu hybrid from Hammer, were dreadful. Others, like "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" - which marked his final appearance as Baron Frankenstein and in a Hammer film (1974) - were modest projects whose success was due entirely to Cushing's reputation.

One of his assignments during this period later proved to be the biggest box office hit of his career and the one film that put him on the mainstream movie lover's map. Initially considered by writer-director George Lucas to play the wise Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was eventually cast as Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star and the one man who Darth Vader (David Prowse) does not intimidate in "Star Wars" (1977). As with many of his roles during this period, he signed on to the then-relatively unknown project based on his thought that children would enjoy seeing the film. The global success of "Star Wars" boosted Cushing's profile considerably, and he would continue to appear in features and on television, including a rare non-horror turn in "A Tale of Two Cities" (CBS, 1980) for "The Hallmark Hall of Fame" (1951- ) in America.

In 1982, Cushing was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which forced him to dramatically reduce his screen appearances. Among his final projects was the slapstick comedy "Top Secret!" for Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers of "Airplane!" (1980) fame, and as an elderly Sherlock Holmes in "The Masks of Death" (1984). By the end of the decade, he had retired from acting to pen two autobiographies, including 1988's Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years. The following year, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Cushing's final screen effort was the documentary "Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror" (1994), which he co-narrated with his friend Christopher Lee. A week after its initial broadcast, he died on Aug. 11, 1994 at the age of 81. Friends, fans and co-stars throughout the world memorialized his contributions to film and the horror genre in loving detail. In his adopted home of Kent, a well-loved sightseeing spot was named in his honor. In 2016, Cushing was brought back into the public conversation when the producers of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016) used CGI, old footage of Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, and a stand-in actor to recreate the character for scenes in the new film, released 22 years after Cushing's death. Although fans of the series were largely favorable, it did raise questions in some circles about the ethics of recreating new performances by deceased actors.

By Paul Gaita

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Innocent Blood (1992)
Biggles (1988)
Colonel Raymond
Top Secret! (1984)
Bookstore Owner
Sword Of The Valiant (1984)
Seneschal
House of the Long Shadows (1982)
Sebastian
Mystery on Monster Island (1981)
Kolderup
TALE OF TWO CITIES, A (1980)
Dr Manette
Arabian Adventure (1979)
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Die Standarte (1977)
The Uncanny (1977)
Wilbur Gray
A Choice of Weapons (1976)
The Great Houdinis (1976)
Conan Doyle
At The Earth's Core (1976)
Dr Abner Perry
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1975)
Almost Human (1975)
Ss Commander
The Ghoul (1975)
Dr Lawrence
Call Him Mr. Shatter (1975)
Rattwood
Dirty Knights' Work (1975)
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974)
The Beast Must Die (1974)
Dr Christopher Lundgren
Madhouse (1974)
The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (1974)
La Grande Trouille (1974)
From Beyond the Grave (1973)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Van Helsing
And Now The Screaming Starts (1973)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Captain
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
Professor [Lorrimer] Van Helsing/[Lawrence Van Helsing]
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
[Arthur] Grimsdyke
Horror Express (1972)
Dr Wells
Fear in the Night (1972)
Michael Carmichael
Asylum (1972)
Twins of Evil (1972)
Gustav Weil
The Creeping Flesh (1972)
Emanuel Hildern
I, Monster (1971)
Scream and Scream Again (1970)
Benedek
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
General Spielsdorf
The House That Dripped Blood (1970)
Philip ("Waxworks")
The Vampire Beast Craves Blood (1969)
Inspector Quennell
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
Baron Frankenstein
Torture Garden (1968)
Lancelot Canning
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Baron Frankenstein
Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A. D. (1967)
Dr. Who
Corruption (1967)
Sir John Rowan
Island of Terror (1967)
Dr. Stanley
The Man Who Finally Died (1967)
Dr. von Brecht
Island of the Burning Damned (1967)
In Saigon: Some May Live (1967)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1966)
Dr. Who
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
Dr. Terror
The Skull (1965)
Prof. Christopher Maitland
The Gorgon (1965)
Namaroff
She (1965)
Major Holly
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Baron Frankenstein
The Hellfire Club (1963)
Merryweather
Fury at Smuggler's Bay (1963)
Squire Trevenyan
Night Creatures (1962)
Dr. Blyss
The Naked Edge (1961)
Mr. Wrack
Trouble in the Sky (1961)
Capt. Clive Judd
Cash on Demand (1961)
Fordyce
Mania (1961)
Dr. Robert Knox
The Risk (1961)
Professer Sewall
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1961)
Sheriff of Nottingham
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
Doctor Van Helsing
John Paul Jones (1959)
Capt. Pearson
The Mummy (1959)
John Banning
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
Sherlock Holmes
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Doctor Victor Stein [also known as Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Franck]
Horror of Dracula (1958)
The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Dr. [John] Rollason
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
[Baron] Victor Frankenstein
Time Without Pity (1957)
Jeremy Clayton
Alexander the Great (1956)
Memnon
Magic Fire (1956)
Otto Wesendonk
The End of the Affair (1955)
Henry Miles
The Black Knight (1954)
Sir Palamides
Moulin Rouge (1953)
Marne de la Voisier
Hamlet (1948)
Osric
They Dare Not Love (1941)
English lieutenant
A Chump at Oxford (1940)
Student [Jones]
Vigil in the Night (1940)
Joe Shand
Laddie (1940)
Robert Pryor
The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)
Second officer

Cast (Short)

The "She" Story (1965)
Himself
Dreams (1940)
The Hidden Master (1940)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Helen Keller -- The Miracle Continues (1984)

Articles

Peter Cushing - Mondays in October


Peter Cushing joining the TCM Star of the Month roster for October is fitting since this is the period leading up to Halloween, and the British actor has been credited as transforming horror movies into an art form. A performer of considerable range and experience, Cushing (1913-1994) appeared in more than 100 movies and played numerous television, stage and radio roles in a career that spanned six decades.

He achieved international stardom beginning in his early middle age with a series of colorful and flamboyant (some would say campy) monster movies produced by the low-budget British production company Hammer Films. Many of them costarred his great friend Christopher Lee.

Elegant and refined in real life, Cushing is known to his followers as "The Gentle Man of Horror." In addition to other Hammer vehicles in the 1950s through the 1970s, he played Baron Victor von Frankenstein in six films and Dr. Van Helsing in five Dracula movies. The role of Frankenstein, in particular, established him as a horror actor for the ages. Writing on the Roger Ebert website in 2017, Jessica Ritchey offered the opinion that "Cushing defined the Platonic ideal of The Magnificent Bastard. His Baron von Frankenstein was proud, arrogant, and secure in his intelligence to be absolutely ruthless."

Cushing is also remembered for his work as Dr. Who in two films of the 1960s and for his role in the original Star Wars film (1977) as the antagonist Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star. A great fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Cushing played Holmes in several productions, including a British TV series of the 1960s.

Peter Wilton Cushing was born in Kenley, Surrey, England, on May 26, 1913, the younger of two sons of a surveyor and a carpet merchant's daughter. His family on his father's side included several actors; his grandfather, Henry William Cushing, toured with the noted stage actor Henry Irving. "As far back as I can ever remember, without really knowing it, I wanted to be an actor," he later said. "I was always dressing up, you know, playing pretend, putting on Mother's hat and things... It was very much in my blood."

Encouraged by his actress aunt Maude Ashton, young Peter began developing his acting skills by performing in plays at school and local amateur theater. He also enjoyed drawing and painting and would later help support himself as a struggling actor by selling hand-painted scarves. Once his formal schooling was completed, Cushing won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. After some professional experience including three years at a repertory theatre in Worthing, West Sussex, he decided at age 26 to head to Hollywood and try his luck in the movies.

Cushing succeeded in landing minor roles in films, including his movie debut as a messenger in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), in which he also was a body double for star Louis Hayward, who played double roles. Other jobs included a bit in the Laurel and Hardy comedy A Chump at Oxford (1939) and the central role in the MGM short The Hidden Master.

Like other British actors working in Hollywood, Cushing felt the call to return home to England with the advent of World War II. During a stopover in New York, he made his Broadway debut in the short-lived production The Seventh Trumpet (1941). When health problems prevented Cushing from serving on active duty, he performed with the Entertainments National Service Association to entertain the troops and also kept busy with stage and radio work. For a tour of military stations and hospitals, he was cast in Noel Coward's Private Lives opposite the actress Helen Beck. The two fell in love and were married in 1943.

An attention-getting break came Cushing's way when he was cast as the courtier Osric in Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning screen treatment of Hamlet (1948). Olivier then invited both Peter and Helen Cushing to join his repertory company, the Old Vic, in an extensive tour of Australia.

During the 1950s, Cushing was cast in supporting roles in such films as The End of the Affair (1955, as Deborah Kerr's cuckold husband) and Time Without Pity (1957). At the encouragement of his wife, Cushing also entered the burgeoning world of television and became a familiar face to English TV audiences. His appearances during this period were so constant that one jokester claimed the definition of television was "Peter Cushing with knobs." He won several Best TV Actor awards including those from the Evening Chronicle, the Guild of Television Producers and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

The legendary association with Hammer Films began when Cushing learned that the company planned to film Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus - a favorite book from his childhood. Cushing expressed an interest in playing Baron Frankenstein and was happily cast in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) by Hammer executives eager to exploit his high profile among TV fans. Terence Fisher directed and Christopher Lee played the monster. This film marked the beginning of the acting partnership and the deep and lasting friendship that developed between Cushing and Lee.

The Curse of Frankenstein was a box-office hit that set the tone for the Hammer horror films that followed. Critical reception was mixed, although most reviewers praised the film's showy direction, cinematography, costumes and music. A reviewer for Variety wrote that "Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment." A follow-up film, Horror of Dracula (1958), again featuring Cushing and Lee (this time as Van Helsing and Count Dracula), was another big success. All told, Cushing made 22 films for Hammer, with Lee as frequent costar.

Listed below are the other titles from the Hammer collection that are featured in Cushing's Star of the Month salute:
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), based on the 1902 Sherlock Holmes adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with Cushing as Holmes and Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville;
The Mummy (1959), with Lee in the title role and Cushing as the archeologist forced to deal with him;
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), with Richard Greene as Robin Hood and Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham;
Cash on Demand (1961), an atypical and well-received contemporary dramatic vehicle for Cushing as a dedicated bank manager threatened by robbers;
She(1965), an adventure film based on H. Rider Haggard's 1887 novel about a lost city in Northeast Africa, with Cushing as an explorer, Lee as a priest, and Ursula Andress as the immortal "She-who-must-be-obeyed";
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), with Cushing in another bravura turn as the Baron and Susan Denberg as a woman who commits suicide and is brought back to life by Frankenstein with the soul of a young man who has been executed;
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), with Cushing's character evolving into an ever-more-ruthless villain who blackmails a young couple into helping with his terrible experiments;
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) stars Christopher Lee as Dracula reappearing in then-modern London and hunted down by a descendant of Van Helsing (Cushing, of course);
and the TCM premiere of The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) marks the final entry in the Dracula series to feature Cushing and Lee, again set in the 1970s with the latter-day Van Helsing again on the vampire's trail.

In his films away from Hammer, Cushing tried to include non-horror roles that would vary his work as an actor - although he was proud of some of his "monster movies" and often fell back into the genre with which he was most associated. Non-Hammer Cushing movies in the TCM tribute include Violent Playground (1958), a crime thriller set in Liverpool with Stanley Baker as a policeman attempting to rehabilitate a juvenile delinquent (David McCallum) and Cushing as a helpful priest.

John Paul Jones (1959) is an American biopic about the Revolutionary War naval hero, with Robert Stack as Jones, Bette Davis in a cameo as Catherine the Great and Cushing as Jones adversary Captain Richard Pearson. Always of slender build, Cushing suffered from dysentery during filming in Spain and lost a dangerous amount of weight that he gradually regained.

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) are the two big-screen features starring Cushing as Dr. Who, a character inspired by the extraterrestrial being from the British TV series. In Cushing's case, the character is a human doctor who invents a time machine and must cope with a race of deliciously evil mutants called the Daleks.

Cushing and Lee reteam for Nothing but the Night (1973), a British crime drama with a supernatural slant. The film, set in Scotland, was the only one produced by Lee's own production company. Lee plays a police inspector investigating a series of deaths that, on the surface, look like suicides. Cushing is a pathologist aiding in the investigation, which involves a group of orphans.

With his role in Star Wars, Cushing achieved a new level of recognition, especially among younger audiences. The actor, who reportedly regretted his inability to appear in sequels because his character did not survive the original film, had his image posthumously recreated through digital imagery in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Cushing's last actual appearance in a feature film came in Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986). His final television role was, appropriately, his beloved Sherlock Holmes in The Masks of Death (1984).

Cushing wrote two memoirs, Peter Cushing: An Autobiography (1986) and Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years (1988). With his pal Christopher Lee he narrated the documentary Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994).

Cushing was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1982 but, without any surgery or chemotherapy, survived another 12 years. For his contributions to the British film industry, Cushing was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1989, and in 1994, he died in a hospice in Canterbury at age 81. Among those speaking at a memorial service at the Actor's Church in Covent Garden, London, was the bereaved Christopher Lee. He later said of his friendship with Cushing that "there would be nothing like that" in his life again.

Looking back on his reputation as a horror actor, the mild-mannered Cushing once mused that "People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can't think why. In my macabre roles I have either been a monster-maker or a monster destroyer, but never a monster... I've never harmed a fly."

 

Peter Cushing - Mondays In October

Peter Cushing - Mondays in October

Peter Cushing joining the TCM Star of the Month roster for October is fitting since this is the period leading up to Halloween, and the British actor has been credited as transforming horror movies into an art form. A performer of considerable range and experience, Cushing (1913-1994) appeared in more than 100 movies and played numerous television, stage and radio roles in a career that spanned six decades.He achieved international stardom beginning in his early middle age with a series of colorful and flamboyant (some would say campy) monster movies produced by the low-budget British production company Hammer Films. Many of them costarred his great friend Christopher Lee.Elegant and refined in real life, Cushing is known to his followers as "The Gentle Man of Horror." In addition to other Hammer vehicles in the 1950s through the 1970s, he played Baron Victor von Frankenstein in six films and Dr. Van Helsing in five Dracula movies. The role of Frankenstein, in particular, established him as a horror actor for the ages. Writing on the Roger Ebert website in 2017, Jessica Ritchey offered the opinion that "Cushing defined the Platonic ideal of The Magnificent Bastard. His Baron von Frankenstein was proud, arrogant, and secure in his intelligence to be absolutely ruthless."Cushing is also remembered for his work as Dr. Who in two films of the 1960s and for his role in the original Star Wars film (1977) as the antagonist Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star. A great fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Cushing played Holmes in several productions, including a British TV series of the 1960s.Peter Wilton Cushing was born in Kenley, Surrey, England, on May 26, 1913, the younger of two sons of a surveyor and a carpet merchant's daughter. His family on his father's side included several actors; his grandfather, Henry William Cushing, toured with the noted stage actor Henry Irving. "As far back as I can ever remember, without really knowing it, I wanted to be an actor," he later said. "I was always dressing up, you know, playing pretend, putting on Mother's hat and things... It was very much in my blood."Encouraged by his actress aunt Maude Ashton, young Peter began developing his acting skills by performing in plays at school and local amateur theater. He also enjoyed drawing and painting and would later help support himself as a struggling actor by selling hand-painted scarves. Once his formal schooling was completed, Cushing won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. After some professional experience including three years at a repertory theatre in Worthing, West Sussex, he decided at age 26 to head to Hollywood and try his luck in the movies.Cushing succeeded in landing minor roles in films, including his movie debut as a messenger in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), in which he also was a body double for star Louis Hayward, who played double roles. Other jobs included a bit in the Laurel and Hardy comedy A Chump at Oxford (1939) and the central role in the MGM short The Hidden Master.Like other British actors working in Hollywood, Cushing felt the call to return home to England with the advent of World War II. During a stopover in New York, he made his Broadway debut in the short-lived production The Seventh Trumpet (1941). When health problems prevented Cushing from serving on active duty, he performed with the Entertainments National Service Association to entertain the troops and also kept busy with stage and radio work. For a tour of military stations and hospitals, he was cast in Noel Coward's Private Lives opposite the actress Helen Beck. The two fell in love and were married in 1943.An attention-getting break came Cushing's way when he was cast as the courtier Osric in Laurence Olivier's Oscar-winning screen treatment of Hamlet (1948). Olivier then invited both Peter and Helen Cushing to join his repertory company, the Old Vic, in an extensive tour of Australia.During the 1950s, Cushing was cast in supporting roles in such films as The End of the Affair (1955, as Deborah Kerr's cuckold husband) and Time Without Pity (1957). At the encouragement of his wife, Cushing also entered the burgeoning world of television and became a familiar face to English TV audiences. His appearances during this period were so constant that one jokester claimed the definition of television was "Peter Cushing with knobs." He won several Best TV Actor awards including those from the Evening Chronicle, the Guild of Television Producers and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.The legendary association with Hammer Films began when Cushing learned that the company planned to film Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus - a favorite book from his childhood. Cushing expressed an interest in playing Baron Frankenstein and was happily cast in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) by Hammer executives eager to exploit his high profile among TV fans. Terence Fisher directed and Christopher Lee played the monster. This film marked the beginning of the acting partnership and the deep and lasting friendship that developed between Cushing and Lee.The Curse of Frankenstein was a box-office hit that set the tone for the Hammer horror films that followed. Critical reception was mixed, although most reviewers praised the film's showy direction, cinematography, costumes and music. A reviewer for Variety wrote that "Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment." A follow-up film, Horror of Dracula (1958), again featuring Cushing and Lee (this time as Van Helsing and Count Dracula), was another big success. All told, Cushing made 22 films for Hammer, with Lee as frequent costar.Listed below are the other titles from the Hammer collection that are featured in Cushing's Star of the Month salute:The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), based on the 1902 Sherlock Holmes adventure by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with Cushing as Holmes and Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville;The Mummy (1959), with Lee in the title role and Cushing as the archeologist forced to deal with him;Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), with Richard Greene as Robin Hood and Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham;Cash on Demand (1961), an atypical and well-received contemporary dramatic vehicle for Cushing as a dedicated bank manager threatened by robbers;She(1965), an adventure film based on H. Rider Haggard's 1887 novel about a lost city in Northeast Africa, with Cushing as an explorer, Lee as a priest, and Ursula Andress as the immortal "She-who-must-be-obeyed";Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), with Cushing in another bravura turn as the Baron and Susan Denberg as a woman who commits suicide and is brought back to life by Frankenstein with the soul of a young man who has been executed;Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), with Cushing's character evolving into an ever-more-ruthless villain who blackmails a young couple into helping with his terrible experiments;Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) stars Christopher Lee as Dracula reappearing in then-modern London and hunted down by a descendant of Van Helsing (Cushing, of course);and the TCM premiere of The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) marks the final entry in the Dracula series to feature Cushing and Lee, again set in the 1970s with the latter-day Van Helsing again on the vampire's trail.In his films away from Hammer, Cushing tried to include non-horror roles that would vary his work as an actor - although he was proud of some of his "monster movies" and often fell back into the genre with which he was most associated. Non-Hammer Cushing movies in the TCM tribute include Violent Playground (1958), a crime thriller set in Liverpool with Stanley Baker as a policeman attempting to rehabilitate a juvenile delinquent (David McCallum) and Cushing as a helpful priest.John Paul Jones (1959) is an American biopic about the Revolutionary War naval hero, with Robert Stack as Jones, Bette Davis in a cameo as Catherine the Great and Cushing as Jones adversary Captain Richard Pearson. Always of slender build, Cushing suffered from dysentery during filming in Spain and lost a dangerous amount of weight that he gradually regained.Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) are the two big-screen features starring Cushing as Dr. Who, a character inspired by the extraterrestrial being from the British TV series. In Cushing's case, the character is a human doctor who invents a time machine and must cope with a race of deliciously evil mutants called the Daleks.Cushing and Lee reteam for Nothing but the Night (1973), a British crime drama with a supernatural slant. The film, set in Scotland, was the only one produced by Lee's own production company. Lee plays a police inspector investigating a series of deaths that, on the surface, look like suicides. Cushing is a pathologist aiding in the investigation, which involves a group of orphans.With his role in Star Wars, Cushing achieved a new level of recognition, especially among younger audiences. The actor, who reportedly regretted his inability to appear in sequels because his character did not survive the original film, had his image posthumously recreated through digital imagery in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Cushing's last actual appearance in a feature film came in Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986). His final television role was, appropriately, his beloved Sherlock Holmes in The Masks of Death (1984).Cushing wrote two memoirs, Peter Cushing: An Autobiography (1986) and Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years (1988). With his pal Christopher Lee he narrated the documentary Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994).Cushing was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1982 but, without any surgery or chemotherapy, survived another 12 years. For his contributions to the British film industry, Cushing was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1989, and in 1994, he died in a hospice in Canterbury at age 81. Among those speaking at a memorial service at the Actor's Church in Covent Garden, London, was the bereaved Christopher Lee. He later said of his friendship with Cushing that "there would be nothing like that" in his life again.Looking back on his reputation as a horror actor, the mild-mannered Cushing once mused that "People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can't think why. In my macabre roles I have either been a monster-maker or a monster destroyer, but never a monster... I've never harmed a fly." 

Life Events

1935

Made stage acting debut with the Worthington Repertory Company in England

1939

Made Hollywood debut in James Whale's version of "The Man in the Iron Mask"

1941

Last feature film for seven years, "They Dare Not Love"; begun by Whale but completed by director Charles Vidor

1948

One-shot return to acting in films: made British film debut as Osric in Laurence Olivier's adaptation of "Hamlet"; film also marked first feature in which he and Christopher Lee both acted, though Cushing's Osric had no interaction with Lee's palace guard

1952

Returned to feature film acting with a supporting role in John Huston's "Moulin Rouge"

1957

First received top billing in the Hammer Studios film, "The Curse of Frankenstein"; film also marked the first of five films in which Cushing would play Dr. Frankenstein and was his first significant teaming with Christopher Lee

1958

First played the role of Dracula's nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing, opposite Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, in "The Horror of Dracula"

1970

Made first of four films opposite actor Vincent Price, "Scream and Scream Again"

1973

Played Dr. Frankenstein for the fifth and last time, "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell"

1976

First American made-for-TV movie, "The Great Houdini", starring Paul Michael Glaser in the title role; Cushing played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

1977

Played the villain Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars"

1978

Played Dr. Van Helsing for the fifth and last time in "The Satanic Rites of Dracula", opposite Lee as Count Dracula

1986

Last feature film, "Biggles"

1992

Clip of Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing and Lee as Dracula from "The Horror of Dracula" used in John Landis's horror feature, "Innocent Blood"

Photo Collections

The Mummy (1959) - Lobby Cards
The Mummy (1959) - Lobby Cards
The Gorgon - Movie Poster
Here is an American movie poster for Hammer Studios' The Gorgon (1964), starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This poster size is a 60x40, a larger version of the standard one-sheet.
Madhouse - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Madhouse (1974), starring Vincent Price. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Cash On Demand (1961) - Open, Give This Christmas Tight opening to the well-received Hammer Films’ production, based on an episode of the British TV anthology series Theatre 70, not released in the UK until December, 1963, but with a holiday setting an a twist on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Cash On Demand, 1961, starring Peter Cushing and Andrè Morell.
Cash On Demand (1961) - One Of The Few Dignified Businesses We’ve just been meeting the staff of a provincial English branch bank, two days before Christmas, when their oppressive manager (Peter Cushing as Fordyce) arrives, taking bites out of Miss Pringle, Pearson, and Sanderson (Edith Sharpe, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird), a little kinder to Peter and Sally (Barry Lowe, Lois Daine), early in Hammer Films’ Cash On Demand, 1961.
Cash On Demand (1961) - You Look Ridiculous Only uptight manager Fordyce (Peter Cushing) knows that Col. Gore-Hepburn (Andrè Morell) is really a suave robber holding his family hostage while posing as an inspector from the bank’s security firm, so beleaguered staffers Harvill, Pearson and Sanderson (Barry Lowe, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird) exhibit some team spirit, in Hammer Films’ much-praised Cash On Demand, 1961.
Cash On Demand (1961) - Someone Of Consequence Wholly new character (Andrè Morell as Col. Gore-Hepburn) pulls up outside our Haversham, England bank branch, meeting first Harvill (Barry Lowe), then chief clerk Pearson (Richard Vernon), who’s already in a job-threatening pre-Christmas conflict with fastidious manager Fordyce (Peter Cushing), early in Hammer Films’ Cash On Demand, 1961.
Gorgon, The (1964) - They're Bringing The Body In Now After the murder of an artists’ model in some Carpathian forest, we meet Peter Cushing as the local scientist-doctor, Barbara Shelley his assistant, Patrick Troughton the policeman, and Jack Watson as Ratoff, then the weird discovery, early in Hammer Films’ The Gorgon, 1964.
Gorgon, The (1964) - We Are Men Of Science Increasingly emotional assistant Carla (Barbara Shelley) can’t see why doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing) won’t discuss the spooky Greek-myth angle (i.e. corpses turned to stone) on the local murders, then a victim’s father (Michael Goodliffe), a former colleague, presses a similar point, in Hammer Films’ The Gorgon, 1964.
Gorgon, The (1964) - It's Not A Pretty Sight His hair turned gray after his encounter with the title monster (whose dead victims turn to stone), Heitz (Richard Pasco) receives his mentor and family friend Meister (Christopher Lee) from Leipzig, while Namaroff (Peter Cushing) slices up an ex-patient, with his still-more remote assistant Carla (Barbara Shelley), in Hammer Films’ The Gorgon, 1964.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) - Disturbance In The Force Probably underestimating her foe’s depravity, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) causes Tarkin (Peter Cushing) to unleash the death star, which rattles Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness), on board the Millenium Falcon with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), in George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977.
End Of The Affair, The (1955) - Are You Miserable? The war ended and a year after Sarah, his married lover, broke up with him, American writer Maurice (Van Johnson) is back in London where he meets her husband, his friend, Henry MIles (Peter Cushing), who has not been well, Edward Dmytryk directing, on location, from Graham Greene’s novel, in The End Of The Affair, 1955.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) - Twist That Anti-Clockwise Not altogether essential to the story but allowing for some philosophical commentary, Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) here has enlisted assistant Hertz (Thorley Walters) to enable the power source for the experiment referred-to in the title, cueing some excellent Hammer Films’ tech, in Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) - Healthy Young Girl Formerly dead, brunette, disfigured and disabled, Christina (Susan Denberg) is switched on by Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and aide Hertz (Thorley Walters), and she has questions, in Hammer Films' Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) - He Lives! Assistants Hans (Robert Morris) and Dr. Hartz (Thorley Walters) un-freeze Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) who explains he's getting into soul transplants, early in Hammer Films' Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967.

Trailer

From Beyond The Grave (1973) -- (Original Trailer) Theatrical trailer for the England-made Warner Bros. horror anthology, based on stories by Ronald Chetwynd Hayes, with Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, Diana Dors etc., From Beyond The Grave, 1973.
Top Secret! (1984) -- (Original Trailer) Screwy trailer from the Airplane! team Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (Jerry, Jim, David) for their improbable rock’n’roll/WWII espionage spoof, starring Val Kilmer in his first movie role, cut to Little Richard’s song, Top Secret!, 1984.
Dracula A.D. 1972 -- (Original Trailer) Hammer Films’ modernized horror mode, in the original trailer for Dracula A.D. 1972, 1972, featuring the highly promoted but short-lived rock’n’roll group Stoneground.
Mummy, The (1959) - (Original Trailer) A bandage-wrapped Christopher Lee stalks his victims in Hammer Film's version of The Mummy (1959).
Torture Garden - (Original Trailer) A sideshow exhibit on torture predicts the deaths of those who view it in the Torture Garden (1967).
Horror of Dracula - (Original Trailer) Christopher Lee takes the role of the bloodthirsty count versus Peter Cushing's Van Helsing in Hammer Films' Horror of Dracula (1958).
Gorgon, The - (Original Trailer) Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee battle the mythical creature that turns men into stone in Hammer Films' The Gorgon (1964).
Corruption - (Original Trailer) When a plastic surgeon accidentally disfigures his model girlfriend, he becomes obsessed with restoring her face in Corruption (1968).
Vigil In The Night - (Original Trailer) A good nurse (Carole Lombard) ruins her career by covering up for her sister's careless mistake in director George Stevens' Vigil In The Night (1940).
Moulin Rouge - (Original Trailer) French painter Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer) searches for love despite his physical limitations in Moulin Rouge (1952), an Oscar winning biography by director John Huston.
Revenge of Frankenstein, The - (Original Trailer) Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) promises his dwarf assistant a new body but it's all part of The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).
Madhouse -- (Original Trailer) It's a Madhouse (1974) I tell you! when Vincent Price and Peter Cushing join together in a tale of horror.

Companions

Helen Beck
Wife
Actor. Met during WWII in England; died in 1971.

Bibliography

"Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years"
Peter Cushing (1988)
"Peter Cushing: An Autobiography"
Peter Cushing (1986)

Notes

Received the Order of the British Empire in 1989.

Among the awards Cushing received in England for his work in the early days of British television are the Daily Mail TV Award for actors (1953-54), the Guild of TV Award (1955) and a News Chronicle TV Top Ten Award (1956).