Today would have been Peter Cushing’s 100th birthday, so the time is right to review a newly released biography about him (released April 16th from Titan books).
From his beginnings in repertory theatre, to his starring roles on television (he was a very popular television star in the 1950’s, and Hammer had a big job luring him away from that), to his days at Hammer, and the dark times beyond that (after his beloved wife Helen died in 1971), this book encompasses it all. If you’ve read his autobiographies from the ’80s, this is still a good read and adds a lot of detail and information to what you already know. It also has a wealth of photos (well over 200- there’s at least one on almost every page), mostly black and white but with two sections of color photos as well.
Peter Cushing’s multitude of ups and downs are all represented here, and it features a lot of interviews (both reprinted and newly conducted for this book) with friends and co-stars (and the man himself). The writing is a little academic and undynamic, but the source material shines through and engages without really needing a charismatic host to bring it to you.
Most actors, if they are lucky, get to play a famous character or meaty role that they become beloved for or associated with. Cushing played many- Winston Smith, King Richard II, Dr. Frankenstein, Professor Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, Captain Clegg, Grand Moff Tarken. The joy he’s brought to people over the years with his thoughtful portrayals of these characters and many more is unquantifiable. One thing you always hear when people describe his performances, is how he didn’t always choose the best material and movies to be in, but he always gave his all to every role and brought a humanity to even the most absurd or cardboard characters and storylines. My favorite thing about PETER CUSHING- A LIFE IN FILM is that it tells a lot of the changes and improvements Cushing made to scenes, scripts, and characters- he was always suggesting little changes and enhancements, most of which the directors saw value in and used.
Peter Cushing, like Vincent Price, was incredibly beloved by all of his co-stars and fans, and I’ve never heard a bad word or derogatory tale about him. By all accounts was a very friendly, gracious, and honorable man, and a fantastic and charismatic actor; he is still missed.