Sunday, May 26, 2013

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Peter Cushing

He was the gracious gentleman who played such vile creations as Dr. Frankenstein and Grand Moff Tarkin. He was the glaring, gaunt-face who embodied such noble fellows as Dr. Van Helsing and Sherlock Holmes. Peter Cushing was one of the most versatile, committed, and skilled stars to thrill and charm horror fans. Yeah, you knew that already. So on the 100th anniversary of his birth, let’s glare at twenty things you may not have known about Peter Cushing.
1. Peter Cushing’s grandfather Henry was an actor who performed with Sir Henry Irving in Faust at London’s Lyceum Theater. Irving’s manager was Bram Stoker, who’d one day write a certain novel that would be the source of one of Peter’s most memorable movies.

2. Collecting toy soldiers was one of Peter Cushing’s great enthusiasms, and he didn’t just keep them locked away in some glass cabinet. Adult Peter liked to get down on the floor with his toys and play with them!

3. Coincidentally, Peter Cushing’s first film role was in 1939’s The Man in the Iron Mask, helmed by James Whale, who directed Universal’s 1931 version of Frankenstein. Cushing was cast as a double for Louis Hayward in his dual role as Louis XIV and the monarch’s twin brother Phillipe. Whale also gave Cushing a small on-screen role as the Second Officer, which required him to learn fencing and nearly resulted in serious injury when he accidentally stabbed his horse with his spurs, sending the beast into a scenery-wrecking frenzy and leaving Cushing dumped on the floor of the set.

4. Early in his career, a future member of one of horror’s greatest teams appeared on screen with one of comedy’s greatest when Peter Cushing goofed around with Laurel and Hardy in 1939’s A Chump at Oxford.

5. Unlike that other creepy duo of Karloff and Lugosi, who never enjoyed a close relationship off screen, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee always remained great friends.
6. Although he has a bit of a reputation for being the icy Lugosi to Cushing’s warm-hearted Karloff, Christopher Lee was not averse to cutting up on set, and his lisping impersonation of Sylvester the Cat never failed to put Cushing in stitches.

7. Cushing consulted with his personal physician about the ins and outs of human brain transplanting before playing Dr. Frankenstein.

8. When Peter Cushing was portraying Dr. Frankenstein, he was not thinking back on Mary Shelley’s novel for inspiration. Rather he based his performance on Dr. Robert Knox, who employed the notorious grave robbers Burke and Hare to procure corpses for his experiments in the nineteenth century. Three years later, Cushing would star as Knox in John Gilling’s The Flesh and the Fiends.

9. Cushing contributed the ideas of having Van Helsing use crossed candlesticks as a crucifix and leap across a table to tear down the curtains that turn Dracula into dust during their final showdown.

10. Like many classic horror stars, Peter Cushing took issue with the term “horror.” He felt the term should apply to more realistic depictions of horrific actions, such as war and gangster movies. For the monster movies he made, Cushing preferred the term “fantasy.”

11. While filming The Revenge of Frankenstein, Peter Cushing could be found in his dress rooming practicing the doctor’s carving skills on a head of cabbage. In his autopsy scene in The Gorgon, Cushing’s off-camera hands actually were slicing through the leafy vegetable!

12. Peter Cushing was so upset over Frankenstein’s rape of Anna in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed that the perpetual gentleman took actress Veronica Carlson to dinner before filming it to set her mind at ease about the scene. After shooting it, he told her “I’m so sorry, darling. Just remember it isn’t me,” forever winning Carlson’s love and respect.

13. Peter Cushing declined the role of Dr. Vesalius in The Abominable Dr. Phibes to spend time with his ailing wife, Helen, leaving the part to Joseph Cotten. When she died, Cushing pulled out of his role as Professor Fuchs in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Andrew Keir took his place.

14. Although Peter was devastated by Helen’s death, he had no reservations about using that pain to bring extra depth to the characters he played. He even wanted to use her photo for that of Grymsdyke’s late wife in Tales from the Crypt, but it was decided that Helen did not look right for the part. Nevertheless, Grymsdyke’s wife is named “Helen,” and Cushing’s scenes longing for her are heartbreaking. A photo of Helen would get some screen time on Van Helsings desk in Peter's next film, Dracula A.D. 1972.

15. According to David Miller’s A Life in Film: Peter Cushing, George Lucas originally considered the actor for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Lucas, however, says he cast Cushing as the villain because he “personifies the character I had written as Governor Tarkin.”

16. George Lucas considered Governor Tarkin to be the main villain of Star Wars even though he only occupies about six and a half minutes of screen time. Darth Vader is on screen for almost twice that amount of time.

17. Peter Cushing’s great, big, size-twelve feet caused some troubles on the set of Star Wars when he couldn’t fit into Tarkin’s size-nine boots. So he played the part in a pair of very non-imperial plimsolls, forcing Tarkin to be mostly filmed above the knee. He can only be seen in his painfully tiny boots in a single wide shot.

18. John Carpenter wanted Cushing for the role of Dr. Loomis in Halloween, but the actor passed on the part, as did Christopher Lee. Instead, the role went to Cushing’s old Flesh and the Fiends co-star, Donald Pleasence.

19. According to author Jonathan W. Rinzler, George Lucas considered using unused footage of Cushing in Revenge of the Sith. Instead, the director used actor Wayne Pygram in heavy Cushing make-up for Tarkin’s very, very brief appearance.
20. Peter Cushing played two of literature and cinema’s iconic doctors more often than any other actor, portraying Van Helsing five times and Frankenstein six.

Part of the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon

4 comments:

  1. I'm never going to be able to look at "Sylvester" in the same old way ever again. Thanks for adding immeasurably to the storehouse of Peter Cushing lore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sylvester *or* Dracula... my pleasure, Caftan Woman.

      Delete
  2. I absolutely adore Peter Cushing, always have since I was a young girl cutting my teeth, so to speak, on the Hammer Horrors. He..and Christopher Lee...always seemed the perfect idea of what gentlemen should be. They still do.

    ReplyDelete

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