May 25, 2013

The Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon : Day One

This week, upon the 100th anniversary of his birth, May 24, 1913, fellow bloggers are joining me in celebrating the life and career of actor Peter Cushing.

A young man and a fledgling actor in 1939, Cushing traveled halfway around the world to Hollywood where he got his first film experience under director James Whale. In 1940, he appeared opposite Laurel and Hardy in A Chump at Oxford. Kicking around the film capital, he joined fellow British expats playing cricket and he met Boris Karloff. Compelled by patriotism, Cushing cut short his Hollywood adventure and headed back home to duty in blitzkrieged London. He was promptly drafted into the theater and soon touring the world as a member of Laurence Olivier’s troupe. He would play Osric to Olivier’s Hamlet in the 1948 film adaptation.

In the Fifties, Cushing became a household name on British television with award-winning performances in live broadcasts playing, among many others, Beau Brummell and Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 1957, with The Curse of Frankenstein for Hammer Films, Cushing embarked on a spectacular career as a horror film star, rising to a pantheon that includes the Chaneys, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and his contemporaries and friends Vincent Price and Christopher Lee.

No sketch, however brief, of Peter Cushing’s extraordinary life and career is complete without a mention of his wife Helen, née Beck, who passed away in 1971. Cushing was devastated and he would mourn her every day for the rest of his life. He would say that he was just killing time, only waiting to be reunited with her. I was in London last winter, doing research at the National Gallery where I had access to Peter Cushing’s file. It contained a photograph of a young Helen Beck, and I was struck by her beauty and the kindness in her eyes, and I understood, a little bit at least, how deeply her loss must have affected Cushing.

Peter Cushing worked until the very end. His last gig was narrating — with Christopher Lee — Flesh and Blood, Ted Newsom’s documentary about Hammer Films. Cushing passed away on August 11, 1994, the very same week that the film was broadcast in England.

At the top of this post is the splendid cover by Quinton Winter for a recent issue of Fortean Times. It features an article, The Human Face of Horror, by Stephen Volk and an extract from his novella set in Cushing’s beloved Whitstable. There is also a look at Cushing the artist, his watercolors and illustrated scripts, and a Fortean appraisal of “Weird Whitstable”. The issue is well worth seeking out.

And now on to the Blogathon. Check back often: New links are added as they come in every day and all through the week!

Here’s a highly original kickoff for a Blogathon devoted to an International Horror Icon… The eminent Richard Harland Smith of TCM’s Movie Morlocks looks at Peter Cushing’s non-horror roles! He also uses the word “contumely”.

Beautifully written and damned informative, The Peter Cushing Nobody Knows will have you hunting down titles like Cone of Silence, Violent Playground, Cash on Demand, and End of the Affair, all showing Cushing at his best, and not a wooden stake in sight.

Craig Edwards spelunks Pop Culture and promises to explore the films of Peter Cushing all this week on his Let’s Get Out of Here blog. 

His first post focuses on Cushing’s interpretation of Doctor Who, perhaps non-canon, but good enough for two films in ’65 and ’66. Neat posters and eye-popping trailers are on show at Craig’s Saturday Night at the Movies.

Cushing’s Doctor Who again, in Daleks vs The Martians, a wild comics adaptation from 1996, offered here by the good folks at The Secret Sanctum of Captain Video. 

While you’re visiting, click through recent posts and read the Dell Comics adaptation of Jason and the Argonauts, posted in homage to the great Ray Harryhausen, who left us recently. And if you dig deeper, you’ll find more strips related to Harryhausen, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing. Tons of goodies here, and there’s more coming The Secret Sancrum this week!

Peter Cushing Meets Laurel and Hardy! With typical insight and inevitable humor, David Cairns of Shadowplay examines Peter Cushing’s brief turn in A Chump at Oxford (1940). Of Cushing’s cruel pranks, Cairns observes: “It’s a sort of dress rehearsal for CAPTAIN CLEGG”.

A great read with a great title: Whoopee Cushing

Peter Cushing Meets H.G.Wells, via the author’s book on war games played with toy soldiers, a hobby of Cushing’s. Blogger RayRay of WeirdFlix shares an eye-popping British Pathé newsreel visiting with Cushing in Kensington, pre-Whitstable, and lists some of his previous posts about Cushing movies that’ll have you clicking around the site for comments and great pics.

And there are more Cushing goodies to come from WeirdFlix this week.

Aurora of Citizen Screenings offers a generous selection of photos, some very nice magazine covers featuring Peter Cushing, and best of all, several quotes from the man.

If I played Hamlet, they’d call it a horror film.”

John Morehead of the TheoFantastique blog offers a sharp, intelligence analysis of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, reflecting on the monster hunter in popular culture and comparing Cushing’s incarnation of the character — “a confident, educated man with an inner beauty of character and virtue” — to Hugh Jackman’s contemporary reading of the part, circa 2004. 

A wonderful read!

Meanwhile, writer Orrin Grey offers up links to four fine reviews of Cushing films while he prepares to cover all six of Cushing’s Hammer Frankensteins in the days to come.

Get yourself over to Who Killed Orrin Grey?

Art takes on Cushing: Cartoonist Bob Lizarraga captures Cushing in caricature, a dead-on interpretation, up on The Blogarraga

Over at Slash The Zombie, artist Zombie Rust is undertaking a series of one-a-day Cushing portraits. First up: Cushing crosses candlesticks to X-off Dracula, one of the most iconic images of horror cinema, rendered in stark black and white. Click around the site to see more of Zombie Rust’s dark art. 


Joe Thompson said...

In the words of Flounder from Animal House: Oh, boy, is this great!

Anonymous said...

tdraicer writes: Peter Cushing has been a favorite of mine for decades-he so deserves this blogathon. Thanks to you (and all the writers participating) for setting it up!

Craig Edwards said...

Thank you for this blogfest - I find my meager contributions are in stellar company - I'm hanging with the Big Boys (and Girls) this week!