Nationality: British. Born: Kenley, Surrey, 26 May 1913. Education: Attended Purley Secondary School; Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. Family: Married Helen Beck, 1940 (died 1971). Career: Early 1930s—assistant stage manager of Worthing Repertory Company in Sussex; 1935—stage debut in The Middle Watch in Worthing; 1939—film debut in The Man in the Iron Mask ; 1940—Hollywood film debut in Vigil in the Night ; 1941—New York stage debut in The Seventh Trumpet ; 1943—London stage debut in War and Peace ; 1948—toured Australia and New Zealand with Old Vic
Films as Actor:
The Man in the Iron Mask (Whale)
Hidden Master (short); Dreams (short); Laddie (Hively) (as Robert Pryor); Women in War (Auer) (as Capt. Evans); A Chump at Oxford (Goulding) (as student); Vigil in the Night (Stevens) (as Joe Shand)
They Dare Not Love (Whale); We All Help (short); The New Teacher (short); Safety First (short)
It Might Be You (short)
Hamlet (Olivier) (as Osric)
Moulin Rouge (Huston) (as Marcel de la Voisier)
The Black Knight (Garnett) (as Sir Palamides)
The End of the Affair (Dmytryk) (as Henry Miles)
Magic Fire (Dieterle) (as Otto Wesendonk); Alexander the Great (Rossen) (as Memnon); Time without Pity (Losey) (as Jeremy Clayton)
The Abominable Snowman ( The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas ) (Guest) (as Dr. John Rollason); The Curse of Frankenstein (Fisher) (as Victor Frankenstein)
Violent Playground (Dearden) (as priest); Dracula ( The Horror of Dracula ) (Fisher) (as Dr. Van Helsing)
The Mummy (Fisher) (as John Banning); The Hound of the Baskervilles (Fisher) (as Sherlock Holmes); John Paul Jones (Farrow) (as Capt. Pearson)
The Flesh and the Fiends ( Mania ; Psycho Killers ; The Fiendish Ghouls ) (Gilling) (as Dr. Robert Knox); Code of Silence ( Trouble in the Sky ) (Frend) (as Captain Clive Judd); Suspect ( The Risk ) (Boulting) (as Prof. Sewell); The Brides of Dracula (Fisher) (as Dr. Van Helsing); Sword of Sherwood Forest (Fisher) (as Sheriff of Nottingham)
Fury at Smuggler's Bay (Gilling) (as Squire Trevenyan); The Naked Edge (Anderson) (as Wrack); The Hellfire Club (Baker) (as Merryweather); Cash on Demand (Lawrence) (as Fordyce)
The Devil's Agent (Carstairs); Captain Clegg ( Night Creatures ) (Scott) (as Dr. Blyss/Capt. Nathaniel Clegg); The Man Who Finally Died (Fisher) (as Dr. von Brecht)
The Evil of Frankenstein (Fisher) (as Baron Frankenstein); Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (Francis) (as Dr. Sandor Schreck); The Gorgon (Fisher) (as Dr. Namaroff)
She (Day) (as Major Horace Holly); The Skull (Francis) (as Prof. Christopher Maitland); Dr. Who and the Daleks (Fleming) (as Dr. Who)
Island of Terror (Fisher) (as Dr. Brian Stanley); Daleks— Invasion Earth A.D. 2150 (Fleming) (as Dr. Who)
Frankenstein Created Woman (Fisher) (as Baron Frankenstein); Torture Garden (Francis) (as Canning); The Mummy's Shroud (Gilling) (as narrator); Some May Live ( They Also Kill ) (Sewell—for TV) (as John Meredith); Night of the Big Heat ( Island of the Burning Damned ) (Fisher) (as Dr. Stone); Caves of Steel
The Blood Beast Terror ( The Vampire Beast Craves Blood ) (Sewell) (as Inspector Quennell); Corruption (Hartford-Davis) (as Sir John Brown)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (Fisher) (as Baron Frankenstein); Scream and Scream Again (Hessler) (as Major Heinrich); One More Time (Lewis) (as Frankenstein)
The Vampire Lovers (Baker) (as General Spielsdorf); The House That Dripped Blood (Duffell) (as Philip Grayson); Incense for the Damned ( Bloodsuckers ) (Hartford-Davis) (as Dr. Goodrich)
Twins of Evil (Hough) (as Gustav Weil)
I, Monster (Weeks) (as Utterson); "Poetic Justice" ep. of Tales from the Crypt (Francis) (as Mr. Grimsdyke); Nothing but the Night (Sasdy) (as Sir Mark Ashley); Michael Carmichael ( Fear in the Night ) (Sangster); Asylum (Baker) (as Smith); Dr. Phibes Rises Again (Fuest) (as Captain); Dracula A.D. 1972 (Gibson) (as Van Helsing); Panico en el Transiberiano ( Horror Express ) (Martin) (as Dr. Wells)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula ( Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride ) (Gibson) (as Van Helsing); Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (Fisher) (as Dr. Frankenstein); The Creeping Flesh (Francis) (as Emmanuel Hildern); And Now the Screaming Starts (Baker) (as Dr. Pope); From Beyond the Grave (Connor) (as shopkeeper)
Legend of the Werewolf (Francis) (as Paul Cataflangue); The Golden Vampire ( The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula ; The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires ) (Baker) (as Van Helsing); Madhouse (Clark) (as Herbert Flay); La Grande Trouille ( Tendre Dracula ) (Grunstein) (as voice); The Beast Must Die (Annett) (as Dr. Lungren)
Call Him Mr. Shatter ( Shatter ) (Carreras); The Ghoul (Francis) (as Dr. Lawrence); Shock Waves ( Almost Human ; Death Corps ) (Wiederhorn) (as Scar)
The Devil's Men ( Land of the Minotaur ) (Carayiannis) (as Baron Corofax); Trial by Combat ( Choice of Weapons ; Dirty Knight's Work ) (Connor) (as Sir Edward Gifford); At the Earth's Core (Connor) (as Dr. Abner Perry); The Great Houdinis (Shavelson—for TV)
The Uncanny (Herous) (as Wilbur Gray); Die Standarte ( Battle Flag ) (Runze) (as Maj. von Hackenberg); Star Wars (Lucas) (as Grand Moff Tarkin)
Hitler's Son (Amateau) (as Heinrich Hussner); The Detour
Touch of the Sun (Curran) (as Commissioner Potts); Arabian Adventure (Connor) (as Wazir Al Wurzara)
A Tale of Two Cities (Jim Goddard—for TV) (as Dr. Manette); Misterio en la isla de los monstruos ( Monster Island ; Mystery of Monster Island ) (Piquer) (as Colderup); Black Jack (Boulois)
House of the Long Shadows (Walker) (as Sebastian)
Sword of the Valiant (Weeks) (as Seneschal)
Top Secret! (Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker) (as Sven Jorgensen); The Silent Scream (Alan Gibson); Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death ( Masks of Death ) (Roy Ward Baker—for TV); Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues (Alan Gibson—for TV) (as Prof. Charles Copeland)
Biggles: Adventures in Time ( Biggles ) (Hough) (as Colonel Raymond)
By CUSHING: books—
Tales of a Monster Hunter (horror tales selected by Peter Cushing), London, 1977.
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography , London, 1986.
Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years , London, 1988.
By CUSHING: articles—
Interviews in Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1972.
Film Review , September 1976.
Films Illustrated (London), December 1980.
On CUSHING: books—
McCarty, John, Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen , New York, 1984.
McCarty, John, The Modern Horror Film , New York, 1990.
Del Vecchio, Deborah, and Tom Johnson, Peter Cushing: The Gentle Man of Horror and His 91 Films , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1992.
McCarty, John, Movie Psychos and Madmen , New York, 1993.
McCarty, John, The Fearmakers , New York, 1994.
Miller, Mark A., Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Horror Cinema , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1994.
On CUSHING: articles—
Films Illustrated (London), December 1971.
Article about Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in Photoplay (New York), June 1972.
Ringel, H., "The Horrible Hammer Films of Terence Fisher," in Take One (Montreal), May 1973.
Transcript of John Player lecture on "Frankenstein and Others," in Films Illustrated (London), October 1973.
Carrère, E., "Prométhée délivré (sur les 'Frankenstein' de Terence Fisher)," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1977.
Photoplay (New York), October 1980.
Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 19, 1981.
Obituary in New York Times , 12 August 1994.
"The Arm of God," obituary in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1994.
Bond, S.R., and S. Bond, "Report from 221 B Baker Street," Armchair Detective , vol. 28, no. 2, 1995.
Earnshaw, T., "Peter Cushing," Scarlet Street , no. 18, Spring 1995.
Miller, M.A., "Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee," Midnight Marquee (Baltimore, Maryland) no. 54, Summer 1997.
Kelley, B. "Peter Cushing on His Stylish Villainy in Star Wars ," Cinefantastique (Forest Park, Illinois), vol. 28, no. 9, 1997.
* * *
Peter Cushing was identifiable by his noble air and refined manner, by all appearances a gentleman. Yet he is best remembered for those moments in film where he plunges the stake, without reservation or mercy, into the waiting chest of the sleeping vampire, amid deafening screams from the dying and a pool of blood to reassure us that the deed is done. For Cushing was one of the mainstays of the British horror film, as defined by Hammer Films. His frequent pairing with Christopher Lee in dozens of horror films over several decades was the most famous "scream team" since Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi went to their great rewards.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Hammer began turning out loose remakes, in color, of the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s under the guidance of house directors such as Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis. In these films Hammer created a fairy tale gothic atmosphere distinctively its own. It combined this with unprecedentedly graphic violence and sexual exploitation which contributed much to breaking down the walls of screen censorship in Britain and elsewhere. Cushing brought to the title character of The Curse of Frankenstein —the first of Hammer's gothic horrors—a touch of nastiness that audiences weaned on Colin Clive's portrayal in the 1931 original had never seen before. No mere mad scientist, Cushing's Baron von Frankenstein was the ultimate narcissist: cold, ruthless, remorseless, and a murderer to boot—the true monster of the film. He played the part, with which he is most identified by horror fans, in five Hammer sequels, the last of which, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell , found him the chief lunatic in charge of his private asylum.
Cushing's other famous role was that of Dracula's arch nemesis, the vampire destroyer Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Cushing injected the character with a degree of neurotic obsession barely hinted at in Bram Stoker's novel. He first played the role in Hammer's Horror of Dracula , the studio's smash hit follow-up to The Curse of Frankenstein . It remains the studio's most celebrated film. Cushing played Van Helsing (as well as Van Helsing's nephew, Lorimar) in five Hammer sequels, the oddest of which was 1974's The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires produced by the Shaw brothers in Hong Kong. Here, the martial arts meet the black arts, as Cushing allies himself with sibling martial artists to fight a horde of kung-fu vampires created by Dracula.
Cushing also made an indelible mark as Sherlock Holmes in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles , one of the best screen versions of Conan Doyle's oft-filmed tale. Cushing's Holmes was an intellectual neurotic whose obsession with solving the mystery almost leads to his client's death. The screen had never presented Holmes in such a light, but this was precisely as Conan Doyle had written the character; thus, Cushing's Holmes, like his Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing before it, was a groundbreaker, paving the way for a host of similarly authentic Holmes interpretations, culminating with the late Jeremy Brett's even more neurotic (and obsessive) incarnation a quarter of a century later on television. Cushing also played the character on television in a series of 16 Holmes adventures produced for the BBC in the 1960s, one of them yet another remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles , trimmed to an hour-long format.
In addition to Lee, Cushing teamed with another icon of modern horror cinema, Vincent Price, in several films, most notably House of the Long Shadows , an homage to the gothic "old dark house" genre of horror films based on the oft-filmed Earl Derr Bigger's thriller Seven Keys to Baldpate .
Cushing and Lee's final teaming was a documentary on Hammer Films, Flesh and Blood , which they hosted and narrated for producer-director Ted Newsom. The documentary aired in two parts on the BBC in August 1994. Ill at the time, Cushing's spirits were buoyed by the arrival of thousands of fan letters after the first episode aired. His death (from cancer) on 11 August 1994, before the second episode reached the airwaves, marked the end of an era for horror fans, young and old, around the world.
—Rob Winning, updated by John McCarty