It’s amazing how many of the horror greats appear to have been charming as hell in real life. Vincent Price, Christopher Lee—and, by all accounts, Peter Cushing. To the point that Carrie Fisher apparently had a hard time showing the right level of disdain and disgust toward him in Star Wars, because he was unfailingly polite to her between takes. He was too nice for her to act as though she despised him. I won’t say no one had anything bad to say about him; that seems improbable. But I haven’t found anyone who did.
For those who don’t think of him as Grand Moff Tarkin, he will probably always be best known for the Hammer horror films he made. Twenty-two of them, in fact. Most also featuring Christopher Lee, who became his best friend. He was Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing. He played Sherlock Holmes for the first time in the Hammer version of Hound of the Baskervilles. He was often, from what I can tell, the hero, defeating Christopher Lee—they made twenty-four films together, all told, Hammer and not. But I’ll admit I’m not a horror fan, so I’ve not seen many Hammer films.
Also, I have not seen him as the Doctor, on the similar grounds of not caring for Doctor Who. At the Earth’s Core, I saw with puppets in the corner on the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In general, Peter Cushing is one of those people whose work I admire from a distance, I’m afraid. There’s a lot of it, and what I know of it shows that the man was quite talented, but in general he’s in the category of Just Not My Thing. I always feel a bit awkward about this.
But from what I’ve read, I would have quite liked the man. Carrie Fisher said he smelled like linen and lavender, making the “foul stench” line all wrong. He was, as we know, permitted to act most of his role of Tarkin in slippers, because the costume’s boots were too small. He contacted the Royal National Institute for the Blind in 1971 to offer to record audiobooks. He was an artist—and in fact he painted miniatures and played games with them, which will endear him even more to my gaming friends.
And oh, he loved his wife. His reaction to her death was to run up and down a flight of stairs in their home in the hope of inducing a heart attack in himself; he had turned down several roles to care for her. Apparently you can see a physical difference in him after her death, to the extent that his character in Dracula A.D. 1972 was changed to be another character’s grandfather instead of her father. He apparently believed the separation would be temporary, but much of his work painted a picture of grief after that. A new breed of rose was named in her honour at his request, a whitish rose with pink edges to the petals. He felt his life ended without her.
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