This May marks the centennial birthday of Hammer horror icon Peter Cushing. The English actor's long and distinguished career includes productions in theater, Broadway, and television, but cinema was where the steely Cushing held court. He'll forever be associated with the gothic melodrama and technicolor carnage from the house of Hammer as gentleman vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing — a symbol of good conquering evil.
Titan Books' 'Peter Cushing: A Life in Film' by David Miller explores the admirable star's horror career and reveals the intimate stories behind the actor's beginnings in fright cinema with Terence Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. Cushing played an active role in shaping his characters, continuously challenging their motives and perfecting his own vision of them. Victor Frankenstein's wardrobe was largely Cushing's invention, something he would continue to take an interest in throughout his career. The actor often sketched and painted fashion designs in the margins of his scripts. Cushing also altered Dracula's finale, adding the gymnastic confrontation between man and monster in which Cushing leaps to expose Christopher Lee's vamp to the sun. The candlestick cross was also Cushing's contribution. Miller's book reveals a playful relationship between the titans of terror. Cushing and Lee would often be found on set performing impromptu song and dance numbers or doing goofy impersonations.
'A Life in Film' explores Cushing's complete filmography (from the stage, to Hollywood, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and beyond), but also personal and poignant off-screen moments — including a friendship with Laurence Olivier, the joys and sorrows of Cushing's relationship with beloved wife Helen, and the dark period in his life that followed after her death. Miller does a fine job at revealing how the private and professional fed each other throughout Cushing's lifetime. One brief, but stunning example of this comes from his childhood. Cushing's father punished him by locking him in a dark cellar, which continued to haunt him. Cushing's mother wanted a girl and would outfit her son with dresses and ribbons for his long hair. She would also play a morbid game to terrify young Cushing when he misbehaved, which he admitted left him with an "unreasonable fear of death." How fascinating that the actor would spend the most notable days of his film career edging his way close to the darkness and facing the monsters within.
'Peter Cushing: A Life in Film' is a must-have for Hammer Films completists or horror fans that want to know more about the man behind the stake and hammer. Enjoy this photo preview from Titan Books and author David Miller before you pick up a copy on April 16.