Childhood & Early Life
Peter Cushing was born in Surrey, England on May 26, 1913, to George Edward and Nellie Marie Cushing, and was younger of the two brothers.
There were several stage actors in Cushing's family, including his paternal grandfather Henry William Cushing, his paternal aunt Maude Ashton, and his step-uncle Wilton Herriot.
He began his education in Dulwich before attending the Shoreham Grammar School in Shoreham-by-Sea but he soon felt homesick and returned home after only a term.
He then attended the Purley County Secondary School but except for art, he didn't have much interest in other subjects. He played the lead in nearly every school production during his teenage.
Cushing's father was against him becoming an actor and so got him a job as a surveyor's assistant in the drawing department of the Couldsdon and Purley Urban District Council's surveyor's office, in 1933. Cushing remained there for three years without any promotion.
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Peter Cushing eventually applied for and received a scholarship at the 'Guildhall School of Music and Drama' in London. In 1936, he made his stage debut with the Worthing Repertory Company.
He remained with the company for three years. In 1939, his father bought him a one-way ticket to Hollywood and he moved there with only £50 in his pocket.
Starting with a comedy movie starring Laurel and Hardy, he did a few bit roles here and there. 'Vigil in the Night', released in 1940, was the first film that brought some semblance of attention and critical praise for Cushing.
Soon, he grew homesick again and decided to return to England. Before that, however, he moved to New York, where he voiced a few radio commercials and joined a theatre company. He made his Broadway debut with 'The Seventh Trumpet' in 1941 but it received poor reviews.
He returned to England during World War II, where he joined the 'Entertainments National Service Association' (ENSA), which performed plays for British troops. While appearing in Noel Coward's 'Private Lives', he fell in love with his co-star Helen Beck and married her. He then struggled to find work for years.
In 1947, he accepted the relatively small part of the foppish courtier Osric in Laurence Olivier's 'Hamlet'. The movie bagged the Academy award for the Best Picture and earned Cushing praise for his performance.
Struggle to find work, however, continued. Finally, Helen encouraged him to seek roles in TV. Cushing was hired for a string of roles and over the next three years, he became one of the most popular names in British television.
His biggest TV success was the lead role of Winston Smith in '1984', a 1954 TV adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel of the same name, which earned him a BAFTA award for best actor. In the following two years, he appeared in 31 TV plays and two serials, besides winning several awards.
Cushing soon returned to the big screen with films such as 'The Black Knight' (1954), 'The End of the Affair' (1955), and 'Magic Fire' (1956). He was then cast in the lead role in 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957), the first of the 22 films he would make with the Hammer Productions, then a small company. Cushing's 'Hamlet' co-star, Christopher Lee, played the monster in the film and the two actors became lifelong friends. The film was an overnight success, bringing fame to both men.
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Hammer then adapted Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel 'Dracula' (1958) and cast Cushing in the role of the vampire's adversary Doctor Van Helsing. He once again starred opposite Lee.
His non-Hammer productions included 'John Paul Jones' (1959), 'The Flesh and the Fiends' (1959), and 'Fury at Smugglers' Bay'(1961).
In 1965, Cushing gave his final stage performance of the decade in the play 'Thark'. In the same year, he starred in two films based on cult British TV series 'Doctor Who'. He later starred in the 15-episode BBC TV series 'Sherlock Holmes', which was aired in 1968.
Cushing also appeared in films by the independent Amicus Productions, such as Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), 'The Skull' (1965), and 'Torture Garden' (1967).
In 1972, he appeared in 'Dracula A.D. 1972', a Hammer modernisation of the story. His other movies during this period included 'The Vampire Lovers' (1970), 'Fear in the Night' (1972), 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' (1973), and 'The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires' (1974).
In 1971, he lent his voice for audiobooks for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. His recorded works included 'The Return of Sherlock Holmes'.
In 1975, anxious to return to the stage, Cushing performed in the play 'The Heiress'. The same year, he starred in the 'Land of the Minotaur', and 'The Ghoul'.
In 1976, Cushing played the character of Grand Moff Tarkin, a high-ranking Imperial governor and commander of the planet-destroying battlestation, the Death Star, in 'Star Wars'. The movie was released in 1977 and gave Cushing the highest amount of visibility of his entire career.
In 1984, Cushing played Sherlock Holmes for the last time in TV film 'The Masks of Death'. The final notable roles of Cushing's career were 'Top Secret!'(1984), 'Sword of the Valiant' (1984), and 'Biggles: Adventures in Time' (1986).
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His final acting job was narration for the Hammer Films documentary 'Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror' (1994), recorded only a few weeks before his death.
For the 2016 film 'Rogue One', released 20 years after Cushing's death, CGI and digitally-repurposed-archive footage were used to "resurrect" the actor, which generated controversy.