cushing If anything I have learned over the past week, it is that Peter Cushing is one of the greatest underrated actors of the 20th century.

Now, of course, comes the expected question: who is Peter Cushing? Perhaps you know the characters he portrayed: Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (you know– the bad dude who dies at the end) or the Doctor that nobody remembers. Since his death in 1994, poor Cushing has faded into obscurity. A cruel twist, for someone who George Lucas claimed the world would revere for at least “three hundred years”.

Don’t call your geek cred into question if you didn’t recall his name; truthfully, I didn’t even recognize the man’s face and wasn’t sure I was fit to read a one hundred-plus page biography on his life. But, as it turns out, one needn’t be familiar with his past works to enjoy the book. If an account of an earnest play actor turned star on the silver screen, complete with setbacks and romances, is enough to interest you, then this book will by no means be a disappointment.

A young man from Surrey whose only acting experiences were from high school dramas, Cushing was set into a pack of wolves when he first entered the thespian business. His early years were a series of pitfalls and dinner-less nights, until he finally broke into a theater company. From there, his career blossomed; in 1948, he scored the part of Osric in a film production of Hamlet. The audience loved him!– and from then on, Peter Cushing had no trouble finding work in the arts.

What interests me most is that he was part of the small cast of British men who have played the Doctor– and yet nobody regards him as one! Unfortunately, his movie, Daleks– Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., failed miserably in the American box offices and thus his movies were discarded and no longer part of Whovian canon. A shame because, judging by the pictures and upon learning of his personality, he would make quite the  Doctor.

As a biography, the book leaves few complaints. It is a thorough account of Cushing’s life, from the date of his first breath to the night he took his last breath. Little is left to the imagination, which any avid fan of Cushing’s work is bound to appreciate. However, it may lose interest of the average movie-goer. If one expects this to be a brief synopsis of his life, or a two-hundred spreadsheet of full-color movie pictures, lest you be warned! This biography is a book for light readers. There are pictures– and plenty of them– but they are scattered between good, thick prose.

Peter Cushing is summed up best with his own words: “You have to have a sense of humor, darling, to be alive. Even a bit mad. It helps to be mad.”  Mad he is, but it is coupled with class that the majority can’t pull off. This goofy, subtle, and all-around intriguing purveyor of horror films is one that the world would be ashamed to forget– for three hundred years or more! The biography of his life was dense, but every word kept my attention. Without hesitation, I recommend it to those who love a good story.

 

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