Peter Cushing: A Life in Film by David Miller
Peter Cushing is perhaps most well known to geeks around the world as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. However, geek fans of classic horror will also know him for his presence in Hammer’s horror films of the early twentieth century such as Dr. Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dr. Van Helsing in Horror of Dracula (1958), and Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Cushing was a stock actor in many ways, rotating through Hammer’s movies, the actor that could be depended on.
What fans might now know is how varied (and prolific!) Cushing’s career was before this. Cushing began as many actors do, on stage, barely scrapping by and working constantly. This biography is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, as much of the the first two-thirds of the book focuses on Cushing’s stage, and radio play work, rather than his film work. The book goes into a fair amount of detail about Cushing’s wife, Violet Beck, and his sometimes debilitating nervousness which sometimes led him to break contracts, or not be able to perform.
This book is not an easy read. It’s fairly dense, and the voice of the author is not very accessible. However, if you’re a fan of Cushing’s, or just like to read actor’s biographies, than this is definitely something you’d be interested in. While Miller’s writing style is a bit dense, the information is amazing. There is a lot of background information, materials, and interviews that provide a lot of detail. It’s especially interesting to read the background information on how early films (particularly Hammer’s) worked, and just how different it was from things today. I also enjoyed (as a previous theatre worker) all the detail about stock companies and how they operated in London. This book also offers some things I may have once known, but seem to have forgotten, such as Cushing’s amazing turn as Winston Smith in 1984, and the controversy it caused when first aired by BBC.
Final verdict? If you’re interested in Cushing, early horror films, or acting in general, then you’ll probably enjoy this book, although given the author’s tone, it might be a book that you pick up and set down a lot.