Sunday, 24 July 2016


WHEN AN ACTOR reaches a certain level of fame, he gets inundated with job offers, and being in demand will also provide a degree of financial security to be able to pick and choose acting roles. Conflicting film schedules, contractual obligations, illness, personal reasons and getting fired are also factors that can prevent an actor from starring in a movie. When Peter Cushing secured his status as one of Britain’s top film stars, the work was coming in, and thanks to his extensive commitments, especially in the late fifties, he had to turn down offers for various reasons.

THIS DATES BACK to his Hollywood days. After quickly establishing himself in A Chump at Oxford (1939), Vigil in the Night (1940) and Laddie (1940), more film work came his way. He was pencilled in for a role in Tom Brown’s Schoolday's (1940) but nothing came of it. Following the recent discovery of his bit part in The Howards of Virginia (1940) the possibility that he appeared in a lot more films than previously known seems likely.

PLEASED WITH CUSHING'S well received performance as the suicidal Young Clive of India in the movie short Your Hidden Master (1941), MGM offered him a lucrative contract. However homesickness, a condition that cost him a lot of work overseas in later years, finally got the better of him, and he turned down the offer in order to work his passage back to England, therefore missing out on potential Hollywood stardom.

HAD CUSHING STAYED in Hollywood, he would have been an effective light leading man on the lines of David Niven and Ray Milland. His performance in Your Hidden Master also showed his dramatic range, and like Niven and Milland would have emerged as an excellent character actor. Back in England, Cushing joined ENSA where he met his beloved Helen. Throughout the forties he focused on the stage with his only film being Hamlet (1948).

Not the easiest of times considering war was ranging in Europe. Britain was producing a number of wartime propaganda movies, so its surprising Cushing didn’t appear in any. With many actors serving overseas, the opportunities to play officers and other assorted military men would have been in abundance. But despite regular stage roles and steady employment with Laurence Olivier, it’s fair to say Cushing theatre career was not as satisfactory as it should have been, with long periods of unemployment in between short-lived appearances at the Q Theatre. These years of struggle may have contributed to his extra marital affairs and eventual nervous breakdown.

WHY HE NEVER MADE himself available for better paid film work remains a mystery. British films were doing extremely well with Gainsborough and Ealing being at the forefront of movie production (even the fledgling Hammer enjoyed some success). Cushing could have made a decent career playing aristocratic charmers much on the lines of Denis Price or Stewart Granger.

THE FIFTIES PROVIDED the turning point for Cushing, thanks to television. But despite being TV’s first Mr D’Arcy, his nerves got the better of him and he disappeared from view by taking an impromptu holiday with Helen without telling his agent about his plans. With TV stardom secured in Pride and Prejudice, failure to tell his agent probably cost him a lot of lucrative film, TV and stage work at a time when he could ill afford to lose out on.


NOW A TOP TV STAR Cushing’s constant appearances in many classic plays and serials, made him one of the medium’s most versatile actors. Naturally his extensive commitments and contractual obligations to the BBC limited his options regarding cinema work. By the mid fifties his movie career was gathering momentum. His brief cameo in Moulin Rouge (1952) was followed by a superb piece of villainy in The Black Knight (1954). Then a trio of cuckolded husbands in The End of the Affair (1955), Magic Fire (1956) and Alexander the Great (1956), the latter being a big budget epic that made good use of classically trained British actors. If it wasn’t for The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), Cushing would have had a very successful film career in supporting roles.

BUT THEN IF IT WASN'T for The Curse of Frankenstein, Cushing would not have been a star. Horror had become fashionable and with Hammer spearheading this bandwagon, Cushing followed. With Dracula (1958), Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and The Mummy (1959) doing well, Cushing now had enough financial security to pick and choose his roles. This also included non horror projects Violent Playground (1959) and John Paul Jones (1958). The late fifties remained busy for him, especially when he had his commitment to the BBC that included the abortive TV play Cyrano de Begerac.

THERE WAS AN INTERESTING Hammer project the actor was pencilled in for called Night Creatures, Richard Matheson’s screen adaptation of his novel I Am Legend. With Val Guest was slated to direct, Cushing, along with Stanley Baker, Laurence Harvey, Kieran Moore and Ian Hendry were considered for the role of vampire hunter Robert Neville. However, censorship restrictions and the constant use of bad language prompted Hammer to cancel the project. It would have been interesting to have seen Cushing play Neville, although it is highly unlikely he’d be comfortable with the mild use of bad language, plus Baker, Harvey, Moore and Hendry, being more contemporary leading men, looked more ideally suited in the role.

OF A POINT OF INTEREST Night Creatures was used for the American title of the Cushing swashbuckler Captain Clegg (1962). The actor loved the film so much he wrote a screenplay for an unproduced sequel. Whether Hammer considered it for possible film production remains unknown. Cushing was set to play The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959). However such was his demand for film and TV roles (he still had a long term contract with the BBC), conflicting schedules prompted him to turn down the role, although his decision had more to do with the London exhibition of his watercolours entitled Here and There. Anton Differing replaced him, but his lack of warmth undermines the film’s effectiveness. Hammer needed Cushing, but did Cushing really need Hammer?

AFTER YEARS OF STRUGGLE, the actor was in a position to pull his weight when it came to film work. This was apparent when he initially turned down Van Helsing in The Brides of Dracula (1960) because he did not like the way the part was originally written, as he felt it was out of character. (Van Helsing uses black magic to destroy Baron Meinster). His instincts proved correct. Cushing’s horror career reached its creative peak with The Brides of Dracula. It also marked his temporary departure from the genre. With Christopher Lee seeking non-horror roles in Europe and Vincent Price making his mark as America’s king of horror, the time was right to move on.

UNFORTUNATELY Look Back in Anger (1958) and Room at the Top (1959) spearheaded radical new changes to British cinema of the sixties. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Kind of Loving (1962), This Sporting Life (1963) and Billy Liar (1963) not only presented a new and gritty style of social realism, it introduced a new breed of testosterone fuelled young men in the shape of Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Tom Courtney and Alan Bates. These new kids on the block brought a raw and dangerous edge that made classical actors like Cushing redundant. There was still a demand for the old style in television drama and theatre but in cinema, casting proved more of a problem.

THERE WERE OTHER FACTORS to consider. Cushing was approaching 50, his hair was thinning and his youthful good looks gave way to the familiar gaunt face of middle age; not the kind of image to sustain starring roles in the all important youth market. He continued to work in films without ever equalling the commercial impact of his horror days. Perhaps the lively but forgettable swashbucklers The Hellfire Club 1961) and Fury at Smugglers Bay (1961) were not the wisest of choices. It was the welcome arms of Hammer where he gave his finest non horror performances in Cash on Demand (1961) and Captain Clegg (1962). His appearance in The Devil’s Agent (1962) was removed from the final print.

TELEVISION AND THEATRE still made good use of classical actors so in the absence of film work, Cushing could return both mediums. Surprisingly he made very few TV appearances, mainly to avoid too much exposure as it coincided with his movie output. As for the theatre, he was already winding down stage work in the late fifties and by the time he appeared in Thark in 1965, he hadn’t tread - the - boards for six years.

BIBLICAL EPICS, big budget spectaculars and international ventures also kept classical actors busy. It was well paid work and producers could always rely on an actor like Cushing to turn up on time and deliver the goods without a word of complaint. His constant homesickness and Helen’s increasing poor health may have prevented him from working abroad, but that didn’t stop him going to Israel to star in She (1965), and Helen always travelled with him. Whatever the case, it stopped him from taking on lucrative film work further afield. These professional and personal factors may have influenced his decision to return to horror full time. In addition to the welcome arms of Hammer, genre specialists Amicus, Tigon and American International Pictures were more than willing cast the actor in their chillers. But apart from a few high points, it’s fair to say his best horror work was behind him and the downturn in quality could be reflected in The Blood Beast Terror (1967) and Corruption (1968). His participation in these stinkers prompted Cushing’s decision to return full time to television.

AFTER BEING CONSIDERED to play Professor Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit (1967), Cushing disenchantment with the horror genre made him turn down two Tigon films that would have teamed him up with Boris Karloff. The first The Haunted House of Horrors (1969), a film that also had pre stardom David Bowie pencilled in for a role. Poor health prevented Karloff taking part so he was replaced by the equally ill Dennis Price. Cushing, now completely fed up with horror, turned his role down; he was replaced by George Sewell. The second was The Curse of the Crimson Altar (1969), and this time Karloff remained on board alongside Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough. How much Cushing knew about their involvement is unknown. In any case he bowed out. The exact part he was going to play is unknown. It was either written out or taken by Karloff or Lee. Had Cushing and Karloff appeared in both films, they would have been elevated to cult status. 

CUSHING'S TV COMEBACK didn’t work out as planned following his unhappy experience on the Sherlock Holmes series. With Helen’s increasingly frail health, he continued winding down his film commitments to spend more time with her. The stress around this time was clearly evident during the making of The House That Dripped Blood (1970) and I Monster (1970)
. As she grew increasingly worse, it all got too much for him and he turned down the role of Giles Barton in Lust for a Vampire (1970) and the Judge in Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). He dropped out of Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) after one day’s shooting when Helen finally lost her life. This prevented him from playing Dr Pretorious in The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971); even the original posters show his name on the credits. To cope with his loss, Cushing threw himself into his work, and his extensive commitments during that period may have cost him more interesting roles in better films. He turned down a role in Tales From the Crypt (1972) because he was more interested in playing another character in the film – Arthur Grimsdyke. The end result was the performance of his career.

ANOTHER FILM he came close to turning down was Horror Express (1972), which would shot in Spain during December of 1971. As it was his first Christmas without Helen, he wanted to be away from his familiar surroundings, but his homesickness got the better when he arrived in Spain. It was up to the support of his old friend Christopher Lee that prevented him taking a quick exit back to the UK. Because Cushing went from one film to another without taking a break, conflicting schedules made him turn down what could have been the acting challenge of his career. He was first choice to play Neil Howie in The Wicker Man (1973) but was unable to accept due to taking on more work than he could handle. 

BY THE MID SEVENTIES British horror began to decline and the number of unrealised Hammer projects were increasing. Cushing was linked to quite a few of these. His face features on a poster for a proposed Hammer war film called The Savage Jackboot, which, by the sounds of it, was a blessing it never got made. Other unmade Hammer projects including reprising Van Helsing in Kali, Devil Bride of Dracula, a sequel to Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Cushing later starred in the routine thriller Shatter (1975) where he played British agent Rattwood opposite Stuart Whitman in the title role. Although poorly received on its release, there were plans for a TV series starring both actors. That too never got off the ground.

AWAY FROM HAMMER FILMS, Cushing was due to work with Vincent Price in The Naked Eye, if AIP hadn’t decided to close down their London base. Next on the list was Tyburn’s The Satanists. Filming was due to commence at the start of 1976 only to be cancelled at the last minute. Returning to Hammer, Cushing was set to star in Vampirella in 1977 but that too was dead in the water. Cushing also turned down the chance of reprising Holmes in a 1974 Broadway production as he felt his theatre career was behind him (although he did accept the role of Dr Soaper in The Heiress the following year). He also turned down an interesting horror stage show produced by Hammer – another abortive venture.

BY THE LATE SEVENTIES English Gothic was dying out and Cushing was ready to move away from the genre. He initially turned down the role of neurotic writer Wilbur Gray in The Uncanny (1977) but changed his mind out of loyalty to ex Amicus producer Milton Subotsky. For the most part his career was based in Europe and his low key output consisted mainly of cameo roles. “As I get older I find it difficult finding the right scripts,” he once commented, adding, “Most of the scripts I get are pure pornography.” But it is fair to say there were few films roles available for men of Cushing’s age.

ON SAYING THAT, the actor turned down some higher profile roles in favour of working in Europe. They included House of Mortal Sin (1977), Halloween (1978), Warlords of Atlantis (1978) and three roles in The Monster Club (1980), but he did appear in an episode of The Hammer House of Horror TV series out of loyalty to the now defunct studio.

TURNING DOWN THE ROLE of Dr Loomis in Halloween could have cost him major Hollywood stardom in a variety of major roles. His replacement, part time horror star Donald Pleasence certainly didn’t look back. However, Cushing would never have been comfortable with the new style of horror. Nor would he have resorted to self parody in the sequels, something that Pleasence did with unfailing regularity. The year 1977 also  was the start of a whole series of one page ads, press releases and drum rolls, for a project that never did materialise, The Coming starring Barbara Bach, fresh from here Bond appearance, ironically was a another no show.

BY 1980 CUSHING went into semi retirement, his sporadic film and TV appearances further curtailed due to poor health. He had been considered to play Rotwang and an abortive remake of Metropoils (1924). After starring as a rather frail Sherlock Holmes in the TV movie The Masks of Death (1984), the proposed sequel, The Abbott’s Cry had to be shelved due to his health problems. This also prevented him from playing opposite Jeremy Brett on TV in The Sussex Vampire. Around the time he decided to retire, Cushing had been offered two film unknown roles. With acting now behind him he continued to work as a writer and brilliant raconteur until the prostrate cancer finally got the better of him in August 1994.

THE AMOUNT OF FILM work Cushing turned down was certainly varied, and in some cases, perhaps questionable. In some cases he missed out on some career defining moments. One wonders what else he might have turned down.

Mark Iveson
July 2016

MARK IVESON'S CONNECTION with the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society goes way back, in fact Mark was a member of PCAS in the late 1970's, when it was a journal and newsletter postal club! What a buzz then, that now, some 30 odd years later, he is writing a feature for PCAS, and what a feature! During his research Mark has found some new nuggets of information about the projects that Peter Cushing passed on. Some of the titles maybe familiar to you, but the reasons behind Cushing's decisions may not be. If you've enjoyed Mark Iveson's feature, you maybe pleased to read that Mark has recently published his first book with TELOS PUBLISHING entitled, 'CURSED HORROR FILM STARS', a fascinating, engaging and insightful read which features five classic horror movie stars whose lives all had tragic aspects: Lon Chaney Jnr, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Robert Quarry. 

On first impressions one might think this would be a depressing and gloomy read, thankfully this is not the case. Through creative and imaginative storytelling, Mark cleverly manages to communicate the passion and the incredible determination of spirit, that these actors possessed. Positive proof of living and dying by the old adage, '...the shows not over, until the fat lady sings..!' And there are some, still self destructively fighting, long after the last note....

You can purchase your copy of 'CURSED HORROR FILM STARS' by clicking this link : HERE

MARK WRAPPED on the writing of this 'Unmade Peter Cushing' feature some two weeks ago, and we've been busy researching photographs, magazines, press releases for visuals since Mark's treatment flew into the PCAS email IN Box! So, how easy is it to resource visuals on films that never had a single frame exposed on them? The answer is, it's extremely difficult! In the case of, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, there are a few photographs, but everything else we have had to dig deep and in some cases create original artwork and blu ray boxes, depicting how those releases may have looked, had they been produced. This has been a lot of fun and thrown up some interesting choices on creating on style and tone of the blu ray artwork. We hope you have as much fun seeing these, as we did creating them!


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