Peter Cushing (1913-1994), the actor best known by many for his performance as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, will be honoured with a Blue Plaque, English Heritage announced today on Star Wars Day (4 May), so called for the pun on the famous catchphrase “May the Force be with you” as “May the Fourth be with you”. The plaque commemorating Cushing is due to be installed in early July at the actor’s former home in what is now the London Borough of Croydon.
Appearing on the radio, stage, television and in a staggering ninety-one films, Cushing enjoyed a long and varied career, and is generally acclaimed as one of Britain’s finest actors. Although a versatile and accomplished actor, he seems to have been drawn to the genres of fantasy and horror, appearing in 23 films by Hammer Film Productions (of ‘Hammer Horror’ fame). Most widely known for his performance as Grand Moff Tarkin, a high-ranking Imperial governor and commander of the Death Star in Star Wars (1976), Cushing’s performance cemented his legacy in the franchise; as evident in the recent Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), which saw Tarkin brought back to cinematic life through the use of state-of-the-art visual effects.
Howard Spencer, Senior Historian for English Heritage Blue Plaques, said: “Described as never having given a bad performance, Peter Cushing was an incredibly accomplished actor with a varied career ranging from Shakespearean theatre to blood-curdling horror, or ‘fantasy’ as he preferred it to be called. His early portrayal of Baron Frankenstein in Hammer Film Productions’ The Curse of Frankenstein (1956) took his career to another level with a legion of films to follow, but it was the epic Star Wars for which he gained international fame.”
“The London Blue Plaques scheme prides itself on celebrating extraordinary people at the places where they lived and worked, so it’s brilliant to be able to announce Cushing’s forthcoming plaque on Star Wars Day. May the Fourth be with you!”
Peter Cushing, born 26 May 1913, had an affinity for the arts from a young age, regularly taking the lead in school plays. With a father unsupportive of an acting career however, he found himself working as a surveyor’s assistant whilst studying as a part-time evening student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After leaving this job, Cushing worked in various theatres before taking off to Hollywood in pursuit of a film career, but soon returned to England after the breaking of the Second World War which saw him travel the country performing at Army, Navy and Air Force camps. His career rose steadily as he took on a number of well-received roles including Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of Hamlet (1948), and the BBC’s serial Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, one of the Corporation’s first drama series to be filmed in colour.
His performance in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), saw Hammer quickly build on this success by casting Cushing in number of the films that followed including The Abominable Snowman (1957), Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959), with Cushing frequently starring opposite his friend Christopher Lee (with whom he shared a somewhat unexpected enjoyment of cartoons, including Bugs Bunny and Tweetie Pie). His appearances as Doctor Who (in a feature film), on The Morecambe and Wise Show, and in Star Wars ensured he became a household name with an audience well beyond hard-core horror fans. Peter Cushing died of cancer at the Pilgrim’s Hospice, Canterbury on 11 August 1994.
The English Heritage Blue Plaque to Peter Cushing will be installed at his home in Croydon in July, where he lived with his family during his school years.
Other people prominent in the history of film recognised under the London Blue Plaques Scheme include actor Charlie Chaplin (Kennington), actress Ava Gardner (Knightsbridge) and director Sir Alfred Hitchcock (South Kensington).