"My criterion for accepting a role isn't based on what I would like to do. I try to consider what the audience would like to see me do and I thought kids would adore Star Wars."
―Peter Cushing[src]

Peter Cushing (May 26, 1913August 11, 1994) was an English actor best known for his roles in the Hammer Studios horror films of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s,[7] as well as his performance as Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977). Spanning over six decades, his acting career included appearances in more than 100 films, as well as many television, stage and radio roles.[10]

He gained the highest amount of visibility in his career in 1977, when he appeared as Grand Moff Tarkin in the first Star Wars film. Director George Lucas wanted a particularly strong actor for the part and Cushing was his first choice, although the actor claimed he was initially approached to play the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi.



"As far back as I can ever remember, without really knowing it I wanted to be an actor. I was always dressing up, you know, playing pretend, putting on mothers hats and things. I'm sure Freud would have something to say about that. It was very much in my blood."
―Peter Cushing[src]

Peter Wilton Cushing was born in Kenley, a district in the English county of Surrey, on May 26, 1913 to George Edward Cushing and Nellie Marie Cushing, nee King. The youngest of two boys—his brother George was three years older.[1]

Star WarsEdit

"After we started designing the costumes, and I saw what Darth Vader looked like, I felt I really needed a human villain, too, because you can't see Darth Vader's face. I got a little nervous about it, so I wanted somebody really strong, a really good villain — and actually Peter Cushing was my first choice on that."
―George Lucas[src]
Tarkin DS

Peter Cushing portrayed Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977), one of his most widely seen performances.

Film director George Lucas approached Cushing with the hopes of casting the actor in his upcoming space fantasy film, Star Wars. Since the film's primary antagonist Darth Vader wore a mask throughout the entire film and his face was never visible, Lucas felt a strong human villain character was necessary. This led Lucas to write the character of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, a high-ranking Imperial governor and commander of the planet-destroying battlestation, the Death Star. Lucas felt a talented actor was needed to play the role and said Peter Cushing was his first choice for the part.[11] However, Cushing has claimed that Lucas originally approached him to play the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, and only decided to cast him as Tarkin instead after the two met each other. Cushing said he would have preferred to play Kenobi rather than Tarkin,[12][13] but could not have done so because he was to be filming other movie roles when Star Wars was shooting, and Tarkin's scenes took less time to film than those of the larger Kenobi role. Although not a particular fan of science fiction, Cushing accepted the part because he believed his audience would love Star Wars and enjoy seeing him in the role.[12]

Cushing joined the cast in May 1976, and his scenes were filmed at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood.[12] Along with Alec Guinness, who was ultimately cast as Kenobi, Cushing was among the most famous actors at the time to appear in Star Wars, as the rest of the cast was still relatively unknown.[14] As a result, Cushing was paid a larger daily salary than most of his fellow cast, earning £2,000[11]—the equivalent of $3,680 in American dollars[15]—per day compared to weekly salaries of $1,000 for Mark Hamill, $850 for Carrie Fisher and $750 for Harrison Ford, who played protagonists Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo, respectively.[11] When Cushing smoked between shots, he wore a white glove so the make-up artists would not have to deal with nicotine stains on his fingers.[13] Like Guinness, Cushing had difficulty with some of the technical jargon in his dialogue, and claimed he did not understand all of the words he was speaking. Nevertheless, he worked hard to master the lines so they would sound natural and that his character would appear intelligent and confident.[16]

Peter Cushing George Lucas Carrie Fisher filming Star Wars

Director George Lucas (middle) instructs Peter Cushing and actress Carrie Fisher on the set of Star Wars.

Cushing got along well with the entire cast, especially his old Hammer Studios co-star David Prowse (who played Darth Vader) and Fisher, who was appearing in her first major role as Princess Leia Organa.[12][13] The scene in which Tarkin and Organa appear together on the Death Star, just before the destruction of the planet Alderaan, was the first scene with major dialogue that Fisher filmed for Star Wars.[16] Cushing consciously attempted to define their characters as opposite representations of good and evil, and the actor purposely stood in the shadows so the light would shine on Fisher's face. Fisher said she liked Cushing so much that it was difficult to act as though she hated Tarkin,[12] and she had to substitute somebody else in her mind to muster the feelings. Although one of her lines referred to Tarkin's "foul stench," she said the actual actor smelled like "linen and lavender," something Cushing attributed to his tendency to wash and brush his teeth thoroughly before filming because of his self-consciousness about bad breath.[16] Upon learning of that line, Cushing asked Lucas, "Do you want me to look as if I have body odor?"[13]

During the filming of Star Wars, Cushing was provided with a pair of boots far too small to accommodate the actor's size twelve feet. This caused a great deal of pain for him during shooting sessions, but the costume designers did not have enough time to get him another pair. As a result, he asked Lucas to film more close-up shots of him from the waist up and, after the director agreed, Cushing wore slippers during the scenes where his feet were not visible.[17][18][19] Some of the actors who appeared in scenes with Cushing had trouble not laughing because of the shoes.[13] During rehearsals, Lucas originally planned for Tarkin and Vader to use a giant screen filled with computerized architectural representations of hallways to monitor the whereabouts of Skywalker, Solo and Organa. Although the idea was ultimately abandoned before filming began, Cushing and Prowse rehearsed those scenes in a set built by computer animation artist Larry Cuba.[20] The close-up shots of Cushing aboard the Death Star, shown right before the battlestation is destroyed, were actually extra footage taken from previously-shot scenes with Cushing that did not make the final film. During production, Lucas decided to add those shots, along with second unit footage of the Death Star gunners preparing to fire, to add more suspense to the film's space battle scenes.[21]

Mark Hamill did not perform in any scenes with Cushing, but Hamill was a fan of the actor and specifically sought him out to share his admiration and ask for an autograph. Hamill asked questions about Cushing's past acting career, and he asked specifically what it was like working with Laurel and Hardy in A Chump at Oxford.[22] Hamill and Cushing had a lunch together on October 9, 1976.[23] When Star Wars was first released in 1977, most preliminary advertisements touted Cushing's Tarkin as the primary antagonist of the film, not Vader;[24][25] in a 1977 Newsweek article, writer Jack Kroll incorrectly stated that Tarkin was the leader of the Empire, and called Vader his "lieutenant."[25] Cushing was extremely pleased with the final film, and he claimed his only disappointment was that Tarkin was killed and could not appear in the subsequent sequels. The film gave Cushing the highest amount of visibility of his entire career, and helped inspire younger audiences to watch his older films.[17][26]

The Tarkin character was not identified by the first name Wilhuff until the release of the LucasArts screensaver and computer media program Star Wars Screen Entertainment in 1994, the year of Cushing's death.[27] Years later, Cushing's friend and frequent co-star Christopher Lee would also be cast as a Star Wars character, portraying Count Dooku in the prequel trilogy films Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). In an interview with the magazine Star Wars Insider, Lee claimed the fact that Cushing had previously appeared in Star Wars made the role that much more special to him.[28] Wilhuff Tarkin appeared briefly in Revenge of the Sith, during a scene near the end of the film as Darth Vader and the Galactic Emperor Palpatine stare at the still under-construction Death Star. Animation director Rob Coleman said the filmmakers considered creating a digital version of Peter Cushing for the scene, and discussed the idea at length with Lee because the two were such close friends.[29] They also considered using unused footage of Cushing from Star Wars and digitally animating Cushing's lips to match new dialogue.[30] However, they ultimately decided to cast actor Wayne Pygram, who was fitted with prosthetic makeup that made him very closely resemble Cushing.[29] Starting in 2011, the Tarkin character also started appearing in the Cartoon Network animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The character was designed by sculptor Darren Marshall, who based him on Cushing's image. Marshall said he grew up with the Hammer films, and admired the talents and expressive faces of both Cushing and Lee.[31] Stephen Stanton, the voice actor who portrayed Tarkin in the show, said he researched Cushing's performances in the Hammer films, then tried to imitate what Cushing might have sounded like in his mid-thirties and softened it to give a level of humanity to Tarkin.[32] During filming of Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker, Richard E. Grant took inspiration of Cushing's portrayal as Tarkin to play Allegiant General Enric Pryde, his character.[33]


In August 1994, Cushing entered himself into Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, where he died on August 11 at eighty-one years old.[34] In accordance with his wishes, Cushing had a low-key funeral with family and friends, although hundreds of fans and well-wishers came to Canterbury to pay their respects. In January 1995, a memorial service was held in The Actor's Church in Covent Garden, with addresses given by Christopher Lee, Kevin Francis, Ron Moody and James Bree.[35]


Star WarsEdit

1977Star Wars: Episode IV A New HopeWilhuff Tarkin
2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Special Acknowledgment for use of Likeness


Year[36] Title[36] Role[36] Other notes[36]
1994 Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror NarratorVoice only
1986 Biggles: Adventures in TimeColonel William Raymond
1984 Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green KnightSeneschal
1984 Top Secret!Bookstore Proprietor
1984 Helen Keller: The Miracle ContinuesProfessor Charles CopelandTelevision
1984 The Masks of DeathSherlock Holmes
1983 House of the Long ShadowsSebastian Grisbane
1983 Tales of the Unexpected Episode: "The Vorpal Blade"Von BadenTelevision
1981 Mystery on Monster IslandWilliam T. Kolderup
1980 A Tale of Two CitiesDr. Alexandre ManetteTelevision
1980 Hammer House of Horror Episode: "The Silent Scream"Martin BlueckTelevision
1980 Black JackSir Thomas Bedford
1979 Arabian AdventureWazir Al Wuzara
1979 A Touch of the SunCommissioner Potts
1978 Son of HitlerHeinrich Haussner
1977 Standarte, DieMajor Baron von Hackenberg
1977 The UncannyWilbur Gray
1977 Shock WavesSS Commander
1976 "The New Avengers" Episode: "The Eagle's Nest"Von ClausTelevision
1976 The Great HoudiniSir Arthur Conan DoyleTelevision
1976 Land of the MinotaurBaron Corofax
1976 At the Earth's CoreDr. Abner Perry
1976 Trial by CombatSir Edward Gifford
1976 Space: 1999 Episode: "Missing Link"RaanTelevision
1975 The GhoulDr. Lawrence
1975 Legend of the WerewolfProf. Paul
1974 The Legend of the 7 Golden VampiresProf. Van Helsing
1974 Tendre DraculaMacGregor
1974 "The Zoo Gang" Episode: "The Counterfeit Trap"Judge GautierTelevision
1974 Frankenstein and the Monster from HellBaron Victor Frankenstein aka Dr. Carl Victor
1974 The Beast Must DieDr. Christopher Lundgren
1974 MadhouseHerbert Flay
1974 The Satanic Rites of DraculaProf. Lorrimer Van Helsing
1974 ShatterPaul Rattwood
1973 Horror ExpressDr. Wells
1973 "Great Mysteries" Episode: "La Grande Breteche"Count Gerard De MerretTelevision
1973 And Now the Screaming Starts!Dr. Pope
1973 The Creeping FleshEmmanuel Hildern
1973 From Beyond the GraveAntique Shop Proprietor
1972 Dracula A.D. 1972Professor Van Helsing
1972 Dr. Phibes Rises AgainShip's Captain
1972 AsylumSmith
1972 Fear in the NightMichael Carmichael
1972 Beyond the Water's EdgeTelevision
1972 Tales from the CryptArthur Edward Grimsdyke
1972 Nothing But the NightSir Mark Ashley
1971 I, MonsterFrederick Utterson
1971 Twins of EvilGustav Weil
1971 The House That Dripped BloodPhilip Grayson
1971 Incense for the DamnedDr. Walter Goodrich
1970 The Vampire LoversGeneral von Spielsdorfn
1970 One More TimeDr. FrankensteinUncredited
1970 Scream and Scream AgainBenedek
1969 Frankenstein Must Be DestroyedDr. Baron Victor Frankenstein
1968 Sherlock HolmesSherlock HolmesTelevision 16 Episodes
1968 The Blood Beast TerrorDetective Inspector Quennell
1967 "The Avengers" Episode: "Return of the Cybernauts"Paul BeresfordTelevision
1967 Frankenstein Created WomanBaron Frankenstein
1967 The Mummy's ShroudNarratorUncredited
1967 Torture GardenLancelot Canning
1967 Some May LiveJohn Meredith
1967 Night of the Big HeatDr. Vernon Stone
1967 CorruptionSir John Rowan
1966 Island of TerrorDr. Brian Stanley
1966 Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.Doctor Who
1965 "Thirty-Minute Theatre" Episode: "Monica"LeonardTelevision
1965 The SkullDr. Christopher Maitland
1965 SheHolly
1965 Dr. Terror's House of HorrorsDr. Sandor Schreck
1965 Dr. Who and the DaleksDoctor Who
1964 The GorgonDr. Namaroff
1964 The Caves of SteelElijah BaleyTelevision
1963 The Evil of FrankensteinBaron Frankenstein
1963 The Man Who Finally Died Dr. von Brecht
1963 "Comedy Playhouse" Episode: "The Plan"Albert FawkesTelevision
1962 "The Spread of the Eagle"CassiusTelevision
1962 Captain CleggRev. Dr. Blyss (Capt. Clegg)
1962 Peace with TerrorParsonsTelevision
1961 The Devil's AgentSquire TrevenyanScenes deleted
1961 The Naked EdgeMr. Wrack
1961 Fury at Smugglers' BaySquire Trevenyan
1961 The Hellfire ClubMerryweather
1961 Cash on DemandFordyce
1960 Sword of Sherwood ForestSheriff of Nottingham
1960 SuspectProfessor Sewell
1960 The Brides of DraculaDr. J. Van Helsing
1960 Cone of SilenceCapt. Clive Judd
1960 The Flesh and the FiendsDr. Robert Knox
1959 The MummyJohn Banning
1959 John Paul JonesCaptain Pearson
1959 The Hound of the BaskervillesSherlock Holmes
1958 The Revenge of FrankensteinDr. Victor Stein
1958 Violent PlaygroundThe Priest
1958 DraculaDoctor Van Helsing
1958 The Winslow BoySir Robert MortonTelevision
1958 Uncle HarryUncle HarryTelevision
1957 The Abominable SnowmanDr. John Rollason
1957 The Curse of FrankensteinBaron Victor Frankenstein
1957 Time Without PityJeremy Clayton
1957 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: GaslightMr. ManninghamTelevision
1957 Home at SevenDavid PrestonTelevision
1956 Alexander the GreatMemnon
1955 Richard of BordeauxRichard IITelevision
1955 Magic FireOtto Wesendonk
1955 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: The Moment of TruthPrime MinisterTelevision
1955 The End of the AffairHenry Miles
1955 The Browning VersionAndrew Crocker-HarrisTelevision
1955 The CreatureDr. John RollasonTelevision
1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: 1984Winston SmithTelevision
1954 The Black KnightSir PalamidesTelevision
1954 The Face of LoveMardian ThersitesTelevision
1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Beau BrummellBeau BrummellTelevision
1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: TovarichPrince Mikhail Alexandrovitch OuratieffTelevision
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Portrait by PekoSeppi FredericksTelevision
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: AnastasiaPiotr PetrovskyTelevision
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: The RoadAntoine VanierTelevision
1953 "Epitaph for a Spy"Josef VadasseyTelevision
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Number ThreeSimpsonTelevision
1953 The Noble SpaniardDuke of HermanosTelevision
1953 A Social SuccessHenry RobbinsTelevision
1953 Rookery NookClive PopkissTelevision
1952 The Silver SwanLord HenriquesTelevision
1952 Moulin RougeMarcel de la Voisier
1952 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Bird in HandCyril BeverlyTelevision
1952 "Pride and Prejudice"Mr. DarcyTelevision
1952 If This Be ErrorNick GrantTelevision
1951 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Eden EndCharles ApplebyTelevision
1951 When We Are MarriedGerald ForbesTelevision
1948 HamletOsric, Servant to the Court
1942 The Woman in the HouseMan Waking UpUncredited
1941 Your Hidden MasterClive of India
1941 They Dare Not LoveSub-Lieutenant BlackerUncredited
1940 DreamsLeslie Stephens
1940 The Howards of VirginiaLeslie StephensUncredited
1940 Women in WarCapt. EvansUncredited
1940 The Hidden MasterRobert Clive of India
1940 A Chump at OxfordStudent (Jones)
1940 Vigil in the NightJoe Shand
1940 LaddieRobert Pryor
1939 The Man in the Iron MaskKing's messenger


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Notes and referencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Cushing, Peter. Peter Cushing: An Autobiography and Past Forgetting (1999). Midnight Marquee. pp. 13—17. ISBN 1887664262.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 SWInsider "Peter Cushing: Charming to the Last"—Star Wars Insider 37
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Monush, Barry (2003). The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965 (1 vol.). Berkeley, California: Applause Books. p. 166. ISBN 1557835519.
  4. Cushing, p. 60
  5. Earnshaw, Tony (2001). An Actor, and a Rare One. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 0810838745.
  6. Higham, Nick (August 11, 1994). BBC News. BBC, London.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Meikle, Denis (2008). A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 46. ISBN 0810863545.
  8. Meikle, p. 280
  9. Chibnall, Steve and Petley, Julian (2001). British Horror Cinema. Routledge p. 138. ISBN 0415230039.
  10. Barker, Dennis and Malcolm, Dennis (August 12, 1994). "Horrormeister Cushing belonged to gentlemanly school of actors". The Gazette: p. D2.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Rinzler, J.W. (2007). The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. New York City, New York: Del Rey. p. 125. ISBN 0345494768.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Nasr, p. 58
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 SWInsider "Peter Cushing: Grand Moff Tarkin"—Star Wars Insider 94
  14. Grant, Devin (May 19, 2005). "Charleston fanatics ready to celebrate 'Revenge'". The Post and Courier: p. 24F.
  15. According to OANDA historical exchange rates, the conversion rate from British pounds to the United States dollar as of May 1, 1976, was 1.840. When that number is multiplied by 2,000, the sum is 3,680.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Rinzler, p. 177
  17. 17.0 17.1 Nasr, p. 80
  18. "How Jim fixed it for horror actor Cushing" (May 8, 2004). Nottingham Evening Post: p. 16.
  19. O'Brien, John (April 20, 2002). "Bring on the Clones". The Courier-Mail: p. M01.
  20. Rinzler, p. 180
  21. Rinzler, p. 238
  22. Rinzler, p. 179
  23. TwitterLogo Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) on Twitter: "I was single, living in a 1-room flat in London during the original movie. I'm in street-clothes since I wasn't working, but would come to the studio anyway, to watch them film, hang-out w/ friends & on this day in particular-have lunch w/ 1 of my idols: Peter Cushing! #TrueStory" (backup link)
  24. Vilmur, Peter (September 15, 2009). "The Complete Vader: Author Interviews". Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Kroll, Jack (May 30, 1977). "Fun in Space". Newsweek: p. 60.
  26. Majendie, Paul (August 7, 1986). "Master of horror tells his story." Chicago Tribune: p. D9.
  27. Star Wars Screen Entertainment (1994). LucasArts: CD-ROM.
  28. SWInsider "Christopher Lee: Rings of Fire"—Star Wars Insider 51
  29. 29.0 29.1 Coleman, Rob. (2005) (Audio commentary). Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. DVD. 20th Century Fox.
  30. Rinzler, J.W. (2005). The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith. New York City, New York: Del Rey. p. 39. ISBN 0345431383.
  31. SWInsider "Making Maquettes"—Star Wars Insider 124
  32. Vilmur, Peter (March 3, 2011). "Look Who's Tarkin: Stephen Stanton". Retrieved March 4, 2011.
  33. TwitterLogo Richard E. Grant (@RichardEGrant) on Twitter: "Took inspiration from the late, great Peter Cushing in @starwars A NEW HOPE to play Allegiant General Pryde in #RiseofSkywalker" (screenshot)
  34. "Movie star Cushing's stamp of approval" (September 6, 2008). Kent News.
  35. Cushing, p. 218
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 Cushing, pp. 250—251

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