"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 Wilton 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,[2] 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.[3]

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.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Birth[edit | edit source]

"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 Wars[edit | edit source]

"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]

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.[4] 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,[5][6] 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.[5]

Cushing joined the cast in May 1976, and his scenes were filmed at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood.[5] 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.[7] As a result, Cushing was paid a larger daily salary than most of his fellow cast, earning £2,000[4]—the equivalent of $3,680 in American dollars[8]—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.[4] 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.[6] 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.[9]

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.[5][6] 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.[9] 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,[5] 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.[9] Upon learning of that line, Cushing asked Lucas, "Do you want me to look as if I have body odor?"[6]

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.[10][11][12] Some of the actors who appeared in scenes with Cushing had trouble not laughing because of the shoes.[6] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] Hamill and Cushing had a lunch together on October 9, 1976.[16] When Star Wars was first released in 1977, most preliminary advertisements touted Cushing's Tarkin as the primary antagonist of the film, not Vader;[17][18] in a 1977 Newsweek article, writer Jack Kroll incorrectly stated that Tarkin was the leader of the Empire, and called Vader his "lieutenant."[18] 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.[10][19]

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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] They also considered using unused footage of Cushing from Star Wars and digitally animating Cushing's lips to match new dialogue.[23] However, they ultimately decided to cast actor Wayne Pygram, who was fitted with prosthetic makeup that made him very closely resemble Cushing.[22] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26]

Death[edit | edit source]

In August 1994, Cushing entered himself into Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, where he died on August 11 at eighty-one years old.[27] In accordance with his wishes, Cushing had a simple 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.[28]

Filmography[edit | edit source]

Star Wars[edit | edit source]

Year Title Role
1977[29] Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope[29] Wilhuff Tarkin[29]
2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Special Acknowledgment for use of Likeness

Other[edit | edit source]

Year[30] Title[30] Role[30] Other notes[30]
1994 Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror Narrator Voice only
1986 Biggles: Adventures in Time Colonel William Raymond
1984 Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Seneschal
1984 Top Secret! Bookstore Proprietor
1984 Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues Professor Charles Copeland Television
1984 The Masks of Death Sherlock Holmes
1983 House of the Long Shadows Sebastian Grisbane
1983 Tales of the Unexpected Episode: "The Vorpal Blade" Von Baden Television
1981 Mystery on Monster Island William T. Kolderup
1980 A Tale of Two Cities Dr. Alexandre Manette Television
1980 Hammer House of Horror Episode: "The Silent Scream" Martin Blueck Television
1980 Black Jack Sir Thomas Bedford
1979 Arabian Adventure Wazir Al Wuzara
1979 A Touch of the Sun Commissioner Potts
1978 Son of Hitler Heinrich Haussner
1977 Standarte, Die Major Baron von Hackenberg
1977 The Uncanny Wilbur Gray
1977 Shock Waves SS Commander
1976 "The New Avengers" Episode: "The Eagle's Nest" Von Claus Television
1976 The Great Houdini Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Television
1976 Land of the Minotaur Baron Corofax
1976 At the Earth's Core Dr. Abner Perry
1976 Trial by Combat Sir Edward Gifford
1976 Space: 1999 Episode: "Missing Link" Raan Television
1975 The Ghoul Dr. Lawrence
1975 Legend of the Werewolf Prof. Paul
1974 The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires Prof. Van Helsing
1974 Tendre Dracula MacGregor
1974 "The Zoo Gang" Episode: "The Counterfeit Trap" Judge Gautier Television
1974 Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell Baron Victor Frankenstein aka Dr. Carl Victor
1974 The Beast Must Die Dr. Christopher Lundgren
1974 Madhouse Herbert Flay
1974 The Satanic Rites of Dracula Prof. Lorrimer Van Helsing
1974 Shatter Paul Rattwood
1973 Horror Express Dr. Wells
1973 "Great Mysteries" Episode: "La Grande Breteche" Count Gerard De Merret Television
1973 And Now the Screaming Starts! Dr. Pope
1973 The Creeping Flesh Emmanuel Hildern
1973 From Beyond the Grave Antique Shop Proprietor
1972 Dracula A.D. 1972 Professor Van Helsing
1972 Dr. Phibes Rises Again Ship's Captain
1972 Asylum Smith
1972 Fear in the Night Michael Carmichael
1972 Beyond the Water's Edge Television
1972 Tales from the Crypt Arthur Edward Grimsdyke
1972 Nothing But the Night Sir Mark Ashley
1971 I, Monster Frederick Utterson
1971 Twins of Evil Gustav Weil
1971 The House That Dripped Blood Philip Grayson
1971 Incense for the Damned Dr. Walter Goodrich
1970 The Vampire Lovers General von Spielsdorfn
1970 One More Time Dr. Frankenstein Uncredited
1970 Scream and Scream Again Benedek
1969 Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed Dr. Baron Victor Frankenstein
1968 Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes Television 16 Episodes
1968 The Blood Beast Terror Detective Inspector Quennell
1967 "The Avengers" Episode: "Return of the Cybernauts" Paul Beresford Television
1967 Frankenstein Created Woman Baron Frankenstein
1967 The Mummy's Shroud Narrator Uncredited
1967 Torture Garden Lancelot Canning
1967 Some May Live John Meredith
1967 Night of the Big Heat Dr. Vernon Stone
1967 Corruption Sir John Rowan
1966 Island of Terror Dr. Brian Stanley
1966 Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. Doctor Who
1965 "Thirty-Minute Theatre" Episode: "Monica" Leonard Television
1965 The Skull Dr. Christopher Maitland
1965 She Holly
1965 Dr. Terror's House of Horrors Dr. Sandor Schreck
1965 Dr. Who and the Daleks Doctor Who
1964 The Gorgon Dr. Namaroff
1964 The Caves of Steel Elijah Baley Television
1963 The Evil of Frankenstein Baron Frankenstein
1963 The Man Who Finally Died Dr. von Brecht
1963 "Comedy Playhouse" Episode: "The Plan" Albert Fawkes Television
1962 "The Spread of the Eagle" Cassius Television
1962 Captain Clegg Rev. Dr. Blyss (Capt. Clegg)
1962 Peace with Terror Parsons Television
1961 The Devil's Agent Squire Trevenyan Scenes deleted
1961 The Naked Edge Mr. Wrack
1961 Fury at Smugglers' Bay Squire Trevenyan
1961 The Hellfire Club Merryweather
1961 Cash on Demand Fordyce
1960 Sword of Sherwood Forest Sheriff of Nottingham
1960 Suspect Professor Sewell
1960 The Brides of Dracula Dr. J. Van Helsing
1960 Cone of Silence Capt. Clive Judd
1960 The Flesh and the Fiends Dr. Robert Knox
1959 The Mummy John Banning
1959 John Paul Jones Captain Pearson
1959 The Hound of the Baskervilles Sherlock Holmes
1958 The Revenge of Frankenstein Dr. Victor Stein
1958 Violent Playground The Priest
1958 Dracula Doctor Van Helsing
1958 The Winslow Boy Sir Robert Morton Television
1958 Uncle Harry Uncle Harry Television
1957 The Abominable Snowman Dr. John Rollason
1957 The Curse of Frankenstein Baron Victor Frankenstein
1957 Time Without Pity Jeremy Clayton
1957 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Gaslight Mr. Manningham Television
1957 Home at Seven David Preston Television
1956 Alexander the Great Memnon
1955 Richard of Bordeaux Richard II Television
1955 Magic Fire Otto Wesendonk
1955 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: The Moment of Truth Prime Minister Television
1955 The End of the Affair Henry Miles
1955 The Browning Version Andrew Crocker-Harris Television
1955 The Creature Dr. John Rollason Television
1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: 1984 Winston Smith Television
1954 The Black Knight Sir Palamides Television
1954 The Face of Love Mardian Thersites Television
1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Beau Brummell Beau Brummell Television
1954 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Tovarich Prince Mikhail Alexandrovitch Ouratieff Television
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Portrait by Peko Seppi Fredericks Television
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Anastasia Piotr Petrovsky Television
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: The Road Antoine Vanier Television
1953 "Epitaph for a Spy" Josef Vadassey Television
1953 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Number Three Simpson Television
1953 The Noble Spaniard Duke of Hermanos Television
1953 A Social Success Henry Robbins Television
1953 Rookery Nook Clive Popkiss Television
1952 The Silver Swan Lord Henriques Television
1952 Moulin Rouge Marcel de la Voisier
1952 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Bird in Hand Cyril Beverly Television
1952 "Pride and Prejudice" Mr. Darcy Television
1952 If This Be Error Nick Grant Television
1951 BBC Sunday Night Theatre: Eden End Charles Appleby Television
1951 When We Are Married Gerald Forbes Television
1948 Hamlet Osric, Servant to the Court
1942 The Woman in the House Man Waking Up Uncredited
1941 Your Hidden Master Clive of India
1941 They Dare Not Love Sub-Lieutenant Blacker Uncredited
1940 Dreams Leslie Stephens
1940 The Howards of Virginia Leslie Stephens Uncredited
1940 Women in War Capt. Evans Uncredited
1940 The Hidden Master Robert Clive of India
1940 A Chump at Oxford Student (Jones)
1940 Vigil in the Night Joe Shand
1940 Laddie Robert Pryor
1939 The Man in the Iron Mask King's messenger


Bibliography[edit | edit source]

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Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  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. 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.
  3. Barker, Dennis and Malcolm, Dennis (August 12, 1994). "Horrormeister Cushing belonged to gentlemanly school of actors". The Gazette: p. D2.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 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.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Nasr, p. 58
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 SWInsider.png "Peter Cushing: Grand Moff Tarkin"—Star Wars Insider 94
  7. Grant, Devin (May 19, 2005). "Charleston fanatics ready to celebrate 'Revenge'". The Post and Courier: p. 24F.
  8. 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.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Rinzler, p. 177
  10. 10.0 10.1 Nasr, p. 80
  11. "How Jim fixed it for horror actor Cushing" (May 8, 2004). Nottingham Evening Post: p. 16.
  12. O'Brien, John (April 20, 2002). "Bring on the Clones". The Courier-Mail: p. M01.
  13. Rinzler, p. 180
  14. Rinzler, p. 238
  15. Rinzler, p. 179
  16. TwitterLogo.svg 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)
  17. Vilmur, Peter (September 15, 2009). "The Complete Vader: Author Interviews". StarWars.com Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Kroll, Jack (May 30, 1977). "Fun in Space". Newsweek: p. 60.
  19. Majendie, Paul (August 7, 1986). "Master of horror tells his story." Chicago Tribune: p. D9.
  20. Star Wars Screen Entertainment (1994). LucasArts: CD-ROM.
  21. SWInsider.png "Christopher Lee: Rings of Fire"—Star Wars Insider 51
  22. 22.0 22.1 Coleman, Rob. (2005) (Audio commentary). Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. DVD. 20th Century Fox.
  23. Rinzler, J.W. (2005). The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith. New York City, New York: Del Rey. p. 39. ISBN 0345431383.
  24. SWInsider.png "Making Maquettes"—Star Wars Insider 124
  25. Vilmur, Peter (March 3, 2011). "Look Who's Tarkin: Stephen Stanton". StarWars.com Retrieved March 4, 2011.
  26. TwitterLogo.svg 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)
  27. "Movie star Cushing's stamp of approval" (September 6, 2008). Kent News.
  28. Cushing, p. 218
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 SWInsider.png "Peter Cushing: Charming to the Last"—Star Wars Insider 37
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 Cushing, pp. 250—251

External links[edit | edit source]

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