When Peter Cushing: An Autobiography was published in 1986, it turned out to be one of the most heart-warming autobiographies ever written.
Focusing very much on his private life and his relationship with and deep devotion to his wife, Helen, Cushing revealed himself to be a very gentle and caring human being who was utterly distraught and at the brink of suicide when she passed away in 1971.
Alas, the book never shared a lot of anecdotes about his time on set. By his own account, Cushing always felt that the reality of life on a movie set was primarily dominated by lengthy spells of boredom and proper preparation for a role and, contrary to common belief, had little excitement to offer.
The fans, however, disagreed and, as emotionally riveting as it was, demanded a follow up to his autobiography focusing more on his interactions with the stars and directors. Never one to disappoint his admirers, Cushing listened to their requests and Past Forgetting: Memoirs Of The Hammer Years followed two years later, concentrating on a more traditional style of Hollywood or, should I say, Bray Studio, reminiscences.
Slightly abridged and read by Cushing himself, both books had, at the time, also been made available on cassette. (Youngsters, check out Wikipedia if you don’t know what this is.) Cosmic Hobo is now releasing the second volume, Past Forgetting, for the very first time on CD.
The recording starts with a list of the various ways Cushing had contemplated killing himself after the death of Helen. This introduction sounds even more shocking as it is read in the ever so gentle tone of one of cinema’s most charming performers.
Following this staggering revelation, however, the material covered in this audio book, for the most part, focuses on more upbeat memories of working with his co-stars.
In this day and age of revealing showbiz memoirs from self-congratulatory 20-something-year-old ‘stars’ of reality shows, too young to have actually yet lived a life worth narrating, Past Forgetting is a charmingly old-fashioned reminder of how else this can be done.
Cushing quite obviously took the old adage to heart that, if you have nothing good to say about someone, you better keep schtum. As such, he focuses on all the pleasant interactions he had with his fellow men and colleagues and proves that it is possible to write an intriguing piece of autobiography without the need to dish dirt and debase either yourself or your co-stars.
As a result, we get to listen to stories of his interactions with long time friend, Christopher Lee, his relationship with Terence Fisher and other Hammer luminaries, as well as with a range of people popular at the time, but hardly remembered any more.
When filming Star Wars he was often wondering what on Earth a “Grand Moff” was and filmed his scenes in slippers, as the boots provided were paining him. Wearing an RAF silk tie from Biggles in private led to him being introduced to W.E. Johns himself when he discovered the tie’s colours and questioned Cushing’s right to wear them. We also get to learn how Cushing dealt with cancer and how his utterly devoted assistant, Joyce Broughton, kept the news from him that the doctors only gave him another eighteen months to live.
All of this, and much more, is narrated by Cushing with a self-deprecating and slightly ironic tone of voice. In actual fact, hearing him read a personal variation on The Twelve Days Of Christmas, a rhyme he personally hated with a vengeance, is proof that he oozed a lot of comic talent that, for the most part, remained well hidden from the general public.
This is a two CD release. Bonus features include a small booklet with sleeve notes by The League Of Gentlemen‘s Mark Gatiss and a bonus audio documentary with David Miller (author of The Peter Cushing Companion) talking about Cushing and introducing comments by the likes of Christopher Lee, Jimmy Sangster, John Hough, Ingrid Pitt, David Prowse and Caroline Munro discussing their work with Hammer’s gentle man of horror.
Overall, this is an absolute essential must-have for anyone interested in the actor and classic British horror in general. If there is only the smallest niggle it is that Cosmic Hobo has not also released Cushing’s first and more personal autobiography, but I remain confident that this may still be on the horizon should sales of this CD prove satisfactory.
Peter Cushing: Past Forgetting is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.