Donald Pleasence

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Donald Pleasance
OBE
Donald Pleasence Allan Warren edit.jpg
Pleasence in London, 1973. Portrait by Allan Warren
Born Donald Henry Pleasence
(1919-10-05)5 October 1919
Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England
Died 2 February 1995(1995-02-02) (aged 75)
Saint-Paul-de-Vence,
Alpes-Maritimes, France
Cause of death
Heart failure
Resting place
Cremated
Nationality British
Alma mater Ecclesfield School
Occupation Actor
Years active 1939–1995
Spouse(s) Miriam Raymond
(1941–1958)
Josephine Crombie
(1959–1970)
Meira Shore
(1970–1988)
Linda J. Kentwood
(1988–1995; his death)
Children 5

Donald Henry Pleasence, OBE (/ˈplɛzəns/;[1] 5 October 1919 – 2 February 1995)[2] was an English film, television, and stage actor. His most notable film roles include psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis in most of the Halloween series, the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, and RAF Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape.

Early life[edit]

Pleasence was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England, the son of Alice (née Armitage) and Thomas Stanley Pleasence, a railway stationmaster.[3] He was brought up as a strict Methodist, and raised in the small village of Grimoldby, Lincolnshire.[4] Pleasence attended Ecclesfield Grammar School, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, and subsequently dropped out to work as a railway clerk, while looking for a job as an actor.[4] During the Second World War Pleasence was initially a conscientious objector, but later changed his stance and was commissioned into the Royal Air Force, serving with 166 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command. His Avro Lancaster was shot down on 31 August 1944, during a raid on Agenville.[5] He was taken prisoner and placed in the German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft I, where he produced and acted in plays. He would later play Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape where much of the story takes place inside a German POW camp.

Career[edit]

Stage[edit]

In 1939 Pleasence started working in repertory theatre as an assistant stage manager with Jersey Repertory, making his acting debut with the company as Hareton in Wuthering Heights. He subsequently worked in repertory theatre in Birmingham and Bristol before making his London stage debut as Valentine in Twelfth Night in 1942.[6]

In the 1950s Pleasence's stage work included performing as Willie Mossop in a 1952 production of Hobson's Choice at the Arts Theatre and as Dauphin in Jean Anouilh's The Lark (1956).[6]

In 1960 Pleasence won acclaim as the tramp in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the Arts Theatre, a part he would again play in a 1990 revival.[6] Other stage work in the 1960s included Anouilh's Poor Bitos (1967) and Robert Shaw's The Man in The Glass Booth (1967), for which he won the London Variety Award for Stage Actor of the Year in 1968.[6]

Pleasence's later stage work included performing in a double bill of Pinter plays, The Basement and Tea Party, at the Duchess Theatre in 1970.[6]

Television[edit]

Pleasence made his television debut in I Want to Be A Doctor in 1946.[6] In 1954 he received critical acclaim as Syme in a BBC adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.[6] The adaptation was by Nigel Kneale and also starred Peter Cushing, another British actor who would go on to find fame in many horror-film roles.

Pleasence played Prince John in several episodes of the ITV series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956–1958). He appeared twice with Patrick McGoohan in the British spy series, Danger Man, in episodes "Position of Trust" (1960) and "Find and Return" (1961). Pleasence's first appearance in America was in an episode of The Twilight Zone, playing an aging (and suicidal) teacher at a boys' school in the episode "The Changing of the Guard" (1962). In 1963, he appeared in an episode of The Outer Limits entitled "The Man With the Power". He hosted the 1981 Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live with music guest Fear.

In 1973 Pleasence played the murderer in an episode of Columbo entitled "Any Old Port in a Storm". He also had the distinction of playing a culprit captured by Mrs. Columbo in "Murder is a Parlour Game" (1979). In 1978, he played a scout, Sam Purchas in James A. Michener's Centennial. Pleasence starred as the Reverend Septimus Harding in the BBC's 1982 TV series The Barchester Chronicles.

In 1986, Pleasence joined Ronald Lacey and Polly Jo Pleasence for the television thriller 'Into The Darkness', filmed in Manchester and Malta by David Kent-Watson for his Ice International Films. Co-stars Brett Paul and John Ryan, and the supporting cast of models and actresses found Donald to be a most supportive actor and the most jovial and delightful company off-set. The film has been renamed 'Poisoned Minds' for its re-release.

Cinema[edit]

Donald Pleasence in the trailer for the 1967 film Eye of the Devil.

Pleasence made his big-screen debut with The Beachcomber (1954). Some notable early roles include Parsons in 1984 (1956), his second Orwell film, and minor roles opposite Alec Guinness in Barnacle Bill (1957) and Dirk Bogarde in The Wind Cannot Read (1958). In Tony Richardson's film of Look Back in Anger (1959) he plays a vindictive market inspector opposite Richard Burton.

Equipped with a shiny bald head, a penetrating stare, and an intense voice, usually quiet but capable of a piercing scream, he specialised in portraying insane or evil characters, including the violent alcoholic Doc Tydon in Wake in Fright (1971), the mad Doctor in the Bud SpencerTerence Hill film Watch Out, We're Mad (1974), Heinrich Himmler in The Eagle Has Landed (1976), and the Bond arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967), the first film in which the villain's face is clearly seen. His interpretation of the character has become predominant in popular culture considering the popularity of the comic villain, Dr. Evil in the successful Austin Powers film series, which primarily parodies it. In the crime drama Hell is a City (1960) he starred opposite Stanley Baker. The film was shot on location in Manchester.

Perhaps his most sympathetic screen role was as the tragic POW forger Colin Blythe in the 1963 film The Great Escape, who discovers that he is slowly going blind, but nonetheless participates in the mass break-out, only to be shot down by German soldiers because he is unable to see them. In The Night of the Generals (1967), he played another uncharacteristically sympathetic role, this time as an old-school German general involved in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. In 1971, he returned to the realm of the deranged, delivering a tour de force performance in the role of an alcoholic Australian doctor in Ted Kotcheff's nightmarish outback drama Wake in Fright.

Pleasence played Lucifer in the religious epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). His character taking on many dark, shadowy human disguises throughout the film was unprecedented in breathing life into the Luke 4:13 phrase "... he left Him until an opportune time ..." He was one of many stars who were given cameos throughout the film.

Perhaps his most bizarre and powerful film role occurred in Roman Polanski's Cul-de-sac (1966), in which he portrayed the love-sodden husband of a much younger French wife (Françoise Dorléac). In 1968, he ventured successfully into American cowboy territory, playing a sadistic self-styled preacher who goes after stoic Charlton Heston in the Western Will Penny.

In his later years, he became best known to a younger generation of cinema-goers as Lucas Deranian in Walt Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain, Dr. Loomis in Halloween (1978), Dr. Kobras in The Pumaman (1980) and the President in Escape from New York. The distinctive, rather sinister accent which Pleasence employed in this and other films may be credited to the elocution lessons that he had as a child. He reprised his Dr. Loomis role in Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995).

Pleasence's acting hero was Sir Laurence Olivier,[7] with whom he worked on-stage in the 1950s, and later on the 1979 film version of Dracula. Two years earlier, Pleasence did an amusingly broad impersonation of Olivier in the guise of a horror-film actor called "Valentine De'ath" in the film The Uncanny.

Spoken records and voiceovers[edit]

During the early 1960s, Pleasence recorded several children's-story records on the Atlas Record label. These were marketed as the Talespinners series in the UK. They were also released in the United States as Tale Spinners For Children by United Artists. The stories included Don Quixote and the Brave Little Tailor.

Pleasence provided the voice-over for the British Public Information Film, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water in 1973. The film, intended to warn children of the dangers of playing near water, attained notoriety for allegedly giving children nightmares.

Books[edit]

Pleasence was the author of the 1977 children's book Scouse the Mouse (London: New English Library), which was animated by Canadian animator/film director Gerald Potterton (a friend of the actor, who directed him in the 1973 Canadian film The Rainbow Boys, retitled The Rainbow Gang for VHS release in the United States) and also adapted into a children's recording (Polydor Records, 1977) with Ringo Starr voicing the book's title character, Scouse the Mouse.

In his book British Film Character Actors (1982), Terence Pettigrew described him as 'a potent combination of eyes and voice. The eyes are mournful but they can also be sinister or seedy or just plain nutty. He has the kind of piercing stare which lifts enamel off saucepans.'

Awards[edit]

Pleasence was nominated four times for the Tony Award for best performance by a leading actor in a Broadway play: in 1962 for Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, in 1965 for Jean Anouilh's Poor Bitos, in 1969 for Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth, and in 1972 for Simon Gray's Wise Child.

Pleasence was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his services to the acting profession by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

Personal life[edit]

Pleasence married four times and had five daughters from his first three marriages. He had Angela and Jean with Miriam Raymond (m. 1947–1958); Lucy and Polly with Josephine Martin Crombie (m. 1959–1970); and Miranda with Meira Shore (m. 1970–1988). His last marriage to Linda Kentwood (m. 1988–1995; his death) produced no children.

Death[edit]

In 1995, Pleasence died at the age of 75 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, from complications of heart failure following heart valve replacement surgery. His body was cremated with no known grave.

Legacy[edit]

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, were both dedicated to the memory of Pleasence, the latter of which he did not appear in.

Dr. Evil, the character played by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers comedy films (1997–2002), is a parody of Pleasence's performance as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

Donald's grandson from his daughter of second wife Josephine has gone on to be a successful music video director in the UK. Jak O'Hare also known as Jak FrSH, working with Tinie Tempah, Wretch 32, Fazer and Tinchy Stryder. Directing a commercial for Vauxhall Motors "Conductivity".[8]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1952 The Dybbuk Second Batlon TV film
1952 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Corporal TV series (episode: "Arrow to the Heart (I)")
1954 The Beachcomber Tromp
1954 Montserrat Juan Alvarez TV film
1954 The Face of Love Alex TV film
1954 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Chamberlain TV series (episode: "Such Men Are Dangerous")
1954 Orders Are Orders Corporal Martin Credited as Donald Plesance
1954 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Syme TV series (episode: "Nineteen Eighty-Four")
1955 Value for Money Limpy
1955 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Foreign Minister TV series (episode: "The Moment of Truth")
1956 1984 R. Parsons
1956 The Black Tent Ali
1956 The Adventures of Robin Hood Prince John TV series (4 episodes)
1956 The Adventures of Robin Hood Bailiff Baldwin TV series (episode: "A Village Wooing")
1956 ITV Television Playhouse William TV series (episode: "Ever Since Paradise")
1956 ITV Television Playhouse Albert TV series (episode: "Chance Meeting")
1957 The Man in the Sky Crabtree (titled Decision Against Time in the U.S.)
1957 Assignment Foreign Legion Commandant TV series (episode: "The Coward")
1957 Manuela Evans
1957 Barnacle Bill Cashier (titled All at Sea in the U.S.)
1958 I Spy Mr. Frute TV film
1958 ITV Television Playhouse Captain Browne TV series (episode: "Fate and Mister Browne")
1958 A Tale of Two Cities John Barsad
1958 Heart of a Child Spiel
1958 The Wind Cannot Read Doctor
1958 The Man Inside Organ-grinder
1958 The Two-Headed Spy General Hardt
1959 The Scarf Detective Inspector Harry Yates TV series (6 episodes)
1959 Look Back in Anger Hurst
1959 ITV Television Playhouse Leonard Browne TV series (episode: "Mr. Browne Comes Home")
1959 BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Doctor TV series (episode: "The Millionairess")
1959 ITV Television Playhouse Robert Robertson TV series (episode: "The Silk Purse")
1959 The Adventures of William Tell The Spider TV series (episode: "The Spider")
1959 The Traitor Grantley Caypor TV film
1959 Killers of Kilimanjaro Captain
1959 The Battle of the Sexes Irwin Hoffman
1960 The Shakedown Jessel Brown
1960 Hell Is a City Gus Hawkins
1960 Circus of Horrors Vanet
1960 The Four Just Men Paul Koster TV series (episode: "The Survivor")
1960 Interpol Calling Karl Haussman TV series (episode: "The Absent Assassin")
1961 What a Carve Up! Everett Sloane
1962 The Inspector Sergeant Wolters
1962 Dr Crippen Dr Crippen
1963 The Great Escape RAF Flight Lieutenant. Colin Blythe, "The Forger"
1963 The Outer Limits Prof. Harold Finley TV series (episode: "The Man With the Power")
1965 The Hallelujah Trail Oracle Jones
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Satan
1966 Fantastic Voyage Dr. Michaels
1966 Cul-de-sac George
1967 You Only Live Twice Ernst Stavro Blofeld
1968 The Other People Clive
1968 Will Penny Preacher Quint
1970 Soldier Blue Isaac Q. Cumber
1971 THX 1138 SEN 5241
1971 Wake in Fright Doc Tydon
1972 Death Line Inspector Calhoun
1972 Henry VIII and His Six Wives Thomas Cromwell
1972 The Jerusalem File Major Samuels
1972 Wedding in White Jim Dougall
1973 Columbo Adrian Carsini TV series (episode: "Any Old Port in a Storm")
1974 Watch Out, We're Mad The Doctor
1974 From Beyond the Grave Jim Underwood Segment: "An Act of Kindness"
1975 Escape to Witch Mountain Lucas Deranian
1975 The Count of Monte Cristo Baron Danglars
1976 Land of the Minotaur [Kostas Karagiannis]
1976 The Eagle Has Landed Himmler
1976 The Mind Beyond George Livingston TV series (episode: "Meriel the Ghost Girl")
1976 The Last Tycoon Boxley
1976 The Passover Plot Pontius Pilate
1977 Oh, God! Dr. Harmon
1977 Telefon Nikolai Dalchimsky
1978 Halloween Dr. Loomis
1978 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band B.D. Hoffler/B.D. Brockhurst
1978 Power Play Blair
1978 Centennial Sam Purchas
1978 Jesus of Nazareth Melchior
1979 Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff Dr. Steiner
1979 Dracula Dr. Jack Seward
1980 The Pumaman Dr. Kobras
1980 Halloween: Extended Edition Dr. Loomis Appeared in additional footage (filmed during the production of Halloween II) not included in the original film but featured in the NBC television broadcast.
1981 Halloween II Dr. Loomis
1981 Race for the Yankee Zephyr Gilbert "Gibbie" Carson
1981 Escape from New York Mr. President
1981 Saturday Night Live Himself-Guest host 10/31/81 Halloween show with musical guest punk rock band Fear. John Belushi makes a guest appearance in the opening sketch. This would be Belushi's last SNL appearance.
1982 Alone in the Dark Dr. Leo Bain
1982 The Barchester Chronicles Reverend Septimus Harding TV series
1983 Warrior of the Lost World Prossor
1983 The Devonsville Terror Dr. Warley
1984 A Breed Apart J.P. Whittier
1985 The Treasure of the Amazon Klaus von Blantz
1985 Phenomena John McGregor
1985 Nothing Underneath Inspector Danesi
1987 Django 2 Gunn
1987 Specters Professor Lasky
1987 Prince of Darkness Priest
1988 Hanna's War Captain Thomas Rosza
1988 Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers Dr. Loomis
1988 The Commander Photographer
1989 Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers Dr. Loomis
1989 Ten Little Indians Judge Lawrence Wargrave
1989 River of Death Heinrich Spaatz
1991 Shadows and Fog Doctor
1992 Dien Bien Phu Howard Simpson (writer, journalist)
1993 The Thief and the Cobbler Phido the Vulture (voice)
1993 The Hour of the Pig Pincheon
1995 Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers Dr. Loomis

The film was dedicated to his memory.

1996 Fatal Frames Prof. Robertson

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Pleasence", Collins English Dictionary
  2. ^ "England and Wales Births 1837–1983". Freebmd.org.uk. 2010-09-10. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  3. ^ Ross, Helen; Ross, Lillian (1962). The Player: A Profile of an Art. Simon and Schuster. p. 256. ISBN. 
  4. ^ a b "Full text of "The Player A Profile Of An Art"". Archive.org. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  5. ^ Chorley, W.R. (1997), Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Volume 5: 1944; p 407. Midland Counties Publications, UK. ISBN 0-904597-91-1.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Obituaries: Donald Pleasence". The Independent. 3 February 1995. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  7. ^ "Donald Pleasence'S Biography". Pleasence.com. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  8. ^ [1], Conductivity.

External links[edit]