Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Happy birthday Donald Pleasence!

Picture Legend

1. Mr. Donald Pleasence
2. Sherwood Forest
3. The Dukeries
4. Maid Marian and her Merry Men
5. In “The Great Escape"
6. As Prince John in “The Adventures of Robin Hood"
7. As Heinrich Himmler in "The Eagle has Landed"
8. As Ernst Stavro Blofeld in “You Only Live Twice”
9. "The Man with the Power" episode of “The Outer Limits"
10. "The Hallelujah Trail"
11. In Roman Polanski‘s “Cul-De-Sac”
12. With Raquel Welch in "Fantastic Voyage"
13. With Peter O’Toole in "The Night of the Generals"
14. In “Will Penny”
15. With Robert Duvall in “THX 1138“
16. As the President in “Escape from New York”
17. With Jennifer Connelly in “Phenomena”
18. In John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness”
19. As Dr Sam Loomis in “Halloween”

   A birthday remembrance this morning for one of my very favorite actors, some would say "character actors," Mr. Donald Pleasence.
   He was born at a very early age, as a tiny male infant , in 1919 (the same year as my father) in Worksop ( 53° 18' 0" N, 1° 8' 0" W), Nottinghamshire, which is in England, which is a small part of Great Britain.
   Worksop is known as the "Gateway to the Dukeries", because of the now four obsolete ducal principal sites of which were closely located next to each other, south of the town. The ducal seats were: Clumber House: principal seat of the Dukes of Newcastle, Thoresby Hall: principal seat of the Dukes of Kingston and later of the Earls Manvers, Welbeck Abbey: principal seat of the Dukes of Portland and Worksop Manor: a seat of the Dukes of Norfolk.
   Isn’t that interesting.
   Worksop is also famously described by the British children's sitcom, “Maid Marian and her Merry Men,” as a Mass of Mud.
   He was the son of Alice Armitage and Thomas Stanley Pleasence, a railway stationmaster, and was brought up in the village of Grimoldby, Lincolnshire, which of course is five miles east of Louth.
   Young Donald attended Ecclesfield Grammar School, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, all still in England.
   He dreamt of becoming an actor and dropped out of school one year before graduation to achieve that aim, getting accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, however he was not able to attend as he could not secure a scholarship. After spending a year and a half as a railway station manager, he was able to get a job as a stage manager at the Playhouse on one of the Channel Islands.
   He got his start on stage in 1939 as Hareton Earnshaw in "Wuthering Heights," at the Playhouse, and found work steadily for the next few years, making the big time in London in 1942 as Curio in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."
   Just as he started to get good at it, World War II came around and messed everything up. He spent six months as a conscientious objector working in the lumber industry (which was still supporting the war effort) until he changed his mind and enlisted into the Royal Air Force.
   During a mission over occupied France in August of 1944, his plane was shot down and he was captured, spending the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in a German prison camp, where he used his time wisely putting on and acting in plays. He was liberated from the camp in 1946, and discharged with the rank of flight lieutenant. 17 years later he would play Flight Lt. Colin Blythe in the classic, all star film, "The Great Escape," which took place mostly inside a German P.O.W. camp (unfortunately in that film, Blythe nearly goes blind, crashes in an airplane, and is shot and killed. Here’s a clip).
   Mr. Pleasence got back to work on the stage immediately after the war, finding work easily. He made his television debut in 1952, and his film debut in 1954, and soon became known as "The Man with the Hypnotic Eye," by critics, because he could make you do whatever he wanted just by looking at you. He gained popularity playing insane or evil characters such as Prince John, in "The Adventures of Robin Hood," a 1956 British television series which ran until 1968, that I actually remember watching as a small child, but I do not recall Donald, probably because he only appeared in a few episodes. He played Heinrich Himmler (Nazi head of the SS, and Gestapo) in 1968's "The Eagle has Landed" (here’s a clip with Robert Duvall) and he created my favorite portrayal of the greatest criminal mastermind since Professor Moriarty, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in 1967's James Bond film, "You Only Live Twice" (the character of Blofeld would go on to influence Mike Myers' creation of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers film series).
   Okay here are some of my favorite performances of Donald's in somewhat of a chronological order: a 1963 episode of "The Outer Limits," entitled "The Man with the Power (trailer), "The Great Escape," "The Hallelujah Trail," with Burt Lancaster and Lee Remick, as the traitor Dr. Michaels in 1966's "Fantastic Voyage," who got his head eaten by a white corpuscle (and a film I forced my dear mother to take me to when it first came out. Here’s the trailer), "The Night of the Generals," "You Only Live Twice," as the mad Preacher Quint in my absolute favorite western, "Will Penny," with Charlton Heston (clip), with Duvall again in George Lucas' first feature film "THX 1138" (trailer), John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" (scenes) "Phenomena," with my favorite actress, a 14 year old Jennifer Connelly (clip), John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness," Woody Allen's "Shadow and Fog," and of course the films that made him famous to a whole younger generation of viewers, 1978's "Halloween,"  and several sequels.
   "In 1978, a young director named John Carpenter asked Pleasence to star in his $300,000 horror film Halloween. The first reluctant Pleasence finally agreed to star in the film, when one of his daughters told him how much she enjoyed Carpenter's previous film, the urban gang shocker “Assault on Precinct 13' (1976). Pleasence starred as a tormented psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, who pursues a murderous patient, Michael Myers, on Halloween night and is determined to stop him...before he kills again. Halloween was a surprise smash with both audiences and critics; it became the most successful independent motion picture of its time and grossed over $60 million. Halloween has also spawned five sequels to date. The film made Pleasence nothing short of a cult horror icon, which was an image he was never able to shake." -Christopher Weedman
   "I was offered a choice of a flat salary up front or a percentage of the film's future earnings. I took the up front money. Nobody could have figured what Halloween would ultimately become," Pleasence later said.
   Donald continued playing that character four more times, the last being "Halloween: the Curse of Michael Myers," his second to last film.
   Donald and I had this in common, we both admired the work of Sir Laurence Olivier above all others. What we didn't have in common was actually working with Olivier, which Donald did on stage in the 1950s, and in the 1979 film version of "Dracula."
   He was nominated 4 times for a Tony Award, and in 1994 was made a member of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the acting profession by Queen Elizabeth.
   Donald was married four times and had five daughters from his first three marriages, one of them getting him the Halloween gig.
   He died at the age of 75 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, in 1995, from complications after heart valve replacement surgery.
   And all of us here at Joyce's Take remember Donald Pleasence with love and gratitude on this, what would have been his 97th birthday. We honor his life, his work, and his memory.

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