Trained at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Peter Cushing began his career in prewar Hollywood in The Man in the Iron Mask (US, d. James Whale, 1939) and made several films there before starting in Britain with Hamlet (1948), as a vividly exquisite Osric.
In the early 50s, he worked mainly in the theatre (he was in Laurence Olivier's 1951 St James Theatre season), had a TV triumph in Nineteen Eighty-Four (d. Rudolph Cartier, 1954), and was very moving as Deborah Kerr's cuckolded husband in The End of the Affair (d. Edward Dmytryk, 1954).
His film career took off when he played the eponymous over-reacher in Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein (d. Terence Fisher, 1957), establishing him at once as a cult hero of the horror film aficionados, with Christopher Lee as the monster. These two names, along with director Terence Fisher, now evoke the output of this most successful British studio. As well as playing the Baron half a dozen times, he also memorably incarnated Dr Van Helsing in several reprises of the Dracula myth, including the wonderfully stylish The Brides of Dracula (d. Fisher, 1960).
His chiselled features, refined, even ascetic speech and bearing, his intense belief in the scientific mumbo-jumbo he was given to say, are now so firmly embedded in the public mind that it is an effort of will to remember that he played many other roles, including Sherlock Holmes. It is arguable, though, that his most incisive performance is as the thin-lipped bank manager under fearful strain in the excellent B thriller, Cash on Demand (d. Quentin Lawrence, 1961).
He was awarded the OBE in 1989.
Autobiographies: An Autobiography (1986); Past Forgetting (1988).
Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema