A CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER GULLO
OF THE PETER CUSHING MUSEUM & ASSOCIATION
by Michael McGlasson
(First published in the 'HellNotes' e-zine)
"In general, our first impressions are true ones. . . In early youth, we read a poem. . . and are enraptured with it. At manhood, we are assured by our reason that we had no reason to be enraptured. But some years elapse, and we return to our admiration just as a matured judgment enables us precisely to see what and why we admired"--Edgar A. Poe Marginalia
In our childhood, we have all been "enraptured" by a certain thing--a popular book, a TV series, a superhero or perhaps an historical event which captured our attention. But for Christopher Gullo, the object of his affections turned out to be Peter Cushing, the British actor best known for his roles in Hammer Studio’s classic horror films, such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula and later in his career as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. At present, Gullo’s website features movie reviews, articles, poetry, current news on Cushing, a compilation of his film and TV work, a fan fiction area and a chat room moderated by fellow Cushing aficionados. As Edgar Poe so eloquently points out, a "matured judgment" has allowed Gullo to offer a tribute to Cushing who, in all aspects of his fascinating life, was a true gentleman with many exemplary qualities--a great loyalty to friends and fans alike and a chivalric bravery displayed through a devotion to his wife Helen and his ten-year long battle with lung cancer. The following conversation has been transcribed from a number of thought-provoking e-mails:
HELLNOTES: "At first glance, the Peter Cushing Museum and Association seems to be yet another fan-based website created to exploit a particular cinematic figure. But with closer scrutiny, a special devotional quality is sensed with the PCA. Is this an accurate observation and if so, how did such a devotion come about?"
CHRISTOPHER GULLO: "I would say your observation is quite valid. The devotion on the PCA website comes from many people--first and foremost is Brian Holland who ran it from 1994 to 2000. He recognized the void left with Cushing’s passing, and with the blessings of Joyce Broughton, Cushing’s lifelong friend and secretary, Brian created the site and its publication The Cushing Courier. His devotion took up much of his time and after six years, he decided to step down. I immediately took over because I wanted to keep Cushing’s memory alive, due to not only my own devotion but also that of the many members who make it all possible."
HN: "How did your intense interest in Cushing begin?"
GULLO: "It goes back to my childhood. Most of Cushing’s fans saw his films when they were originally released in the theaters. But since I was born in 1975, just two months before Cushing appeared as guest of honor at the second Famous Monsters convention in NYC, it was television where I first discovered his films. I remember seeing The Evil of Frankenstein during a Halloween festival, and Cushing really stood out because of the way he took control of any situation he was in. Since I was always a monster movie fan, I began to notice him in a lot of them. I started collecting his films on video exactly one week before he died."
HN: "Let’s talk about Cushing the man. Most of his fans are very familiar with his film work but are somewhat in the dark concerning his private life off-screen. Was he involved in any special activities?
GULLO: "Cushing had a number of hobbies that occupied a lot of his time. After I read Peter Cushing: The Gentleman of Horror and His 91 Films by Deborah Del Vecchio, who ran theAmerican Peter Cushing Fan Club in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and Tom Johnson, I gained an appreciation for other aspects of his life. He was always an avid reader, mostly biographies and reference books on a wide variety of topics, not to mention his career as a published author."
HN: "How many books are we talking about here?"
GULLO: "Well, two autobiographies (Peter Cushing: An Autobiography, 1987 & Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years, 1988) and two more containing short stories by a number of authors that reflected his film roles in some of his horror pictures (Tales of a Monster Hunter, 1978 & Peter Cushing’s Monster Movies, 1994). He also wrote The Bois Saga, based on the history of England and completely done using phonetics. It was written for Joyce Broughton’s daughter who had trouble reading."
HN: "Is it true that Cushing was also interested in film directing?"
GULLO: "In the early 1970’s, he wrote a screenplay for a sequel to Hammer’s Captain Clegg, a.k.a. Night Creatures, but nothing came of it because of his wife Helen’s death in 1971."
HN: " Did he have any purely artistic pursuits?"
GULLO: "Most definitely. He was a great watercolorist. As a young man, Cushing studied at the Croydon School of Art where he gained a love for the Impressionists, and in 1958, the Fine Art Society in London presented an exhibition of his watercolor landscapes. He also did miniature set designs, like the interior of a medieval castle and one for Hammer’s Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires."
HN: "Sounds like Cushing was quite the hobbyist."
GULLO: "As strange as it sounds, he was also an avid bird watcher. At one point, he did plan on writing and illustrating a book on ornithology, but it only went as far as drawing sketches of different bird species which were to appear in the book. In addition, he collected cigarette cards and wrote a column for Card Times magazine up until shortly before his death in 1994."
HN: "The first issue of your Cushing Confidential is already in the hands of the members of the PCA. Why have a printed fanzine along with the website?"
GULLO: "The original PCA put most of its effort into the magazine while the website introduced fans to the club. But I decided to work exclusively on building the site into a home for Cushing’s admirers. Then one of our members explained that an online mag is great but nothing beats the anticipation of waiting to receive the printed magazine in the mail which I now heartily agree with."
HN: "What about the future of the PCA site?"
GULLO: "It is my hope that the PCA site will always be expanding. A new feature which I am currently working on is an online art gallery of Cushing’s watercolors. When I took over the site, Brian Holland provided some scans of the paintings. I hope to have this up and running in a month or two. All of this will hopefully go on for years to come just to keep the memory of Peter Cushing alive and thriving."