There is the familiar saying of ‘true love never dies’. No tragic accident, no severing of limbs can destroy true love. Sometimes you feel like ripping out the very heart in your chest (or another’s) in which the emotion seems to emanate. Even the finality of death itself, can never extinguish the passion, caring, and the need to be hand in hand by a beloved’s side. With Valentines Day looming on the horizon and the bombardment for these above sentiments everywhere, I happened to glance at my calendar this morning and noticed tomorrow will be February the 8th. ‘That date rings a bell for some reason,’ I thought. So, while I was answering an e-mail, discussing the date of this year’s first chat, it dawned on me. February the 8th was Helen Beck’s birthday. I felt compelled to write a quick and I sincerely hope, a respectful glimpse of the woman Peter Cushing called his beloved.
Helen was born Violet Helene Beck on February the 8th, 1905 in St. Petersburg, now Leningrad in the USSR. She was the daughter of a wealthy cotton mill owner and lived a life of luxury with her three sisters and two brothers. When the revolution began, Helen and her family fled from Russia, settling into England. Helen, being multilingual, spoke fluent English, French, Russian, and German, took a job as a tutor. I remember reading a while back in an interview Peter did saying Helen was indispensable when he did a film overseas acting as she acted as a translator between the film crew and himself.
Taking a job as a chorus girl and an
actress, she met Peter Cushing in May 1942 as the replacement actress in the
Noel Coward play, Private Lives. Upon entering the stage door, she looked up and
noticed a man which she described in the fashion:
…From the stage door stepped a vision, and my heart skipped a beat. I had never met him, yet I knew, deep in my deepest heart, we had been together before, tall and lean, a pale, almost haggard face, with astonishing large, blue eyes: on his head an old gray velvet hat, with a hole between the dents of it’s crown, a jacket beyond description and repair, spotless white shirt badly frayed at the cuffs and collar, a pair of once dark blue corduroy trousers, most of the nap long since worn away through constant wear, down-at heel shoes of gray suede. Later, I was to discover the soles were as worn down as the heels, and had holes as large as half crowns in their centers, also woolen stockings that have never known the comfort of a darning needle .He walked with a slight limp, using an ash walking-stick, the ferrule now a mere useless ring of metal around it’s tip, on his back a huge and obviously heavy kit-bag, such as sailors use.
There was an aura about this “ beloved
vagabond”. His hands told me he was either a musician or an artist-they
reminded me of those drawn by Albrecht Durer- and when he bent over one of mine
to kiss it, a faint and quite delightful waft of tobacco and lavender-water hung
upon the air. I knew I would love him for the rest of my days-and beyond.
This was Helen Beck’s first impression of Peter Cushing. After a brief courtship, they married on April 10th 1943, the marriage being witnessed only by Helen’s parents. Peter thought it would be best not to inform his parents until after the fact. Nevertheless, Peter’s parents, although shocked by the marriage, learned to love their new daughter-in-law.
Their marriage seemed an idea one, each completely devoted to the other and despite never having children, they seemed a very happy couple. There is a photo in Peter’s biography showing a smiling Helen and Peter in their backyard in Kensington surrounded by most likely the neighborhood children, drawn to the couple no doubt because of their kindness.
Helen accompanied Peter to film locations whether it was nearby in London, or far away in Israel. She would help Peter practice his lines, and give him all the confidence, love, and understanding, which he credits for his success. “Without her, I would have been nothing.”
Helen’s health was never the best, with England’s damp and foggy climate augmenting the already weakened heart and lungs. Her frail health would take the usual vicissitudes, but she took a turn for the worse in early January 1971. Peter, beginning a new film ("Blood From The Mummy's Tomb"), received a call informing him that his dear wife had been taken to a nearby Canterbury hospital for a few days’ observation. Helen, disliking her stays in the hospital, (tell me a person who does like it) wanted to go home. A distraught Peter asking for the doctor’s permission was told there was no hope left and to take her home to make her comfortable. Two little words: no hope. I read that Helen had a doctor at one time that told her she could increase the strength and air capacity of her lungs by doing breathing exercises. Helen, obeying the doctor, diligently did her breathing exercises. Later, another inconsiderate physician callously told her that those exercises were a complete waste of time. Peter said this “took the wind out of her sails” and never understood what was accomplished by telling her it was useless. Frankly, I don’t either. It is a medical fact that if you exercise, in any way, that you can strengthen your respiratory system. When I read what this doctor had told her, my initial response was a mixed feeling of disbelief and sadness. Sadness as this was an undeserving shock to her already weakened system.
Despite around the clock nursing care, Peter’s love and insistence on caring for her himself, Helen was too weak to fight anymore. On January 14th, 1971, she died from emphysema at their home in the bed she shared with the love of her life, who was at her side when death came. Peter said he noticed her face held a completely serene expression, “ …as if all the pain and suffering of the past years had been wiped away.”
All of us who are fans of Peter know how much he loved Helen and how he never really recovered completely after her death. I don’t think anyone ever does recover 100% after a love one has died. I look at my calendar once more, wondering how romantic it must have been for Helen having a birthday so close to Valentine’s Day and a romantic-at-heart husband who was always close. I smile and feel very glad I could remember her in this way.
I was assisted in writing my tribute by these publications:
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography and
Past Forgetting by Peter
Sherlock Holmes on the Screen by Robert W. Pohle, Jr. and Douglas C. Hart
COPYRIGHT 2001, MISS WEASEL