“Thank You, Helen Cushing”

By Michael Arruda

© 2001 Michael J. Arruda

 

Here I sit, in front of my computer, preparing to brainstorm another piece for The Cushing Courier. For quite some time now there’s been a myriad of ideas revolving around in my head. A look at Peter Cushing’s scariest moments on film. Ah, how fun! Or perhaps his gentlest. The moment with young Tanya in Dracula immediately comes to mind. Or, maybe an in-depth examination of just one character, or one scene. So many possibilities.

But this morning, none of them sound so good. The reason? I can’t get out of my mind The Autobiography of Peter Cushing. Brian Holland, our fearless leader, the man who has made these recollections of our favorite actor possible, was kind enough to send me the Autobiography on audio cassette, and for the past few months I have been listening to it, slowly, ever so slowly, not wanting it to end, listening to one tape a week (12 in all) for the past three months.

I was mesmerized.

To be listening to the voice of Peter Cushing himself as he read from his own writing was nearly akin to having my own private interview with the man. An amazing experience, to be sure. To be alone in a room or a car, just me and Peter Cushing as he revealed his life story was utterly amazing.

I am finished now, having listened to both the Autobiography and Past Forgetting, Peter Cushing’s second volume on himself, which Brian was also kind enough to send me on audio tape. Both books have left an indelible impression on me. I can’t get them out of my mind.

Why?

Because of what Mr. Cushing chose to write about when discussing his life. Or, I should say, who he chose to write about: and the answer, of course, is his wife, Helen.

Had you or I decided to set upon the admirable task of writing Peter Cushing’s biography, no doubt we would have spent a considerable amount of time covering his films, especially his Hammer Films, and rightly so, since for most of us, this is how we got to know Mr. Cushing, through his performances in these movies. Certainly, in writing such a biography, we would have included details from his personal life. The book wouldn’t be complete without them. But that being said, surely the focus of such a book would be on Peter Cushing’s experiences with Hammer Films. Any serious author would have the foresight to predict disappointment among readers should a discussion of Peter Cushing’s life exclude his affiliation with Hammer.

In fact, in Past Forgetting, Mr. Cushing wrote that fans were upset that in his autobiography he declined to mention very much about Hammer Films. This is true. In the autobiography, he hardly mentions Hammer at all. I can easily see why some fans would be disappointed.

At first.

But once you take the time to reflect upon the significance of what Mr. Cushing actually wrote, you realize just how much of a treasure he left behind for us.

By writing his own life story, Peter Cushing alone chose what to include in that story, thereby presenting us with quite a unique piece of reading. In fact, there is no other document existing that can give us a better more complete picture of Peter Cushing the man than what he wrote in his own words.

This is a wonderful opportunity for fans everywhere to better know and understand Peter Cushing. By reading this book, we are able to experience the events and meet the people that he himself believed to be the most important of his life, as well as the most defining.

In short, we get to know what Mr. Cushing valued most.

And most of the time, it was his dear wife Helen.

Now, maybe it’s because I don’t read love stories. I don’t know. But I was moved nearly to tears by the love story of Peter Cushing and Helen. Now, you can know that Peter Cushing was devoted to his wife, and you can think “that’s wonderful.” But you can’t appreciate the depth of their relationship, nor can you feel the strength of their love, until you read/hear Peter’s own words.

I was hooked from the outset when at the very beginning of the autobiography, Mr. Cushing wrote that the notes which would become the autobiography were originally written by him as a way of coping with his wife’s death. So, right away, you know that these are the words of a man stricken by the loss of a love. He also wrote at the outset that he would go no further in his autobiography than 1971, the year his beloved Helen died. With her passing, a part of him died as well.

After listening to the remarkable story of Helen and Peter Cushing, as told by Peter Cushing himself, I understood for the first time the reasons why Peter loved Helen so much, since he painted such a wonderful picture of her in his book. Theirs is a love story which should not be forgotten.

First and foremost, they were in love. Time and time again, in listening to Mr. Cushing speak about his wife, I was inspired. “How wonderful,” I’d think, “that they were always there for each other.” Their story is an inspiration to couples everywhere. In fact, on many a day, I’d look at my wife, realize how much I love her, and in the quiet of my mind thank Peter Cushing for his wonderful words describing his Helen, for the inspiration they gave me, awaking feelings towards my own wife which so often are buried in the routines of day-to-day life.

Theirs was a spiritual union. They believed they were meant to be together. In fact, they believed they had met before, or at least they felt as if they had met before. (Funny, when I first met my wife, I couldn’t help but think that she looked somehow familiar)(Maybe there is something to loves which stretch beyond the ages). According to Mr. Cushing’s account, Helen knew right away upon meeting Peter that he was the man for her. And most importantly, in regards to their union being spiritual, they both firmly believed that their love would continue into the next world.

Helen wrote in a letter which she left for Peter after she had died: “Let the sun shine in your heart. Do not pine for me my beloved Peter because that will cause unrest. Do not be hasty to leave this world because you will not go until you have lived the life you have been given. And remember. We will meet again when the time is right. This is my promise.”

To which Mr. Cushing replies, as he ends his book, “I have been doubtful many times about many things during my life, but of this, I have no doubt. No doubt whatsoever.”

They also took wonderful care of each other. For most of their married life, Helen was sick, and Peter Cushing was always there for his wife. Peter, too, had his maladies, and one time, when he was very sick, Helen was there constantly, doing everything the doctor had suggested. When Mr. Cushing finally recovered, his doctor pointed to Helen and told Peter, “She’s the reason you are still alive.”

At one point in the autobiography, Peter Cushing runs into an old friend from his early acting days, now out of work. Mr. Cushing reflects that that could have been him “but for the grace of God--- and Helen.” She helped his acting career tremendously, continually giving him encouragement and support when he needed it. When he first began acting in front of a television camera, he found the experience cold and couldn’t get into his roles the way he had done on stage. It was Helen who told him to play to the camera, to fall in love with the camera, and to think of one person while doing it. The one person Peter Cushing chose, of course, was Helen.

At the end of the book, Mr. Cushing takes us in with him and allows us to share in a most personal, private, and painful moment: the death of his wife. We are there by the bedside of Helen. We hear her last words. We experience the moment when she breathed her last. And unless we are inhuman, we shed tears.

Mr. Cushing admitted to thinking at the time that if he were playing the scene in a movie, he’d have played it differently. At the time of his wife’s death, he was emotionless. The emotions, he wrote, were to come later.

How difficult it must have been for Mr. Cushing to have written this version of his autobiography, to have relived the happiness of a time gone by, and the pain of the most devastating moment of his life.

Nothing I write here will do justice to the story of Peter Cushing and his wife Helen. To truly experience the emotion, one must read or listen to his own words, which, I guess, is one of the reasons why I’ve chosen to write about this story this morning. To recommend The Autobiography of Peter Cushing to fans everywhere. It’s a must read, and true fans will find its contents invaluable.

As fate would have it, Midnight Marque is planning to re-release the Autobiography together with Past Forgetting in a single volume in August 1999. What a fantastic opportunity for fans to purchase these books! I know that I plan to purchase them (even though I’ve heard the tapes) at the Midnight Marque & Fanex Monster Rally here in the United States in August. No Peter Cushing fan should be without either book.

We love Peter Cushing as an actor, because that’s how the majority of us know him. But to be able to love and respect him as a person, is not something that fans of great actors can always claim. It is definitely refreshing to learn that an admired actor is not an eccentric screwball who made a practice of hurting those around him. Peter Cushing was a man who loved his wife, pure and simple. Surely that is something to be admired.

Thus, we can come to love and admire Peter Cushing as a person as well as an actor. We already know this, of course, but to have it affirmed by Peter’s own words, by his own emotions, is not only fascinating, but wonderfully rewarding. It’s like learning new details about a deceased loved one. Perhaps it is unfair to compare Mr. Cushing to a family member, since we are his fans and not his family, but I do mean this with the utmost respect and admiration.

By reading The Autobiography of Peter Cushing, we are invited to learn about a remarkable woman and what she meant to a remarkable man. In short, we are allowed to take part in a celebration, a celebration of the life of Helen Cushing and all that she meant to Peter Cushing.

I have taken up this subject this morning because I feel I have to respectfully pause and give a moment’s respite from the thrills and chills of Peter Cushing’s career and say, that in his real life, he partook in- he lived- a love story that is uplifting, admirable, and moving. I want to tell other fans to please have a look at the autobiography and learn more about the man we admire so much.

It would be unfair of us who hold him in such high regard not to make the effort to learn about what he valued most in his life. It wasn’t Hammer Films. (Not to say he didn’t appreciate them and love working in them. From past interviews we know he did). It was his wife. I think he’d be happy to see his fans take the time to learn about Helen and all that she meant to him and why. It’s the “why” that makes for the wonderful story. As described by Peter Cushing, she was an amazingly special person. The kind of person we all hope to end up with one day.

I’d like to close by offering my thanks to Helen Cushing, for being there for Peter Cushing, for enabling him to thrive in his career, for having the foresight to know that his performances would give joy to fans all over the world for generations to come.

Thank you, Helen Cushing.

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COPYRIGHT © MICHAEL ARRUDA 2001