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Donald Pleasence (1919)

Donald Henry Pleasence

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  Summary  

Sir Donald Henry Pleasence, OBE, (5 October 1919 – 2 February 1995) was a British actor who gained more than 200 screen credits during a career which spanned over four decades. Known for his piercing blue eyes and bald head, Pleasence is arguably best remembered for his work in the Halloween and James Bond franchises.

  Biography  

 early life
Pleasence was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England, the son of Alice (née Armitage) and Thomas Stanley Pleasence, a railway stationmaster. He was brought up as a strict Methodist in the small village of Grimoldby, Lincolnshire. Pleasence attended Ecclesfield Grammar School, in Sheffield, Yorkshire, and subsequently dropped out to work as a railway clerk, whilst looking for a job as an actor. During World War II Pleasence was initially a conscientious objector, but later changed his stance and was commissioned into the Royal Air Force, serving with 166 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command. His Avro Lancaster was shot down on 31 August 1944 during a raid on Agenville. He was taken prisoner and placed in a German prisoner-of-war camp, where he produced and acted in plays. He would later play Flight Lt. Colin Blythe in The Great Escape where much of the story takes place inside a German POW camp.

 career
 Cinema
Pleasence's acting career began in a production of Wuthering Heights, but was interrupted by World War II. Pleasence returned to acting after the war, and critics began to call him the "Man with the Hypnotic Eye". Equipped with a shiny bald head and a quiet but intense voice to go with his trademark penetrating gaze, he specialised in portraying insane or evil characters, including the violent alcoholic Doc Tydon in Wake in Fright , the mad Doctor in the Bud Spencer-Terence Hill film Watch Out, We're Mad , Heinrich Himmler in The Eagle Has Landed , and the Bond arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice , the first film in which the villain's face is clearly seen. His interpretation of the character has become predominate in popular culture considering the popularity of the comic villain, Dr. Evil in the successful Austin Powers film series, which primarily parodies it.

Perhaps his most sympathetic screen role was as the tragic POW Colin Blythe in the 1963 film The Great Escape, who discovers that he is slowly going blind, but nonetheless participates in the mass break-out, only to be shot down by German soldiers because he is unable to see them. In The Night of the Generals , he played another uncharacteristically sympathetic role, this time as an old-school German general involved in a plot to kill Hitler. In 1971, he returned to the realm of the deranged, delivering a tour de force performance in the role of an alcoholic Australian doctor in Ted Kotcheff's nightmarish outback drama Wake in Fright.

Pleasence played Lucifer in the religious epic The Greatest Story Ever Told . He was one of many stars who were given cameos throughout the film. Perhaps his most bizarre and powerful film role occurred in Polanski's Cul-de-sac , in which he portrayed the love-sodden husband of a much younger French wife (Françoise Dorléac). In 1968, he ventured successfully into American cowboy territory, playing a sadistic self-styled preacher who goes after stoic Charlton Heston in the Western Will Penny.

In his later years, he became best known to a younger generation of cinema-goers as Dr. Loomis in Halloween . The distinctive, rather sinister accent that he employs in this and other films may be credited to the elocution lessons that he had as a child. He reprised his role as Dr. Loomis in Halloween II , IV , V and VI .

His acting hero was Sir Laurence Olivier, with whom he worked on-stage in the 1950s, and later on the 1979 film version of Dracula. Two years earlier, Pleasence did an amusingly broad impersonation of Olivier in the guise of a horror-film actor called "Valentine De'ath" in the film The Uncanny.

 Television
One of his earliest roles on television was as Syme in the BBC's highly acclaimed 1954 adaptation of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. This adaptation also starred Peter Cushing, another British actor who would go on to find fame in many horror-film roles. Pleasence played Prince John in several episodes of the ITV series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956–1958). He appeared twice with Patrick McGoohan in the British spy series, Danger Man, in episodes "Position of Trust" and "Find and Return" . His first appearance in America was in an episode of The Twilight Zone, playing an aging teacher at a boys' school in the episode "The Changing of the Guard" . In 1963, he appeared in an episode of The Outer Limits entitled "The Man With the Power". He hosted the 1981 Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live with music guest Fear (which, because of Fear's raucous performance and the ultra-dark humour of the sketches, hasn't been seen on television since its first airing).

In 1973 Pleasence played the murderer in an episode of Columbo entitled "Any Old Port in a Storm". He also had the distinction of playing a culprit captured by Mrs. Columbo in "Murder is a Parlour Game" . Pleasence provided the voice-over for the British Public Information Film, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water in 1973. The film, intended to warn children of the dangers of playing near water, attained notoriety for allegedly giving children nightmares. In 1978, he played a Union general in James A. Michener's Centennial. Pleasence starred as the Reverend Septimus Harding in the BBC's 1982 TV serial The Barchester Chronicles.

 Spoken records
During the early 1960s, he recorded several children's-story records on the Atlas Record label. These were marketed as the Talespinners series in the UK. They were also released in the USA as Tale Spinners For Children by United Artists. The stories included Don Quixote and the Brave Little Tailor.

 Books
Pleasence was the author of the 1977 children's book Scouse the Mouse , which was animated by Canadian animator/film director Gerald Potterton and also adapted into a children's recording with Ringo Starr voicing the book's title character, Scouse the Mouse.

 Awards
Pleasence was nominated four times for the Tony Award for best performance by a leading actor in a Broadway play: in 1962 for Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, in 1965 for Jean Anouilh's Poor Bitos, in 1969 for Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth, and in 1972 for Simon Gray's Wise Child.

He was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his services to the acting profession by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

 personal life
Pleasence married four times and had five daughters from his first three marriages. He was married to Miriam Raymond in 1947–1958, and they had Angela and Jean. His 1959–1970 marriage to actress and singer Josephine Martin Crombie produced Lucy and Polly. He was married to Meira Shore in 1970–1988 and they had a daughter, Miranda. His last marriage to Linda Kentwood lasted until his death in 1995 and was without issue.

 death
Pleasence died at the age of 75 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, from complications of heart failure following heart valve replacement surgery. He was cremated.

 legacy
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, were both dedicated to the memory of Pleasence, the latter of which he did not appear in.

Dr. Evil, the character played by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers comedy films (1997–2002), is a parody of Pleasence's performance as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Donald Pleasence", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.