Sunday, October 5, 2014

Remembering Donald Pleasence

Donald Pleasence was born on October 5, 1919 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England. The son of Alice and Thomas Pleasence, a railway stationmaster. He was brought up as a strict Methodist, and raised 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, while looking for a job as an actor. During the Second World War 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 the German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft I, where he produced and acted in plays. He would later play Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in “The Great Escape” where much of the story takes place inside a German POW camp.
In 1939 Pleasence started working in repertory theatre as an assistant stage manager with Jersey Repertory, making his acting debut with the company as Hareton in Wuthering Heights. He subsequently worked in repertory theatre in Birmingham and Bristol before making his London stage debut as Valentine in Twelfth Night in 1942. After World War II Pleasence's returned to the stage where his work included performing as Willie Mossop in a 1952 production of “Hobson's Choice” at the Arts Theatre and as Dauphin in Jean Anouilh's “The Lark” (1956).
In 1960 Pleasence won acclaim as the tramp in Harold Pinter's “The Caretaker” at the Arts Theatre, a part he would again play in a 1990 revival. Other stage work in the 1960s included Anouilh's “Poor Bitos” (1967) and Robert Shaw's “The Man in The Glass Booth” (1967), for which he won the London Variety Award for Stage Actor of the Year in 1968. Pleasence's later stage work included performing in a double bill of Pinter plays, “The Basement” and “Tea Party”, at the Duchess Theatre in 1970.
Pleasence made his big-screen debut with “The Beachcomber” (1954). His most notable film roles include psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis in most of the Halloween series, the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice”, and RAF Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in “The Great Escape”. In 1987 he appeared in his only Euro-western: “Django Strikes Again” (1987) as Gunn.
Pleasence also appeared in a number of television films and series beginning with “I Want to Be A Doctor” in 1946.
Donald died at the age of 75 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, from complications of heart failure following heart valve replacement surgery.
Today we remember Donald Pleasence on what would have been his 95th birthday.

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