Canterbury Auction Gallery
Rare and fascinating memorabilia from the estate of acting legend, Peter Cushing OBE, comes up for auction at a special sale on October 1 at the Canterbury Auction Galleries, Kent.With an acting career spanning six decades, from Star Wars to the Hammer House of Horror films, Sherlock Holmes, Laurel and Hardy and even Dr Who, the highly personal items range from sketches, letters and photographs and toys, right up to a famous pair of slippers he wore on set in Star Wars and a letter informing him of a healthy bonus, bearing a very early Star Wars logo.
With some 400 lots in this special auction, there will be a lot of collectible items for film buffs across the world, but the memorabilia also casts a rare and intimate light on Cushing the man.
He lived with his beloved wife Helen in the Kent seaside town of Whitstable for 35 years while making many of the 91 films in which he starred. His endlessly polite and unassuming manner won the hearts of the whole town.
With his battered deerstalker, bow tie and tweed jacket, Cushing often looked like he had stepped out of another era. He’d greet women with a gentle kiss on the hand and men with a doffed cap and a ‘Hello, dear boy!’. The people of Whitstable were so proud and protective of the international star in their midst, they would conveniently ‘forget’ where he lived if tourists wanted to photograph Cushing’s house.
He would walk and cycle almost daily and stop at the picturesque Tudor Tea Rooms in town and do the day’s newspaper crossword. Whoever served him would usually get a handwritten letter or poem afterwards, talking about their kindness and how it had made his day.
In the working-out space next to the crossword he’d often draw sharp and funny caricatures of the tea room staff and fellow customers. One of many treasures in the sale is an exercise book with a scores of sharply-drawn caricatures, cut from those newspapers and stuck in, called ‘Characters from The Tudor Tearoom’. The book, containing other sketches and notes, is signed and dated ’90.
They — and many paintings in the sale, including a silk scarf for his wife — reveal him as not just a keen observer but a talented artist too. He took up painting to deal with the stresses of his acting career and was taught by British artist Edward Seago.
Devastated by his wife’s death in 1971, he went to live with his great friend and assistant of 35 years, Joyce Broughton, and her family. After Joyce’s sad death, they have now decided to release much of the memorabilia for others to appreciate Cushing’s many talents.
Joyce’s daughter Alex said: “Our ‘Uncle’ Peter was a significant figure in all our lives. My late mother’s estate contained a large collection of Peter’s paintings and film memorabilia and correspondence (some of which we did not know existed).
“We think this is a great and rare opportunity for Peter’s large domestic and international fan base to gain some unique insight into his wider career and personal life.”
The actor died in 1994 and his memory there is now a beachfront viewing point named ‘Cushing’s View’ where he would often sit.
Here are just of few of hundreds of lots that particularly caught our eye.
Those slippers – and the crew model of them
Famously, while filming his role as the evil Death Star commander Grand Moff Tarkin in the first 1977 Star Wars film, Cushing’s high leather boots pinched his size 12 feet. He asked director George Lucas if he could wear slippers instead and be filmed from the thighs up! Lucas happily complied.
Later the crew made a tiny pair for a 12ins model of Cushing’s character as a joke. Both his slippers and the model are coming up for auction.
Star Wars bonus letter
The 1977 film was such a success, Cushing was awarded a bonus of US $6,000 for his “dedication, perseverance, creativity, and hard work” — around £25,000 in today’s money. The rare letter, dated Dec 1977, from producer Gary Kurtz, carries a very early Star Wars logo, with a figure wielding a light sabre. It was first appearance of the now-familiar stacked type on the Star Wars logo.
Star Wars production story
Another gem for film buffs are fascinating production notes from 20th Century Fox about the upcoming 1977 film, explaining what is required ‘for true credibility’ and explaining their reasons for choosing Tunisia as a location. Included is a a photocopy of a map of Tunisia with three locations highlighted.
Cushing appeared in various sinister guises – including Baron Frankenstein – in many Hammer horror films. There are many letters and signed photos from this large swathe of his career, including his contract for the 1969 film Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed – the fifth of the series featuring the terrifying Doctor.
Cushing’s talent as an artist grew over the years. One artwork in the auction – a still life of fruit in a blue and white bowl – has a warm message from Cushing and his wife on the back reading ‘An impression in watercolour of an oil painting by Grimal. To dear Joyce and Bernard. A little ‘thank you’ for taking me to Ireland on your holiday. May God’s blessing be with you always. Our love as ever, Helen and Peter.’
Among many photos of Cushing in the sale is a group of rarely-seen shots of him during book-signing tours. One in particular where he is pretending to doze off against a stack of books that, presumably, he has to sign.