You ask the average person who Donald Pleasence is you might get an answer like; he was one of the villains for James Bond. Those of us in the horror community will always remember him as Dr. Sam Loomis in the Halloween franchise, but with over 200 credits to his name, it’s near impossible to cover all his accomplishments in one article. However, there is so much more to the man that should be talked about in addition to his talents both on stage and screen. Here, we will take a moment to remember the life and career of one of the greats we lost on this February 2, 25 years later.
Born in the U.K. in 1919 Pleasence found out early on in his life that he wanted to be an actor. However, not long into his adult life he volunteered his services to the RAF (Royal Air Force) in 1940 during World War 2 as aircraft wireless operator, in which he flew near 60 raids until he was shot down during an attack and taken as a German POW. Interestingly, during this time it is said he produced and acted in many plays for his fellow captives. I can’t even begin to imagine the will and grace of the man during such a time, but all who’ve seen him on screen can’t help but be drawn in. Ironically, Pleasence would go on to play Himmler in 1976’s The Eagle Has Landed.
After the war and his subsequent release in 1946 Pleasence resumed his acting career in Birmingham and Bristol as a stage actor, but it wasn’t until his role in The Beachcomber in 1954 that he made his big-screen debut. From here he began his long and decorated career, staring in a number of horror films along the way, such and Circus of Horror, and The Flesh and the Fiends. These are two I have yet to see, but indeed are on my list. In researching for this article I am finding so many interesting films I now want to take a look at. If you are a fan of Pleasence’s work, can you recommend anything?
Another prominent role he is known for is the arch Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice. Many might see this portrayal and immediately recognize a certain buffoonish parody throughout the Austin Powers films. While it’s easy to catch that they are based on the Bond series as a whole, it is Pleasence’s performance which gave the template for Dr. Evil.
But now the one we’ve all come to know him as. Every great actor has their signature roll that they are revered for, or at the very least known for even to those who are unfamiliar, and I think it’s no contest that we all remember Pleasence as the quasi-mythic Dr. Sam Loomis. I say this because throughout the Halloween franchise he takes on the position of a Captain Ahab-esk type character forever searching for his White Whale – Michael Myers. It is never mentioned once of any family or friends, that Loomis is forever alone in his journey to stop the “evil”, as he calls it. You might see his mission as somewhat biblical, and his torment is ever-present no matter how close he seems to get.
Halloween was filmed on a shoestring budget at the time, during a period when the modern, well not so much today, but before the slasher craze had begun. There really wasn’t much of a wave for the film to ride to success. Like most great films it was created from original creativity, innovation and very little star power. While Jamie Lee Curtis is indeed the daughter of Psycho’s Janet Lee, it was Donald Pleasence’s involvement that became John Carpenter’s ace in the hole! He was who the people knew, and what a feather in his hat that Pleasence can be seen as one of the pioneers of such a great legacy of horror.
As we’ve seen his career has reached far beyond his own accolades and touched many and inspired even more. This I did not know, but thought was quite funny, that Pleasence had even hosted an episode of SNL in 1981. Below is a clip of this episode. I never knew him as a funny man.
Donald Pleasence has worked beside some of the greatest names including, but not limited to Robert Shaw, Alec Guinness, Peter Cussing, and Robert Duvall in George Lucas’s directorial debut THX 1138. Having seen this, I can’t help but wonder how close were we in having Pleasence in Star Wars? Who would he have played, you think?
We here at HorrorAddicts.net, and The Horror Seeker wish to extend our thanks to Donald Pleasence for everything he has given us both in Military service and performances on screen. Many of us may have grown up only knowing him for one or two roles, perhaps a bit more, but we must always honor the man as a whole! It’s been 25 years since his passing, and to sign off, here is his final appearance on screen in Halloween 6. Sadly, Pleasence had passed away before the film’s completion, but if you want to see a more coherent version, I suggest you find a copy of the Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6.
RIP Donald Pleasence, 1919 – 1995