Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Be Seeing You, Patrick McGoohan

"Mel (Gibson) will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a number." (Patrick McGoohan)

One of the greatest actors to ever grace the small screen had died. Patrick McGoohan, who played John Drake, Number Six, and Dr. Sid Rafferty, passed yesterday at the age of 80.

Patrick McGoohan was born to Irish parents in Astoria, New York on March 19, 1998. It was only a few months later that his parents returned to Ireland where McGoohan spent his early years. When he was about seven the family moved to Sheffield, England. During World War II he was evacuated to Loughborough, Leicestershire. It was there in that he attended Sheffield College.

McGoohan left school when he was sixteen, working in a number of different jobs before becoming a stage manager at Sheffield Repertory Theatre. It was there that he began his career in acting when one of the actors was ill. It was in 1954 that McGoohan made his television debut, in an episode of You Are There. He made his debut on the West End, in Serious Change, in 1955. He also appeared in Orson Welles' York production of Moby Dick Rehearsed. That same year he made his motion picture debut in an uncredited part in The Dam Busters. For the next several years McGoohan was cast in small parts in such films as I Am a Camera, The Dark Avenger, and Zarak. He also appeared on television in guest spots on the shows The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Assignment Foreign Legion. McGoohan was signed to Rank Organisation, who cast him in Hell Divers and The Gypsy and the Gentleman. McGoohan and the management of the Rank Organisation would come to head, and their contract would ended after only a few films. During this period McGoohan continued to appear in stage, among the Ibsen play Brand in 1959.

Fortunately for McGoohan, the role that would bring him fame was waiting right around the corner. After receiving nominations for Best Actor of the Year for his part in Brand and Best Television Actor of the Year for his part in "The Greatest Man in the World (an episode of Armchair Theatre), McGoohan really began to attract attention. Lord Lew Grade then approached him about the lead in a new television series, Danger Man. Originally John Drake would not have been very different from James Bond, carrying a gun and having a free and easy attitude towards women. McGoohan insisted on changes to the character, dictating that he would not carry a gun and he would never, ever kiss a woman, let alone anything else. The initial run of Danger Man proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom, cut short only because it failed to find similar success in the United States.

Following the first run of Danger Man, McGoohan appeared in the movies All Night Long and Life for Ruth, among others. He turned down both the roles of Simon Templar in The Saint and James Bond in Dr. No. He continued to appear on stage and also appeared in two works for Walt Disney. The first was a three part mini-series adaptation of Dr. Syn. The second was the movie The Three Lives of Thomasina. Both were among the favourite work he had done. It was afterwards that Lord Lew Grade asked Patrick McGoohan to once more appear as John Drake in a new run of Danger Man. The once half hour series was expanded to an hour, and the new series proved even more popular than the original. It even found success in the United States under the title of Secret Agent.

Having played John Drake for quite some time, Patrick McGoohan tired of the role. He then approached Lord Lew Grade about an idea for a series he had. That idea became the TV show The Prisoner. It would prove to be the most successful series on which McGoohan ever worked, developing a cult following world wide. It was so successful in fact that Patrick McGoohan, once best known as John Drake, would forever be remembered as Number Six (although many fans insist they are one and the same).

Following The Prisoner McGoohan appeared in the movies Ice Station Zebra, The Moonshine War, and Mary, Queen of Scots. He appeared in a guest apperance on the TV series Columbo (for which he won an Emmy) and in the film Un Genio, due compari, un pollo. In 1977 he appeared in the TV series Rafferty as the title character, a retired army doctor many consider a forerunner to Gregory House. Over the next several years McGoohan appeared in the films Brass Target, Scanners, Kings and Desperate Men, and Tresspasses. In 1985 he appeared on Broadway, in the play Pack of Lies. In the Nineties his most notable role may have been in the film Braveheart. While historically inaccurate to the point of slandering King Edward I, there can be no doubt that Patrick McGoohan did a good job in the role as written. In 2000 he reprised his role as Number Six in an episode of The Simpsons.

I must confess that among the eulogies I have written in this blog (which have been far too many of late), this has been among the most difficult for me to write. Patrick McGoohan had an impact on my life that few actors or other artists ever have. I remember well watching him as Dr. Christopher Syn in "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" as a child on The Wonderful World of Disney. I remember when I was just a little older watching him in Danger Man and The Prisoner. For me he was among the greatest actors to ever appear on television. There can be no doubt that he was versatile. One can simply look at the variety of roles he played to prove that. He played the cool, collected, and highly principled John Drake and Number Six (who may nor may not be the same character). He played the veterinarian who shuns sentimentality, only to have his spirit rekindled by a cat in The Three Lives of Thomasina. He played the unprincipled, power hungry King Edward in Braveheart (which was as far from the historical Edward Longshanks as one could get, but McGoohan did it well). Not only was Patrick McGoohan very versatile, but there is very little in which he appeared that I did not like. He seemed to have a bit of an instinct in finding good scripts much of the time, from the TV show Danger Man to the movie Mary, Queen of Scots. Whether as an actor or co-creator of The Prisoner, he certainly left his mark on film history.

As to myself, I cannot deny that Patrick McGoohan left his mark on me as well. He was among the first actors of whom I can really say I was aware. I have admired him since childhood. And I must admit that the principles he displayed as both Number Six and John Drake made me want to be a better person. At his passing I find myself very, very sad.


Jim Marquis said...

He was so great. I will always love the Prisoner.

Toby O'B said...

No one gave better line readings than Patrick McGoohan, and I include those actors like Olivier, Gielgud, Burton etc. There was music in the way he twisted his inflections.

Talking about versatility - one just has to look at his four different killers on 'Columbo' to see what a range he had. Especially in "Identity Crisis" as Nelson Brenner.

He was my favorite TV actor, #2 of my all-time favorites overall (Alec Guinness is Number One.)

I had a feeling a few days ago this was coming and voiced my concerns in Inner Toob. I wish I had been wrong.

God bless you, Sir. And thank you.