Donald Pleasence was a stage, film and television actor who made a name, a career and left legacies in the UK and in Holywood. He passed away in 1995 after decades and hundreds of acting. Here are all the facts you need to know about the lifetime and career of the star.
Donald Pleasence – birth and early life
Donald Pleasence was born on October 5, 1919, in a place called Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England. He was born to Thomas Stanley Pleasence, a railway stationmaster, and his wife. They raised their son in a strict Methodist way in a village called Grimoldby, Lincolnshire. He studied at Crosby Junior School, Scunthorpe, and Ecclesfield Grammar School, in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.
After his high school, Pleasence began working as a clerk in South Yorkshire Railway. He was all set to become and end up like his father and grandfather and brother who were railway workers (this is not to look down on anyone or occupation but) this wasn’t what Donald wanted. He decided to look elsewhere.
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Young Pleasence chose acting and joined the Jersey Repertory Company in 1939. World War 2 disrupted things. At first, Donald refused to enlist and fight Hitler citing conscientious objection. But the Luftwaffe crossed the English Channel and bombed the country heavily. To defend his homeland, Pleasence joined the Royal Air Force. He flew dozens of flights mostly across enemy lines.
In August 1944, he was shot down and was captured by the Germans.
Donald Pleasence’s career began in the prisoner of war camp where the Germans were kind enough to allow the prisoners some sorts of entertainment. After the war, with Europe in ruins and England in recession and a sizeable number of the population crippled, depressed or both, Pleasence returned to the theatre, in Bristol and Birmingham, to make a living and help lift the gloomy cloud hovering over their common head.
We find Wikipedia’s description of him revealing: “Endowed with a bald head, a penetrating stare, and an intense voice, usually quiet but capable of a piercing scream, he specialized in portraying insane, fanatical, or evil characters…” He began his career on set in a film titled the “Beachcomber”, the first of more than 230 screen credits (not counting stage credits) to come in a career that spanned five decades. Some of his best-known credits lived up to the above definition. In 1976, he acted Hitler lieutenant, Henrich Himmler in the film “The Eagle Has Landed”. He was the villain in the Bond film “You Only Live Twice” from 1967 and Dr. Evil in the “Austin Power” film series.
It wasn’t all evil from him. RAF Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in The Great Escape in 1963. In 1981, he acted the US president in the American dystopian science fiction film titled “Escape from New York”. And even his most known character, Dr. Samuel Loomis, in “Halloween” the horror/slasher film series. In all, Pleasence reprised this role in five of the films, the last being “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” in 1989.
Pleasence has his share of TV credits, in fact, dozens of them including series and TV films. But he was more of a movie star and he mostly has one or two episodic appearances. The highest number of episodes he played in any singular show was as Reverend Septimus Harding in “The Barchester Chronicles” on BBC in the early 1980s. Although, between 1957 and 1967 he played various roles in “Armchair Theater” the anthology series on ITV.
Pleasence made a name for himself on stage. This was where he began, and when he made the transition to Hollywood, he didn’t abandon his roots as he made several trips to the other coast to awe theatergoers on Broadway. His role in Harold Pinter’s play “The Caretaker” has remained one of the legendary performances on both London stages and Broadway.
Donald Pleasence – family
Donald Pleasence was married four times. His first marriage was to Mariam Raymond an English Actress who was born three years before Donald. They wedded in 1941 while World War 2 was raging. The marriage produced two children including Angela Pleasence who was born in 1941 and went on to become a decent actress at home and in Hollywood. She acted as one of her father’s daughters in “The Barchester Chronicles.” The marriage between Donald and Raymond ended in divorce in 1958.
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Pleasence married again. His second marriage was to in the following year to Josephine Crombie a Scottish actress. As with his earlier marriage, this union produced two kids. They divorced in 1970. In the same year he got married to Meira Shore, also an actress. They broke up and divorced in 1988 after one child.
In all, Mr. Pleasence fathered five daughters. His last marriage was in 1988 to Linda J. Kentwood. They remained married till his death in 1995.
Cause of death
Donald Pleasence died on 2nd February 1995 in his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Southern France. According to the New York Times who quoted his agent, Tessa Sutherland, his death was unexpected and came after he had recovered from surgery in December 1994 to replace a valve in his heart.
Donald was 75 years old when he passed away. He left behind a fortune of 10 million dollars.
Image source: bfi.org.uk