Patrick McGoohan: A Life In Full
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2009 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
On January 14th, the news reported the death of two famous actors, Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan. Montalban had a distinguished career and was ahead of his time as one of the first Mexicans to break into movies in the 1940s. However, it was McGoohan who proved to be an even greater visionary with the creation of The Prisoner, a mini-series that depicted a dystopian future for society. It is a TV series that becomes more science and less fiction with each passing year. I wrote about the various card sets featuring McGoohan in issue #164 of The Wrapper, and also The Prisoner Autograph Series of cards by Cards, Inc. in issue #195. Unfortunately, the second part of that series (volume 2) was never released... until now! We'll examine that series in a moment, but first, more about the man who made The Prisoner possible: Patrick McGoohan.
Most people are surprised to discover that the British sounding McGoohan was actually born in Queens, New York in 1928. His Irish parents returned to the Emerald Isle six months later to try their hand at farming. After it proved unprofitable, they moved to Sheffield, England, one year before the outbreak of WW2. McGoohan was evacuated during the war to attend Ratcliffe college, and when he returned after the conflict, he was sixteen and looking for employment. He worked in a factory, a bank, he drove a truck, and he even became a hand on a chicken farm. He became the stage manager at the Sheffield Playhouse Theater, and when one of the actors became ill, he filled in, thus beginning his acting career. In 1951, he married Joan Drummond, a young actress whom he met there. The two enjoyed nearly sixty years of marriage and had three daughters.
McGoohan joined other repertory theatres to help pay for his growing family. He also expanded into doing bit parts for films. He was hired and groomed by the Rank studio as possible pin-up material and featured in several of their films. He received the Best Actor award for his TV play, The Greatest Man in the World. His strong performance in The Big Knife impressed TV mogul Lew Grade enough to put him under contract in 1960 for ATV's half hour spy series, Danger Man. (The one hour version of the series ran a few years later in the USA as Secret Agent Man, complete with the famous Johnny Rivers theme song of the same name.) McGoohan made several demands before joining the show. He insisted the hero, John Drake, use his brains before resorting to guns. He wanted every single fist fight to be different. (McGoohan was an accomplished boxer, and hated doing the same dumb fight over and over.) His most shocking demand was made in reverence to his wife and his Catholic faith: John Drake would be a secret agent who would not be involved in sex or even kissing! The first season of half hour stories were modestly successful but grew into cult status when it was discontinued. During that hiatus, McGoohan worked for Disney in the heart wrenching tale of a cat who brings a family together in The Three Lives of Thomasina . He also starred in Disney's three part TV mini-series about a swashbuckling Robin Hood type rogue, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. (It was soon released as a movie called Dr. Syn, alias The Scarecrow.)
McGoohan was approached about playing more secret agent characters, including 007 in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. McGoohan declined. Then he was asked to play Simon Templar in The Saint television series. Again, he refused, supposedly on moral grounds. Lew Grade asked if he would give John Drake another try. McGoohan agreed, but with more conditions. The show was lengthened to a full hour, and he was given stories that expanded his acting capabilities. The series took off and McGoohan became the highest paid actor in the UK at the time.
After 86 episodes, however, McGoohan wanted to move on. Lew Grade asked if there was any way to convince him to continue. McGoohan started telling him about a new concept he had for a series about a secret agent who knew too many secrets, and what would happen to him when he tried to retire. Grade told him he didn't understand what he had in mind, but the money would be in his account to start preparing for the series by Monday morning. And so The Prisoner was born. The mysterious series followed the Kafkaesque exploits of "Number Six", an agent who is kidnapped after resigning and taken to "The Village", a quaint settlement by the sea where no one is allowed to escape. He endures weekly subterfuge, via mind games, hypnosis, hallucinogenic drug treatments, identity challenges, and dream manipulation. The most effective form of control used by the Village is the subtle influence of society via isolation, indoctrination, rules, customs, and peer pressure. The mind bending mini-series lasted just 17 episodes, but it has grown in influence ever since. It was ranked #7 in the 2004 TV survey of the Top Rated Cult Shows Ever. ( Twilight Zone came in #8, and Dr. Who was #17.)
Of course, McGoohan went on to play more roles for movies and television. He starred in a very cold war thriller, Ice Station Zebra, along side Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine. (It was eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes' favorite movie, which he watched in a continuous loop dozens of times in his private hotel suite years prior to his death.) McGoohan played the villain in the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor comedy thriller, Silver Streak (1976). He was the prison warden in the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie, Escape From Alcatraz. He was the psycho-pharmacist in the 1981 David Cronenberg sci-fi classic, Scanners. McGoohan was a ruthless scientist in a 1985 dinosaur movie called Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend. He played the evil king in Mel Gibson's Braveheart (1995). In 1996, he was Judge Omar Noose in A Time To Kill, as well as the ghost of the super hero's father in the big budget adaptation of the comic strip, The Phantom . And speaking of comics, he joined Homer Simpson in a spoof of The Village in The Simpsons (2000). In other TV contributions, he played three different murderers opposite his friend Peter Falk in Columbo. (He won Emmys for two such episodes.) Falk said, "In all my years, I have never played a scene with another actor who commanded my attention the way Pat did." Many an audience had similar sentiments.
McGoohan died at the ripe old age of 80. He had just become a great grandfather last June. He didn't live to see the new version of The Prisoner . AMC has "re-imagined" the series and plans to release it this November, staring Jim Caviezel (Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) and Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings ). While waiting for that, we can still relive the original Prisoner series through the latest card series: The Prisoner trading cards Volume 2. This series was written by Roger Langley, who also helped Cards Inc write Volume One. Roger is well qualified for such a project. He's written several books about McGoohan, the latest being a biography called Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man or Prisoner? (Available at www.Tomahawkpress.com)
The new card set is a limited series produced for the Six Of One club, the official Prisoner Appreciation Society. It follows the same size and format of the first volume, but they are digitally printed and not glossy like the first series was. The numbering is restarted from 1 to 50. There are no autographs, wrappers or boxes like there were for the first series, but it does include two story synopsis cards for each of the remaining nine episodes excluded from Volume One. It also has nine vehicle cards, three special vehicle cards, nine "London People" cards, nine behind the scene cards, and a title and checklist card. For one more pound Sterling, you can also get four bonus cards and the two promos (adding six more cards to the 50 card base set).
The limited edition series of volume two can be ordered directly using paypal at:
But that's not all. Hardcore Prisoner cardboard collectors will also be interested in the five different "behind the scenes" photo sheets produced by Six Of One. Each 11 5/8" x 8 1/4" sheet contains 16 different publicity shots from the show. One of the five is in full color. There is no text on either side of the flimsy semi gloss sheets, just photos. Many of the black and white images are somewhat blurry, but it still gives a clearer picture of how the series was made. The set retails for 5.5 pounds sterling.
Much more collectable are the 17 different episode sheets of The Prisoner . These sheets are the same size as the others, but glossy and stiffer, and each photograph is numbered from 1 to 204. There are twelve black and white photos per sheet, and they have no text on the reverse. Below the clear photos, however, are the card number and the episode it is from. Each of the Prisoner's 17 episodes has an entire sheet devoted to it. There are perforation marks along the outside border to show collectors where to cut the edge (should they decide to cut out the cards). The bottom of each sheet also contains some fine print that states, among other things, that they are "produced by Roger Langely for Six Of One, The Prisoner Appreciation Society." I saw these sheets offered separately on eBay for $20 each, but you can order all 17 of them for just 15.5 pounds if you buy them directly from Six Of One. (You can get the other five sheets there as well.) The web address is:
McGoohan wasn't just a handsome actor playing parts that someone else would have filled if he wasn't around. He was the driving force behind a unique series that would never have existed without him. He certainly wasn't a number, but a true individual. Perhaps the best way to say farewell is to remember him by watching his remarkable contributions to TV and film. Or, as they say in The Village, "Be seeing you!"
For more on Patrick McGoohan, visit Roger Langely's site at:
www.patrickmcgoohan.org.uk and www.dangerman.org.uk
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