Pleasence was a master of offbeat roles and was known for giving the
most demanding parts the attention and verve needed to make them memorable
and to establish himself as one of the most sought after performers
on both sides of the Atlantic. Donald Pleasence was born to Thomas
Stanley and Alice Pleasence on October 5, 1919 in Worksop, Nottinghamshire,
England. The younger of two sons of a railway stationmaster, Pleasence
quit school a year before graduation to pursue his childhood dream
of becoming an actor. He soon found himself accepted into the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Art, but was unable to attend, because he failed
to win a scholarship that would cover both tuition and living expenses.
After spending a year and a half as a railway station manager at Swinton
in Yorkshire, Pleasence became assistant stage manager at the Playhouse
on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands.
was first seen on the London stage in a 1939 production of Wuthering
Heights. When war came he decided to enlist in the Royal Air Force,
however tragedy struck when his plane was shot down over France, and
he found himself imprisoned in a POW camp. He was eventually freed
and discharged with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
his career after the war, Pleasence eventually came to New York in
the company of Laurence Olivier in 1950, appearing in Caesar and Cleopatra.
And although he began appearing in films in 1954, Pleasence's British
fame during the '50s was the result of his television work, notably
a recurring role as Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood from
1955-1958. He also co-starred in TV productions of The Millionairess,
Man in a Moon, and Call Me Daddy. Voted British television actor of
the year in 1958, Pleasence produced and hosted the 1960 series Armchair
Mystery Theatre, before creating the stage role for which he was best
remembered: Davies, the menacing tramp in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.
The actor revived the character throughout his career, appearing as
Davies for the last time in 1991.
was fortunate enough to be associated with the massive success of
The Great Escape in 1963. He played a role as a RAF officer who ends
up in a Luftwaffe POW camp. Ironically this is exactly what had happened
to him twenty years earlier! Clearly a role which he would have had
experience in and would have enjoyed. The spin off success led to
a wealth of American film offers. Four years later, the actor portrayed
arch criminal Ernst Blofeld in the James Bond film 'You Only Live
Twice' - the first time that the scarred face of the secretive character
was seen onscreen in the Bond series.