Delicious Villainy: Donald Pleasance remembered

Donald Pleasance“My father was Italian; he provided the wine. My mother was English; she provided the breeding.”   These delicious lines were murmured by that wonderful British actor Donald Pleasance (1919-1995) in “Any Old Port in a Storm”, a 1973 episode of the Colombo television series.

Moments later, Pleasance’s character (California wine grower Adrian Carsini) bashes in the head of his wastrel brother Rick (actor Gary Conway), leaving viewers to speculate from which side of the family this bit of violence arose. Pleasance (Carsini) then leaves the body in his study while he polishes off a bottle of rare Bordeaux with a group of fellow wine enthusiasts.

I had been relaxing the other day from a seven-mile run, my feet elevated for more rapid detoxification, flirting with my catalog of prerecorded programs, when I saw that that Pleasance, whose dastardliness has always been delightful to me, was starring in this particularly one.

The decision was made and I spent the next two hours

Best known for his portrayal of the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, and Dr. Loomis in the Halloween series of scare flicks, Pleasance came by his acting successful career the hard way. The son of working class parents from Worksop, a town in the coal mining region of Nottinghamshire, he matriculated at Ecclesfield Grammar, a Yorkshire school endowed for the purpose of educating working-class children. It was at Ecclesfield that he received the intensive elocution lessons that would allowed him to develop his signature accent that served him throughout his acting career.

MV5BMjIxMjQ3MjQ3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDE2OTk5MTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_After leaving school, he found work backstage and small acting roles with regional repertory companies, eventually making his way to London, where he made his debut as Valentine in Shakespeare Twelfth Night.

Like many of his generation, Pleasance did his patriotic duty during World War II, serving in the Royal Air Force. In April of 1944, his Lancaster bomber was shot down over France and he was captured and tortured by the Germans. Pleasance’s talent as an actor allowed him to overcome the lack of formal dramatic training and after the war, he found numerous roles on the stage, in film and television. Portraying evil characters, he often found himself playing opposite other great actors.

Besides playing Blofeld to Sean Connery’s James Bond, other notable villains portrayed by Pleasance are the serial killer and title character Dr. Crippen (1962); Lucifer in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), opposite Max von Sydow; the sadistic Preacher Quint in Will Penny (1968) opposite Charlton Heston; the twisted Doc Tydon in the classic Australian film Wake in Fright (1971), and Nazi butcher Himmler Heinrich Himmler in The Eagle has Landed (1976), starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.

Pleasance’s stage, television and filmography credits are too numerous to mention but if you have cable television and your provider allows you to search for actors, just type in his name on your remote. A movie or TV episode is bound to pop up. Then kick back and enjoy.

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