Guest Actor Biography
Page 75 of 127

   

Jack MacGowran

Professor Poole, The Winged Avenger

by Pete Stampede

One of my favourite actors, the splendid Jack MacGowran, was then specialising in mad professors, as in Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers/Dance of the Vampires. The way he reacts to Steed and Emma in this, his head and body twitching and the way he says "Peel - Poole!" are pure joy. He could carry off these marvellously daft roles just as well as illuminating the bleak vision of Samuel Beckett on stage. In fact, he established a close personal relationship with Beckett. Born in 1918 and a native Dubliner who, like Beckett and James Joyce, had to leave that city in order to gain wider recognition.

MacGowran's film career started in Ireland with the film No Resting Place. By 1954 he had moved to London, and was actually in The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon at the same time as Diana Rigg; he didn't greatly enjoy his time there, but struck up a lasting friendship with Peter O'Toole. The first London production of Beckett's Endgame brought him acclaim early in the 60's, then Polanski cast him as a drowning gangster in Cul-de-Sac, before creating the mad Professor Abronsius in Vampires especially for him. MacGowran was yet another loony scientist in Wonderwall (1968), a little-known 60's oddity with a score by George Harrison. All the while, films included Tom Jones, Doctor Zhivago and King Lear, while TV included Silent Song (1966), The Champions, "Happening" (1968) written by Brian Clemens, and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), "The Ghost Talks" (1970). He devised a one-man performance of Beckett's works, Beginning to End, and played it around the world to great critical success; touching down in America, he did an episode of Banacek, "No sign of the Cross" (1972—oh, why couldn't it have been Columbo!) and had a role as a boozy director in the latter-day horror classic The Exorcist (1973). Sadly, just as he seemed to be making his mark in the States, he died from an angina problem; regrettably but inevitably, his death was interpreted by some as proof of the so-called Exorcist curse. According to a fine biography of him, The Beckett Actor by Jordan R. Young, MacGowran, aptly for this episode, was a great watcher of cartoons and liked borrowing physical mannerisms from characters, his favourite being Sylvester the Cat! I think that can be spotted here.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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