Thursday, March 5, 2015

Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner, Part 2, McGoohan "Had Extreme Catholic Views on Sexuality"

Patrick McGoohan in Danger Man

Also see Part 1 here.

The quote is from director David Cronenberg who directed McGoohan on the set of his classic horror film Scanners in 1981. More from Cronenberg at the end of this post. But first, let me take a few steps back...

A number of sources have dubbed McGoohan a "devout Catholic". In my experience that label is often misused by the secular media, often meaning almost the opposite of what it purports to mean--that so and so is a self-identified "Catholic" who is not devout (he or she has actually been divorced seven times or whatever). However, McGoohan was an attractive and charismatic actor who hit his stride in the 1960's and settled in Los Angeles but who was married to the same person for almost sixty years until his death. If that's not a tell, nothing is. Perhaps equally significant, he made potentially career ruining decisions about acting roles based on his Catholic beliefs. I'm not sure I know of another actor as prominent or even nearly as prominent where the same applies. Here is a relevant excerpt from an article on him in The Daily Express, published two years after his death, in turn based on Rubert Booth's biography:
A Prisoner of his Demons 
IN 1960 Patrick McGoohan was offered the role of James Bond in Dr No. 
He turned it down flat. The role went to Sean Connery, it made him an overnight star and spawned the world’s most famous movie franchise but McGoohan – who cemented his reputation playing the Bond-like character of John Drake in Sixties TV series Danger Man – never regretted his decision. 
While most men viewed Bond as an aspirational figure and most actors would have given their eye teeth for such a part McGoohan found the character contemptible and simplistic. It wasn’t just Bond’s cheapening of life with a Walther PPK which bothered him: he despised Bond’s attitude to women. He felt the same way about The Saint, a part he was offered ahead of Roger Moore and which he turned down for similar reasons. 
“I thought there was too much emphasis on sex and violence,” McGoohan said in the mid-Sixties of the Bond script. 
“It has an insidious and powerful influence on children. Would you like your son to grow up like James Bond? Since I hold these views strongly as an individual and parent I didn’t see how I could contribute to the very things to which I objected.” 
And it wasn’t just sour grapes at having turned down a role which could have given his family financial security for life. McGoohan may have had a profound work ethic and been widely admired for his abilities as an actor but his attitude towards the depiction of sex on screen was decidedly odd. 
He insisted that he would only take the part of secret agent John Drake if all salacious elements were removed and if the character was allowed to survive on his wits and fists rather than carry a gun. 
“I remember Pat being absolutely furious about one of the four pilot scripts,” recalls Ian Stuart Black, the writer of Danger Man, in a fascinating new biography of the mercurial actor who was born in New York in 1928 to Irish parents. 
“He was absolutely furious because I had him lying on a bed with a girl in order to open a safe which was behind the bed, nothing more. Pat was white faced with anger because of this apparently dishonest sexual implication.” 
But this reaction was typical says biographer Rupert Booth. “There are many similar stories of McGoohan’s heated objections to performing anything that could even remotely be considered sexual on screen,” he says. 
His attitudes may have been good news for his family but they brought him into conflict with his co-workers. 
“I was just amazed that a professional actor would not do what a professional actor should do, which is to do the story,” recalls Anthony Skene, another Danger Man writer, who witnessed McGoohan refusing to kiss a co-star. 
“You don’t let your personal foolishness get in the way but he certainly did.” 
McGoohan dismissed the criticisms. 
“Call me prissy Pat,” he once told an interviewer. “I see TV as the third parent. Every week a different girl? Served up piping hot for tea? With the children and grannies watching?” 
McGoohan’s unfashionable ideals could largely be explained by his unusual relationship with adored wife Joan – unusual by the standards of how an actor living and working in the Sixties was supposed to behave, that is. 
McGoohan was a fierce romantic and his devotion to Joan was legendary. During their 57-year marriage he wrote her love notes every day and it is believed he was always faithful. 
As a happily married man and a Catholic he made it clear he did not want his three daughters to see him engaged in a romantic liaison with another woman, even in a performance. 
“I have two guiding lights before me every second of my working day,” he once declared. “The first is my daughters. The second my religion.” 
His determination meant that Danger Man was produced to his satisfaction despite resistance from the highest levels to his “no guns, no girls” policy. 
“A high-powered sales and publicity executive arrived from New York to meet me for lunch in the studio restaurant. They wanted the guns and the girls reinstated. Without them they were convinced the series would be a resounding commercial flop.” 
McGoohan somehow persuaded the executive to let the series continue without them. “He went off and sold the completed series – minus sex and brutality – to 61 countries and they made a fortune, he later explained. 
Danger Man became a worldwide hit catapulting McGoohan to stardom...
Those linking to the Daily Express article will find that the piece goes on to describe McGoohan's drinking, his "dictatorial behavior" and a number of seemingly manic episodes of violence on the set of The Prisoner. Oh, heck, let's run those as well:
...However his dependency on alcohol was growing and in 1964 he was arrested for drink-driving. 
He spent six days in prison and was banned from driving for one year. 
HE WAS finding the conflict between his two lives increasingly difficult: the retiring family man and the workaholic actor. And the pressure was about to increase. The second series of Danger Man would make him the most highly paid television actor in the UK on £2,000 a week. 
“When an actor has a leading part in a thing like this it is all the more necessary for him to be more disciplined,” he said but behind the scenes he was struggling. 
“The Jekyll and Hyde persona that would characterise much of his time spent fi lming on his next and perhaps best-loved project, The Prisoner, were already in evidence, often linked to an over-indulgence in alcohol,” says Rupert Booth. 
Actor Gertan Klauber, who was in an episode of The Prisoner, revealed that McGoohan could take fight scenes far too far. After a lunch that “had gone on a little too long” the two actors rehearsed their scene. 
“Unfortunately I was struck several times,” says Klauber. “After the second take I said to McGoohan, ‘Please do not hit me because otherwise the whole thing will go into fisticuffs… there’s just a certain amount of pain you can take.’ And in fact it did develop in take three and four into a fighting match.” 
Booth turned up several examples of the actor being a very bad drunk. “While his conduct was mostly faultless in the outside world, with the notable exception of the drinkdriving conviction, it does seem that whilst working in the protective atmosphere of the set he was more liable to let his rock-solid self-control slip,” says Booth. 
As time went on his behaviour on set became increasingly erratic. He couldn’t tolerate the compromises of the production process and began drinking more heavily. 
ACTRESS Annette Andre, who had a part in The Prisoner, says she hated every second she spent working with McGoohan. “And that was down to Patrick. It’s no secret that I just loathed Patrick from the moment I started. I tried to be nice and he… doesn’t work with actresses at all well.” 
McGoohan’s dictatorial behaviour as star and co-creator of the cult show indicated he had little respect for other people’s feelings. As filming went on his temper became more prone to fraying and his actions more unpredictable. He was also averaging no more than two hours’ sleep a night and there were suggestions he was suffering from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression. 
“The suave and charming Dr Jekyll had metamorphosed fully into Mr Hyde with an overwhelming drive to make the show succeed at whatever cost,” says Booth. 
According to fellow actor Mark Eden, McGoohan – who died in 2009 aged 80 – was on the verge of mental collapse back then. “I think he was having a bit of a nervous breakdown to be honest. He was terribly uptight… he had a terrible row with the director on the set, screaming. And he sacked him.” 
Eden’s experience of McGoohan’s violence was terrifying. “There was a bit where he had to get on top of me and strangle me and I had to push him off… and he was really strangling me. I looked up and I could see these mad eyes looking down at me and I thought, ‘He’s gone, he’s gone…’ and his face was contorted with rage… and he’s a big man.” 
It took every ounce of his strength to push him off. Word of McGoohan’s ferocity on set spread and his career as it had been was over.
Well, obviously his career wasn't over (though it wouldn't be the conventional career of a leading man). It should also be noted that the final third of the Express article is a somewhat negative compression of Booth's material. Booth also cites other costars who had different impressions. Angela Browne who played Number 86 in "A Change of Mind", while remarking on McGoohan's "intensity" on the set of The Prisoner found the actor "smashing". Earlier, "actually I fell in love with him; I just adored him and he was so kind to me." (Booth used material from that interview here.)

Now here is the promised Cronenberg bit (from IMDb in 2011):
Movie and TV icon Patrick McGoohan had his Scanners co-star Jennifer O'Neill in tears on the set of the cult 1981 film by ripping into her for marrying three times. 
A fervent Catholic, The Prisoner star took exception to O'Neill's personal life and didn't hold back in letting her know. 
Director David Cronenberg recalls, "He had extreme Catholic views about sexuality, which came onto the set. 
"My leading lady... came to me incredibly distraught and said, 'Patrick said, 'Are you a whore? Are you a slut?' And he started to lay into her because she'd had, like, five husbands. 
"That was Patrick, and those were the things I had to deal with as a relatively young director. He was probably the most difficult actor I ever worked with, though he gave a fantastic performance." 
At the time, O'Neill had wed three times. She went on to marry another two men and has been wed to Mervin Louque since 1997.
One should be skeptical here, among other things because in my experience people hostile to Catholicism often, frankly, make up stuff like this (see two and three posts below). But assuming McGoohan said the words (or something like them) that O'Neill said he did, it would be hard to believe that there isn't some additional context to it, as if he would just walk up to his co-star and start insulting her. Then again, the actor did have a reputation for being difficult. Perhaps it was a Mel Gibson moment.

I hope readers--Prisoner fans, Catholics and non-Catholics will find the above material interesting. Some of it--the first part of that Express interview--should be inspiring to Catholics, while other parts will no doubt confirm the anti-Catholic view that many Catholics (or many male Catholics anyway) are belligerent alcoholic misogynists.

Don't blame me, man, I just report things.

In Part 3, I'll return to The Prisoner. Is it libertarian allegory, Catholic allegory, or just a brilliant television show? Or could it be all three?


  1. You really need to exercise a little more caution about what you believe from other people's stories. McGoohan was banned for a drink-driving offence at a time when the whole concept was almost brand-new. I think he was "breathlysed" and was one of the first to be so, as opposed to spotted driving dangerously, which up until then would have been the reason to be caught. But he was never put in prison for six days. This is Express balderdash... "six" days is the clue.... geddit? Lord knows how such tosh gets into the newpapers these days, but it does.

    O'Neill was quite famous back in the late 70's for having been married five times so I suspect that is the source of the tension. Related to that sort of thing, back in those days, another of McGoohan's co-stars in his TV days was Adrienne Corri. She was a single mother, which back then was highly unusual. She had been told McGoohan had "moral standards" and she told the anecdote that she saw him in the dressing-room area in the corridor and decided to take the bull by the horns. She says she shouted, "Hey McGoohan! I'm told you don't approve of me... well fuck you!" She says then that McGoohan laughed and they got along like a house on fire whilst filming the episodes she was in.

    I suspect that last story gives a better flavour of the man than some of this claptrap you've been reading in books.

  2. I see you never did part three. A shame.