Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patrick McGoohan


Though born in New York, McGoohan was raised in the UK and retained a British flair throughout his career. In his younger years, he had some success on stage, winning the London Drama Critics Award for Ibsen's Brand. In 1964, he was tagged to play the title role of secret agent Danger Man, which was renamed Secret Agent in the United States and spawned a hit theme song. His next television project is the one for which he will be most remembered. For only 17 episodes, he played the enigmatic "Number Six" in The Prisoner, a series which he helped create and write. The show resonated with the cold war generation's paranoia, and is now a cult classic. The opening credits explain it all for you:

I remember being alternately confused, intrigued, and frustrated with this series, but I never missed an episode. (Available on DVD, it's now fun to catch all the different British actors playing "Number Two," a role which changed frequently as each inhabitant of that bulbous chair failed in his mission to break the will of our hero.)

The Prisoner was not my first encounter with McGoohan. I experienced nightmares after watching his performance in a Disney TV movie, of all things. The piece was The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, in which he played a priest who disguised himself as a scarecrow and avenged things. I was only 7 when I saw it, but it ruined scarecrows for me (sorry, Ray Bolger). I'm still unnerved by them.

In his later years, McGoohan maintained a presence on the big and small screen. He played King Edward I in Braveheart, and the Earl of Moray, the bastard brother of Mary, Queen of Scots. He won two Emmy awards, 16 years apart, for guest shots on Columbo. But there is no doubt he will be most famously remembered as the spy who tried to quit, tried to run, but was sequestered in the eerily charming Village of The Prisoner, where everyone had a number rather than a name.

"Be seeing you."