Thursday, January 15, 2009

"I am not a number, I am a free man!"

Patrick McGoohan
March 19th, 1928 to January 13th, 2009

Today marks the passing of actor Patrick McGoohan best known for his portrayal of "Number 6" on the popular and significant television program The Prisoner. As I recall in those days, The Prisoner was a summer replacement of those television programs that network executives had slim faith that it would bring in any was just a filler until the Fall season started. As it turned out, The Prisoner was a significant and well-done television series and even did a rerun stint on PBS. The content and theme of the series far transcended Patrick McGoohan's role as a British spy. It is more a study of technology and the funneling of power into a succinct entity and where citizens have no names that make us unique and human, but simply digital representations.

"Patrick McGoohan dies at 80; TV's 'Secret Agent' and 'Prisoner'"

The actor often played villains on TV and in movies. But he gained his greatest fame as the TV spy John Drake. He also won two Emmys for 'Columbo.'


Dennis McLellan

January 15th, 2009

The Los Angeles Times

Patrick McGoohan, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor who starred as a British spy in the 1960s TV series "Secret Agent" and gained cult status later in the decade as the star of the enigmatic series "The Prisoner," has died. He was 80.

McGoohan, whose career involved stage, screen and TV, died Tuesday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica after a short illness, said Cleve Landsberg, McGoohan's son-in-law. The family did not provide further details.

It was the height of James Bond mania in 1965 when McGoohan showed up on American TV screens in "Secret Agent," a British-produced series in which he played John Drake, a special security agent working as a spy for the British government.

The hourlong series, which ran on CBS until 1966, was an expanded version of “Danger Man,” a short-lived, half-hour series on CBS in 1961 in which McGoohan played the same character.

But it was McGoohan's next British-produced series, "The Prisoner," on CBS in 1968 and 1969, that became a cult classic that spawned fan clubs, conventions and college study.

Once described in The Times as an "espionage tale as crafted by Kafka," "The Prisoner" starred McGoohan as a presumed British agent who, after resigning his top-security job, is abducted in London and taken to a mysterious prison resort called the Village.

Known only as No. 6, he is interrogated by a succession of officials who are known as No. 2. But he refuses all methods of breaking him down to reveal his past or why he resigned, and he repeatedly makes failed attempts to escape.

The seemingly idyllic village contains "seeing eyes" that monitor activities and signs such as "A Still Tongue Makes a Peaceful Life."

McGoohan co-created and executive-produced the series, which ran for only 17 episodes, as well as wrote and directed several episodes.

In a 1967 interview with The Times, he described the series as "Brave New World" stuff.

"Nobody has a name, everyone wears a number," he said. "It's a reflection of the pressure on all of us today to be numbered, to give up our individualism. This is a contemporary subject, not science fiction. I hope these things will be recognized by the audience. It's not meant to be subtle. It's meant to say: This little village is our world."

Of the enduring cult status of the series, McGoohan once said: "Mel [Gibson] will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a number."

McGoohan, who reportedly turned down an offer to be the big screen's original James Bond, appeared in films such as "The Three Lives of Thomasina," "Mary, Queen of Scots," "Silver Streak," "Escape From Alcatraz," "Scanners," "Ice Station Zebra" and Gibson's "Braveheart," in which he played England's sadistic King Edward I.

In his review of "Braveheart" in The Times, critic Peter Rainer wrote: "Patrick McGoohan is in possession of perhaps the most villainous enunciation in the history of acting."

As a guest star on Peter Falk's TV detective series "Columbo," McGoohan won Emmys in 1975 and 1990.

Falk once described McGoohan, who also occasionally worked as a director and writer on the "Columbo" mysteries, as being "mesmerizing" as an actor.

"There are many very, very talented people in this business, but there are only a handful of genuinely original people," Falk told the Hollywood Reporter in 2004. "I think Patrick McGoohan belongs in that small select group of truly original people."

He was born to Irish parents in the Astoria section of Queens, N.Y., on March 19, 1928. Some months later, his family returned to Ireland, where he grew up on a farm before moving to Sheffield, England, when he was 7.

In the late '40s, after working a number of jobs, he became a stage manager at Sheffield Repertory Theatre, where he soon launched his acting career.

In 1951, he married actress Joan Drummond, with whom he had three daughters, Catherine, Anne and Frances.

In 1959, he received a London Drama Critics Award for his performance in a London stage production of Ibsen's "Brand."

On television, McGoohan also starred in the short-lived 1977 medical drama "Rafferty."

Sharif Ali, McGoohan's agent, said McGoohan had been writing and had two acting offers on the table before he died.

"He really didn't talk much about his illness," said Ali. "We were too busy talking about his future; he was excited to get back to work. He had so much more to give."

In addition to his wife and daughters, McGoohan is survived by five grandchildren and a great-grandson.

"Patrick McGoohan, Star of 'The Prisoner,' Dies at 80"


Douglas Martin

January 15th, 2009

The New York Times

Patrick McGoohan, a multifaceted actor who spun television legend by creating and starring in the 1960s program "The Prisoner," a mysterious allegory about a mysterious man in a mysterious seaside village that became a cult classic, died on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles. He was 80.

His death was announced on the Web site of Six of One — the Prisoner Official Appreciation Society,, of which Mr. McGoohan was the honorary president for 32 years. His agent, Sharif Ali, said Mr. McGoohan had died suddenly after a brief illness.

Mr. McGoohan's career ranged from success on the stages of London’s West End to starring in a popular spy series called "Secret Agent" in the United States. He was critically praised for his King Edward I in Mel Gibson's 1995 film "Braveheart" and won Emmys as a guest star on "Colombo" in 1975 and 1990.

But it was as the lead character in "The Prisoner," identified only as No. 6, that he struck a remarkable chord with audiences, one that has continued to reverberate in re-runs, festivals, university courses, doctoral theses and a quarterly magazine — all on the strength of just 17 episodes. The show's legions of interpreters have perceived elements of the cold war, mob mentality, mind control and more in the show.

Broadcast on CBS in 1968 and 1969, "The Prisoner" tells the story of an unnamed spy who resigns his position and is then gassed in his apartment as he packs his bags. He wakes up in the Village, a resortlike community that is actually a high-tech prison. In each episode, No. 6 struggles with the camp authority figure, No. 2, who pressures him to say why he resigned. No. 2 is played by a different actor each time.

At the beginning of each episode, No. 6 declares: "I am not a number. I am a free man."

"The Prisoner" remains "one of the most enigmatic and fascinating series ever produced for television" the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago said on its Web site, adding that some critics believe it to be "television’s first masterpiece."

A question that has long intrigued fans is whether "The Prisoner" grew directly out of "Danger Man," as "Secret Agent" was known in Britain. "Danger Man" began in London in 1960, then ran briefly on CBS in 1961 as a half-hour show before becoming an hourlong show on CBS in the mid-1960s.

A 1964 episode had Mr. McGoohan's character, John Drake, infiltrating a spy school in the middle of nowhere that the instructors had scant hope of leaving. Did Drake later materialize as No. 6?

Mr. McGoohan always said no, although three episodes of "Danger Man" were shot at the Hotel Portmeirion resort, a series of fantasy buildings on the Welsh seacoast, which he acknowledged was an inspiration for the Village. He said in 1977 that boredom with "Danger Man" had inspired him to create "The Prisoner," for which he wrote and directed some episodes.

Patrick Joseph McGoohan was born on March 19, 1928, in Astoria, Queens. When he was 6 months old, his parents returned to their native Ireland, then to Sheffield, England, when farming proved unprofitable. He dropped out of school at 16 and took jobs where he could find them, like working on a chicken farm.

Aspiring to the theater, Mr. McGoohan started as a stagehand at the Sheffield Playhouse and worked his way up to leading man. He went on to become well-known for Ibsen and Shakespeare roles and earned praise for his performance in 1955 in a West End production of "Moby Dick Rehearsed," written and directed by Orson Welles. In 1951, he married Joan Drummond, an actress. She survives him, along with three daughters, Catherine, Anne and Frances; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

In the 1950s, Mr. McGoohan did a series of films for the Rank Organization, a British movie company. By the time he was the popular star of "Danger Man," Mr. McGoohan was the highest-paid television actor in Britain.

Mr. McGoohan's many film roles included a doctor in David Cronenberg's 1981 film "Scanners," itself a cult classic. In 1977, he starred in the television series "Rafferty" as a retired Army doctor adjusting to civilian life. He appeared on Broadway only once, in 1985, as a British spy in Hugh Whitmore's "Pack of Lies," for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk award as best actor.

In 2000, Mr. McGoohan reprised his role as No. 6, at least in voice, in an episode of "The Simpsons." Homer Simpson, as No. 5, stole No. 6's boat and escaped.

"R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner's TV Visionary"


Scott Thill

January 14th, 2009


"I am not a number, I am a free man!" Patrick McGoohan's character Number Six shouted at the panoptic eye in the sky at the beginning of every episode of the revolutionary '60s sci-fi TV series The Prisoner. And although the character would come to dominate McGoohan's life and even chase him out of London following the series' controversial 1968 finale, "Fall Out," McGoohan is a prisoner no longer.

The actor died Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 80, a still-underrated legend whose influence will no doubt grow larger as this still-new millennium unfurls.

A cosmopolitan iconoclast in an entertainment world still teeming with conformists, McGoohan was known for both his brawn and brains, a rare combination. Born in Queens, New York, in 1928, his family soon moved to Ireland and eventually England, where McGoohan made his name.

He excelled in boxing and math at Ratcliffe College, and worked a variety of odd jobs before landing a gig as a stagehand at Sheffield Repertory Theatre, where he not only kick-started a brilliant stage career but also met the love of his life, actress Joan Drummond. According to popular lore, McGoohan continued to write her love letters even as old age beckoned, and remained loyal to his family until his final days.

It was perhaps that utterly romantic commitment, along with the fact that he first studied to become a Roman Catholic priest, that caused McGoohan to eschew violence and promiscuity once he became one of the most popular actors in England, after his first major series Danger Man (also known as Secret Agent Man in the United States) landed in 1960.

Unlike the brusque heavies he played in films like 1957's Hell Drivers or plays like Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew or Orson Welles' Moby Dick Rehearsed, Danger Man's John Drake was the ultimate cool customer, a globe-hopping fixer for NATO who nearly always solved major geopolitical tangles with brainy stratagems rather than sex or violence. McGoohan's resolute morality would eventually pave the way for others to become stars: He passed up both the roles of James Bond and The Saint's Simon Templar, opening doors for Roger Moore.

When Danger Man was resuscitated as an hour-long thriller in 1964, McGoohan flexed his muscle further, demanding more room to act, sharper plots and more friction with his superiors, which set the stage for the intelligence showdowns that would serve as the thematic center of every Prisoner episode.

He also became one of the highest-paid actors in England, which he parlayed into roles in spooky Disney films like Dr. Syn, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and The Three Lives of Thomasina. Along the way, he impressed nearly without fail. Welles called his acting "intimidating;" billionaire Howard Hughes obsessively watched Ice Station Zebra, a nuclear thriller in which McGoohan appeared alongside Rock Hudson, Jim Brown and more; Secret Agent Man's eponymous musical theme, performed by Johnny Rivers, became a pop hit. He could do no wrong.

That is, until the controversial 1968 finale of The Prisoner, which — like the later cliffhangers of similar envelope-pushing programs like David Lynch's Twin Peaks or J.J. Abrams Lost — confounded conventional expectation and stoked a viewer outrage that McGoohan admits led him to leave London for Los Angeles for good. (For an extended analysis of Danger Man and The Prisoner's cultural influence, read's feature, eerily published hours before McGoohan passed.)

As McGoohan would later explain of the destabilizing conclusion of The Prisoner in a 1984 retrospective: "If I could do it again, I would. As long as people feel something, that's the great thing. It's when they are walking around not thinking and not feeling, that's tough. When you get a mob like that, you can turn them into the sort of gang that Hitler had."

From the outset, McGoohan constructed The Prisoner as an escape vehicle designed to tease brains and incite response. Its main character, Number Six, was, like John Drake, an intelligence agent, but one tired of the grind and looking to retire, much like McGoohan when he dreamed up the character after expressing a desire to leave Danger Man. He conceived the series nearly on his own, and wrote and directed several episodes, including some of the finest: "Many Happy Returns" and the last two episodes "Once Upon a Time" and "Fall Out." When he first thought up the influential series, McGoohan wrote a 50-page Prisoner bible that explained everything actors, producers and other principals needed to know.

And there was a lot to know, given that the show skewed television stranger than most anything that had aired at the time, including The Twilight Zone. Though designed to last only a few episodes, The Prisoner's popularity and bravery stretched the show's run to 17, with the later installments like "Living in Harmony" and "The Girl Who Was Death" head-tripping off into the Western genre and surrealism, respectively.

From technological nightmares of surveillance and murderous inventions like the balloon Rovers to brain transplants and Clockwork Orange-like torture, The Prisoner challenged viewer expectation and experience with every episode. The Prisoner was an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.

"I must have individuality in everything I do. It's not easy to find it always," McGoohan once explained. "I question everything. I don't accept anything on face value."

After The Prisoner's astounding conclusion, McGoohan left the madding crowd ironically for Los Angeles, where he continued to work in television and film. He won two Emmys for his work on Columbo, whose star Peter Falk was one of his good friends. He appeared in films like Braveheart, Treasure Planet and David Cronenberg's sci-fi crossover Scanners. He even lampooned The Prisoner in The Simpsons. But it was clear that McGoohan was picking and choosing his work after more than two decades of stunning productivity and cultural influence. And although director Nick Hurran and producer Trevor Hopkins tried hard to involve McGoohan in their forthcoming miniseries reboot of The Prisoner, due in November, his declining health made that a near impossibility.

Perhaps it is fate or coincidence that as Hurran and Hopkins previewed scenes from the 2009 version of The Prisoner last week in Hollywood, McGoohan had succumbed to an illness that would take his life mere miles away. But whatever it is, the fact remains that television has lost one of its most compelling, honorable stars.

Rest in peace, Patrick McGoohan. Your mark on the 20th century simply cannot be ignored. Your influence on the 21st century has yet to be fully measured, but when it is, one thing is sure: You will be more missed than the day you left us all.

Not science's fault

Science and Government

Survival & freedom in America

As a bonus, I have the first seven televised scripts from a total of seventeen episodes.

Episode One--"Arrival"

Episode Two--"The Chimes of Big Ben"

Episode Three--"A, B and C"

Episode Four--"Free For All"

Episode Five--"The Schizoid Man"

Episode Six--"The General"

Episode Seven--"Many Happy Returns"

And watch this documentary...

The Prisoner - The Human Condition

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

New Danger Man forum to discuss Patricks work on the show