The following memory is from a letter that I received from the great British playwright Simon Gray. Gray worked with Pleasence on the 1972 Broadway production of his play WISE CHILD. Very special thanks to Mr. Gray for taking time to pay tribute to the "Man with the Hypnotic Eye."
Dear Christopher Weedman,
One of the more distressing episodes in my career was the failure of WISE CHILD, starring Donald Pleasence, on Broadway in 1972. The distress was not as much on my own account (for once), as for Donald, whose performance I consider as not only one of the greatest I've seen in any play of mine, but one of the greatest I've seen on any stage, tout court. He brought such wit, invention and pathos to the part. Above all, he brought it straight to the audience without fear or shame. A triumph of naked exposure through consummate technical skills. Many years later, he was still wounded that so few people had seen how large, in every sense of the word, he could be as an actor.
The play's rejection by the reviewers certainly contributed to his decision to stay away from the commercial theatre for many years. It also induced in him, I think, a cynicism about the future possibilities of his career, which led to an almost endless sequence of films that embarrassed him even more than they enriched him. It was a joy to his friends and many admirers that he reappeared, towards the end of his life, on stage in an extraordinary re-rendering of the part that had first made him famous in Harold Pinter's THE CARETAKER; and also that he won a vast new audience, not simply for his acting but for his sheer lovability, in the television version of BARCHESTER TOWERS.
For me, as for all his friends, I think, lovability was of Donald's essence. Well read, extremely intelligent, a delightful and continuously funny drinking companion, he was full of the kind of sweetness and affection through which one could see the happy child. His curse, I suppose, was a face so unique that it could make him a fortune by giving distinction to undemanding--sometimes rather demeaning--roles.
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