Patrick McGoohan was born in New York City, on Long Island on March 19, 1928. His parents had immigrated to the United States, and a few months after his birth, decided to return to Ireland. They settled in County Leitrim, his early childhood was a relatively poor one on a family farm that proved to have poor soil. He went to a local school in Sheffield and recalls, "We were evacuated during the war. During that time, I went to a private boys' school with four other boys from Sheffield, all with pretty much the same background as myself. We had scholarships and evacuation allowances. After that, I went to work in the steel mills in Sheffield. He got a school certificate, the equivalent of a diploma and passed the exams to go to Oxford, but then said he decided, "I didn't want to go."
Patrick McGoohan is often described as 'enigmatic'...the definition of which means puzzling, mysterious, inexplicable, ambiguous. McGoohan can also be described as showing great warmth, humour, and kindness as well as a volatile temper, stubbornness, and impatience. He is well known for his strong desire for privacy and his need to follow his own individuality. McGoohan has plenty of his own opinions to convey, yet is reclusive. In short, he is a man with genuine and individual talent.
In 1944, at the age of 16, he left school and took various jobs over the next few years. During this time he became ill with bronchial asthma and spent six months in bed. Once recovered, he applied for work at the Sheffield Repertory Company. He was still under 20.
He recalls, "I worked in the steel mills, in a bank for about nine months, ran a chicken farm for a while, and then I got the job at the Sheffield Playhouse as the general stage manager. During all of the steel mill work, banking, and chicken farming, I was in five different amateur theatrical companies, so I was acting all of the time. I started out at the St. Vincent's Youth Center in Sheffield."
Patrick McGoohan took the job as stage manager at the Sheffield Repertory Theatre and for a while did every type of work needed to keep the company going. He also got the chance to play small parts in the plays that were being produced and he could learn the basics of acting under a master, Geoffrey Ost, the Director of the Company. Within two years he was a leading player. He also met a young actress with the company, Joan Drummond. They married May 19, 1951, between a rehearsal of "The Taming of the Shrew" and a performance of "The Rivals." He estimates that he appeared in at least 200 plays during all of his early years.
By the mid-1950's, he had become established as a lead player on prestige stages at the West End in plays such as "Moby Dick" (1955), "Serious Charge" (1955), and "Ring for Catty" (1956). At the same time he was also moving into television, taking feature roles in episodes of regular series, including "The Vise,"and "You Are There," as well as a number of BBC Tv plays. In 1955, Patrick McGoohan appeared in his first film, "Passage Home", although only in a small part he quickly followed with other brief appearances in "I am a Camera" (1955), "The Dam Busters" (1955), "The Warrior" (1955, also titled "The Dark Avenger"), and a supporting part in "Zarak" (1956).
In 1957 he became a contract actor for the Rank Organization, a major film company in England, and moved up into lead roles in films. While he was working for Rank he starred in a number of BBC-Tv live plays and it was in large part these performances that brought the recognition that served as a step-up to his first television series.
The Ibsen play "Brand" brought about a dramatic rise in Patrick McGoohan's career. McGoohan achieved critical success, winning the London Drama Critics Award for his performance (Variety, 7/8/59). He repeated the role later in the year on a special BBC-Tv broadcast of the play.
In the same year he was recognised as Britain's top stage actor, he was also named "Best TV Actor of the Year" for his starring role as the first man on the moon in the BBC-Tv play "The Greatest Man in the World." Another BBC-Tv play "The Big Knife" (1959), was of great importance to his career, it lead to an offer from Lew Grade to do the "Danger Man" series.
Danger Man was made in 1960 and 1961 (and shown in the U.S. in 1961). The series established the style and theme for what a few years later would become the highly successful "Secret Agent" series. The main character John Drake worked for NATO as a special security agent and was free to travel the world working on special problems for free world governments. The story lines set an early precedent for nonviolence, preferring to have Drake use his wits and his fists rather than a gun.
As both a moral and opinionated man, McGoohan held strong views and was forceful about seeing that they were carried out. At the very first script meeting about the initial episode he insisted that the bedroom scene be cut out. He made it clear that romantic scenes would have to be removed if he were to play the role, and consequently none appeared in either this series or the "Secret Agent" series that followed. Nor did any such relationships appear in "The Prisoner" series.
It will come of no surprise to learn that when McGoohan was offered the role as the first James Bond, he turned it down - several times - as being incompatable with the type of role he wanted to play. He says it was a decision he has never regretted. Although McGoohan fans would have loved to see him in the role I'm sure.
After the end of "Danger Man" in 1961, over the next couple of years McGoohan went on to star in some exceptional films and appear in various televised plays. In 1961, he appeared in "All Night Long," (a film with an "Othello" theme) playing an arrogant and neurotic jazz band drummer willing to do whatever it takes to get the backing for his own band.
The film version of the serious and emotional Brendan Behan play, "The Quare Fellow," was next, with McGoohan in the lead role as Thomas Crimmin, a young prison guard getting his first real experience and who changes his mind about capital punishment. Two films for Walt Disney Studios followed: "The Three Lives of Thomasina" (1962) and "Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow" (1963; also shown on American television as the three part "Scarecrow of Romney Marsh").
By the time "Danger Man" resumed production in 1964, spy stories were all the rage and the series became a big hit. Shown in England under the previous title, it became "Secret Agent" in the United States and debuted in 1965. John Drake was now a secret agent for England instead of NATO, and the series was expanded to an hour in length. It had original and good plots, a popular theme song and well-written background music, excellent production techniques, exceptional camera work, and it had McGoohan's strong and stylish performance. As before, John Drake was a loner, an individual, and a moral character. Along with "The Saint", Danger Man/Secret Agent was Lew Grade's most successful export to the U.S. McGoohan was also offered the role of Simon Templar, The Saint originially, he refused this role saying that he did not like the car that was lined up for the character, the Volvo P60. The real reason is actually thought to be the kissing that Simon was required to do!
By 1966 McGoohan had grown tired of "Secret Agent" and felt the programme was beginning to repeat itself. He approached Lew Grade about doing something a little different and proposed to him a limited-episode series called "The Prisoner." McGoohan had the status and power he needed to get the backing for the series he really wanted to do, and the free rein to control its every aspect.
McGoohan was the star and executive producer, as well as a frequent director and writer; the creative force and controlling hand of a series that was in large part his concept. An able production team was assembled from the previous series. McGoohan wrote a number of the episodes, using several pseudonyms as well as his own name during the course of his work. The series debuted in England in 1967 and in the United States in June, 1968.
After the final episode of "The Prisoner", McGoohan found himself forced to flee from the U.K. following the thousands of complaints about the show's ending. He moved his family to Switzerland in an effort to find some privacy. He spent two years on producing eight television documentaries about Africa and introduced a couple of episodes of the "Journey into Darkness" TV series. He eventually made the decision to move to the United States; first to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then to Pacific Palisades, California, where he lives today.
The film "The Moonshine War" was released in 1970. For most of 1972/73 he went back behind the camera on a directing assignment. As the Director for the film version of "Catch My Soul," it was his job to bring to life the rock musical with an "Othello" theme. By this time directing and writing had become as important to him as acting. Several projects kept him behind the camera instead of in front of it for long periods of time.
He combined his acting, directing, and writing talents over a three-year period on the "Columbo" Television series starring Peter Falk. In 1974, he appeared in "By Dawn's Early Light" as a military colonel who resorts to murder to support military honor and misguided ideals in his position as head of a military academy. His performance won him an Emmy for "Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series". The following year he directed and appeared in "Identity Crisis" as a brash, advertising executive leading a life as a secret agent with a penchant for side deals. He once again took a director's job in a 1976 "Columbo" episode called "Last Salute to the Commodore" starring Peter Falk and Robert Vaughn.
A television film "The Man in the Iron Mask" was made in England in 1976. And the ever popular feature film "Silver Streak" (1976) with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor got excellent reviews. In a classic villain role as Roger Devereau, McGoohan's shoot-out with the police on the train was the high point of the film. 1977 brought the television series "Rafferty." The film "Kings and Desperate Men" was also made in 1977 with Alexis Kanner from "The Prisoner" but was seen at film festivals before its release in England in (1985). 1978 brought the film "Brass Target." "Escape from Alcatraz" debuted in" 1979, "The Hard Way" in 1980, and "Scanners" in 1981.
In 1985 "Jamaica Inn" (made in 1982) was released, in which he played Joss Merlyn, the drunken and violent landlord of the Jamaica Inn. In the feature film "Baby...Secret of the Lost Legend" he played a ruthless paleontologist who would stop at nothing to take credit for the discovery of dinosaurs in the African jungle. A successful Broadway play "Pack of Lies" completed his schedule for 1985. "Pack of Lies" marked McGoohan's return to the stage for the first time in nearly 25 years and was his first Broadway performance.
The 1990s began with renewed focus on his association with Peter Falk and Columbo. He once again combined the responsibilities of guest star and director for a 1990 episode, Agenda For Murder. The result was another Emmy Award for his role. In a contrasting role, he played George Bernard Shaw in a Masterpiece Theatre televised version of the popular play, "The Best of Friends".
Over the past few years he has directed his energies to making a number of films. "Braveheart" was a huge success in 1995 as the top film of the year and his role was cited by many critics as the best in the film. Two new films were released in 1996: the adventure film, "The Phantom" was introduced in early June and "A Time To Kill" opened as one of the top summer films in late July, 1996.
Patrick and Peter Falk recently teamed up again to make another Columbo episode, Ashes to Ashes that was aired in the U.S. on the 8th of October 1998.
He has completed work on another film, "Hysteria," and is currently at work planning the film version of "The Prisoner" which is reputed to that Universal Studios have recently won the rights to produce a new film based on The Prisoner with Simon West to direct.