Patrick McGoohan: Gone But Still Not a Number


One of the many admirable things about the late Patrick McGoohan is that he came up with a new and unique way of dealing with the problem of every star TV actor (i.e. the problem every other TV actor dreams of having): how to deal with the fact that the public associates you with one role and one role alone. Danger Man, aka Secret Agent, was a popular show on both sides of the ocean and everyone who was likely to watch McGoohan on a new show would immediately think of him as John Drake. Usually there are two ways of dealing with that kind of typecasting: give into it and play only similar roles, or try and break away from it with a different kind of part.

But with The Prisoner, McGoohan combined the two approaches: he played virtually the same character he’d been playing before — one of the many mysteries of The Prisoner is whether this unnamed hero is in fact the same guy from Danger Man — but in a different kind of show. The Prisoner took the goodwill he’d accumulated in his years of playing John Drake, and used it to cajole the audience into going along with something they hadn’t seen on TV before. (Though they’d seen it in movies before, and plenty of it; The Prisoner was the TV show that finally incorporated the cryptic dialogue and even more cryptic storytelling of the movies and plays of that era.) And he looked at some of the things he’d been doing on his previous show, but from a different angle, and without doing a sequel or a rehash of the previous show. Few stars have been able to pull that off; one of the few is Clint Eastwood, who has made a second career out of creating thinly disguised elderly versions of his most popular roles.

I actually think Danger Man is a more satisfying series than The Prisoner, but the point is not that The Prisoner made the earlier show obsolete, but that it built on it and did something new.

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Patrick McGoohan: Gone But Still Not a Number

  1. So sad to hear about this….

    At least he passed on not as a number, but as a free man….

  2. I think the last thing I saw him play was a nasty in Braveheart. He always projected intelligence and intensity. I well remember watching Danger Man as a kid.

  3. Patrick McGoohan’s personal integrity and professional skill combine to form a lasting legacy. His brilliant insights into the use and abuse of power revealed in “The Prisoner,” and in his more recent roles in “Escape From Alcatraz,” “Braveheart,” and “A Time to Kill” are timeless expressions of truth.
    Mr. McGoohan’s words read at the 1996 memorial service for his actor friend Paul Eddington (“Yes, Minister,” and “Yes, Prime Minister”) now apply to him: “Where you are now is where you will be giving your best performance. When we get there please tell us one of your jokes. Be seeing you at the big curtain up.”
    “The Prisoner” is finally “a free man.”

  4. he was great in everything he played