Patrick McGoohan (born March 19, 1928 in Astoria, Queens, New York) is an American-born Irish actor who starred in the 1960s television series Danger Man (renamed Secret Agent when exported to the US) and cult classic The Prisoner. He has also appeared in a number of films, including Hell Drivers (1957), Scanners (1981), Ice Station Zebra (1968), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Silver Streak (1976), Braveheart (1995) and A Time to Kill (1996).
Born on the same date as the infamous, nameless character he created and portrayed in The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan seemed destined for something special, but not what his parents expected of him. His mother had promised God if her first child was a boy, he would grow up to be a priest, and Patrick spent the first 15 years of his life working toward that goal.
At school, he excelled in mathematics and boxing, and later worked as a chicken farmer, a bank clerk and a lorry driver before getting a job as a stage manager at Sheffield Repertory. When one of the actors became ill, Patrick took to the boards and never looked back. It was there he immediately fell for a tanned and vivacious actress named Joan Drummond, the woman he reportedly writes love notes to every day. They are still considered one of show business's happiest couples. True to their passion, they were married between a rehearsal of The Taming of the Shrew and an evening performance.
Never one to shy away from controversy, McGoohan became a priest on a few occasions... on stage. In 1955 McGoohan starred in a West End production of a play called Serious Charge, in the role of a priest accused of homosexuality. Orson Welles was so impressed by McGoohan's stage presence ("intimidated", Welles admitted later), Welles cast him as Starbuck in his York theatre production of Moby Dick Rehearsed.
While working as a stand-in during actress screen tests, McGoohan was signed to a contract with the Rank Organisation, a production company known in retrospect more for titillating melodramas than high art. It was clear the producers were more interested in capitalizing on his boxing skill and sapphire eyes than his acting ability, casting him as the conniving bad boy in such films as the gritty Hell Drivers and the steamy potboiler The Gypsy and the Gentleman, and after a few films and some clashes with the management, the contract was dissolved.
Free of the contract, he did some TV work and continued on the stage in his favourite role, Ibsen's Brand, for which he received an award, and soon producer Lew Grade approached him about another contract, this time for a TV series. Having learned from his experience as a product of the Rank Organisation, McGoohan insisted on several conditions before agreeing to do the spy show Danger Man: all the fistfights should be different, the character would always use his brain before using a gun, and, much to the horror of the executives, no kissing. But they hired him anyway. The first series, half-hour shows about a spy named John Drake geared toward an American audience, did fairly well, but not as well as they hoped in the US. It lasted only one year. After the series was over, one interviewer asked McGoohan if he would have liked the series to continue, to which he replied, "I would rather do twenty TV series than go through what I went through under that Rank contract I signed a few years ago for which I blame no one but myself."
Danger Man was rerun in several countries, and gained in cult status worldwide. McGoohan spent some time working for Disney on The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. McGoohan had already turned down the roles of James Bond and The Saint when Lew Grade asked him if he would like to give John Drake another try. This time, McGoohan had even more say about the series; it was expanded to an hour and the writing improved considerably, allowing McGoohan more acting range. Its popularity exploded. McGoohan became the highest paid actor in England and it lasted three more seasons... almost.
During the fourth season filming, after shooting the first two episodes in color, McGoohan told Lew Grade he was going to quit. Grade asked if he would at least work on something for him, and McGoohan, always prepared, gave him a run-down of what would later be called a miniseries about a man in a secret position who resigns suddenly and wakes up to find himself in a prison disguised as a holiday resort. Grade asked for a budget, McGoohan had one ready, and they made a deal over a handshake early on a Saturday morning to produce a completely new kind of television show called The Prisoner. It was expanded to seventeen episodes from seven.
The main character spends the entire series trying to escape from The Village and to learn the identity of his nemesis, Number One. The Prisoner was a completely new, cerebral kind of series, stretching the limits of the established television formulas. Its influence has been echoed in Babylon 5, Nowhere Man, I-man, The Truman Show, The Simpsons, Reboot, even American Idol teaser ads. The final episode was so controversial McGoohan and his family had to leave Britain.
The main character, the nameless Number Six, has become McGoohan's most recognizable character. Unfortunately, it has also become his prison. Number Six was so obsessively pro-individual that whenever McGoohan has played someone since who has something to say about individuality or freedom, the character is often compared to his previous incarnation; for example, his rather ironic portrayal of the Warden in Escape from Alcatraz.
"Mel will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a Number," he was once quoted as saying.
After The Prisoner, McGoohan appeared in many films, including Howard Hughes' favourite, Ice Station Zebra, for which he was critically acclaimed, and Silver Streak, with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. He is most recognized today to a new generation of fans as the Machiavellian King Edward "Longshanks" from the Oscar-winning Braveheart. He directed Richie Havens in a rock-opera version of Othello called Catch My Soul. He has received two Emmy Awards for his work on Columbo with his long-time friend Peter Falk.
In 2000, he reprised his role as Number Six in an episode of The Simpsons, "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes". In it, Homer Simpson concocts a news story to make his website more popular, and he wakes up in a prison disguised as a holiday resort. Dubbed Number Five, he befriends Number Six and escapes with his boat.
His last film to date was a voice role in the animated film Treasure Planet, released in 2002. That same year, he received the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for The Prisoner.
McGoohan's name has been linked to several aborted attempts at producing a new motion picture version of The Prisoner, most recently in 2002 when director Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) was signed to helm a version of the story. McGoohan was listed as executive producer on the project, which never came to fruition.
McGoohan was offered the roles of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, but turned both down for health reasons.