I suppose we all have our heroes, and I’ve been very fortunate to meet and speak at length with some of my own. Ian Anderson, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Ray Bradbury and Buckminster Fuller, to name a few. Original thinkers whose inestimable contributions have also left indelible imprints on the way I think about my path in life. And of all the creative people I’ve ever admired, no one has influenced me more than the independent minded and enigmatic actor, writer and director, Patrick McGoohan.
Long before I ever had the privilege of meeting Patrick, I had a kind of prophetic dream. I was sitting on a bench, on a grassy bluff overlooking a dramatic sea. The horizon was billowing with foreboding storm clouds; the wind was rushing up the cliff and over my face, huge white caps cresting out on the water. I suddenly became aware of an old man with a full grey beard sitting beside me. I looked up and realized it was Patrick. He turned to me and said, “I think it’s time we had that chat.”
A few years later, in 1990, I actually became acquainted with the man. At that time, I was working as a researcher at KCET-TV in Los Angeles where one of my colleagues was producing a documentary about ‘Big Brother In The Workplace.’ I suggested he might open the program with a clip from McGoohan’s television series The Prisoner, where the character Number Six is under surveillance, to illustrate how an iconic work of fiction had actually foretold a modern day reality.
So I called Patrick’s wife, Joan, a local real estate agent, and asked how best to approach the man for his permission. She was very kind and gave me the phone number at his home office, saying, “If he’s in a good mood, he just might do it.”
Well, Patrick was in good mood and of an open mind. He said, “Send me something in writing and I’ll respond.” I guess he liked the letter I wrote, in which I drew a vague analogy between some of the themes in The Prisoner and Marxism. I was elated when he called me at work and suggested we meet. How ‘bout that? A childhood hero turned professional acquaintance!
I will never forget sitting across from him at an Italian restaurant on the Promenade in Santa Monica, California. I was smoking a pipe in those days and when I produced it from my jacket pocket, McGoohan admonished, “You’d better put that thing away, or they’ll call the fire brigade.” We talked about politics, writing, directing, and my own career. He even talked a little about The Prisoner and the sequel he was writing, The Oasis. We spoke for nearly three hours and he asked a lot of questions. I felt like I was being interviewed, if not interrogated, and I ended up smoking half a dozen of his cigarettes.
As we walked back to our cars, Patrick asked if I thought I’d ever have any real money, and – as I had already confessed to being a bachelor – if I thought I’d ever get married. I answered optimistically to the first and shrugged off the latter. The valet pulled up in his silver BMW and Patrick offered that he and his wife had been married for forty years. “And do you know why it works? Because we don’t agree on a thing!” What a strange, endearing thing to say, I thought.
We seemed to have developed a genuine rapport and spoke several times over the next few months. Still, I’ve never felt comfortable using the word “friendship” to describe the relationship. I just didn’t know the man that well. Indeed, a few months later, he abruptly dropped off the radar without a word. I didn’t hear from Patrick for almost a year.
On November 7, 1991, the very day that Frank Zappa formally announced he had prostate cancer and Magic Johnson declared he was retiring from basketball because he was HIV positive, Patrick McGoohan surprised me with a late afternoon phone call. “Yeh, Stephan, it’s me, Patrick.” He apologized for the “long radio silence,” and then revealed he had been having some problems “in the old health department.”
I worried about his well being a lot over the ensuing years, but never inquired about particulars. I felt that would be a kind of invasion, so I simply let Patrick tell me what he wanted. Which wasn’t much. I’d just call to say hullo and see how he was feeling, and he’d tersely reply, “medium rare.”
I was delighted to see him out and about and quite well, when we ran into each other again on the Promenade. It’s a funny memory.
It had been several years since we first met. I had moved a few rungs up the ladder of my career and had also taken up competitive mountain biking. Well heeled, clean-shaven and in exceptional condition, I walked into the Broadway Bar & Grill to meet a girlfriend for lunch. She was running late, so I sat down to wait for her at the deep red wooden bar, which had columns every few seats that extended up to the ceiling. I sat on one side of a column, and on the other sat an older fellow sporting a weathered, Stingy brimmed straw hat, large, rose tinted sunglasses and a thick grayish-white beard. I dismissed him as kind of odd looking.
My date arrived and as we greeted each other, the oddly-chapeaued guy on the other side of the column looked up and craned his neck around, trying to see who was speaking. I caught the face reflected in the mirror behind the bar and realized, “Good lord, it’s Patrick!”
As we headed to our table, I turned to the man at the bar.
“Mr. McGoohan?” I inquired.
He looked up and quipped, “I’m tryin’ to remember.”
“Patrick, it’s me, Stephan…. Michaels?”
The surprised look on his face was priceless. “Oh, my god!” he exclaimed as he looked me up and down. “You’re a changed man!” His eyes stopped at my $200 Italian dress shoes. “In many ways,” he added.
I think just about everybody in the place heard us all bellow.
We talked briefly and I admitted not having recognized him at first. “It’s my disguise,” he laughed. I then told Patrick about a new project I was developing, called Divisadero Street. It was an idea for a dramatic series featuring two law school students, young lovers who never agreed on anything, but who secretly worked together with a local priest to expose corruption. Patrick seemed suitably impressed, saying it sounded “original.” I asked if he’d like to see it. He replied, of course, “Send it to me and I’ll respond.”
When I called a couple of weeks later, to see what he thought of the treatment I had sent over, Patrick was incredulous.
“This is a proposal!” he protested.
“Uh, yes. Isn’t that what I said I would send?”
“Where’s the script?” he demanded.
“Patrick, I’m a producer, not a screenwriter.”
He rejected that, saying I was arguing for my own limitations. “If you don’t write it,” he prompted, “who will?”
Incisive, encouraging words.
◊ ◊ ◊
In December of 2004, as I was leaving Los Angeles for the Pacific Northwest, Patrick’s was one of the last calls I received before the phone was disconnected. Funny, Joan McGoohan and I had talked just a couple of days prior and I imagined he had called at her behest. Truth be told, I have proclaimed more than once, “those of us who care about Patrick, love Joan McGoohan.” To me, she epitomizes grace, patience and generosity. I think Joan is actually some kind of saint.
“So, you’re packing it up?” he said. “You’re heading in the right direction!” I’d never heard him sound so upbeat and encouraging. The lilt in his voice was cheerful and affectionate. We were on the phone for almost half an hour.
Ultimately, I think I wore the poor guy down — with reverent persistence and unflagging affection — into adopting the role of an elder friend and mentor. I feel honored. Still, I regret that I never got past that feeling of reverence. Otherwise, we might have become real friends.
Well, I guess you never know just how much you care about someone until they’re gone. I cried upon hearing that Patrick had passed away. We had talked just a few months before, shortly after his 80th birthday. I still feel empty and lonely and I lament that I will never get to hear that lyrical voice again.
Yet, as I celebrate the man’s great spirit, I can still hear his voice from memory. The wonderful inflection, the probing honesty, asking me, “If you don’t write it, whooo willl?” His words still resonate: I am now digging through my notes and finally writing the pilot for Divisadero Street.
Maybe I tend to idealize a bit, but Patrick McGoohan remains my number one hero, and he will always be an inspiration for me to try and do meaningful, important things with my life.
◊ ◊ ◊
I took this photograph at Friendly Cove, at the mouth of Nootka Sound on the Northwest coast of Vancouver Island. The area is considered the birthplace of British Columbia, where Captain Cook set anchor in 1778 for repairs. As I surveyed a tranquil yet strangely familiar scene, I thought, “this would be a good place to go, when I die.” I like to think that we do go somewhere after this life, and that if I’m lucky, Patrick might come walking up the path one day… and we can have that chat.
PATRICK JOSEPH McGOOHAN
March 19, 1928 — January 13, 2009
Joan McGoohanPosted at Thu, 2009-12-10 6:49
Thank you, Stephan, for all the nice things you say, and, in particular, for your appreciation of Patrick as a man and an artist. I'm glad you were able to have those talks. All good wishes to you and your new script, Joan
Carola BeckerPosted at Mon, 2010-07-19 8:52
We lost an incredible talent, mesmerizing and brilliant at work and from what I gather, a truly special man. I thought your tribute was very touching. At least through the miracle of technology we can always hear that incredible voice and see him take command of every performance, no matter how small the part. Thanks again, Carola
John LastPosted at Sun, 2010-10-24 8:13
As an English schoolboy of the early 60's, the evening television slot with 'John Drake' (our DANGER MAN and your SECRET AGENT) was a must. Despite studio-bound settings, black-and-white film production and a 'boys own' storyline, Patrick McGoohan engaged beyond the John Drake persona. Even to this day, on viewing the episodes of DANGER MAN, you get that same overriding sense of integrity which Mr McGoohan made his own. I feel quite sure that beyond the confines of the studio and rather extraordinary world of make-believe – Patrick was a very special person.
Kind regards, J A Last
Glenn KnowlesPosted at Mon, 2010-12-20 4:59
Patrick McGoohan’s Writing
There are many who desire to be further inspired by Patrick McGoohan. I share the hope that his writings will be published. It would be a wonderful thing, for example, if his poetry were made available, and imagine the delight of a performance of something of his for the stage. it seems there may be a chance that you could have an influence on that prospect.
Your tribute was just wonderful to read, Glenn
Caroline HammondPosted at Fri, 2011-05-6 6:04
What a moving and lovely tribute to a man who inspired so many of us. I am filled with envy for your friendship, even if you consider it too reverential. “Young man, don’t knock yourself out.”
What a fantastic experience though to meet your hero and find they are everything you expected and more. From your eloquent writing I really felt I was sitting on those bar stools besides the two of you. Write what you know and from the heart, I say. Thank you for writing this.
Michelle ChevallierPosted at Wed, 2013-07-3 7:17
A beautiful piece
It is hard to describe this without sounding like just another fan. Sometimes I find my young age a curse because I wasn't around when shows like "The Prisoner" were originally broadcast, and because the creators are no longer with us. I feel robbed of a chance to ask questions and to really gain some insight. That's the hard part about the internet, in that there are only articles written by third parties with mere opinions or just a sterile listing of facts.
I really wanted to know more about Patrick McGoohan as a person and you have provided that. Thank you for the insight. I know his passing happened in 2009, but having only just viewed 'The Prisoner,' I find myself with the sort of sadness which usually comes when a loss is fresh and new. This is a nice emotional balm and puts a smile on my face. Thank you for these words. — Michelle
Karen MarshalPosted at Wed, 2017-03-15 7:07
I was born into a very poor family and I got to "see" the world through the "Danger Man" tv shows…or at least what looked like the world to a 9-year-old girl. When I heard there was going to be a new tv show called "The Prisoner" with Patrick McGoohan, I was almost beside myself that I would get to see him again.
In reading about Mr McGoohan, it becomes apparent that he was a unique person, intellectual, private, moral and hard working. It sounds as if he drove himself to be busy at all times. I have seen articles where he would end an interview if anyone asked anything that he considered too private, yet he would tell stories about his childhood and his sisters that were hilarious and endearing. He never failed to give honor and respect to his wife and children, and to his parents.
Thanks for sharing your memories. I hope that we will all be seeing each other someday!
God Bless, Karen
John C. Drew, Ph.D.Posted at Sat, 2013-08-3 7:13
Remembering Patrcik McGoohan on Father’s Day
In real life, I suspect that McGoohan was a very intimidating person and you seem to capture this aspect of his personality effectively in your article. On a day like today, I’m grateful to learn that McGoohan also had a soft and nurturing affection for a young producer – with or without a script.
Rob LevinePosted at Thu, 2009-12-10 7:08
Thanks for such a beautiful and eloquently written tribute to our dearly departed "friend." Patrick definitely had an aura of mystery about him and it was often hard to separate the man from the aura. What I remember most was his acerbic wit. He had many great one-liners and often had us all laughing uncontrollably. One time, when we were shooting the final scene of COLUMBO ASHES TO ASHES, Patrick was mimicking Columbo's mannerisms and he had us all in stitches. Peter was laughing so hard that he practically fell to the floor. Then makeup had to come and touch up Peter, because tears had been streaming down his cheek. It was an amazing moment. Thanks again for bringing back those wonderful memories. Take care, Rob
• Independent filmmaker Rob Levine was a Production Executive on “Columbo”
Tony GenovesePosted at Tue, 2013-03-19 4:06
Directed by Pat
I worked on Columbo as a stand-in for Sgt DeGarmo, Lt Columbo's assistant. I didn't know that Patrick MacGoohan was directing the show called 'Murder in Too Many Notes' (2000) about a concert conductor (Billy Connelly) who is murdered by his assistant. We worked on stage and on top of the roof of the highest stage at Universal. I'm not keen on heights like the top of the stage, but with Pat's direction — talking to me from a working platform 'cherry picker' — we got the shot he needed for the show. I'm a Prisoner fan from the '60s and felt honored to work with Pat on that job. RIP, Pat. And now Peter. Some great chums and good people in Hollywood. We sure need more like them around. -TG
AnonymousPosted at Thu, 2017-03-16 1:31
Thank you so much for this. He was one of the greats and his personal integrity is inspirational. The Prisoner still holds up and is something that will be enduring. For me his character is an epitome of what a man should be.
Could you possibly tell us more about the prisoner sequel ‘The Oasis’? I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else. Also do you happen to know anything about the novel he’s said to have written? Like a previous commenter I’d love his writings to be published.
AnonymousPosted at Thu, 2017-11-16 1:58
Just read this piece, which confirms my own impression of how Patrick always encouraged others to discover and use their own creative potential – with regard to his comment, “if you don’t write it, who will?”.
I never had the chance to interact with him other than getting to meet him and shake his hand one time when he was in the UK and took time out from the filming of Jamaica Inn to give a television interview. I was able in that moment to express my heartfelt gratitude for what he created and the profound impact it had on me. He has certainly been an influence and inspiration for me, also, to do meaningful and important things in my life.
AnonymousPosted at Fri, 2018-02-9 2:59
Lovely tale of mentorship
I’ve too been fortunate to have some mentors in my life. I always try to pass it on. It’s so important to be available to younger women and men.. McGoohan has always intrigued me and I enjoyed your piece so much thanks for sharing.