Thursday, June 11, 2015
Christopher Lee, Requiescat in Pace
I have reprinted this from "The Hollywood Reporter"
"Lord of the Rings": Sir Christopher Lee knew what stabbing a man
Before becoming an actor, legendary “Lord of the Rings” star
Christopher Lee had a very different career. During the Second World
War, Lee worked behind enemy lines as an agent for Britain’s elite
Special Operations Executive -- also known as "Churchill's Secret Army"
or the "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." Lee has never discussed any
of the clandestine missions he took part in, but was able to put some of
his wartime knowledge to use while filming “The Return of the King.”
In a deleted scene in which Lee’s character Saruman is stabbed in the
back, director Peter Jackson asked Lee to shout out in pain when the
evil wizard is attacked. However, citing personal experience, Lee
quickly informed the filmmaker that a person cannot shout when they’ve
been stabbed in the back. “He seemed to have expert knowledge of exactly
the sort of noise that they make so I just sort of didn't push the
subject any further,” Jackson said. Creepy.
According to media reports, Lee died on Sunday morning, June 7 at
Westminster Hospital in London after being admitted for respiratory
problems and heart failure. The Guardian reported that his wife, former
Danish model and painter Gitte Kroencke, decided to release the news
days later in order to inform family members first. The couple had been
married since 1961.
Lee, who as bad guy Scaramanga battled Roger Moore’s James Bond in The
Man With the Golden Gun (1974) and re-ignited his career in his late 70s
with what would be recurring roles in the Lord of the Rings, Hobbit and
Star Wars franchises.
"Such sad news to hear that Sir Christopher Lee has passed away,"
British film organisation BAFTA said in a tweet Thursday. "In 2011, Sir
Christopher Lee received the BAFTA Fellowship for his outstanding career
Incredibly, the London native had more than 275 credits on IMDb, making
him perhaps the most prolific feature-film actor in history. He did many
of his own stunts, likely appeared in more on-screen swordfights than
anyone else and was the only member of the Lord of the Rings cast to
have actually met author J.R.R. Tolkien, who was born in 1892.
With his gaunt 6-foot-5 frame and deep, strong voice, Lee was best at
playing characters — slave traders, crazed kings, vampires, demented
professors — who were evil, murderous, dour and unrepentantly ruthless.
Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula
(1958), Lee, like a mad scientist, helped Hammer Films bring the genre
of horror back to life. He played the bloodsucking and brooding Prince
of Darkness 10 times but disliked being known as a “horror legend.”
Lee was menacing in the title role of The Mummy (1959) and, that same
year, starred as the new owner of Baskerville Hall in the remake of The
Hound of the Baskervilles, starring his best friend, Peter Cushing, as
Sherlock Holmes. The suave and courtly Cushing was his castmate in Curse
of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula as well.
He appeared three times as Holmes on screen, most recently in the 1991
telefilm Incident at Victoria Falls, and starred as the detective’s
brother Mycroft in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Lee also was Rasputin and Lucifer, and his characters executed King
Charles I of England and Louis the XVI of France. He relished the evil
roles: “As Boris Karloff [his Corridors of Blood co-star] told me, you
have to make your mark in something other actors cannot, or will not,
do. And if it’s a success, you’ll not be forgotten.”
His 1977 autobiography was titled Tall, Dark and Gruesome.
Lee played Rochefort of Three Musketeers fame three times and was Sax
Rohmer’s Asian evil genius with that distinctive mustache in five films
of the 1960s, starting with The Face of Fu Manchu (1965).
Ian Fleming, the creator of Bond, was his cousin and frequent golf
companion. The author wanted Lee to play the title villain in the 007
film Dr. No (1962), but the job went to Joseph Wiseman. For Bond fans,
it was worth the wait after seeing his turn as the wealthy assassin who
employs only bullets made of gold in The Man With the Golden Gun.
Lee’s considerable body of film work also included Captain Horatio
Hornblower (1951), The Wicker Man (1973), To the Devil a Daughter
(1976), The Passage (1979), House of the Long Shadows (1983), Gremlins
2: The New Batch (1990), The Golden Compass (2007), The Resident (2011),
Hugo (2011) and four films with director/fan Tim Burton: Sleepy Hollow
(1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Sweeney Todd: The
Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and Dark Shadows (2012).
Lee, who was knighted in 2009, appeared as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s
Lord of the Rings trilogy and in the director’s two Hobbit films,
including The Battle of Five Armies (2014). And he was Count Dooku in
the Star Wars installments Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the
Sith (2005) and The Clone Wars (2008).
“This last decade has been the most extraordinary decade of my life,”
he said in a 2012 interview.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27, 1922 (American
horror legend Vincent Price was born on the same date 11 years earlier),
and attended exclusive prep schools. He went to Eton College and
Wellington College and studied Greek and Latin.
During World War II, Lee served in the Royal Air Force and Special
Forces and spent one year in a hellacious winter campaign in Finland. He
was said to be a spy but never wanted to talk about it, honoring an oath
“When the Second World War finished I was 23 and already I had seen
enough horror to last me a lifetime,” he told the Telegraph in 2011.
“I’d seen dreadful, dreadful things, without saying a word. So seeing
horror depicted on film doesn’t affect me much.”
Lee was decorated for distinguished service, and after his discharge,
he took the advice of his uncle, the Italian ambassador in London, and
tried his hand in the film business, landing a contract with the Rank
The Curse of Frankenstein — a box-office hit and the first film to
feature Mary Shelley’s disfigured creature in color — was a big break
for him. Lee likely landed the gig because he was so tall.
Wilder told him he needed to come to America to further his career, and
he took that advice and made Airport ’77, in which his character died
under water and he almost drowned.
He said the film that made him the most proud was Jinnah (1998), in
which he played the founder of Pakistan.
Despite his serious demeanor, Lee liked to showcase his offbeat,
self-deprecating wit. He hosted Saturday Night Live in 1978, and his
show (with musical guest Meat Loaf) reached 35 million viewers, one of
its most-watched installments.
“As you may know, I first came to public attention as a result of my
appearances in certain rather eerie and even macabre films,” he said
during the SNL opening. “You may be surprised to know that I haven’t
made one in several years.
“This is because I have a great deal of respect for this kind of film,
and I don’t think that very good ones are being produced anymore. Week
after week, I find myself receiving scripts like The Creature From the
Black Studies Program ... and Frankenstein Snubs The Wolf Man ... and of
course, Dr. Terror’s House of Pancakes.”
Later, he played a Russian commandant for laughs in Police Academy:
Mission to Moscow (1994).
An expert fencer and honorary member of three stuntmen unions, Lee also
knew how to handle a golf club. He was the first actor to be accepted
into The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. How good was he? He
thought he had enough cred to offer advice to Tiger Woods on how to play
Music was important to him. He appeared in operas, sang “Name Your
Poison” in The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) opposite Alan Arkin
and was among the pack of “convicts” on the cover of Paul McCartney &
Wings’ 1973 album Band on the Run.
In 2010, Lee recorded a symphonic heavy metal concept album,
Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross (he said he was related to the
emperor on his mother’s side). Three years later, he released a
follow-up that had Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath on guitar.
“People never thought I would be a heavy metal performer. Well, I am,”
he said in the 2012 interview.
Sure, he never was nominated for an Oscar, but he has a Metal Hammer
Golden God Award.
Survivors include his wife Kroencke and their daughter Christina.
Lee, who had a library of 12,000 books on the occult, admitted to being
fascinated by the nature of evil during a 2003 interview with the
“'Good’ people ... being persistently noble can become rather
uninteresting,” he said. “There is a dark side in all of us. And for us
'bad’ people, the bad side dominates. I think there is a great
sadness in villains, and I have tried to put that across. We cannot stop
ourselves doing what we are doing.”