Christopher Lee (1922 – 2015)
I was so sad to hear about the recent passing of that fine English actor, Christopher Lee. With a career spanning nearly seventy years and over 300 films, he initially portrayed villains and became best known for his role as Count Dracula in a sequence of Hammer Horror films which lasted from 1958 until 1973. I can well remember standing outside a cinema as a child looking at posters advertising the latest Dracula film. Unfortunately I was too young to be allowed in to view these Cert. X masterpieces.
His other film roles included Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Saruman in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001–2003) and The Hobbit film trilogy (2012–2014), and Count Dooku in the final two films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002 and 2005).
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Christopher Lee as Saruman
Christopher Lee’s life story is quite amazing. Here are just a few facts. Lee’s father was a much decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and an extraordinary figure in his own right. His mother was an Italian countess who could trace her lineage all the way back to Emperor Charlemagne. Throughout Lee’s childhood, his mother mixed with some exotic characters. When he was very young and living in London, his mother introduced him to two Russian aristocrats. They were Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich — one of the few members of the Romanov family to escape the Bolsheviks alive — and Prince Yusupov. They are best known for their part in assassinating, in 1916, the Russian monk and mystic Rasputin — a role that Lee would later play on film.
Lee in the title role of Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966)
Lee’s parents separated when he was four and divorced two years later. His mother then married Harcourt George St-Croix Rose, a banker and uncle of author Ian Fleming. They later separated. In 1939, aged 17, he travelled to the French Riviera. On his way there he stopped briefly in Paris, where he witnessed the execution of murderer Eugen Weidmann, the last person to be executed in public in France. Apparently, after the execution when the body had been removed and the police had left, some women came forward and soaked their handkerchiefs in the victim’s blood which had pooled on the pavement.
With Europe on the brink of war he returned home. In 1941 he joined the RAF and worked for their Intelligence section in various locations abroad. He witnessed the immediate aftermath of the horrors in the concentration camps. At the end of the war he was tasked with helping to track down Nazi war criminals.
Lee in Rome shortly after the Liberation in 1944
Lee returned home in 1946 and deciding that he would like to become an actor he signed up with the Rank Film Organisation. For the next 10 years he played mostly supporting and background characters. In 1951, for example, he was involved in three films. One was Horatio Hornblower R.N. in which he appeared as a Spanish captain. He was cast when the director asked him if he could speak Spanish and fence, which he was able to do.
Lee as the Spanish Captain in Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951)
He appeared uncredited in the 1951 American epic Quo Vadis which was shot in Rome, playing a chariot driver and was injured when he was thrown from it at one point during the shoot. Interestingly, two other people appeared uncredited in this film. Their names were Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren.
Lee as detective Holt in a the thriller Valley of Eagles (1951)
Apart from his wide-ranging career in films, Lee was also an accomplished singer with an operatic bass voice. He performed in a variety of musical genres, including Heavy Metal and Symphonic Rock. In December 2012, he released an EP of heavy metal covers of Christmas songs called A Heavy Metal Christmas. He released a second in December 2013, entitled A Heavy Metal Christmas Too. With the song Jingle Hell, Lee entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #22, thus becoming the oldest living performer to ever enter the music charts, at 91 years and 6 months.
There have been a great many tributes to this incredible person. I think one of the most fitting was …
Christopher Lee, whose death was reported this afternoon, is set to put the fear of God into God.