On June 7 of this year, at the age of 93, Christopher Lee died. If it feels like you just saw him in a movie recently, you probably did. He starred as Saruman in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ and four other productions in the last two years. He appeared in two-hundred and fifty movies during his career. That ignores the voice over work, the television series, and probably some other stuff. I’d like to be that productive when I reach my nineties.
It is his villains for which we will remember him. He played Saruman in ‘Lord or Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’. That’s six movies. He played Count Dooku in two Star Wars prequels. He also played the Frankenstein monster in ‘The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)’. Lee stood five inches over six feet, which helped for the role. That led to Dracula in ‘Dracula (1958)’ and the Mummy in ‘The Mummy (1959)’.
If you get a chance, watch ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965)’ where he again played the blood sucker, without a single line of dialogue. Lee said he refused to speak the poor dialogue he was given, but screenwriter Jimmy Sangster claimed that the script did not contain any lines for the character.
Lee himself was an interesting and erudite man. Besides English, he spoke Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was able to converse in Swedish, Russian and Greek. This led to one of his roles. The casting director needed an actor who could speak Spanish, and fence. Lee could do both, and got the part of the Spanish Captain in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951)’. Lee played a leading role in the German film ‘The Puzzle of the Red Orchid (1962)’, speaking German.
During WWII, Lee served with the Royal Air Force. Lee was having his last training session before his first solo flight when he suffered from headaches and blurred vision. The medical officer diagnosed a failure of his optic nerve and Lee was told he would never be allowed to fly again. In an effort to be useful, he volunteered for RAF intelligence where he served until 1946. Lee mentioned that he was attached to the Special Operations Executive and the Long Range Desert Patrol, the precursor of the SAS, but always declined to go into details.
Fu Manchu, Comte de Rochefort, Francisco Scaramanga in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and Lucifer are other villainous roles he played in a number of pictures. However, he didn’t feel he was typecast. He liked to quote something Anthony Hopkins said, “I don’t play villains, I play people.” If you check his films you’ll also find him played Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, Ramses and even the pope.
To add to his acting Lee had an operatic bass voice and sometime sang in his pictures including ‘The Wicker Man’. You might want to look up his metal Album ‘Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross’ which was released in 2010. Lee would have been in his late eighties then. Who says music is a young man’s game?
Let’s leave the last word to Lee. “I haven’t spent my entire career playing the guy in the bad hat, although I have to say that the bad guy is frequently much more interesting than the good guy.”
To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net