Christopher Lee’s autobiography
Christopher Lee (1922-2015) was an English veteran actor best known for villain roles, most notably Saruman in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Count Dooku in “Star Wars.” What people don’t know is that he was the complete opposite of the villains he played. Born May 27, Lee’s parents were Lieutenant Geoffrey Lee and Countess Estelle Marie, a distant descendant of Charlemagne. Lee would remain proud of this fact, later recording a metal album of Charlemagne’s kingship at age 88.
“When I was not long past my fourth birthday… my father suddenly and, as it seemed to me, inexplicably left my mother.” Lee was raised by his mother who was cold towards him. Lee attended the Summer Fields School and later Eton. “(My mentor) assured me the Eton test would go ‘swimmingly.’ I’d have liked a less aquatic note, but I was glad of his support.”
During World War II, Lee served extensively in the Rhodesian police force where he was promoted to aircraftsmen. “My time with them had been an odd sort of bonus.” His job took him places, later becoming posted as a “dogsbody” (grunt worker) in Ismailia where he was almost murdered by an attacker while on patrol at night. “…his knife… sliced into my neck without doing… serious injury. He soon vanished… I was not eager to pursue him.”
Lee upgraded to spy where he worked to trace the German plane’s source and pattern of attack. “…I found myself like an actor taking on a part in a long-running play. Except… actors were obliged for their lives to depend on me…” During an air raid, he dove for cover under a vehicle as did three other soldiers “…and we all banged together like creatures in a cartoon…the grit…and sand from the blast caught me smack in the bottom…The MO who patched me up said brightly, ‘…Changing your trousers will repair half the damage straight away.’ As it transpired, he was wrong about this…”
After the war, Lee pursued his love of opera as a tenor but was unable to find any success and turned instead to acting with Stage play roots. Lee worked extensively with British Independent company, “Hammer Films” making cheaply-made horror films rushed out in droves.
Lee would play Dracula ten times, dying lucratively (and ludicrously) in each film. “Dying as Dracula was usually worse than having a tooth out. Being struck by lightning was the least of my discomforts.” Despite disliking the repetition, Lee continued playing Dracula to keep the dependent company of employees in work and no other reason.
Lee’s first world-renown villain role was Bond-villain Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974). Interestingly, James Bond creator Ian Fleming (who was Lee’s step-cousin) wanted Lee to play James Bond, but the producers objected Lee was “too tall to play a romantic lead.” A misunderstanding occurred while Lee carried his prop-gun in promotion. “Carrying it… absent-mindedly towards a… TV studio, I heard a bellow: ‘Drop it!’ I spun around to see a cop aiming at me.” The matter was resolved in moments due mainly to the gun’s color.
Over the years, Lee’s acting career fizzled until director Tim Burton cast him in “Sleepy Hollow” (1999). “A renewal for me was an invitation… ‘to appear for just five minutes’… those five minutes, right at the beginning of the story, were enough to prefigure a roll of luck… I was getting work.” While filming “The Fellowship of the Ring,” at age 79, a jetlagged Lee stumbled in his hotel room and nearly severed two fingers on his left hand. His strong friendship with Gandalf co-star Ian McKellen helped him through the pain. “Immortal enemies while the cameras rolled, we became great friends and shared a lot of laughs between the times.”
Of “Attack of the Clones,” Lee describes writer/director George Lucas kindly. “…when George promised me [filming] would be fun, he meant it… he couldn’t have been easier to work with, and once started, could talk the stars down.” While filming his speeder chase in a blue room, “…on a thing like a motorbike, covered in blue of course…” Lucas and his visiting friend, Francis Ford Coppola watched the visual rendering on the monitors. “‘Amazing,’” Coppola exclaimed, prompting a confused Lee to ask what he found amazing. Coppola could generally summarize Lee’s life and career in his response, “‘Every marvelous bit of it. Great stuff.’”