Ye Olde Dragon here, unfortunately once more the bearer of mournful tidings. Sadly, a living legend lives no more.
Count Dracula. Fu-Manchu. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy. The Man With the Golden Gun. Saruman. Count Dooku. Some of the most vile and insidious villains in all of movie history, and yet they were all played by one man.
On Sunday, June 7, Sir Christopher Lee passed away at the age of 93.
This man was – in my opinion – the last of the Grand Old Masters of Horror, such as Lugosi, Karloff, Carradine, Price and Cushing. As Karloff was to Universal, Lee was to Britain’s Hammer Films. Lee had much in common with Karloff. Each actor portrayed Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy and the evil mastermind, Fu Manchu. He shares a unique distinction with Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr.: they each played Frankenstein’s Monster AND Dracula for their respective studios.
He was beloved by thousands of fans across multiple fandoms. Horror fans of course love him for his Hammer Films career. James Bond fans will always remember Francisco Scaramanga, the title assassin of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974).
Speaking of Saruman, Lee was the only cast member of either of Sir Peter Jackson‘s trilogies that actually KNEW Prof. Tolkien. In fact, Tolkien actually told Lee that he’d approve of him playing Gandalf, should a film ever be made of LORD OF THE RINGS. When Lee heard of Jackson making the films, he sent a picture of himself in wizard robes, and asked Jackson to keep him in mind. Due to his age (his early 80s at the time), he couldn’t have handled the more physically demanding role of Gandalf, so Jackson cast him as Saruman.
When asked what his personal favorite starring vehicle was, Lee declared Robin Hardy‘s THE WICKER MAN (1973) to be his favorite.
Many years ago, Cinemax had been airing classic Columbia Horror and Sci-Fi films, and Lee provided the introductions for them. Among them was one of his films, Anthony Bushell‘s THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961). Produced by Hammer, this was in fact the FIRST film that Lee received top billing for. During the introduction, he disclosed that this film featured one of the most chilling lines he’d ever heard in a film, and that it was his favorite line he’d delivered in his entire career. The line is a question that the Tong Master Chung King (no, really!) asks his victim, Captain Sale (Geoffrey Toone) as he’s led to torture, “Tell me…have you ever had your bones scraped?”
Terror of the Tongs set the stage for Lee to portray literature’s most evil mastermind – Sax Rohmer‘s Fu Manchu – in several films.
I realize that this barely scratches the surface of this man’s amazing career, let alone his amazing life! When Peter Jackson was directing the scene where Wormtongue (Brad Douriff) stabs Saruman, and he tried to explain how Lee should react, Lee replied that he KNEW how to react, as he’d heard the sounds made when a man is stabbed in the back. Lee was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.
Truly, a remarkable man.
Rest in Peace, Sir Christopher. I’m sure that Peter Cushing has a chess board waiting for you, to continue your games.
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