I’ve recently finished reading the autobiography of Christopher Lee. Normally I avoid autobiographies, I tend to prefer a more balanced look at the subject; one that’s less likely to be self-serving. Lee’s book, however, is anything but - it’s a very charming read. Lee has an enjoyably drole way of writing, always with the inevitable sigh of impending, and unavoidable trouble.
Told in short chapters, each like an extended anecdote, Lee has led an incredible life. The son of an army officer and an Italian Contessa, he was trained as an RAF pilot in WW2, but had to give it up after blacking-out while mid-flight. He ended up as an intelligence officer, serving in the covert Special Operations Executive.
He only became an actor after a suggestion from a his second-cousin, the Italian Ambassador. He was signed to the Rank Organisation, but was immediately told he was too tall, too dark, and too foreign looking to be an actor.
Today, Lee is the world record holder for most acting roles in films ever - 274 credits - and still counting. In tribute to the great man, here are 10 interesting facts about Christopher Lee and his extraordinary life:
01: Though almost constantly working, a noteable role Lee did turn down was the doctor role in Airplane – the one that would make Leslie Nielson a superstar.
02: Lee was the first person to enter the Vatican Museum after the end of the second of the world war.
03: As a teenager, Lee was a witness at the execution of Eugen Weidmann – the last man to be publicly executed in France by guillotine. Later in life, Lee would also became friends with Albert Pierrepoint – the so-called ‘Last Hangman’ of England. Lee would occasionally drink at his pub.
04: For several years, Lee’s next-door neighbour was Boris Karloff.
05: As a child, Lee’s parents introduced him to Felix Yusupov and Dmitri Pavlovich - the killers of Rasputin. Years later, in 1966, Lee appeared as Rasputin in Rasputin the Mad Monk. Years even later than that, Lee was asked to meet Rasputin’s daughter, who confided to him that he looked uncannily like the mad monk (it was the eyes!).
06: While doing publicity for The Man with the Golden Gun, the Golden Gun was taken off Lee and impounded by US customs.
07: Author Mervyn Peake was a friend of Lee’s sister, and occasionally Lee would meet and talk with Peake in Harrod’s Library. Decades later Lee would appear in the BBC adaptation of Peake’s Gormenghast.
08: After the war, Lee was once propositioned by a rent-boy. He was so shocked he inadvertently pushed the man through a window.
09: While filming a sword fight with Errol Flynn for The Dark Avenger, Flynn almost cut off Lee’s little finger, forever scarring and misshaping it. Years later, a rematch was filmed for Flynn’s TV show. Flynn was supposed to duck while Lee took a swing at him. The swing would go over his head, while lopping the tops off the candles on a candelabra standing behind Flynn. Lee managed the extremely difficult manoeuvre, successfully chopping the candles down. Unfortunately, he also took Flynn’s wig off his head. Flynn walked silently off set. It took over half-an-hour to persuade him it had not been deliberate.
10: Muhammad Ali insisted on meeting Lee, declaring “it really is you, I never thought I’d get to meet you!” He promised Lee Chuck Wepner’s scalp at the upcoming Heavyweight Championship bout. After winning the fight, Ali was asked if he had a message for his fans, he said: “ I won this for them, and for Christopher Lee”. Lee was watching the fights at Hugh Hefner's home alongside such luminaries as porn star Linda Lovelace and OJ Simpson.
Just remember when you see these, that they were made to actually make you want to watch the movie ... The Loch Ness Horror
Yes, it truly is horrible.
Nothing says knife-edge drama like a good ol' fashioned hoedown. She's feral, but with really good hair - and just check out that cry of anger.
Legend tells of a montage which makes no sense. I suppose they could be trying to disguise the fact that this martial arts film might be a foreign film, because obviously there are no other clues. I think there's even a vampire in it somewhere.
Tommy and the Cool Mule
I guess there really are some things that Eddie Murphy won't do.
Are they inside the spaceship or outside the spaceship? And is there a barn and a cave in the spaceship? And just how big is the spaceship? It does take war to a whole new dimension. One where continuity does not exist.
I appreciate the voiceover's effort, but in all honesty, it kind of looks like you could stroll away from him; this is a monkey who seems to like taking his time. Not sure what the asterisks are about.
Jason and the Argonauts in space! I'm not sure at which point stars actually crash. Warning: containts Hasselhoff, and bizarrely, Christopher Plummer - well, after The Sound of Music it's only right that he should suffer.
Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) Dir: Liz Garbus.
Fischer beat the Russian champion at chess during the height of the cold war, but began to lose his mind. A very disturbing documentary about a boy who turned to chess to escape his troubled upbringing, only for it to consume. Genius, it seems, really can have a terrible cost.
Gilda(1946) Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray. Dir: Charles Vidor.
A gambler's luck changes when he's hired by a casino owner, but then Gilda shows up. An odd mix of noir, psycho drama, romance and spy story - with music numbers. Feels like too many script cooks, but gets by on style, sexual chemistry and by being genuinely quite racy.
A Town Called Panic (2009) Jeanne Balibar ,Nicolas Buysse, Véronique Dumont, Bruce Ellison. Dir: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar.
Cowboy and Indian forget Horse’s birthday and accidentally order 50 million bricks before unleashing havoc. A bonkers stop-motion delight, one that takes you on a surreal and imaginative journey at startingly frenetic speed. There’s no logic to it, just enjoy the ride. Though not in English, the voices are hilarious.
King Kong (1933) Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher. Dir: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack.
A filmmaker travels to a lost island in hope of filming a legendary beast. Easy to see why this was a knockout in its day. Its sheer scale and the skill of its executed - the terrific animation and staggering sound, along with its sheer relentless brutality, are still breath-taking.
The Navigator (1924) Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Noble Johnson, Frederick Vroom. Dir: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp.
A serious of unlikely events stands Buster and the women he loves are set adrift on board a cruise ship. Buster is a fop out of water in another typically charming comic caper, featuring some of his most ingeniously silly and surreal gags. The diving sequence is a particular delight.
Safety Last (1923) Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davies, Bill Strother, Noah Young. Dir: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor.
A shop assistant’s publicity stunt goes array, and he ends up having to climb the store building himself. Influential silent, the one that introduced dramatic thrills into the comedy mix, and thanks to clever shooting, is still pretty hair-raising today. Crammed full of great gags, there's rarely a dull moment.
Whisper of the Heart(1995) Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, Martin Spanjers, Cary Elwes. Dir: Yoshifumi Kondo.
A young girl experiences the first stirrings of romance and discovers her creative calling. A lovely film about growing up and making life changing decisions. It uses the fantastical with such a light touch, it perfectly evokes a feeling of childhood imagination just on the cusp of adolescence. Very touching.
Arrietty (2011) Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Mark Strong, Olivia Colman. Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
Studio Ghibli does The Borrowers – a tiny girl and her family’s lives are threatened when she’s seen by a boy moving into the house above their hair. Ghibli’s most endearing heroine yet? Their attention to detail beautifully brings the vast, and sometimes hostile, miniature world to life. Another animated classic.
is a writer for better and for worse. I got in above my station writing for M&S, but was credit crunched down to writing about sex toys, Viagra and herpes meds. I’m now taking a step back towards legitimacy by writing for JML Direct. I’m awkward and don’t like much.