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Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ (born 27 May 1922) is an English actor. He initially portrayed villains and became famous for his role as Count Dracula in a string of Hammer Horror films. Other notable roles include Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973), Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Count Dooku in the Star Wars series, as well as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Lee considers his most important role to have been his portrayal of Pakistanmarker's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998). Lee has performed roles in 266 films since 1948.

Lee was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2009.

Early life

Sir Christopher was born in Belgraviamarker, Westminstermarker, Englandmarker, the son of the Contessa Estelle Marie (née Carandini di Sarzano) and Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee of the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps. Lee's mother was a famous Edwardian beauty who was painted by Sir John Lavery, as well as Oswald Birley and Olive Snell, and was sculpted by Clare F. Sheridan. Lee's maternal great-grandfather had been an Italianmarker political refugee who sought refuge in Australia; his great-grandmother was Australian opera singer Marie Carandini.

His parents separated when he was very young and his mother took Lee and his sister to Switzerlandmarker. After enrolling in Miss Fisher's Academy in Wengenmarker, he played his first villainous role as Rumpelstiltskin. The family returned to Londonmarker where Christopher attended Wagner's private school. His mother then married Harcourt "Ingle" Rose, a banker and uncle of the James Bond author Ian Fleming. Lee applied unsuccessfully for a scholarship to Eton although the interview was to prove portentous because of the presence of the noted ghost story author M. R. James. Lee later claimed in his autobiography that James had cut a very impressive figure; sixty years later Lee played the part of M.R. James for the BBC.

"James was at that time nick-named 'Black Mouse', derived in part from his faintly sinister black cape and mortar board, and part from his habit of mewing unexpectedly at recalcitrant pupils.
I cannot in all honesty say that at the time I was wholly displeased in failing to secure a scholarship; in many ways it was a relief.
But I do know this: few men have created such a profound impression upon me, and I partially attribute my lifelong interest in the occult to my subsequent discovery of the horror stories penned by that most intriguing and intimidating of men."


Instead, Lee attended Wellington Collegemarker where he won scholarships in classics. Lee witnessed the execution of Eugen Weidmann, the last person to be publicly executed in Francemarker, in June 1939. He volunteered to fight for the Finnishmarker forces during the Winter War against the Soviet Unionmarker in 1939; however, as Lee admits in his autobiography, he and his fellow British volunteers were in Finland only a fortnight and kept well away from the Russian forces the whole time. He went on to serve in the Royal Air Force and intelligence services during World War II including serving as an Intelligence officer with the Long Range Desert Group. He trained in South Africa as a pilot but eyesight problems forced him to drop out. He eventually ended up in North Africa as Cipher Officer for No. 260 Squadron RAF and was with it through Sicily and Italy. Additionally, he has mentioned (including in his audio commentary on the Lord of the Rings DVD) serving in Special Operations Executive, though all details of actions undertaken by members of the SOE are still classified. Lee retired from the RAF after the end of the War with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Career as an actor begins

In 1946, Lee gained a seven-year contract with the Rank Organisation after discussing his interest in acting with his mother's second cousin Nicolò Carandini, the Italian Ambassadormarker. Carandini related to Lee that performance was in his blood as his great-grandmother Marie Carandini had been a successful opera singer in Australia, a fact of which Lee was unaware. He made his film debut in Terence Young's Gothic romance, Corridor of Mirrors, in 1948.

In 1948, Lee made an uncredited appearance in Laurence Olivier's film version of Hamlet as a spear carrier (marking his first film with frequent co-star, and close friend Peter Cushing, who played Osric). Throughout the next decade, he made nearly thirty films, playing mostly stock action characters.

Lee's first film for Hammer was The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) in which he played Frankenstein's monster, with Cushing as the Baron. A little later, Lee co-starred with Boris Karloff in the film Corridors of Blood (1958), but Lee's own appearance as Frankenstein's Monster also led to his first appearance as the Transylvanian vampire in the 1958 film Dracula (known as Horror of Dracula in the US). Stories vary as to why Lee did not feature in the 1960 sequel The Brides of Dracula. Some state Hammer were unwilling to pay Lee his current fee, but most tend to believe that he simply did not wish to be typecast. Lee did, however, return to the role in Hammer's Dracula: Prince of Darkness in 1965. Lee's performance is notable in that he has no lines, merely hissing his way through the film. Again, stories vary as to the reason for this: Lee states he refused to speak the poor dialogue he was given, but screenwriter Jimmy Sangster claims that the script did not contain any lines for the character. This film set the standard for most of the Dracula sequels in the sense that half the film's running time was spent on telling the story of Dracula's resurrection and the character's appearances were brief. Lee has gone on record to state that he was virtually 'blackmailed' by Hammer into starring in the subsequent films; unable or unwilling to pay him his going rate, they would resort to reminding him of how many people he would put out of work if he did not take part.

His performances in the following three films Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) and Scars of Dracula) (1970) all gave the Count very little to do, but were all commercially successful. Although Lee may not have liked what Hammer were doing with the character, worldwide audiences embraced the films which are now considered classics of the genre. Lee starred in two further Dracula films for Hammer in the early 1970s, both of which attempted to bring the character into the modern day era. These were not commercially successful. Lee's other work for Hammer included performances as The Mummy (1959). Lee was well suited for the role of Kharis the Mummy standing over 6'5" and in great physical shape. This was one of Lee's best performances, despite only being able to convey emotion through his eyes for the majority of the film. Lee's performance as the Mummy was exceptional and is considered by many to be Hammer's best film and Lee's greatest performance. Lee also portrayed Rasputin in Rasputin, the Mad Monk (Lee apparently met Rasputin's assassin Felix Yussupov when he was a child), and Sir Henry Baskerville to Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). He auditioned for a role in The Longest Day (1962), but was turned down as he did not look like a military man (despite having served in the RAF during World War II).



He was responsible for bringing acclaimed occult author Denis Wheatley to Hammer. The company made two films from Wheatley's novels, both starring Lee. The first, The Devil Rides Out (1967), is generally considered to be one of Hammer's crowning achievements. According to Lee, Wheatley was so pleased with it that he offered the actor the film rights to his remaining black magic novels free of charge. However, the second film, To the Devil a Daughter (1976), was fraught with production difficulties, and was disowned by its author. Although financially successful, it was Hammer's last horror film, and marked the end of Lee's long association with the studio that brought him fame.

Like Cushing, Lee also appeared in horror films for other companies during the 20 year period from 1957 to 1977. Other performances included the series of Fu Manchu films from 1965 to 1969, starring as the eponymous villain in heavy oriental make-up, playing Jekyll and Hyde in I, Monster (1971), The Creeping Flesh (1972) and Lord Summerisle in his personal favourite The Wicker Man (1973). Lee was attracted to the latter role by screenwriter Anthony Shaffer and apparently gave his services free as the budget was so small. Lee also appeared in Billy Wilder's British-made film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), in which the actor plays Sherlock Holmes' decidedly smarter brother, Mycroft and in Eugenie (1970) unaware that it was softcore pornography, as the sex scenes were shot separately.

After the Hammer Films

Since the mid 1970s, Lee has eschewed horror roles almost entirely. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels, and his step-cousin, had offered him the role of the title character in the first official Bond film Dr. No. Lee enthusiastically accepted, but the producers had already chosen Joseph Wiseman for the part. In 1974, Lee finally got to play a James Bond villain when he was cast as the deadly assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Because of his filming schedule in Bangkok, film director Ken Russell was unable to sign Lee to play The Specialist in Tommy (1975). That role was eventually given to Jack Nicholson. According to an AMC documentary on Halloween, John Carpenter states that he offered the role of Sam Loomis to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee before Donald Pleasance took the role. Years later, Lee would meet Carpenter and tell him that the biggest regret of his career was not taking the role of Dr. Loomis. In 1978, Lee surprised many people with his willingness to go along with a joke as guest host on NBC's Saturday Night Live. In 1979, he played German officer Capt. Wolfgang Von Kleinschmidt in the film 1941 directed by Steven Spielberg.

In 1982, Lee appeared in The Return of Captain Invincible. In this film, Lee plays a fascist who plans to rid America (and afterwards, the World) of all non-whites. Lee also sings on two tracks in the film ("Name Your Poison" and "Mister Midnight") displaying a fine bass and some fine dance moves to songs written by Richard O'Brien and Richard Hartley (Who had written the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show seven years previously).

In 1994 Lee played the character of the Russian commandant in Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.

In 1998, Lee starred in the role of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of modern Pakistanmarker, in the film Jinnah. While talking about his favorite role in film at a press conference at Brusselsmarker Fantasy film festival he declared that his role in Jinnah was by far his best performance..

Lee was at one point considered for the role of Comic Book villain/ hero Magneto in the screen adaptation of the popular comic book series X-Men. but he lost out the role to Sir Ian Mckellen.

He has had many television roles, including that of Flay in the BBC television miniseries, based on Mervyn Peake's novels, Gormenghast (2000), and Stefan Wyszyński in the CBS film John Paul the Second (2005). He played Lucas de Beaumanoir, the Grand Master of the Templar Order, in the BBC/A&E co-production of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1997). He also played a role in the made-for-TV series La Révolution française (1989) in part 2, "Les Annees Terribles", as the executioner, Sanson, who beheaded Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre and others.
Lee at Forbidden Planet New Oxford Street, signing The Two Towers
Lee starred as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (In the commentary he states he had a decades-long dream to play Gandalf, but said he was now too old, and his physical limitations prevented his being considered. The role of Saruman, by contrast, required no horseback riding and much less fighting. Gandalf was given to Ian McKellen and Lee played Saruman.) Lee had met Tolkien once (making him the only person in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy to have done so), and makes a habit of reading the novels at least once a year. In addition, he performed for the album The Lord of the Rings: Songs and Poems by J. R. R. Tolkien in 2003. Lee had his appearance in the third film's theatrical release cut, resulting in a frosty friendship with Peter Jackson, however, the scene was reinstated in the extended edition.

The Lord of the Rings marked the beginning of a small revival of his career that continued in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) in which he played Count Dooku, a name allegedly chosen to reflect his fame playing Count Dracula. His autobiography states that he did much of the swordplay himself, though a double was required for the more vigorous footwork. His good friend and frequent co-star, Peter Cushing, portrayed the equally icy Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

According to the Oracle of Bacon website at the University of Virginiamarker, Lee is ranked second (just behind Rod Steiger) as the "Center of the Hollywood Universe" due to his large number of films with a correspondingly large number of different castmates.

In addition to more than a dozen feature films together for Hammer Films, Amicus Productions and other companies, Lee and Peter Cushing both appeared in Hamlet (1948) and Moulin Rouge (1952) albeit in separate scenes; and in separate installments of the Star Wars films, Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in the original film, Lee years later as Count Dooku. The last project which united them in person was a documentary, Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994), which they jointly narrated. It was the last time they saw each other as Cushing died two months later. While they frequently played off each other as mortal enemies onscreen—Lee's Count Dracula to Cushing's Professor Van Helsing—they were close friends in real life.

Lee appeared on the cover of the Wings album Band on the Run along with other people, including chat show host Michael Parkinson, movie actor James Coburn, world boxing champion John Conteh and broadcaster Clement Freud.

Lee is one of the favorite actors of Tim Burton and has become a regular in many of Burton's films, having now worked the director five times since 1999. He had a small role as the Burgomaster in the film Sleepy Hollow. In 2005 Lee then went on to voice the character of Pastor Galswells in Corpse Bride co-directed by Burton and Mike Johnston and play a small role in the Burton's reimagining of the classic Roald Dahl tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as Willy Wonka's strict dentist father Dr. Wilbur Wonka.

In 2007 Lee collaborated with Burton for a fourth time on Sweeney Todd playing the spirit of Sweeney Todd's victims called The Gentleman Ghost alongside Anthony Head, with both singing "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", its reprises and the Epilogue. These songs were recorded, but eventually cut since director Tim Burton felt that the songs were too theatrical for the film. Lee's appearance was completely cut from the film, but Head still has an uncredited one-line cameo.

In 2009 Lee marked their fifth collaboration by voicing the The Jabberwock in the Burton's upcoming adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic book Alice in Wonderland alongside Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway.

Due for release in 2009, Lee will be starring in Stephen Poliakoff's British period drama Glorious 39 with Julie Christie, Bill Nighy, Romola Garai and David Tennant. Academy Award nominated director Danis Tanović's war film Triage with Colin Farrell and Paz Vega and also Duncan Ward's comedy Boogie Woogie alongside Amanda Seyfried, Gillian Anderson, Stellan Skarsgård and Joanna Lumley.

2010 is also shaping up to as profilic for Lee, with roles in The Resident alongside Hilary Swank and Season Of The Witch starring Nicolas Cage.

He is also reprising his role as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Tree, adapted and directed by The Wicker Man director Robin Hardy from his 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ.

Voice work

Lee sings on the The Wicker Man soundtrack, performing Paul Giovanni's psych folk composition, "The Tinker of Rye". He also sings the closing credits song of the 1994 horror movie Funny Man. His most notable musical work on film, however, appears in the strange superhero comedy/rock musical The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) which Lee steals with a raucous song and dance number called "Name Your Poison", written by Richard O'Brien.

Lee reprised his role as Saruman in the video game The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth along with the other actors of the films.

Lee provided the off-camera voice of "U.N. Owen", the mysterious host who brings disparate characters together in Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (1965). The film was produced by Harry Alan Towers, for whom Lee had worked repeatedly in the 1960s. Even though he is not credited on the film, the voice is unmistakable.

Lee appears on Peter Knight and Bob Johnson's (of Steeleye Span) 1970s concept album The King of Elfland's Daughter. Lee also provided the voices for the roles of DiZ (Ansem the Wise) in the video games Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and of Pastor Galswells in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, then again as the narrator on The Nightmare Before Christmas's poem written by Tim Burton as well.

He contributed his voice as Death in the animated versions of Terry Pratchett's Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters and reprised the role in the Sky1 live action adaptation The Colour of Magic, taking over the role from the late Ian Richardson.

He is fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, and moderately proficient in Swedish, Russian and Greek. He was the original voice of Thor in the German dubs in the Danish 1986 animated movie Valhalla, and of King Haggard in the 1982 animated adaptation of The Last Unicorn.

Lee bridged two disparate genres of music by performing a heavy metal variation of the Toreador Song from the opera Carmen with the band Inner Terrestrials. Lee narrated and sang for the Danish musical group The Tolkien Ensemble, taking the role of Treebeard, King Théoden and others in the readings or singing of their respective poems or songs. Lee also appeared as a narrator for Italianmarker symphonic fantasy power metal band Rhapsody of Fire, playing the Wizard King in the latest two albums, Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret and Triumph or Agony. He narrates several tracks in the two albums, as well as singing a duet with lead vocalist Fabio Lione in the single "The Magic of the Wizard's Dream" from the Symphony of Enchanted Lands II album. Lee was the voice of Lucan D'Lere in the trailers for Everquest II.

Some thirty years after playing Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, Lee provided the voice of Scaramanga in the video game GoldenEye: Rogue Agent.

In 2005 Lee provided the voice the of Pastor Galswells in The Corpse Bride co-directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnston.

In 2007, Lee voiced the transcript of The Children of Húrin, by J. R. R. Tolkien for the audiobook version of the novel.

Lee reprised his role of Count Dooku in the animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars but did not appear in the TV series. Corey Burton takes his place for Count Dooku.

Lee has been signed by Falcon Picture Group to host the syndicated radio series "Mystery Theater", a nightly two-hour program featuring classic radio mystery shows. The program is distributed by Syndication Networks Corporation with a launch date on March 2, 2009.

In the video game adaption of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, although Count Dooku is mainly played by Christopher Lee's audio double Corey Burton, in a cut scene of the game, Christopher Lee reprised his role as Count Dooku, saying the line "Just because there are two of you, do not assume that you have the advantage".

Lee has also recently collaborated again with Tim Burton, this time by voicing the The Jabberwock in the Burton's upcoming adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic book Alice in Wonderland

Honours

In 2001, Lee was appointed Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II and was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2009. Lee was named 2005's 'most marketable star in the world' in a USA Today newspaper poll, after three of the films he appeared in grossed US$640 million.

Personal life

Lee with his wife, the former Danish model Birgit Kroencke
The Carandinis, Lee's maternal ancestors, were given the right to bear the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Cinemareview cites: "Cardinal Consalvi was Papal Secretary of State at the time of Napoleon and is buried at the Pantheonmarker in Romemarker next to the painter Raphael. His painting, by Lawrence, hangs in Windsor Castlemarker". Lee's great-grandparents formed Australia's first opera company, performing before miners in towns in the outback.

Lee is a step-cousin of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels. He has been married to the Danishmarker model Birgit Kroencke (also known as Gitte Lee) since 1961. They have a daughter named Christina Erika Carandini (b. 23 November 1963). He is also the uncle of the British actress Harriet Walter.

Lee has a longstanding personal interest in the occult, maintaining a library of over 12,000 books which is largely devoted to the topic. This is discussed in his autobiography, Tall, Dark and Gruesome.

Lee is a vocal supporter of the British Conservative Party.

At his peak height of 6' 5" (1.96 m) he is one of the tallest leading actors. In 1999 Lee confirmed he has lost an inch in height and is now 6' 4".

Books authored

  • Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror, Pyramid Publications, 1966
  • Christopher Lee's New Chamber of Horrors, Souvenir Press, 1974
  • Christopher Lee's Archives of Terror, Warner Books, Volume I, 1975; Volume 2, 1976
  • Tall, Dark and Gruesome (autobiography), W. H. Allen, 1977 and 1999
  • Lord of Misrule (autobiography, a revised and expanded edition of Tall, Dark and Gruesome), Orion Publishing Group Ltd., 2004


Filmography

Albums



References

  1. Christopher Lee talks about his favorite role, YouTube video
  2. Christopher Lee Biography (1922-)
  3. Merchant of menace - Telegraph
  4. Christopher Lee playing M.R. James for the BBC in 2000, YouTube video
  5. Lord of the Rings: At Dawn in Rivendell at Amazon
  6. UVA Computer Science: Who is the Center of the Hollywood Universe?
  7. Queen makes Blair an offer that he can refuse - Telegraph
  8. Tim Burton — KCRW | 89.9FM
  9. Hi-Res Look at Hilary Swank in Hammer Films' 'The Resident'
  10. Christopher Lee Reflects on His Career
  11. Stylus magazine website. Retrieved 3 June 2006.
  12. Extensive biography at Tiscali UK
  13. IMDB entry for Valhalla
  14. IMDB entry for The Last Unicorn
  15. Video clip at christopherleeweb.com
  16. The Green Man review website. Retrieved 3 June 2006.
  17. The EA Games website, URL accessed 2 May 2006.
  18. British Honours, 16 June 2001. BBC website.
  19. Veteran horror actor Lee knighted 13 June 2009. BBC.
  20. UK Honours List 12 June 2009, BBC.
  21. In brief: Christopher Lee 'most bankable' star. The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2006.
  22. Christopher Lee, 'Lord of Misrule'.


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