Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For the Love of Christopher Lee

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.


Anonymous said...

He barely beat Chuck Wepner. Wepner is who Rocky is based on.

Anonymous said...

In the first paragraph, "Lee has an enjoyably drole way of writing"

I think you may want to google search for "drole" , it might not spell the word you are thinking of.

Anonymous said...

I adore Mr. Lee. He's the man who made vampires sexy. I ordered his book a few days ago. Can't wait to read it. The man is just bad to the bone!