“Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.” - Robert Heinlein, “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”
So Christopher Lee has left us. On June 7, 2015, at the age of 93, Christopher Lee passed off this mortal coil. There was an enormous outpouring of love that I'm certain would have pleased him greatly. But while there were expressions of shock and sadness as well, I'm afraid I'm not able to share in those.
Surely he will be missed, yet at 93 one can't help but think that if anyone deserves a good rest, it might be Mr. Lee. Look at that quote above from Mr. Heinlein. If anyone savored life, if anyone lived each day to the fullest, it could be argued that Mr. Lee was that individual.
This is what Mr. Lee accomplished in the last three years of his life, from his 90 th birthday: eight films, including two of Peter Jackson's THE HOBBIT trilogy, DARK SHADOWS, and THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK; four Heavy metal albums, including “Charlemagne: The Omens of Death”, “A Heavy Metal Christmas”, and "A Heavy Metal Christmas Too”; recorded narration of two video games, including “Lego The Hobbit”, and was awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship and France's Commander of the Order of Arts & Letters. That's more than enough for anyone to consider with satisfaction and pride, but at the age of 90, when theoretically a person is supposed to be slowing down and enjoying the sunset of their lives, it's astonishing.
In fact, Mr. Lee was an astonishing man; a revered and respected performer, a war hero with a record of service and heroism, a connoisseur of literature and film, knighted by the British government in 2009, owner of numerous awards from such diverse institutions as the British government and British Film Institute, University College Dublin, and the Trinity College Philosophical Society, and a defined “gentleman” almost universally beloved and admired. Whatever else he might have been in this world, as defined above by Mr. Heinlein, Mr. Lee was no monk.
Prince Charles knighting Sir Christopher Lee - June 13, 2009
I believe what so many people are mourning is the passing of tradition. Mr. Lee was definitely the last of the “Horror Royalty”, performers who've made a substantial mark on the genre by their continued working in and expansion of the field, working with others in an unofficial repertory, and raising the weakest material to greater heights by their sheer professionalism. He belongs to the number including Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaneys both Senior and Junior, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price and, of course, his long-time dear friend and co-star Peter Cushing.
There simply are no more of these; Mr. Lee is the last of their kind. Think today: the stars of the Horror field are more likely to be the directors and special effects technicians than the actors. Who has the resume that the gentleman above possess? Jack Nicholson? He certainly has done his share in the genre, but he isn't as closely associated with the Dark Fantastic as these gentlemen were. Robert Englund? He comes the closest with an impressive body of work and certainly elder statesmen status, but his roles don't seem to offer the wide variety that were afforded Mr. Lee and the others.
No, I fear to say that the sorrow expressed in Mr. Lee's passing is simple acknowledgement that he was indeed the last of a lost breed, and we'll not see their kind again.
The role that made him an icon - Count Dracula
In addition to being a fine actor, Mr. Lee was extremely well read, and had a knowledge and appreciation for the best that the genre had to offer. He enjoyed Horror (although he didn't care for the term as a description of the field) and was well-familiar with it. He was a huge fan of Bram Stoker's “Dracula”, and his reluctance to perform in the many sequels to his original appearance as the character had less to do with typecasting (although that was a great concern) as with the fact that the films had less and less to do with the actual Count that Mr. Stoker had created.
He was a great admirer and reader of J. R. R. Tolkien, had met the author several times, and when he learned that Peter Jackson was adapting “Lord of the Rings” into a film trilogy, wrote the director and asked to be considered for the role of Gandalf. Mr. Jackson leapt at the possibility of having Christopher Lee in his films, but thought he might be too old for how he envisioned Gandalf appearing. He instead offered Mr. Lee the role of the evil Saruman the White. Mr. Lee delightedly grabbed the part, and the rest is cinematic history.
He was an enthusiast of M. R. James, perhaps the finest author of ghost stories who ever lived, and portrayed the writer in a series of short films adapting Mr. James's work for special Christmas broadcasts on the BBC. He stated that his favorite film of Dark Fantasy was ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY (also known as THE DEVIL & DANIEL WEBSTER), a marvelous 1941 movie based on the classic story by Stephen Vincent Benet and starring Edward Arnold, Walter Huston (excellent as Mr. Scratch, in reality the Devil) and the beautiful Simone Simon. It certainly appealed to his literary tastes in the macabre.
He appeared as the voice of King Haggard in the film adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's THE LAST UNICORN. Legend has it that when he arrived at the studio, he carried with him his own copy of the novel marked in several places of moments that had been deleted in the screenplay, and with very definite opinions on why they should not have been deleted. I believe he got his way… (A noted linguist, he also recorded his voice for the German version of THE LAST UNICORN for no fee because he loved the film.)
A noted bit of trivia from Horror film history: one of the roles he turned down in his career was the opportunity to play Dr. Sam Loomis in John carpenter's classic HALLOWEEN. (He was Mr. Carpenter's first choice.) For his own reasons at the time he said no, and Donald Pleasance became the iconic character. In recent years, Mr. Lee had stated many times that decision was the biggest mistake he'd made in his life, and one of his few true regrets.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS - Saruman the White
If Mr. Lee had only been an actor, his life achievements would still be impressive. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is the actor with the most film performances in history (at this time): 230 films are to his credit. But he was much more than an actor.
In addition, Mr. Lee was a fine singer, with an affection for styles as diverse as opera and popular music. He sang in film several times, particularly in THE WICKER MAN and THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE. He performed on several soundtracks, including “Annie Get Your Gun”, “The Rocky Horror Show” and “The King & I”, and was featured on the albums of musicians Steeleye Span (“The King of Elfland's Daughter”) and Manowar (“Battle Hymns MMXI”) As incongruous as it may appear, he was a huge fan of Heavy Metal music, and released several albums of his own, backed by bands such as Judas Priest and Angra. He became the oldest entertainer to enter the music charts with his single “Jingle Hell” from “A Heavy Metal Christmas Too” (taking the title from previous record-holder Tony Bennett) and received the Spirit of Metal Award at the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony.
He was a decorated veteran of World War II as a member of RAF Intelligence (after he was forced to leave the Royal Air Force due to headaches and blurred vision during flight). He fought in the North African campaign, then moved on to Malta and the Allied invasion of Sicily. During the fighting he was nearly killed several times and succumbed to with malaria six times. Towards the end of the war he was responsible for tracking down Nazi war criminals, and was also attached to Special Operations, activities so secret that up until his death Mr. Lee was unable to talk about them.
His masterpiece - THE WICKER MAN
There are so many tales told of Mr. Lee, some of them no doubt apocryphal, but all as fascinating as his life.
Because of his experience during the war, he was very familiar with genuine, actual violence and its particulars. He spoke about it in an interview: “I've seen many men die right in front of me - so many in fact that I've become almost hardened to it. Having seen the worst that human beings can do to each other, the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb, you develop a kind of shell. But you had to. You had to. Otherwise, we would never have won.”
During the filming of LORD OF THE RINGS, director Peter Jackson was trying to describe the sound Mr. Lee should make when his character Saruman was stabbed in the back. Mr. Lee spoke up. “ Peter, have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he's stabbed in the back? Well, I have, and I know what to do.”
One of the more famous incidents concerns his work hunting the Nazis at the end of WWII. While filming THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in Thailand, Mr. Lee was walking through the city with the film's director, Guy Hamilton, when they chanced upon a notorious Nazi war criminal, who had been hiding in Thailand since fleeing Germany at the end of the war (as often happened).
Angry at the man's ability to live openly in that foreign country, Misters Lee and Hamilton went to the authorities to ask that the man be arrested. Unfortunately, many government officials in Thailand's police department have been known to be corrupt and paid off for looking the other way (which is how the war criminals flourished in such places), and the two received no satisfaction for their efforts and entreaties. As they left the police, Mr. Hamilton noticed Mr. Lee was angry and brooding silently.
After giving it some thought during the night, the next day on the set Mr. Hamilton approached Mr. Lee and said, “We didn't have any luck with the local authorities, but why don't we go to the British Consulate and see if they'll help us?”
To which Mr. Lee replied, “That's all right; don't worry about it. It's been taken care of.” And he said no more about the incident, to Mr. Hamilton's puzzlement.
Some days later the body of the war criminal was found in his home. He'd been beaten severely and strangled to death. No one was ever arrested for the crime.
There's probably more legend than fact in that tale, but as they say: if it isn't true, it ought to be…
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN with Roger Moore as James Bond
No eulogy for Mr. Lee would be complete without touching upon his deep friendship and working relationship with Peter Cushing.
The two had actually appeared together in a few other films prior to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, their first Hammer feature (most notably in Olivier's HAMLET and MOULIN ROUGE), but they'd never actually met before. (Not so unusual in film, when many actors work on different schedules and, unlike stage work, aren't required to be on the set all the time.) He was offered the role of the Creature primarily because of his height, standing over 6' 5” tall.
As I stated before, Mr. Lee had a vast knowledge of macabre literature, including Ms. Shelly's “Frankenstein”, and was greatly offended that his role in the film consisted of no dialogue. (Unlike the Creature in the novel which has long, philosophical speeches.)
According to his autobiography, he stalked into the dressing room he shared with Peter Cushing on the Hammer lot in a furious temper. He looked at Mr. Cushing, whom he'd not yet met in person, and shouted, "I haven't got any lines!" Mr. Cushing calmly replied, "You're lucky; I've read the script.". And a legendary friendship was born.
Christopher Lee & Peter Cushing sharing a laugh off-camera.
It's not hyperbole to say that the performances and stardom of both Mr. Cushing and Mr. Lee made Hammer studios the success it was. While there were many talented individuals behind the scenes creating the movies, it was these two stars in the public's consciousness that became the faces of Hammer. Indeed, Mr. Lee remembers many times turning down a role, only to have the head of the studio call him and plead with him, “Do you know how many people you'll put out of work if you don't do this film?”
And, naturally, some of their best work came from playing off each other, their friendship and professionalism allowing a terrific chemistry between them, even when they might be on opposite sides of the story (as with Van Helsing and Dracula). Together they made 24 films, many some of their best work.
Looking back on their lives together, long after Mr. Cushing's death, Mr. Lee remembered his friend: “He really was the most gentle and generous of men. I have often said he died because he was too good for this world…I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.”
If there's any justice in the afterworld (and I believe there is), the one good thing about Mr. Lee's passing is that he's again sharing laughter and good conversation with his companion, catching up on their time apart.
A moment with one of their great fans, Sammy Davis Jr. In 1970, Mr. Sammy Davis Jr. & Peter Lawford starred in the comedy ONE MORE TIME, filmed in England. Misters Lee & Cushing appeared in cameos in the movie, spoofing their Horror persona's. As Sammy Davis Jr. explores an old mansion house, he makes his way down to the basement - to discover Count Dracula and Baron Frankenstein engaged in some macabre experiment.
Choosing the essential Christopher Lee filmography would be an arduous task and daunting under any circumstances, but it becomes moreso when you realize that Mr. Lee's solid professionalism as an actor often made even the least of his films interesting and well worth watching.
Take THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, as an example: if we're honest in examining it carefully, it isn't a terribly good film (although is certainly achieves its modest goals of frightening, and is worthwhile not only for its place in history as for the performances of Misters Cushing and Lee). Mr. Lee's role is limited; he isn't allowed to show the pathos and humanity Mr. Karloff conveyed so well in the Universal movies. Even Mr. Cushing and Mr. Lee had expressed their disappointment in it after so many years.
Still, Mr. Lee's performance is commanding. Using only his body language, conveying his performance entirely through physicality, he still conveys a pitiful, terrible creation baffled at the world around him and undeserving of the pain inflicted upon him. It's a powerful mute performance, and if it suffers in comparison with the other actors in the movie, one can only plead the limitations imposed on him by the role. (He and Mr. Cushing did much better and came into their own with their next effort, HORROR OF DRACULA.)
Because of this, we can see that there are some films in Mr. Lee's repertoire that shine brighter than the rest (something Mr. Lee would no doubt agree with) and I offer the following examples as his finest hours (in my opinion, of course). These are not necessarily my favorites (I've included them at the end of the list) but I consider them the best; if you're looking to introduce a friend who's unfamiliar with the work of Mr. Lee, these would be a fine starting point. (And note that not all of them fall within our genre.)
The legend begins - CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN - I've spoken about this above; with all its flaws it becomes essential simply because this was the first, the one that started it all. The ride can be forgiven for beginning a bit bumpy due to its being a shakedown cruise.
HORROR OF DRACULA - This was the one that sprang out of the gate as an unconditional triumph. As in the novel, Dracula's appearance was limited (as were his lines) which had the effect of making the terror and threat more oppressive. With his first words and entrance Mr. Lee cast aside any comparison to Mr. Lugosi. His Count Dracula was cultured, aristocratic and commanding, a refined gentleman used to getting his way – and a stark contrast to the hissing, feral creature he becomes when the bloodlust is upon him. Mr. Cushing matched him pace by pace as the intellectual and athletic Van Helsing, two sworn enemies in a pitched battle for the very soul of the English countryside. Their final battle at Dracula's castle is near perfection, and a legend is born.
DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS - Mr. Lee was apparently annoyed with the banality of Dracula's dialogue in this script, so all his lines were cut, and he portrayed the vampire count silently. Remarkably this does little to detract from his powerful presence, and he still commands the screen with his every appearance. If the sequel doesn't quite live up to its predecessor (Mr. Cushing's Van Helsing is sorely missed, although Andrew Keir does a fine job as the priest confronting Dracula) it is still a powerful and eerie bit of gothic Horror.
THE MUMMY - Mr. Lee cemented his stature as the leading Horror actor of his time with this energetic and muscular portrayal of the title creature. His flashbacks to ancient Egypt reveal the tortured presence behind the sinister bandages, but it is his physical, brutal portrayal of the risen and rage-filled mummy that packs power. Teamed again with his friend Mr. Cushing, this is a splendid reworking of Mr. Karloff's classic.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES - As Sir Henry Baskerville, Mr. Lee gives one of his first sympathetic, non-genre performances, again opposite Mr. Cushing as Sherlock Holmes. Rich in atmosphere and filmed with the high production standards Hammer had become associated with, this is probably the finest version of Arthur Conan Doyle's suspenseful novel, easily tied with the Basil Rathbone adaptation.
SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN - a genuine mad tea party of a movie, the primary reason for this being an essential was the first teaming of three Horror icons – Mr. Lee, Mr. Cushing and Vincent Price – in one film, although their parts are relatively small. Still, this is an entertaining (if occasionally silly) exercise in fear and overreaction, with some genuinely memorable moments from the triad. Like a good beach novel on a hot summer day, it's an enjoyable waste of time.
DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS - Teamed again with Mr. Cushing, this was the first of the Amicus anthology films, featuring several stories tied together by a linking tale. In this case Mr. Cushing is a fortune teller sharing a railroad car with five strangers (among them Mr. Lee and a very young Donald Sutherland). As they travel Mr. Cushing reveals their futures, which make up the ensuing tales. Mr. Lee finds the experience distasteful and nonsensical, and his conflict with Mr. Cushing provides much of the drama thoughout the film. Fittingly, Mr. Lee has his future read last (in the original version; in the American release the tales were rearranged slightly) and his story, of an art critic being pursued by the dismembered hand of an artist he'd driven to suicide, is a tour-de-force.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS/THE FOUR MUSKETEERS - Not within the genre, but splendid entertainment nonetheless, these films are probably the best and most authoritative adaptations of the Alexander Dumas novels. Alongside Michael York, Raquel Welch, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Faye Dunaway and Charlton Heston, Mr. Lee makes an imposing and comically villainous Rochefort, obviously relishing all the swashbuckling and physical comedy. So iconic was his performance that the eyepatch used on the character – which was not in the original novel, but was a suggestion of Mr. Lee's – became the definitive article and has been used for Rochefort in all succeeding productions.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN - I confess that I'm not as enamored of this film as others, preferring the original James Bond novel (of which this has little to no relation; it was the beginning practice of using only the titles and writing a completely original story – which, to be fair, probably truly began with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, forgive the digression – that would be followed with THE SPY WHO LOVES ME and MOONRAKER). Still, there are compensations; Mr. Moore is still fresh in his portrayal of James Bond, there are some fantastic set-pieces and stunts, and Mr. Lee's performance is sly and authoritative, portraying the killer as a reversal of Bond's honor-bound and righteous agent. Their verbal duel on morality is a rare character moment in a later Bond film, and their physical duel, beginning with guns drawn and marching back to back away from each other on a deserted beach, is quite suspenseful.
HORROR EXPRESS - Put Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee together with a flamboyant Telly Savalas, a gorgeous Siberian train setting, armed Cossacks, Russian royalty, and a fossilized missing link that may contain an otherworldly intelligence, and you have a wonderfully entertaining and suspenseful adventure/Horror collaboration. Watching Misters Cushing and Lee as scientists try to solve the mystery while staying ahead and under the gaze of Mr. Savalas's Captain Kazan is a joy, and the scares are plentiful.
THE WICKER MAN - A masterpiece. Mr. Lee stated in no uncertain terms that this was his favorite film and probably his best performance, and I'd be hard pressed to second-guess the gentleman. Suffice to say you'll see him here out-of-character in ways you might never imagine. I'll say no more; it simply must be experienced. Expert direction from Robin Hardy, a literate and slowly unnerving script by Anthony Shaffer (of SLEUTH and Alfred Hitchcock's FRENZY, and brother of Peter of AMADEUS and EQUUS fame), with solid performances by Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt and the rest of the ensemble. If you've never seen it, I envy you your first encounter; you'll never forget it. If you have seen it, reacquaint yourself with its wonders. NOTE: Do not mistake the abysmal Nicholas Cage 2006 version with this one; it's like comparing Van Gogh's “Starry Night” with a child's fingerpainting (and not a particularly talented child at that…)
HUGO – Mr. Lee has a small role in this delightful Martin Scorsese adaptation of Brian Selznick's classic children's book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, but it's a featured role that plays off his imposing presence and turns it smartly (and beautifully) on its head. It's a wonderful cameo in a very special film; you'll remember it well.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY - The very definition of epic filmmaking, Peter Jackson's stalwart effort certainly didn't please everyone (some of the most vocal Tolkien fans believed it took too many liberties) but all conceded that Mr. Lee was perfectly cast as the power-hungry Saruman the White. In many ways it was a dream role for Mr. Lee, who was a great follower of Mr. Tolkien and his work (he'd met him in the 1950s) and wanted very much to be part of the experience. He is featured most prominently in the second film, and was greatly displeased that Mr. Jackson left his demise out of the final movie THE RETURN OF THE KING. That scene has since been restored on the extended DVD Director's Cut, and is now considered the Authorized Version.
THE CORPSE BRIDE - In his later years Mr. Lee began a partnership with director Tim Burton, appearing in five of his films (Mr. Burton had long been a huge fan of the actor) and would have appeared in six had his role in SWEENEY TODD not been cut from the finished picture. However he was best served by lending his distinctive voice to this animated gem, and joining the ensemble in song.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS with Faye Dunaway
GORMENGHAST - Based on the classic novels by Mervyn Peake, this miniseries is lush and gothic in tone, dealing with the machinations of an ancient country comprised entirely of an enormous castle (the Gormenghast of the title). Mr. Lee is properly imperious and sinister as the manservant Flay, and the double dealings through the corridors of the immense city-state echo both Shakespearean intrigue and classic Fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis.
THE LAST UNICORN - Peter S. Beagle's wonderful novel became one of Rankin-Bass's (SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN, MAD MONSTER PARTY, RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, THE HOBBIT) finest two hours. Among the fans of the book was Mr. Lee himself; I've already spoken above of how he came to his recording session, book in hand, with suggestions on what to incorporate that had been left out in the original screenplay.
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES - Mr. Lee often credited this film and director Billy Wilder with breaking him out of the typecasting mold of the Hammer Horror films. I agree. He also thought that Mr. Wilder was one of the best directors he even worked with, and I can't argue that either; in fact it's sinful that this film isn't better known than it is. A terrific adventure-comedy romp, the movie finds Mr. Lee cast as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's more-brilliant brother, keeping secrets that impinge on Holmes's current investigation. The set-pieces are brilliantly staged (a battle with the Lock Ness Monster being among them) and the climactic scene of both Mycroft and Sherlock with Queen Victoria is a comic gem. Robert Stephens. Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page and Clive Revill are equally outstanding, as is the rest of the cast. If you haven't seen this, go and rent it immediately. You're welcome.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT - A splendid film, one that should have been the first of series. As a connoisseur of supernatural fiction, Mr. Lee was a fan of Dennis Wheatley's work, and approached Hammer studios insisting that they adapt the novel. The screenplay was by the masterful scribe Richard Matheson, and Mr. Lee's performance as Nicholas the Duc de Richleau – a sort of refined, British equivalent of Carl Kolchak – was a perfect characterization, as he goes up against a Satanic cult. Sadly, the film didn't do well financially on its initial release; it's only now recognized as a triumph of atmosphere and intelligence.
CITY OF THE DEAD - This is a vastly underrated gem of a film, owing much to a Hitchcock classic as it does to CURSE OF THE DEMON, BURN WITCH, BURN and Val Lewton's masterpieces. A student goes to a small, isolated English village to investigate rumors of a supernatural cult. Mr. Lee portrays her professor, who may know more than he's initially letting on. Intelligent, subtle and disturbing, this is a lost classic that should be better know.
THE FACE OF FU MANCHU - the inspiration for DR. NO?
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD - Another wonderful anthology film from Amicus, written by the legendary Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) from his short stories. Mr. Lee's segment is based on the famous “Sweets for the Sweet", and he plays a father to a young lady who may be less innocent than she appears. The ending of the story is a shocker, and the film follows suit admirably.
Of course, as state before, almost any of Mr. Lee's performances are worth your time, whether they be in one of the increasingly silly DRACULA sequels or as a cameo in a Tim Burton production. The films below are worth a look, and are just slightly below the bar set by the above, but in many ways it's all subjective. Quite a few of these are my personal favorites; no doubt some of yours are among them also.
GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS (as stated above, in which he portrays author M. R. James, introducing some of his greatest stories adapted for BBC television;
FAERIE TALE THEATRE – “The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers” (a wonderful adaptation of the Grimm Brother's fable); RAW MEAT; THE CREEPING FLESH; POOR DEVIL (a personal favorite with Mr. Lee a very hip Lucifer alongside Sammy Davis Jr., Jack Klugman, and Adam West, enjoyable for a rare excursion into outright comedy); THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH; THE GORGON; THE SKULL; THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (it was his portrayal of Sax Rohmer's pulp villain that made Ian Fleming recommend his cousin for the title role of DR. NO); RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK; THE OBLONG BOX; GOLIATH AWAITS (a splendid gothic miniseries of a society created in the sunken hold of an ocean vessel); THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVICIBLE (Mr. Lee sings songs composed by Richard O'Brien, who wrote THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW!); SLEEPY HOLLOW; and his several guest appearances on THE AVENGERS, SPACE:1999, and an early appearance on THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.
Unfamiliar with some of these? You have hours of pleasure ahead…
DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS again with his good friend Peter Cushing.
A few final notes on Mr. Lee…
Ad mentioned above, one of his great regrets was that, due to his reputation as a serious, brooding actor, he was not able to do more comedy, as he enjoyed it and had a deft, light touch. One of his happier moments was when he was asked to host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in 1978. He was wonderful, and he a chance to not only play off his macabre personality (in a skit about vampire hunters and as the Grim Reaper visiting a little girl whose pet he'd taken in another, funny, touching bit) but truly enjoy himself with the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players.
Apparently the good feelings were echoed by the cast, for when he came out to take his final bow and say goodnight, he was presented with a dozen roses each from Gilda Radner, Lorraine Newman and Jane Curtin. That was the first time - and so far the only time – that a host has been treated that way by the ensemble.
Recently on YouTube, the following footage appeared. It shows Mr. Lee recording what would be his final performance for the movie ANGELS IN NOTTING HILL, in which he plays the boss of the universe, here taking the form of a small stuffed animal.
Click on the image below to see it; the role speaks for itself in the movie, but the final dialogue seems most appropriate under the circumstances…
I have on my bookshelf a wonderful anthology titled “The Ghouls” edited by Peter Haining, it's a collection of short stories that became classic films of the genre (and includes “The Fly”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Incident at Owl Creek”, “The Body Snatcher” and “Spurs”, which became Tod Browning's FREAKS). With a dedication to Boris Karloff and an introduction by Vincent Price, it's a Horror fan's embarrassment of riches.
Mr. Lee contributes the Afterword, and in the final paragraph has this to say to all of us:
“The terror film genre has been served by so many great actors…their ability has brought credit and distinction – not to mention popularity – to a branch of film-making too often unfairly derided for containing excesses of torture and violence, blood and gore…Let me say in conclusion, then, that I believe “The Ghouls” have their own special place in the cinema – and I am more than proud to be one of their number.”
No, Mr. Lee; it is we who are proud to have you among us, and so grateful for your talent, skills and dedication, as well as your integrity and decency.
Thank you, sir. From all of us, thank you so much.