- Category : Actor
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Split - Small (22,36)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Duality 1
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE (born May 27, 1922) is an English actor known for his professional longevity and his distinctive basso delivery.
Lee is also best known for his portrayals of villains; he 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, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy as well as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Lee's most important role, according to him, was his portrayal of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah. His most recent film is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where he plays Willy Wonka's candy-hating dentist father. At six feet five inches, he is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records for the world's tallest leading actor, a record he shares with Vince Vaughn, and just beating Stephen Fry (Wilde) by ½ an inch. Despite a critically acclaimed career that spans over seven decades, he has never been nominated for an Academy Award.
Lee was born in London in 1922, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee of the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps, and the Italian Marchesina Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano, whose grandfather had been an Italian political refugee who had sought refuge in Australia. 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 Sheridan, a cousin of Winston Churchill.
His parents separated when he was very young and his mother took Christopher and his sister Xandra to Switzerland, where Christopher was enrolled in Miss Fisher's Academy in Wengen and he played his first villainous role as Rumpelstiltskin. The family returned to London 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 then attended Wellington College, where he won scholarships in classics. He volunteered to fight for the Finnish forces during the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939 - though, 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 during World War II. He trained in South Africa as a pilot but was forced to drop out by eyesight problems. He eventually ended up in North Africa as Cipher Officer for No. 260 Squadron RAF and was with them through Sicily and Italy. Additionally, he has mentioned serving in Special Operations Executive. Lee retired from the RAF after the end of the War with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
Career as an actor
In 1946, Lee gained a seven-year contract with Rank Organisation after discussing his interest in acting with his mother's second cousin Nicolò Carandini, the Italian Ambassador. 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 Sir Laurence Olivier's film of Hamlet as a spear carrier (marking his first film with frequent costar 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, made in 1957 with his close friend Peter Cushing, was The Curse of Frankenstein, in which he played Frankenstein's monster. That led to his first appearance as the infamous Transylvanian bloodsucker 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 in the role. Lee did, however return to the role in Hammer's 'Dracula, Prince of Darkness' 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 writer 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 (1968's Dracula has Risen from the Grave, 1969's Taste the Blood of Dracula and 1970's Scars of Dracula) all gave the character very little to do but were each 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 70's both of which attempted to bring the character into the modern day era. Neither was commercially successful. Lee's other work for Hammer included performances as 'The Mummy' 1959, Rasputin in 'Rasputin, The Mad Monk' (Lee apparently met Rasputin's assassin Prince Yusupoff when he was a child) Sir Henry Baskerville to Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' and he was also responsible for bringing acclaimed occult author Denis Wheatley to Hammer. The company made two films from Wheatley's novels, both starring Lee. The first 1967's 'The Devil Rides Out' is generally considered to be the finest film Hammer made but the second, 1976's 'To the Devil, A Daughter' was a troubled production and proved to be the last Hammer Horror.
He also co-starred with Boris Karloff in the 1958 film, Corridors of Blood. Like Cushing, Lee also appeared in horror films for other companies during the 20 year period from 1957-1977. Notable performances included the Jekyll and Hyde roles in 'I, Monster' 1970, 'The Creeping Flesh' 1972 and Lee's personal favourite 'The Wicker Man'. Lee was attracted to the latter role by screenwriter Antony Schaffer and apparently gave his services for free as the budget was so small.
It took him many years to shake off his typecast image as a horror player, but over the past three decades he has proved himself an extremely able and versatile actor. Lee also played in the well known James Bond series. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels, 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 eventually was 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. In 1978, Lee surprised many people with his deft comedy timing and willingness to go along with a joke as guest host on NBC's Saturday Night Live.
Lee also appeared in the series of Fu Manchu films from 1965 to 1969, starring as the eponymous villain in heavy oriental make-up. In 1998, Lee starred in the role of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a founder of modern Pakistan in the film Jinnah.
He auditioned for a role in The Longest Day but was turned down as he did not look like a military man (despite having served in the RAF during World War II). Lee acted in the 1970 movie Eugenie, unaware that it was softcore pornography because the sex scenes were shot separately and edited in with his own appearances afterwards. Lee has played roles in over 220 films since 1948. He has had many notable television roles, including that of Flay in the BBC television miniseries Gormenghast that was based on Mervyn Peake's novels and Stefan Cardinal Wyszy?ski in the 2005 CBS film, John Paul the Second.
Lee starred as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (although he is known to have vied for the role of Gandalf, which was given to Sir Ian McKellen). Lee had met Tolkien once, 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.
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 and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith 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. In the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Lee played the role of Dr. Wilbur Wonka, the strict father of the star character Willy Wonka.
He was slated to appear as a ballad soloist in Tim Burton's film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd (2007 film). However, due to the ailing of Johnny Depp's daughter, the schedule became tight and his character, as well as the characters of 13 other actors, were dropped from the film.
A rare appearance with his head shaved to look bald can be seen in 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes directed by Billy Wilder. According to the Oracle of Bacon website at the University of Virginia, 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 appeared 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, which they jointly narrated. It was the last time they saw each other; Cushing died two months later. While they frequently played off each other onscreen as mortal enemies — Lee's Dracula to Cushing's Prof. 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 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."
Lee appears on Peter Knight and Bob Johnson (of Steeleye Span)'s 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 game Kingdom Hearts II and of Pastor Galswells in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.
He contributed his voice also for the animated versions of Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett as Death. He is fluent in English, 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 was the voice of Lucan D'Lere in the trailers for Everquest II. Lee appeared as a narrator for Italian 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, along with 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. This makes Lee one of the oldest metal musicians ever, if one counts him as such.
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. and he provided his voice in Kingdom Hearts 2 as the real Ansem the Wise aka. DiZ.
He is also listed as voicing the narrative in the new Halo 3 E3 trailer.
In 2001, Lee was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. 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 $640 million.
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 Pantheon in Rome next to the painter Raphael. His painting, by Lawrence, hangs in Windsor Castle." 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.
Lee has been married to the Danish model Birgit Kroencke since 1961. They have a daughter named Christina (born 23 November 1963). He is also the uncle of the British actress Harriet Walter.