Christopher Lee and The Benefits of Being Undead


Gaw uncovers one of the secrets of a good obit: stick around, keep working…

Christopher Lee died a knight, lauded for a film career that extended from propping up a very poorly British industry to featuring in some of the most profitable film franchises in Hollywood history.

I don’t want to knock him as I really think his late success was wholly just and deserved and I’ll really miss him. But I think one has to admit longevity can be a great leg up in the obit stakes.

If he’d died before the first Lord of the Rings most people would be thinking of him as Britain’s Vincent Price (incidentally, they were born on the same day, May 27th – Ham Vampire Day, toasted by throwing a glass of tomato juice down your shirt front).

There weren’t many alternatives to vampire films for a 6’5” craggy-browed and sonorous British actor in the 60s and 70s. The Charlton Heston option wasn’t available: swords-and-sandals epics were beyond the resources of the British film industry.

When Lee first tried to crack Hollywood, in the late-1970s, he was well into his fifties. It was too late: the schlocky mould had been cast, the three nipples of Scaramanga (from The Man with the Golden Gun) not adding up to a breakout role. But those Dracula parts did have their compensations: good, predictable money, something not to be sniffed at for an actor.

He certainly applied himself, earning several Guinness World Records, including Most Connected Actor Living, Most Films With A Swordfight By An Actor and Tallest Actor In A Leading Role. Over his lifetime he must be a candidate for the hardest working screen actor: he appeared in around 300 films dating back to 1948.

However, only in recent years was he given the opportunity to play some properly Hestonian, noble-browed, be-gowned roles in epic movies: in the second Star Wars trilogy and most impressively in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Confirmation that he would have made a wonderful Moses.

What if Sir Christopher had died before all this at the respectably old age of eighty-five? The headlines would have told of a cultish reputation back in the day with mention of a modest OBE. Not what he deserved – and not just for his acting (see here).

There’s an encouraging lesson for us all there. If you’re lucky enough for your health not to let you down keep on trucking; good things can happen.

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5 thoughts on “Christopher Lee and The Benefits of Being Undead

    June 16, 2015 at 10:26

    Lee suffered from that incurable actor’s palsy, playing themselves. He was not alone, the condition is endemic, Dame’s Judy, Diana and Maggie have it, what you get is them, not the character. Even his finest, The Wicker Man has Lee, not Lord Summerisle, striding hither and yon to the accompaniment of the tang of roast sergeant. In some cases this is not their fault, the director’s working on the principal of if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it. Occasionally this works, if the actor is as mad as a March hare, let him or her play the part of a March hare, Werner Hertzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre is a good example, with Klaus Kinski at his barking best and Bruno Ganz as the plonker Jonathan. Ganz does an excellent line in plonkers, going on to play the part of Onkel Addie in Downfall.

  2. Gaw
    June 16, 2015 at 17:37

    Good point, Malty. Someone once said that what distinguished actors from stars is that actors play roles but stars always play themselves.

    Jonathan Law
    June 16, 2015 at 19:21

    Everyone should follow the link in the penult. para.

  4. June 16, 2015 at 22:57

    Extraordinary stuff. And the author is right, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is begging to be made into a film.

  5. Worm
    June 17, 2015 at 10:02

    wow that link is exceptional! what a guy! and there was me thinking he was just a schlocky b-movie actor

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