Is Count Dracula one of your favourite book/screen personalities? Well, the 6 feet 4 inches veteran British actor/musician/Opera singer/author Christopher Lee will not be reincarnating in the form of Count Dracula anymore. Lee of horror characters such as Kharis the high priest/Mummy (The Mummy, 1959), Count Dracula, Dr. Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man, 1973), sadly died on Sunday 7th June at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, after suffering heart and respiratory problems.
Lee, who belonged to the Carandini family, one of the oldest families in Italy dating back to the first century AD and to Emperor Charlemagne, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest leading actor amongst Clint Eastwood and others. He was also a step-cousin of the late Ian Fleming, author of James Bond novels. According to reports, Fleming had recommended Lee for the role of Bond’s nemesis in Dr. No (1962) but the role went to Joseph Wiseman. Finally, Bond in the form of Roger Moore faced him in the role of the three-nippled, million-dollars-a-hit assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
From early on, Lee’s flair for acting was evident when he appeared as the evil Rumpelstiltskin at Miss Fisher’s Academy in Wengen, Switzerland. In spite of his five-year stint in the Royal Air Force and Intelligence during World War II he was rejected for a role in the war-movie The Longest Day (1962) on the grounds that he didn’t command the look of a military personal. After his retirement from the RAF by the end of the war, taking heed from the suggestion of his cousin Count Nicolò Carandini, he obtained a seven-year contract with Rank Organisation in 1946. Lee debuted in the psychological drama Corridor of Mirrors (1948), the first film directed by Terence Young. In the following decade, despite that he was remonstrated for being too tall, dominating the frame, he appeared in many films.
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula
Then came his Hammer years. At the age of 35, Jimmy Carreras’ Hammer Film Productions cast him in the role of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1957). This successful role earned him the mantle of Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian bloodsucker Count Dracula in Dracula (aka. Horror of Dracula, 1957). Under the master direction of British film director Terence Fisher, Lee portrayed the fanged Count as the most attractive and virile of all screen vampires. How can one forget that striking first entrance of Lee’s Count Dracula at the doorway and his descent down the stairs? Lee would go on to feature the stature and presence of Count Dracula in further eight movies including Dracula Prince of Darkness (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1965), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1968), El Conde Drácula (Dir. Jesús Franco, 1970), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka. Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, Dir. Alan Gibson, 1974), etc. With British studio Hammer specialized in the production of screen horror, Lee’s name was for many years synonymous with the best in horror films. He was part of the four iconic horror film stars: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and they acted together in House of the Long Shadows (Dir. Peter Walker, 1983). While Vincent Price shared his birthday with Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (born on 27th May 1922 in the upmarket Belgravia area of London), Peter Cushing was born a day earlier on 26 May. Although Lee set up his own production company, Charlemagne Productions Ltd, he diverged from his horror image to mainstream film roles. Nevertheless, it is an unwritten fact that, just as Sean Connery will be indelibly associated with James Bond, the image of Count Dracula will always be correlated to Christopher Lee. Fluent in a variety of languages, the English-born actor Lee was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II (15-Jun-2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours) and Knight of the British Empire 2009. He is also a Commander Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 2002, Lee was awarded the prestigious World Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vienna, etc. Lee was also presented with the Academy Fellowship at the BAFTAs in February 2011.
Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula
Sir Christopher launched his singing career in the 1990s, with an album of Broadway tunes. During his illustrious career, the veteran actor appeared in over 250 films, some of them the most iconic of our times. Watching the innumerable films of Christopher Lee in my collection was always joyful for me – especially those of 1950s to mid-70s. Endings are usually sad and we will miss Sir Christopher Lee. Nevertheless, there always will be the comfort in knowing that I can sit with a couple of soft pillows and a glass of red wine and watch the legendary actor come alive through one of his movies, his deeply melodic basso voice booming.
NB: The DVDs of the above movies and music albums of Sir Christopher Lee are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)