Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee CBE CStJ, the world renowned actor with a career spanning around 70 years, was honored with the “Spirit of Metal” award at the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards. Here are some very interesting facts about the English character actor:
Lee was perhaps the only actor of his generation to have starred in so many films and cult saga. He was known for portraying bloodsucking vampire, Dracula and villains characters.
On June 07, 2015, Lee breathed his last due to complication of respiratory problems and heart failure at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, at his 93rd year. The U.K Prime Minster, David Cameron called him a ‘titan of the golden age of cinema’ and was honored at 88th Academy Awards on February 28, 2016.
He was born Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, on May 27, 1922, in Belgravia, London, England. His father Geoffrey Trollope Lee was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army and his mother is the Edwardian beauty, Countess Estelle Marie.
Lee’s maternal great grandfather was an Italian political refugee and his great grandmother, was English born opera singer Marie Carandini. He had one sister, Xandra Carandini Lee.
He was raised by his mother after his parents separated and did his schooling at Summerfield Preparatory School in Oxford. He earned a scholarship to study classical Ancient Greek and Latin in Wellington College.
Apart from acting in school plays he was competent cricketer, fencer and racket player. He would often play dead during mock battles as he disliked parades and weapon training.
After his step-father went bankrupt, he dropped out of Wellington College and worked as an office clerk for United States Lines, taking care of the mails and running errands. He also worked for Beecham Group, the pharmaceutical company as an office clerk and then as switch board operator.
Lee joined Royal Air Force but was diagnosed with failure of optic nerve resulting blurred vision forcing him out of flight training. He applied to join RAF Intelligence and was commissioned as pilot officer, attached to Special Operation Executive and the Long Range Desert Group, the forerunner of Special Air Service during WW-II.
During his time at Allied invasion of Italy, he nearly got killed, when he tripped over live bomb after a plane crashed on takeoff and another time he climbed Mount Vesuvius just three days before it erupted. He lived to retire from RAF in 1946 as Flight Lieutenant.
As an actor he was initially rejected for being too tall before be signed by Rank Organization for a period of seven years. He made his debut with the 1947 film ‘Terence Young’s Gothic romance corridor of mirrors,’ with a single line dialogue ‘a satirical shaft meant to qualify the lead’s bravura.’
As a ‘Charm School’ student work was hard to get and his apprenticeship lasted ten years, as a supporting and background character. During these ten years he watched, listened and learned only to bag the character who said nothing as Frankenstein, in the film ‘The Curse of Frankenstein.’
He was typecast in the role of fanged vampire in the popular culture after the success of 1958 film ‘Dracula’ which was ranked among the best British film. Lee’s role has no lines, he merely hisses his way through the film.
Lee went on to star as vampire in an Italian-French horror film ‘Uncle Was a Vampire,’ in 1959, Hammer’s ‘Prince of Darkness’ in 1965, ‘Dracula Has risen from the Grave’ in 1968, ‘Taste the Blood of Dracula’ in 1969 and ‘Scars of Dracula’ in 1970. All in all Lee, played Dracula thirteen times.
His partnership with Hammer films extended beyond Dracula series and was cast in 1959s ‘The Mummy,’ as Rasputin in 1966s ‘Rasputin, the Mad Monk’ as Sir Henry Baskerville in 1959s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles and as Holmes himself in 1962s ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace.
His portrayal of Sherlock’s smarter brother, Mycroft in the Billy Wilder’s film ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,’ was the reason he stopped being typecast. He had been appearing in horror films for over 20 years from 1957 to 1977.
In 1970, he agreed as a favor to producer Harry Alan Towers, to appear as on screen narrator in the Jess Franco’s Eugenie, unaware that it was soft-core pornography, as the sex scene was shot separately.
In 1970, film ‘Julius Caesar’ he featured in the star billing despite appearing on the project for only one day and has only five lines. That was his 100th film and incidentally Richard Johnson who played the role of Cassius and Lee died two days apart.
Lee appeared in all the three sequel of Richard Lester’s ‘The Three Musketeers.’ He was wounded in his left knee during filming.
He played the role of deadly assassin Francisco Scaramanga, in the 1974 film ‘The Man with Golden Gun.’ Initially the role of titular antagonist in the first Eon produced Bond film ‘Dr. No’ was offered to Lee by the James Bond novelist Ian Fleming, who is his step-cousin.
Lee appeared on the cover of album ‘Band on the Run’ by Wings Band. The cover depicts Paul, Linda, Denny and Lee along with six other well-known people dressed as convicts caught in the spotlight of prison searchlights.
In 1977, he left Britain for U.S to free himself from being branded as horror film star. His first film at Hollywood was the ‘Airport 77.’ To create full effectiveness, Lee did the dead stunt himself, and as the result was awarded the Stuntmen’s Union’s belt buckle.
Lee apart from appearing in the comedy-musical film ‘The Return of Captain Invisible,’ he also sang two tracks in the film, ‘Name Your Poison’ and ‘Mister Midnight.’
In 2002, while talking at ‘Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival,’ about his favorite role, Lee chooses his 1998 film ‘Jinnah.’
He played the role of Saruman in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy. He dreamed of playing the role of Gandaff, but his old age prevented from being considered. He has the habit of reading that novel once a year.
His career was revived and was offered roles in Star Wars series: Episode II –Attack of the Clones, Episode-III-Revenge of the Sith, in which he played villainous Count Dooku. He did most of the sword play himself.
On his 90th birthday, on May 27, 2012, he announced the release of his new single ‘Let Legend Mark Me as the King’ from his album Charlemagne: The Omen of Death. He also released a third EP of covers in May 2014 on his 92nd birthday.
Lee spoke fluent English, Italian, French, Spanish and German and moderately proficient in Swedish, Russian and Greek. He has lent his voice off-camera notably for ‘U.N.Owen,’ in ‘Ten Little Indians,’ as Death in the animated version of ‘Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters.’
Lee was the subject of the BBC’s ‘This is Your Life’ in 1974. He was appointed a Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John, in 1997 and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire on June 16, 2001.
On June 13, 2009, He was made a Knight Bachelor for his service to Drama and to Charity, and was knighted by Prince Charles. The French Government also honored him with a ‘Commander of Order des Arts et des Letters’ in 2011.
Lee married former Danish model and painter Birgit ‘Gitte’ Kroncke, on March 17, 1961. They had a daughter, Christina Erika Carandini Lee. In late 1950s he was all set to marry Henriette von Rosen, before backing out due to his financial insecurity.