Christopher Lee 1922 - 2015

Christopher Lee by Bryan Adams

ďWhen the Second World War finished I was 23 and already I had seen enough horror to last me a lifetime,Ē - Sir Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee (or to give him his full list of titles - Baron, Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee CBE CStJ, CoAL, Lord of Sarzano) was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever heard of.

He excelled at everything he did, physically, intellectually and artistically.

If you have any doubts about that then please read the below.

As you read, bear in mind that this is all true!

His linage



Lieutenant Colonel
Geoffrey Trollope Lee

Christopher Lee's father was Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee (1879-1941), of the King's Royal Rifles, who fought with great distinction in the Boer War and in the First World War.


Contessa Estelle Carandini

His mother, Italian Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano (1889-1981) was an Edwardian beauty who was painted by (among others) Sir John Lavery, Oswald Birley, Olive Snell, and sculpted by Clare Frewen Sheridan.


Marie Carandini

Lee's great-grandmother, was the opera singer Marie Carandini (1826 - 1894).

On his maternal side Lee was related to many of the top aristocratic familes of Europe.


Carandini Coat Of Arms

The Carandini family were granted the right to bear the coat of Arms of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa ( 1112 - 1190 - Emperor from 1152 - 1190 ).


Emperor Charlemagne

He was a direct descendant of the Emperor Charlemagne ( 742 - 814 ).

He could trace his ancestry back two thousand years to Imperial Rome and the reign of Emperor Augustus ( 63BC - 14AD ).

Early life and education



As Rasputin in

Rasputin The Mad Monk

1966

It was through the family connections that he met Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, the assassins of the Russian monk Rasputin.

He didn't do this as research for his later film role as Rasputin (in the 1966 Hammer film Rasputin the Mad Monk), but as a child in the 1920s.


With Maria Rasputin in

1976

Later in life he would actually meet Rasputin's daughter Maria Rasputin.

The young woman is her daugher Tatyana Soloviev.

At age 17, he saw the death of the murderer Eugen Weidmann in Paris, the last person in France to be publicly executed by guillotine.

A film of the execution can be seen on YouTube. It is not closeup so you can't actually see the deed being done.

It is tempting to think that if you look long enough you might be able to see Lee's head above the crowd. But in fact he witnessed it all from a window overlooking the square.


Motto - Floreat Etona

"May Eton flourish"

He studied Classical Literature, Greek and Latin at Eton.

A gifted linguist he spoke English, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Latin, and could 'get by' as he put it in several others.

World War Two


At the age of eighteen he fought as a volunteer in Finland in their Winter War against the Russians.


Long Range Desert Group insignia

He then joined the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG)

This was the predecessor of the SAS.

He fought in North Africa.


Special Operations Executive insignia.

He was then hand picked to join the Special Operations Executive.

This was a new group set up by Winston Churchill and made up of those who possessed special skills.

It was known by it's unoffical name "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare".

It engaged in "Conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers."

It's missions are still classified.

By the end of the war he'd received commendations for bravery from the British, Polish, Czech and Yugoslavia governments.

Lee seldom spoke of his experiences during the war (he was bound by the offical secrets act).

"Iíve been entrusted with many secrets during World War II,í he once said, Ďand if I spoke, people died. I was in the intelligence service, special ops, and Iím not going to tell much more.

Iíve signed the Official Secrets Act, which binds me for life. And what I mean by this is that Iím able to keep a secret, and if Iím asked to say nothing, I say nothing. Never."

But he did make several telling comments on it.

"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."


Christopher and Xandra

This Is Your Life. 1974

During the war Lee and his sister Xandra ( 1917 - 2002 ) worked in intelligence with their cousin Ian Fleming. More on that later.


Christopher Lee talks Special Forces and receives an incredible gift


Memories of World War II


When your shot you feel no pain - initially.


Post war


After the war Lee put his language and other skills to use tracking down Nazi War Criminals for the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects.

"We were given dossiers of what they'd done and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority."


Becoming an actor



Count Nicolo Carandini

It was his cousin Count Nicolo Carandini ( 1896 - 1972 ), who was the first Italian Ambassador to Britain after the war, whom Lee credits with suggesting that he try acting.

However his great height was his biggest disadvantage.

One casting agent told Lee that actresses didn't want to deliver their lines into their leading man's chest.

He was often described as 6'5" or sometimes only 6'4", but the Guinness World Records listed him as the Tallest International Superstar at 6'6".

He certainly looked 6'6" or even taller.

In an early Hollywood film, the star John Wayne insisted that the director recast Lee's part because he was taller than Wayne, who was 6'4.5"

Lee also regarded his great height as an inconvenience, stating that the only doors which could comfortably accommodate men of his stature were on cathedrals.

It may seem strange to anyone reading this today when so many actors are very tall, some even taller than Lee was, but you must remember this was the 1940s and 50s. Then, especially in Britain actors were Mr Average.

Think of the likes of Trevor Howard or Richard Todd.

Lee's first appearance on film was in 1948.

He had an uncredited role as a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.

The man who would later become his closest friend Peter Cushing also appeared, credited, as Osric.

Marriage


Birgit "Gitte" KrÝncke

In 1961 he married Danish actor, painter and model Birgit "Gitte" KrÝncke.

They remained married until his death.

Once asked the secret of a long happy marriage he replied -

"Marry someone wonderful, as I did!"

Christopher asked Gitte to marry him two days after meeting her.

She said yes four days later.


Lee was James Bond?


Ian Fleming always said he had based the character of James Bond on someone he had known during the war. He never officially said who that was.

Was that person Christopher Lee?

Christopher and Ian were cousins on his father's side and he and his sister Xandra worked with Fleming in intelligence during the war.

When the first Bond film Dr No, was being cast, Fleming suggested Lee for the part of Bond, but the producers told him that Lee was "Too tall and foreign looking to play Bond".

Later Fleming proposed that Lee play the part of the villain Dr No, but the producers said that the villain couldn't be taller than the actor they had by then picked to play James Bond, 6' 3" Sean Connery.


The Man With The Golden Gun

Lee did eventually play the bond villain Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun.

By this time it seems that it was no longer important that Lee was significantly taller than the then Bond 6'2" Roger Moore.

There is a fight seen in the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, in which Bond has a vicious life and death struggle on a train with the villain played by Robert Shaw.

This scene was based on a real WWII event known to Fleming which actually involved Lee in the Bond part.

Singing


Taking after his great-grandmother, Marie Carandini, Lee was a natural opera singer, with his deep bass-baritone voice.

He was offered the chance to train professionally for a career in Opera by the Royal Swedish Opera, after being recommended by the legendary Jussi Bjorling.

Unfortunately, he couldn't afford to keep himself in Sweden while training and so had to continue with his acting career. Something he always regretted.

He did however sing in many operas throughout his long life and was still singing in his nineties.

He sang in Peter and the Wolf, conducted by Sir Yehudi Menuhin OM.

He also sang the lead role in The King of Elfland's Daughter.

He recorded Opera in Italian, German, Spanish and Chinese!

I wonder how many people have seen this? Name Your Poison from the musical The Return of Captain Invincible. (1983)


Here he is singing it again on German TV in 1990. You can actually get a better appreciation of his vocal range here because there are no backing singers. Also he is sitting down through most of it yet still manages to easily hit the notes.


Christopher Lee and Gary Curtis - O Sole Mio / It's Now Or Never 1999


In 2005 he recorded the single The Magic of the Wizzard's Dream with Rhapsody of Fire, which he released in Italian, German, Spanish and English languages and which went into the top ten lists in several countries making him the oldest ever recording star at 84.

When I sent the link to this to a friend, he replied "Dude could sing to. Was there no end to his talents?" Well the answer to that seems to be "No!"

Subsequently he narrated four of the band's albums Symphony of Enchanted Lands II Ė The Dark Secret, Triumph or Agony, The Frozen Tears of Angels, and From Chaos to Eternity, as well as on the EP The Cold Embrace of Fear Ė A Dark Romantic Symphony.


Revelation

In 2006 he produced his first full personal album Revelation,

which was a mixture of -

opera (O Sole Mio, Toreador March, Carmencita),

popular music (I Don Quixote - Man of la Mancha, The Impossible Dream, My way, The Little Drummer boy, Silent Night, Name Your Poison)

and country (High Noon, Wanderin Star, Oh What a Beautiful Morning).


Charlemagne
By The Sword And The Cross

In 2010, he released Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross.

It won him the prestigious 'Spirit of Metal' award at the Metal Hammer, 2010 Golden Gods ceremony.


A Heavy Metal Christmas

In 2012 he released the album A Heavy Metal Christmas.


A Heavy Metal Christmas Too

In 2013 he released A Heavy Metal Christmas Too.

A single from this album called Jingle Hell, entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at no 22.

Thus he became the oldest living performer to ever enter the music charts at 91.


Metal Knight

In 2014 he released Metal Knight.

2014 The Impossible Dream from
Man of La Mancha.



Charlemagne
Omens Of Death

In 2014, he released Charlemagne: Omens Of Death, collaborating with Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner.

In 2014, he released an 'operatic version' of My Way.


Could the lyrics of this song be more appropriate to anyone more than to Christopher Lee?

"To think I did all that. And may I say - not in a shy way. Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way."


Darkest Carols Faithful Sing

Also in 2014 he released the album Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing.


Hollywood Vampires

His last music appearance, just before his death in 2015, was on the album Hollywood Vampires with Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper and Joe Perry.

Golfer


He was a life-long golfing fanatic, but had to have his golf clubs made especially for him because of his height.

He once described himself as "a golfer who acts.".


Honourable Company of
Edinburgh Golfers

He was awarded membership of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the World's oldest and most revered golf club.

The only actor ever to be so honoured.


Lee, Greg norman, Seve Ballesteros

Lee played with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros in the Million Dollar Tournament in Sun City, South Africa.

Weapons expert


He was a crack shot with both pistol and rifle and an expert knife thrower and swordsman; he was a world amateur fencing champion!, who is also listed by Guinness World Records as having more sword fights than any other actor - ever.


Flynn and Lee in The Warriors.
1955

He had a crooked little finger on his right hand - the result of a sword fight with Errol Flynn.

He taught many other actors how to use the sword. Among them Oliver Reed.

During one sword fight Reed was getting over jealous and becoming dangerous. Lee parried the sword out of Reed's hands.

He then asked Reed 'Who taught you to use a sword?' Reed replied 'You did.' To which Lee replied 'Don't forget that!'

After that Reed behaved himself.

Lee did most of his own stunts and was an honorary member of six stuntmen's unions around the world.

Putting Peter Jackson right on how to stab a man in the back!


While filing Lord Of The Rings - Return of the King, Lee's character Saruman, had to be stabbed in the back.

Peter Jackson, wanted Lee to scream out.

"Peter," said Lee,"Have you ever heard the sound a man makes when heís stabbed in the back?"

Somewhat taken aback (no pun intended) Jackson replied "No I haven't."

"Well, I have," Lee continued, "and I know what to do."

World's most bankable star


In 2005 he was voted The Most Bankable Star In The World.

Lee's films have made twice as much money as any other actor (including Tom Cruise).

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon


Have you ever heard of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, well according to the Oracle of Kevin Bacon, Christopher can be linked to anyone in a mere 2.59 steps, less than Charlton Heston and even Bacon himself.

Awards and honours


During his long life Lee recieved over fifty Medals, Awards and Honours. I will not list them all, just the most significant.

World War II Medals



World War II medals.

In order left to right

39-45 Star
Africa Star with clasp

The Italian Star

France and Germany Star

Defense Medal

War Medal with oak leaf (King's Commendation South Africa)

By the end of the war he'd received commendations for bravery from the British, Polish, Czech and Yugoslavia governments.

CStJ



Venerable Order of
St John of Jerusalum

In 1997 he was awarded

'Commander of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem'.

CBE



Commander of the Order
of the British Empire

In 2001 he was awarded

'Commander of the Order of the British Empire'.

KBE



Knight Batchelor
of the British Empir

In 2009 he was awarded

'Knight Batchelor of the Order of the British Empire'.

CoAL



Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

In 2011 he was awarded

'Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres'

by the French Government

BAFTA Fellowship - 2011



When Lee accepted the Fellowship in 2011 I, among I'm sure others, was dismayed at his physical condition.

He came on stage, hunched, walking slowly and almost painfully, using a walking cane which almost seemed to big for him.

What I at the time did not realise was that a year earlier he had broken his back tripping over a cable on a movie set in Mexaco!

For a man of his age and height this could have been fatal.

So that he was on stage in London at all was miraculous.

He did recover somewhat and regained some of his fitness, but he was never the same again.

I have no doubt that but for that serious injury he might well have made it to one hundred.

British Film Institute Fellowship - 2013



Lee is at 3:35 minutes.

Lee was awarded the British Film Institute Fellowship in 2013.

Honorary Award 2014.

His IQ


What was Christopher Lee's Intelligence Quota?

As far as I know it was never officially measured.

I am a member of MENSA and have been measured with a genius ( a much overused word - believe me I am no genius ) level IQ.

His abilities and achievements make me look like a mental midget.

His IQ must have been 160 plus!

Film career


And I haven't even started on his many, many, many film achievements yet!

If I did we'd be here a very long time.

He is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the actor with the most screen credits, ever.

The exact figure isn't clear, but at over two hundred and fifty is so far beyond any other actor it doesn't matter!

Do you really need any more convincing of this man's greatness?

So little known in Britain


Why is it that in Britain people only know Lee for his acting, and seem to be totally unaware of his numerous other abilities and achievements?

I just don't know! Was it not a good story? But, for example, can you imagine anyone asking him to sing on British TV?

He was certainly much, much more fully appreciated and understood in Europe. This was no doubt helped by the fact that he spoke just about every European language and so could communicate fully everywhere he went.

Lee fully embraced the Italian side of his family, yet always considered himself first and foremost British. He was born, grew up and educated in Britain. He fought for Britain, bravely and effectively, for five years during World War II.

Considering that he made over two hundred and fifty film appearances, why have so few been broadcast in Britain? That is probably because, like his singing, he made many films in other languages.

He travelled extensively around the world throughout his life, only curtailing this after he broke his back at age eighty-seven. But even after that he continued to travel within Europe.

I watched an interview with him recorded in Germany in August 2014. He was there to attend their yearly peace rally, which he did every time he could. The interviewer asked him, if at his age - then ninety-two, he found travelling difficult. He replied that it didn't bother him. That year he had already been in eight different countries!

He must have spent a lot of time in aeroplanes. Yet he did admit to finding aeroplane travel uncomfortable as he had difficulty folding himself into a standard size aeroplane seat.


Christopher did Christmas Messages for several years. This was the last he did. He talks about newly released The Wicker Man full version, The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit trilogy, his latest music releases and why he is wearing that hat.