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Profile of Christopher Lee
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||27th May 1922
|Place of Birth:
||Belgravia, London, England, UK
- This article is about the actor. For the historian, see Christopher Lee (historian).
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE (born May 27, 1922 in London) is a legendary and prolific British actor known for his versatility and film longevity.
Lee became famous for his role as Count Dracula in a string of Hammer Horror films. He is viewed by many as the quintessential film villain. Other notable films include The Wicker Man and The Man with the Golden Gun. Lee is now over 80 years old, and still appearing in films such as The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Lee was born in London in 1922, the son of Geoffrey Trollope Lee, a Lieutenant Colonel in the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corp, and the Marchesina Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano, whose grandfather had been a Italian political refugee who had sought refuge in Australia. 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 Rose, a banker and uncle of the James Bond author Ian Fleming. He 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, then served in the Royal Air Force and intelligence during World War II.
Career as an actor
In 1946 he gained a 7 year contract with Rank Organisation after discussing his interest in acting with his cousin Nicolò Carandini, the Italian Ambassador, who 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. Throughout the next decade, Lee made nearly 30 films, playing mostly stock action characters. His first film for Hammer, made in 1956 with his close friend Peter Cushing, was The Curse of Frankenstein, in which he played, "The Creature". That led to his first film as the infamous Transylvanian Count in the 1958 film Dracula (US: Horror of Dracula). From then on, Lee was periodically featured in numerous horror roles for various studios.
Lee has played roles in over 220 films since 1948, and has had many notable television roles. He appeared as Flay in the BBC television miniseries Gormenghast, based on Mervyn Peake's novels.
As an indication to his prolificacy and longevity, Lee has, according to the Oracle of Bacon at Virginia, an average Bacon number of 2.684104 (as of December 2003), making him second on the list of most suitable centres of the Hollywood universe. This calculation uses a modification of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game.
In 2001 Christoper Lee was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire CBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
He has agreed to play the role of Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński in the film: John Paul the Second.
Lee is a direct lineal descendent of Charlemagne through his mother's side. She was a famous Edwardian beauty, the Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini di Sarzano. She was painted by Sir John Lavery, as well as Oswald Birley, Olive Snell and sculpted by Clare Sheridan, a cousin of Winston Churchill.
The Carandini family was 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."
Author Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, is Lee's cousin and wanted him to play the first James Bond film villain, Dr. Julius No. Lee would eventually play another Bond villain, Francisco Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun.
Lee appeared on the cover of the Wings album Band on the Run along with other people, including Clement Freud. Also, he narrated the Dark Secret EP by Italian power metal band, Rhapsody.
Lee was a natural choice for the Lord of the Rings movies, where he plays the role of Saruman. Lee had known Tolkien, and makes it a habit of reading the novel at least once a year.
Lee served in the military during World War II, where he acquired the knowledge of the noise a person makes when stabbed in the back (though the exact circumstances of this knowledge are still covered by the Official Secrets Act). He put this to use when filming The Lord of the Rings, as can be seen on the Extended Edition DVD of The Return of the King.
Lee's great-grandparents formed Australia's first opera company, performing before miners in towns in the outback.
Lee sings on the soundtrack to The Wicker Man -- in character as the modern pagan noble in the film -- performing Paul Giovanni's psych folk composition, The Tinker of Rye.
He is fluent in German and moderately proficient in French.
Lee is married to the Danish model Birgit Kroencke (since 1961). They have a daughter named Christina (born 23 November 1963).
He is the great uncle of the British actress Harriet Walters.
Books by Christopher Lee
- Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror, Pyramid Publications, 1966
- Christopher Lee's New Chamber of Horrors, Souvenir Press, 1974
- Christopher Lee's Archives of Terror, Warner Books, Volume I, 1975; Volume 2, 1976
- Tall, Dark and Gruesome (autobiography), W. H. Allen, 1977 and 1999
- Lord of Misrule (autobiography, a revised and expanded edition of Tall Dark and Gruesome), Orion Publishing Group Ltd., 2004
- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
- Dracula (1958)
- The Mummy (1959)
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
- The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
- Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965)
- Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
- The Devil Rides Out (1968)
- Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
- Count Dracula (1970)
- The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
- Horror Express (1973)
- Death Line (1973)
- The Wicker Man (1973)
- The Three Musketeers (1973)
- The Four Musketeers (1974)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- To the Devil...a Daughter (1976)
- End of the World (1977)
- Airport'77 (1977)
- Return from Witch Mountain (1978)
- 1941 (1979)
- Once Upon a Spy (1980)
- Safari 3000 (1982)
- Shaka Zulu (1987)
- Around the World in Eighty Days (1988)
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
- Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991)
- Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994)
- A Feast at Midnight (1995)
- The Stupids (1996)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- Jinnah (2000)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (extended version only) (2004)
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
- Corpse Bride (2005)
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