Off The Wire This Morning ...
Sir Christopher Lee
It never occurred to me that someday he'd be gone. Had Dracula's immortality bled into my perception of Christopher Lee the man? We wanted him to stay forever because Chris never went out of style. He was the one old name who kept punching stardom's ticket for one generation after another. There were the Hammers and Fu Manchus and so forth from 50's through the 60's, then James Bond villainy before a wider audience, support work in
You'd see him from beginnings in British parts. People would be chatting in a manor house, and suddenly this tall and magnetic presence would enter, and all the rest would evaporate. The game would be to see how fast you could say "There's Chris Lee!" before someone else in the room recognized him. It happened most recently for me with Scott Of The Antarctic and The Warriors, the first dated 1948, the next 1955. Polish up your Lee-spotting skills in any number of Brit pix between those dates or before/after, as Chris seemed everywhere, and always to the good of shows that could use his kind of energy. Lee was never afraid to go ahead and be an actor, that is, to show us something and make a thing worth paying attention to. His kind of stature, imposing at the least, called for bravura of a kind that too many "natural" players stayed clear of, maybe for knowing they had not the panache to take screen command and keep it, like him.
Lee at times wanted out from under the horror hood. For a while in the 70's, it looked like he'd make it, but somehow he couldn't help being sinister, and a Hammer past would hang on like grim un-death. Not that CL disdained chillers altogether, for he'd champion writers of the genre and apply himself to projects that rose above the formula, like The Devil Rides Out and The Wicker Man. Some who met Lee reported a healthy actor's ego and tendency to dominate a room. Well, what else would you expect, or want? I'd have been disappointed if he'd been any other way. Teamings with Peter Cushing were ideal because they were so different onscreen and off, yet got along famously and had truest friendship as there was between horror icons. The rest of us could figure that if "Saint Peter" liked Chris, he must be a right guy. At least I'll go on assuming it now that they're both gone, and door to meeting either is closed.
His homefolk finally knighted the actor a few years ago, and that gave gravitas to everything he'd done or was doing. Sir Christopher became an online familiar and issued Christmas greeting from comfort of hearth, where he also spoke to admirers who couldn't get enough of a legend's career reflection. And yes, Lee liked to talk, and did so for DVD producers, book authors, whatever queue waited upon his door. As to staying current, nobody did that better. Will any of us be performing heavy metal at age 90? Be in continuing demand at age 90 and beyond? (CL was signed to start another picture just prior to his passing) To have lived such a long life so well is worthy example to follow, a good job indeed if we can do it at half Sir Christopher's strength.