Few individuals can claim as interesting, varied, and storied a life as Christopher Lee. Boasting a career that has run the gamut from office clerk to airman to spy, Lee found his calling on the silver screen. Known to modern audiences for his portrayal of Saruman the White in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels, the veteran actor made an indelible impression on the performing arts, becoming the very image of the dignified, elegant rogue. With Lee's passing this week at age 93, the world lost an inspired and endlessly creative talent. Today, we celebrate Christopher Lee's passion for the screen by sharing his work with Chicago.
Lee began acting in 1947, with small parts in films like Horatio Hornblower R.N. and Moulin Rouge. In 1957, Lee starred in The Curse of Frankenstein as Frankenstein's Monster, the first of many horror films and the beginning of a long and successful partnership with Hammer Pictures. Lee would go on to become one of the most recognizable horror icons of the 1960s and 1970s, including a long-running stint as Dracula beginning with Horror of Dracula. The Count would become one of Lee's most iconic roles, one that spawned a horror franchise that spanned two decades.
The late 1960s and early 1970s would firmly establish Lee as an archetypal villain, first as the enigmatic Lord Summerisle in 1973's The Wicker Man and later as the quippy, elegant Franscisco Sacramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun. The Wicker Man is widely considered a masterwork of the British horror genre, while The Man With The Golden Gun is notable for Lee stealing the screen opposite Roger Moore.
Lee's later career would come to be defined by his roles in the Star Wars prequel films and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In these films, Lee plays aristocratic, elegant villains. His natural gravitas and physical presence in these later works lends a menace that is often missing from modern film, particularly modern fantasies—few actors can sell hurling bolts of lightning or calling down storms the way Christopher Lee can.
Share your memories and favorite Christopher Lee moments in the comments below, and help Chicago honor a legendary talent.