Christopher Lee R.I.P.

imageI only met him once, but for this Famous Monsters of Filmland, horror loving kid, my mind still reels.

I was in England, writing for one of Jim Steranko’s magazines, and visiting a number of movie sets. Most of them were at various British studios, but one was being shot on location at a castle, out in the British countryside. It was a genre movie called House of the Long Shadows. When I learned who was in the cast, I would have paid Steranko for the opportunity.

Because who wouldn’t have loved to be on a movie watching Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Vincent Price work together? (The fourth star–John Carradine–had the day off.) Outside it was uncharacteristically bright and sunny, but the interior of the castle was appropriately creepy, and the stars fit it like a glove.

Christopher Lee was tall and could certainly be intimidating (as anyone who ever saw him as Dracula, Scaramanga, or even, much later, Saruman, could attest). But off-screen, he was the model of a warm, cultured English gentleman, and even if I hadn’t known their history, it would have been easy to tell they were old friends and colleagues. When the director shouted “Cut!” they dropped their characters instantly and began enjoying each others’ company. At one point, I remember being engrossed watching Lee and Cushing walk through a scene, realizing how many great Hammer films they had made together, and being slightly annoyed because I was suddenly pulled away from the scene by Vincent Price because he was ready to do our interview. (I quickly realized I didn’t have much reason to be annoyed.)

The entire cast and crew eventually adjourned to a nearby pub in the English countryside for lunch, and I ended up sitting near Lee, Cushing, and Price. They were in great spirits, and I remember at one point their discussion centered not on Dracula, but on Russian art and their favorite museums. One of their other co-stars, Desi Arnaz Jr., mentioned that he had never had a scone, and so they all made a great show of ordering and presenting the young actor with his very first scone.

Somewhere I still have the tape of my interview with Christopher Lee (as well as Cushing and Price). I’ve visited a lot of film sets, but few as memorable as that day, for which I have to thank Steranko and his then-assistant and my long-time editor and pal David McDonnell. From serving in WW2 to starring as Dracula, all the way through to Saruman–well, amazing is the word that comes to mind. We hear a lot of “end of an era” statements, but to me, Christopher Lee’s passing is just that. Thanks for everything #christopherlee

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