Christopher Lee: An Almost Personal Memory

Sir Christopher Lee died yesterday and the worlds of horror and fantasy are reeling from the news. The 93 year-old actor made his name as Dracula in the Hammer films and worked more recently in The Lord of the Ring films and worked in iconic cult classic horror films like the 1973 The Wicker Man. I wanted to share my almost personal memory of one of the greatest actors the world has ever known. As Fangoria point out Lee was a versatile actor who appeared in various roles across genres.

Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun (an action film), Bailey, the gunsmith in Hannie Caulder (a western) and Dr. Wonka in Charley and the Chocolate Factory (comedy) are just three examples of different genres outside the fantasy and horror fields he is so associated with. Lee also did a lot of voice acting for video games, Kingdom Hearts II and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (where he reprised his role as Scaramanga) are just two games that felt his presence.

He also worked in the field of mystery, appearing in Murder Story. He starred with a young American actor who would later become famous on television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as the very British Wesley Wyndham-Price, Alexis Densiof. Lee played Willard Hope in the 1989 film, a star author whom Denisof’s character idolizes and decides to emulate.

Murder Story was filmed in Holland and the company hired some local airmen and their kids from Soesterberg Air Base to be in the film. Ellstree Studios were making the film despite having just gone broke and having to restrict themselves to television. Ellstree produced the BBC soap Eastenders amongst a few other television shows that were all filmed in the studios.

After being hired to work on the show by a local casting company, along with a friend from the Armed Forces Radio Station down the hall, I was excited to be working on a film with Christopher Lee in it. Originally, both mine and the AFN chap’s roles were pretty big, we had lines and a bit of action as well. Not knowing much of the film’s plot or action, we were day players only, the idea that we may get to work with Dracula, or just “bump into him” on set was pretty heady stuff for two glorified extras.

That money was an issue became apparent “on the day.” Our initial roles had our Security Policemen talking and getting out of our base jeep to inspect damage done by the onscreen father of Alexis Denisof’s character. An accident caused by his son Tony (Alexis) driving in front of his car on a motorbike. By the time we got in front of the camera, our lines had been cut and we never left the jeep.

The second unit director, who filmed the action scene just prior to our bit, had excited us earlier in the day by suggesting that Sir Christopher Lee may indeed be around somewhere near by. The unit had started out filming in Soest, a small town near Soesterberg and Zeist where a lot of filming took place, and word was that Lee would be in the village.

If he was there, we missed him and a short time went to a section of woods in-between the village and the air base where we met Denisof, very briefly, and his love interest in the film; Stacia Burton (in her only film). The lovely young lady bummed a light off me, much to my second wife’s annoyance. We chatted a bit, which also got a bit of disapproval, and I am still surprised that this talented young lady has not appeared in any other projects.

After a long day, the scene was finished and we never met the legend. A year later, the same folks who cast me in the Ellstree film cast me in a commercial for American, and later British, television. Speaking to the woman who hired me, she spoke of meeting the iconic performer and how nice he was. She also revealed that he had been in Soest that day and that we’d only just missed him.

Sadly the film itself, which was something of a nine-day wonder as many of the high school scenes were shot at the base school and a good friend’s daughters got to meet and work with Denisof, went straight to video and died a quick death. This mystery movie gave Lee the chance to be something other than the villain and he was also able to show his mastery of languages as he did his own lines in Dutch.

As the world mourns the passing of an iconic entertainer, it felt right to share my own little “almost” experience with one of the most gifted actors to ever “wear the fangs” and become the ultimate Dracula to more than a few generations. Sir Christopher Lee gone at age 93, you will be long remembered and missed by a world of fans. R.I.P.

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Review and Trailer)

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Review and Trailer)

In terms of epic finishes, Peter Jackson’s last entry in his quest to bring all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world to the big screen, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings the story full circle. It has to be pointed out, however, that Luke Evans as Bard, has the best moments of the entire film. The bowman’s epic battle against Smaug at the start of the feature is one of the high points of the movie. Had the rest of the film’s action matched this impressive fight, the movie itself would have been beyond memorable.

‘Grimm’ Season Four: Alexis Denisof Back in TV World of the Supernatural

‘Grimm’ Season Four: Alexis Denisof Back in TV World of the Supernatural

TV audience members who have only just discovered the splendid supernatural world of Grimm, season four, will have noticed that a somewhat heavier, and older, Alexis Denisof is back in the land of fantasy and horror, this time on NBC. This modern day version of Grimm’s fairy tales has been around since 2011 and viewers who tuned in back then will notice that a lot has changed since a bald and dying Kate Burton (Daughter of the Welsh icon that was Richard Burton.) drove into Portland, Oregon and her nephew Nick Burkhardt’s life. Burton’s character departs the show by the end of the second episode of season one leaving her nephew the next in line of Grimm’s who can see creatures who inhabit human bodies and who must now “take care” of the ones who misbehave

Name dropping, pt 2

Christopher Lee filming in Westminster for a f...

While I was stationed in Holland with the USAF I got to work quite a lot. Mostly I did adverts for the Armed Forces Network aka AFN guys downstairs. I have always done “voices” different accents and impressions. My then boss mentioned this to the AFN guys who ran upstairs and begged me to do some spots for them on the radio. It seems that they were all tired of hearing themselves on the airways and were desperate for some kind of change. So for a four year time period I did adverts and the occasional live show. It was fun and kept my diction sharp as well making me work on my stale impressions.

It was through the AFN guys that I got most of the work I did while stationed in The Netherlands. I had a friend from AFN come up and ask me, “Didn’t you act some?” I owned up quickly sensing this could mean work. “Well they’re making a film and they’re looking for American and English actors. Call this number.” So I did.

The film was called Murder Story, the Movie it was being produced by Elstree Film Studios. The folks who brought us Eastenders on the telly every week. The film was to feature the master Christopher Lee and an unknown  young actor Alexis Denisof. I was beside myself with excitement. The chance to work with Dracula himself! I had been a fan of Mr Lee’s since I was a boy and  watched the Saturday night Creature Features and seen him in so many Hammer Horror films.

To cut a long story short, I and a friend from AFN got parts in the film. We were to be security policemen from the Air Force base where Alexis’s dad worked. We had what seemed like huge parts. We had a little action some dialogue and, unfortunately, we were not going to be working with Christopher Lee.

On the day of our shooting we went to the railway station at Soest. There we got assigned our characters by what ever costume would fit us from wardrobe. Thus I became a Staff Sergeant and my mate became a private. We were introduced to the actor we would be working with Garrick Hagon, a real “jobbing actor” who was lovely to work with. We also met Alexis Denisof way before his Buffy and Angel days. A nice young man who was only there briefly to set up the shot for his stunt double to perform.

Alexis Denisof

Elstree Film Studios had just announced that their feature film section had gone bankrupt. They would still continue to produce Eastenders, but, that was all. Our big scene suddenly shrunk. No longer did we have dialogue or get out of our jeep to confront Garrick. Instead we pulled up to the crash site and just glowered at him from the jeep.

This small scene took more than three quarters of a day to film. The Director Eddie Arno asked if we would mind staying so that Garrick had someone to re-act to for his close ups. We said of course. Afterword Garrick came up to thank us profusely in a mixture of Dutch and English. As we had never spoken, he assumed we were Dutch! We all had a chuckle and our shooting day was finished. I had brought my ‘then wife’ to the shoot so she could see what actually happened on a film set. She was a bit disenchanted by the whole process. I told her as we drove home that the film would probably collect dust on a shelf somewhere as Elstree had gone bust. I was wrong.

It did release as just Murder Story, straight to video. After many years of searching I finally found a copy so I could see how Phil and I had looked on the day. It was then that I found out why it had been relegated to a straight to video release. It was a shame for Christopher Lee and Garrick and Alexis had performed extremely well. But the overall film lacked something.

Still I was happy. I had one more credit under my belt. Sure I did not get my name on the credits but I had met Tom Reeve a UK producer and of course the other folks mentioned above. I did not get to even see Christopher Lee. But at least, by gosh, I’d been in a film with him!