Friday, June 22, 2012

Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1999), Christopher Lee.

Estelle Marie Carandini and Geoffrey Trollope Lee

This is Christopher Lee's parents, in the only photo he ever knew of wherein they were photographed together.  It was taken before the First World War.  Incredible!  As are bits of this little book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.  Now having read Lee's autobiography, things make a little more sense to me.  Lee's mother was an Italian countess, his father a military man and athlete.  Public-school educated (if not top-rate public school), Lee's father disappeared out of his life relatively early and the family fell on increasingly hard times.  His mother married a banker, but his fortunes faltered.  Yet Lee seems to have been buoyed through life by wealthy connections and by the skills he cultivated that today seem lost and forgotten: social golfing, an appreciation of live classical music performances, the art of conversation.

And Lee readily admits:  he's a bit of a chatterbox.  He enjoys a good story and has plenty to tell.  Paragraph after paragraph has a punchline.  Whose life is a series of events that end in punchlines?  If not consistently light-hearted, Lee's anecdotes are fascinating.  As a child he was roused from sleep to meet the assassins of Rasputin.  He was the first Allied soldier to enter the Vatican during the war, allowed to browse the masterpieces in solitude.  He got a lot of good advice on how to manage passionate female fans from Errol Flynn.

Tall, Dark and Gruesome is heavy on the British slang (the American edition I read would hard bracket translations for all the obscure lingo).  Plenty of this is army slang, as in "jankers" (punishment) and, even better, "Egyptian PT" translated here as "forces slang for sleep, because they saw the Egyptians as having a rather relaxed view of life"!  Hammer fans will only get a slight glimpse behind the curtain of Hammer movie-making as in his telling, these experiences are not those that figure most prominently in his life.  He didn't mind a good remake, which Hammer did twice very well, but very much disliked making endless sequels.  Fair enough!  He does have the kindest words for Peter Cushing, calling him "the gentlest and most generous of men."

Lee has lived so long he had to write a second edition in 1999 (the book was first published in 1977).  And so we don't even make it to The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars II:  Attack of the Clones (both 2002) (during which when I saw it, a friend prayed as we watched him zipping around on some kind of ridiculous hover bike, "Please Lord, don't let this be the magnificent Christopher Lee's last role").  He's currently filming more Hobbits.  Astounding!

Christopher Lee with wife Gitte on their wedding day.  To the left is Sir Richard Jackson, then President of Interpol whose words to the groom were:  "Look after this girl, or it's 50 lashes!"

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