Date of Birth: 27 May 1922, Belgravia, London, UK
Birth Name: Christopher Frank Carandini Lee
Nicknames: Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee defined the macabre for a generation of horror film enthusiasts with his chilling portrayals of Count Dracula; in a career that spanned more than half a century Lee played the sinister vampire no fewer than nine times in productions including Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).
With his saturnine glamour and striking physique at a gaunt 6ft 4in he was a dominating physical presence with an aristocratic bearing, dark, penetrating eyes and a distinctive sepulchral voice Lee was an ideal candidate to play the bloodsucking Count. “Dracula is a very attractive character,” he insisted, “he’s so heroic erotic too. Women find him irresistible. We’d all like to be him.”
After almost 20 years of playing Dracula, Lee eventually tired of the role. He moved to the United States where he enjoyed a lucrative career in both films and made-for-television mini-series such as The Far Pavilions and Shaka Zulu. While in America, Lee resisted all offers of parts in soap operas including Dallas and Dynasty.
After decades in the film industry, Lee remained as eager as ever to take on new roles. At one point in his early seventies he appeared in 12 different films within 14 months. “I get restless and frustrated if I don’t work,” he explained. “I like a continual challenge.” In his eighties he gained a new audience, bringing sulphurous intensity to the role of Saruman in Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings films.
Lee’s one regret, he maintained, was his decision not to become an opera singer. “I was born with the gift of a very good voice,” he said, “and I have been asked to sing in various concerts but I’m too old now.” Late in life, however, he was persuaded to lend his rich bass tones as a narrator to various heavy metal records including those of the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire. In 2010 he released an album of his own, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, followed two years later by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born on May 27 1922 in Belgravia, London, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Trollope-Lee of the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Lee’s father had fought in both the Boer and Great Wars and had later married an Italian contessa, Estelle Maria Carandini, a descendant of the Borgias whose parents had founded the first Australian opera company. Among Lee’s stories of his early life he claimed that his father was descended from a band of gypsies in Hampshire and that his mother was descended from Charlemagne.
Christopher’s parents were divorced when he was four and his mother remarried. Lee grew up in his stepfather’s house, where he was waited on by a staff of five (a butler, two footmen, a chauffeur and a cook). He attended Wagner’s in Queensgate and Summerfields, and sat for a scholarship to Eton before being sent to the more affordable Wellington College where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar.
Fluent in Italian and French, in later life Lee added Spanish, German, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Greek to his repertoire. When his alcoholic stepfather was bankrupted in 1938 Christopher was forced to leave school at 17 in order to find work. For the next 12 months he worked as a city messenger, licking stamps and making tea for a wage of £1 a week.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee joined the RAF and was promoted to flight lieutenant. He won six campaign medals, was mentioned in despatches and received decorations from Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. He also worked for British Intelligence. “Serving in the Armed Forces was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he insisted. “I did not know how other people lived.”
After the war, Lee served with the Central Registry of War Crimes, work that took him to concentration camps including Dachau, but when he was demobbed at the age of 24, he remained undecided about which career to pursue. He toyed with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, opera singer and diplomat before his cousin (at that time the Italian ambassador to the Court of St James) suggested he try acting.
Greatly against his mother’s wishes (“Just think of all the appalling people you’ll meet!” she warned him) Lee met the Italian head of Two Cities Films, part of the J Arthur Rank Organisation, signed a seven-year contract, and joined the Rank Company of Youth (otherwise known as the Rank Charm School) in 1946. He made his film debut with a bit part in Corridor of Mirrors (1948).
A succession of “walk-on” parts ensued until, in 1951, he appeared in a speaking part as a swarthy Spanish sea captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower RN. It was one of Lee’s last films for Two Cities and when his contract ran out neither he nor the Rank Organisation were eager to renew it. Instead Lee accepted roles in a television series made in Britain but shown first in America Douglas Fairbanks Presents, appearing in some 40 half-hour productions.
After a series of military film roles in the mid-1950s, including a lieutenant in Innocents in Paris (1953), a submarine commander in The Cockleshell Heroes and a captain in That Lady (both 1955), Lee landed his first horror role for Hammer Films. He played the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), a part which required him to be coated in artificial gangrene and which left him looking, in his opinion, “like a road accident”.
Described as “the first gothic horror film made by Hammer”, The Curse of Frankenstein was graphic in its depiction of large quantities of gore. The film was extremely popular and Lee, playing opposite the studio’s resident star Peter Cushing, was enormously successful as the monster. Realising that a film about Bram Stoker’s vampiric Transylvanian nobleman might prove equally successful, a Hammer executive, James Carreras, offered Lee the role of the Count in their next production, Dracula.
The film proved to be one of the seminal horror movies of the 1950s. Lee looked the part (tall and thin, as in Stoker’s novel) and imbued the character with a dynamic, feral quality that had been lacking in earlier portrayals. With his bloody fangs and bright red eyes ablaze, Lee made a frighteningly believable vampire. In contrast with Bela Lugosi’s eerie, somnambulistic count of the 1930s, Lee spoke his lines with crisp assurance and tried to portray what he described as “the essence of nobility, ferocity and sadness”.
With Cushing cast this time as the vampire hunter, Dracula (retitled Horror of Dracula in America) was a box-office success for Hammer and horror aficionados at the time labelled it “the greatest horror movie ever made”. Lee also regarded it as the best of the series of Dracula films which he made with Hammer. “It’s the only one I’ve done that’s any good,” he recalled. “It’s the only one that remotely resembles the book.”
With the success of his portrayal of the Count, Lee treated himself to a grey, second-hand Mercedes and became established as a horror star for the first time. He was swamped with offers of film roles and took leading parts in several films throughout the late 1950s.
In productions such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy (all 1959), Lee played characters ranging from Sir Henry Baskerville to a 2,000-year-old corpse. He later claimed that the make-up for The Mummy was so uncomfortable that he swore never to submit to special effects again. The exceptions were the essential red contact lenses for his appearances as Dracula. Lee found the lenses excruciatingly painful but, as he had worn them in the first film, continuity demanded that he wear them in all subsequent productions.
Lee continued to be in demand throughout the 1950s and 1960s, starring in more than 20 films in only six years. Although he accepted some unlikely projects (including The Terror of the Tongs and The Devil’s Daffodil, both in 1961), he was also able to make films in which he had a personal interest. He had long wanted to play the Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu and in 1965 he was offered the title role in The Face of Fu Manchu. The film was so popular that a series of four more were filmed, including Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). After roles in horror films such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors and The Skull (both 1965), Lee returned to his earlier incarnation in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
He was less happy with this second film. He had become too expensive a star for the Hammer studios, and in a cost-cutting measure his scenes were kept to a minimum and remained devoid of dialogue. Lee was reduced to making a soft hissing noise which drew laughter from audiences when the film was screened. He enjoyed more success with the lead in Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966). Although the film was badly flawed, Lee was convincing in the title role.
After The Devil Rides Out (1968), a suspenseful adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel with Lee as an aristocrat in pursuit of devil-worshippers, he returned to the role of Dracula in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, on the understanding that he would have well-scripted dialogue. The film made more money than previous Hammer productions and Lee was persuaded to appear in the 1970 project, Scars of Dracula. But he had by this time become disenchanted with the role. He feared he was being typecast and that the quality of scriptwriting had deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Nevertheless Hammer were eager to continue with Lee as their horror star and persuaded him to make two more Dracula films that year. After rapidly completing Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Magic Christian, Lee devoted himself to non-vampire roles for a period.
Later in 1970 he played Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (“so commandingly good,” reported The Sunday Telegraph, “that this must surely be the end of shabby Draculas for him”) and followed it with a tiny appearance as Artemidorus in Julius Caesar in 1971. After four more Dracula films, including a modern interpretation titled Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula the year after, Lee was increasingly unhappy with the manner in which the character was being portrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he complained, “you can’t have Dracula in a modern office block, it completely undermines the original idea.”
Taking another break from the Count, Lee appeared in one of his favourite films, The Wicker Man (1973), playing a Scots laird who practises human sacrifice in the 20th century. He then went on to play the evil one-eyed Comte de Rochefort in both The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) before appearing in his first Bond film as the assassin Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (also 1974). Lee was finally persuaded to make one more Dracula-style film in the 1970s, Dracula Père et Fils (1976), before giving up the role for good.
Despite his physical likeness to the Count, Lee’s affinity with his baleful character stopped there. Throughout his career he had a reputation for being a long-winded raconteur whose reminiscences tended to focus on himself. In 1976, when Lee left Britain for the US, the move prompted an acquaintance to joke that “the population of Los Angeles were dusting out their bomb shelters in anticipation of a barrage of anecdotes”. According to another account, on one occasion an actress got off an aircraft looking ashen and exhausted. Questioned about her health by airport staff, she explained that she had been seated next to Lee and that he had not stopped talking about himself during the 10-hour flight.
Through the late 1970s, Lee continued to make films at a prodigious rate, appearing in 10 in two years. He accepted roles as diverse as Captain Rameses in the science fiction film Starship Invasions (1977) and that of the head gypsy in the Second World War drama The Passage (1979).
In the 1980s, Lee combined his film career with a return to television, appearing in mini-series including Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982) and The Far Pavilions (1984). In 1985 he suffered a heart attack, returned to London and underwent heart surgery. Instead of seeing this as a signal to retire, Lee was back at work within a year and had returned to the horror genre for the dreadful The Howling II (1986), subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf in America.
Although Lee continued to work prolifically throughout his life, he never again enjoyed the same success as when playing Dracula. He made some fatuous comedies in the mid-1980s such as Rosebud Beach Hotel (1985) and Jocks (1986), and continued into the 1990s with a starring role in the spoof horror film Gremlins II The New Batch.
He starred in the title role of Jinnah soon after the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan in 1997, and was Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002). He returned to the same role in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and was the wizard Saruman in two of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films (2001-2002), in two of his Hobbit series (2012-14) and in various video games.
With Uma Thurman, Lee was due to appear as a retired surgeon in The 11th, a film about the lead-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, to be shot this autumn.
Reflecting near the end of his life about the role of Dracula, Lee said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about me in that role. It had never been played properly before that. With me it was all about the power of suggestion to make the unbelievable believable.”
He published two volumes of autobiography Tall, Dark and Gruesome (1977) reissued as Lord of Misrule (1997) and was appointed CBE in 2001. He was knighted in 2009 and made a fellow of Bafta in 2011.
Date of Birth: 19 June 1921, Marseille, France
Birth Name: Louis Robert Gendre
Nicknames: Louis Jourdan
For audiences in the 1940s and 50s, Louis Jourdan’s incredible good looks and mellifluous Gallic purr seemed to sum up everything that was sexy and enticing about Frenchmen. As a result, he became the most sought-after French actor since Charles Boyer. Though perhaps this hampered him, stymying opportunities to extend his dramatic range, any actor who was constantly in demand by both French studios and Hollywood producers had a lot to be grateful for.
When Jourdan played the consummate bon vivant in Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (1958), he became an international celebrity. The film, which co-starred Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron, won nine Oscars, including best picture. Though the best-known of its Lerner and Loewe numbers was Chevalier’s Thank Heaven for Little Girls, the title song went to Jourdan. He later widened the breadth of his work, and in old age was still one of the most handsome men on the screen, even if the films themselves seldom matched the fineness of his looks.
He was born in Marseilles, one of the three sons of Henri Gendre, a hotelier who organised the Cannes film festival after the second world war, and Yvonne, from whose maiden name, Jourdan, Louis took his stage name. The family followed Henri’s work, which accounted for the ease with which he was later able to perform overseas. He was educated in France, Turkey and Britain, where he learned to speak perfect English with an accent that he was clever enough to realise he should keep superbly French.
Jourdan, who knew from early on that he was going to be an actor, studied under René Simon in Paris. Admired for his dramatic talent and a certain polish that no one could readily explain, he was cast in his film debut, Le Corsaire (1939), which starred Boyer, though the outbreak of the second world war prevented its completion. He went on to appear in L’Arlésienne (1942) before his career was interrupted by the Nazi occupation of France.
His father was arrested by the Gestapo, and Louis and his two brothers were active members of the resistance, whose work for the underground meant that he had to stay away from the studios. But it also resulted in his becoming a favourite of the resurgent French postwar film industry. At a time when many had worked on films that had served to help Marshal Pétain’s propaganda campaign and stars such as Chevalier were being accused of collaboration – it was easy to promote a star who had actively worked against the Nazis.
In 1946, Jourdan married Berthe Frédérique (known as Quique) and went to Los Angeles, having been persuaded by the movie mogul David O Selznick that he would be able to make more of himself in Hollywood than he ever could in Paris. He shone in his first American film, The Paradine Case (1947), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck. This was followed by Max Ophüls’s masterly Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), based on the story by Stefan Zweig. Jourdan played the debonair, womanising pianist with whom Joan Fontaine falls hopelessly and tragically in love. He invested the performance with a vulnerability that saved his character from being simply caddish.
In Minnelli’s 1949 film of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, he starred as the lover of the adulterous anti-heroine, played by Jennifer Jones. He returned to France for Rue de l’Estrapade (1953) and La Mariée Est Trop Belle (The Bride Is Too Beautiful, released with the title Her Bridal Night, 1956), the latter with Brigitte Bardot, while in Italy he appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), its title referring to the Trevi fountain in Rome. His image as the light romantic lead was burnished in that film, and his status as such was sealed by Gigi, which made him the No 1 pin-up of sophisticated American women.
He had a similar role in Can-Can (1960), which starred Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Chevalier. There followed continental roles in Hollywood productions: as a playboy in The VIPs (1963) and a fashion designer in Made in Paris (1966).
He had made his Broadway debut, playing a repressed gay man embarking on marriage, in an adaptation of André Gide’s The Immoralist, in 1954. The production co-starred Geraldine Page and James Dean, before Dean’s movie breakthrough. The following year, Jourdan returned to the New York stage in Tonight in Samarkand. He soon let it be known that he wanted more serious film roles and was not getting enough of them. In 1961 he took the lead in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Comte de Monte Cristo and, in 1975, he appeared in a British TV movie production of Alexandre Dumas’s novel, this time playing De Villefort to Richard Chamberlain’s Count. Two years later, he was D’Artagnan in The Man in the Iron Mask on TV, again opposite Chamberlain.
He played Dracula in a 1977 BBC TV adaptation and an Afghan prince in the James Bond adventure Octopussy (1983), but few of his later roles showed the range of his talents. Certainly, Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) were not the sort of movies that the Gigi star would want to be remembered for. In the mid-80s he returned to Gigi, this time in Chevalier’s role, for a touring show; he replied to the criticism that he lip-synched songs by saying: “If I sang them live, the fragile little voice I have would go.”
Jourdan’s final film appearance came as a suave villain in Peter Yates’s caper about a rare bottle of wine, Year of the Comet (1992). In 2010 he was appointed to the Légion d’Honneur.
Date of Birth: 1 August, 1930, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago
Birth Name: Geoffrey Richard Holder
Nicknames: Geoffrey Holder
Geoffrey Holder, the Tony-winning actor, dancer and choreographer known to millions as Baron Samedi in Bond movie Live and Let Die.
Born in Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, Holder was also a composer, a designer and a celebrated painter.
He will be best remembered to many as the cackling Voodoo villain who dogged Roger Moore's footsteps in his first outing as secret agent James Bond.
His other films included 1982 musical Annie, in which he played Punjab.
Often cast in exotic roles, he played a tribal chieftain in 1967 film Doctor Dolittle and a sorceror in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).
More recently, his distinctive bass voice was heard narrating Tim Burton's 2005 film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Holder, one of four children, was taught to dance by his older brother Boscoe, joining his dance company at the age of seven.
He became director of the company in the late 1940s after Boscoe moved to London, before moving to the US in 1954.
Holder made his Broadway debut that same year in House of Flowers, a Caribbean-themed musical in which he first played Baron Samedi.
A top-hatted spirit of death in Haitian Voodoo culture, the character made full use of the actor's imposing physique and physical dexterity.
Holder went on to appear in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot and in the Tony Award-winning production of The Wiz, an all-black version of The Wizard of Oz.