On June 11th 2015, we learned we had lost a giant in the film world. Christopher Lee had passed away on June 5th. He was a true gentelman and a scholar, a soldier, killer of Nazi’s, Sith, Istari, Mother bleeping Dracula....
Oh right, sorry. Kind of got carried away. But it’s hard not to when you read of Mr. Lee’s amazing career. I could do a whole artifcle on his time in the British SAS during WW2. We still don’t know what he did as those files are still classified. He was in a freaking heavy metal band at 91, and did a whole concept album on the history of Charlaemagne
But since this is FOTD, we need to stay focused. I wanted to honor Mr. Lee’s memory so I decided to do a FOTD about the LOTR movies.
Did you know that Christopher Lee was the only member of the cast to meet J.R.R Tolkien and he reads the entire series once a year?
81 and 82 are footnotes to pages in Lord of Misrule: The Autobiography of Christopher Lee. 81 is Lee 2003, p. 274.and 82 is Lee 2003, p. 337. 83 is Peter Jackson (2002). Cameras in Middle-earth(The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Special Extended Edition documentary)(DVD). New Line Cinema.
There was an interview with him, Ian McKellan and John Rhys-Davie that was hosted on his official website where he goes into detail on meeting Tolkien. The site is currently down and any links to that page get a 404. However Google was able to pull up a cached copy. The interview was from May 13th 2001 during the pre-release press tour for The Fellowship Of The Ring.
Q: What do you remember of meeting Tolkien?
CL: Very little. I was up in Oxford meeting some friends, and we were in the Randolph Hotel. Someone said, “What are you doing here, this is all rather correct and proper; lets go to a pub.” This was forty-five + years ago. We were sitting there talking and drinking beer, and someone said, “Oh, look who walked in.” It was Professor Tolkien, and I nearly fell off my chair. I didn’t even know he was alive. He was a benign looking man, smoking a pipe, walking in, an English countryman with earth under his feet. And he was a genius, a man of incredible intellectual knowledge. He knew somebody in our group. He (the man in the group) said “Oh Professor, Professor...” And he came over. And each one of us, well I knelt of course, each one of us said “how do you do?” And I just said “Ho.. How.. How...” I just couldn’t believe it. But I’ll never forget it.
I also found a video where he disucces the experience.
One thing that has been getitng passed along for a long time is that Tolkien gave him this blessing to play Gandalf. While Christopher Lee is on record as saying he would have lvoed to play Gandalf, he was not considered for the role due to his age and the required physical activity. He stated in interviews on the DVDs that he wanted to play the role when he was younger but knew he would have been to young to get the part. From the Wiki..
In the commentary, he states he had a decades-long dream to play Gandalf but that he was now too old and his physical limitations prevented his being considered.
The two things, his desire, and meeting Tolkien seemed to have been blended together into becoming Tolkien giving his blesisng. I was unable to find anything from Mr. Lee, Tolkien’s Letters or anything else verifying Tolkien’s desire he play the part. Tolkien was very active in his correspondence, there is a whole book compiling his letters. I suspect if he was willing to give his blessing for a certain actor to play one of his characters he would have mentioned it in a letter.
I found an interesting take from a commentor named “squire” over at The One Ring Forums. Since I am using information from their post I wanted to ensure proper credit was given. Either way if you see on Reddit that Tolkien personally wanted Mr. Lee to play Gandalf take it with a shaker of salt.
I’m just going to close out this Friday edition of FOTD with one last quote. I could honestly do a whole column of Christopher Lee quotes and interviews. But I think this is a perfect one to end the article with. It’s from a Cinefantastique interview from 2003 when The Return Of The King was coming out.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You’ve said several times that you think THE LORD OF THE RINGS will go down in cinema history.
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Yes, I said that on my second day of work on the film, when the executives from New Line Cinema arrived in New Zealand and asked me how I thought everything was going. I said, “You are creating cinema history!” I think everyone connected with the pictures has. These films will be seen for years and years, long after the HARRY POTTER films have—I won’t say faded away—but perhaps, have lost their appeal. It is the soul of Tolkien on the screen. This film is a modern miracle and it will be remembered for a long, long time. Professor Tokien had a vision for a very long period of time. Peter Jackson had a vision. And I have my own vision: I see Professor Tokien walking over to Peter Jackson, shaking his hand and saying, “well done my boy, well done.”