THREE DAYS AGO it was announced that, Lady Lee, Sir Christopher Lee’s widow, had donated her husband's photographic archive, to the BFI National Archive. The collection, is presented in THREE scrapbooks. Lee would have been 97 years young on 27th May 2019'. The scrapbooks are made up of photographic prints compiled by Sir Christopher Lee himself.
ON DONATING THESE ALBUMS, Lady Gitte Lee in a press statement has said, “It was a great joy and an honour for my husband when he was awarded the BFI Fellowship in recognition for his lifelong contribution to the industry. I am therefore delighted that the BFI are helping to preserve the heritage of his legacy, by bringing Christopher’s photographic archive into the BFI National Archive. I am immensely proud of my husband’s achievements. One of Britain’s best-loved actors, he was a man who entertained audiences worldwide for more than 60 years. It gives me great pleasure that his photos will be seen and appreciated for generations to come.”
WELL, AS WE HOPED, the scrapbooks just about covers Lee's entire film career. It's a photographic archive which includes many previously unseen on-set photographs and contact sheets, plus photographic portraits from many of his roles including Hammer films 'Dracula / Horror of Dracula' (1958) and its sequels, also The Wicker Man (1973) and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Some interesting choices are included, such as one of Lee's earliest film roles in the Ealing Studios classic, Scott of the Antarctic (1948), and ends, as one would expect, in the 2000s. It's an interesting Lee archive which manages to present a unique personal account of a prolific career, and also features annotated musings, revealing his crisp, dry humour.
SO, WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE? Well, it's three scrapbooks put together it seems in the early 1970s and annotated by Lee himself, all spanning the years from 1948-1972. ALBUM ONE covers Lee’s first decade and a half, as a jobbing actor. Here we see some of his earliest roles including the World War II drama They Were Not Divided (1950) and Captain Horatio Hornblower (1950) in which Lee played supporting parts, his annotation to They Were Not Divided quips “back to camera, as usual”. It's interesting to see, over a ten year period how he spent the time in his choices and casting opportunities, to enable him to hone his craft in supporting roles, before his breakthrough performance, as The Creature in Hammer Studios’ The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). It's no secret that, Lee at one time held the 'Guinness World Record' for the most on-screen sword fights! This album records an early and memorable example, with Lee’s infamous sword fight with Errol Flynn in The Dark Avenger (1955). It was at this time, Flynn accidentally cut through Lee’s little finger! A story Lee loved to share! The album also includes a striking pair of portraits of Lee, where he is almost unrecognisable, during his screen test for John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956), a part that was ultimately played by another actor.
ALBUM TWO spans through the 1960s, and includes much of the horror and fantasy genre classics, such as his sequel to the successful 1958 Dracula film, Dracula Price of Darkness in 1965 and The Devil Rides Out (1967). It's also interesting to see Lee alongside other fellow horror legends, including Peter Cushing in Amicus films, The Skull in 1965, Vincent Price The Oblong Box, 1959 and Boris Karloff in The Curse of the Crimson Altar produced in 1968. Good to see Lee chatting and working on set, with Hammer director Terence Fisher during the making of The Gorgon in 1965. Included too are his appearances in two separate series of popular UK TV programme, The Avengers in 1967 and 1969 ALBUM THREE covers a much shorter period, from his role in Julius Caesar in 1970 to the low budget cult film Death Line, with Donald Pleasence in 1972. This scrapbook also has space to showcase some of the special make-up and make up artists like Wally Schneiderman and Pearl Tipaldi who were deployed in films such as The Scars of Dracula (1970) and includes many make up prep images with make up artist Harry Frampton from Amicus films, I, Monster (1971), a role that which Lee often described as ‘one of the best things I’ve ever done’. There are also a number of behind-the-scenes stills from Billy Wilder’s late masterpiece, and one of Lee’s favourite films, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1971).
LEE FELT TYPECAST for much of the period of time covered by these albums, but they nevertheless show his great versatility as an actor across a variety of characters, films and genres. So, it's interesting that alongside the iconic images showcased, he has chosen to include some quite surprising, often funny and interesting choices. Many of the photographs have never been published, so they are all the more special for being selected, arranged and annotated by Lee himself.
NATHALIE MORRIS, Senior Curator – Special Collections, BFI said, “We’re delighted to have been entrusted with this marvellous group of photographs which were collected and kept by Christopher Lee, one of the all-time cinema greats. These images wonderfully demonstrate Lee’s versatility and charisma as an actor, taking us on a journey from his early small parts through to his starring roles and then beyond, as directors sought him out for high profile supporting roles and cameos. The albums are fascinating for being assembled by Lee himself, especially as they also include his occasional, wryly-observed, comments. The BFI National Archive is incredibly grateful to Lady Lee for this generous donation.”
CHRISTOPHER LEE'S SCRAPBOOK collection will join other significant personal archive collections including those of Alfred Hitchcock, Alan Parker, David Lean, Ken Loach and Dirk Bogarde at the BFI National Archive John Paul Getty Jnr Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, stored in optimal archival conditions. Once catalogued, the collection will be available to view by appointment, with selected material made accessible digitally through the BFI Reuben Library.