The Best of Friends

I am easily distracted.

Faced with deadlines, unfinished chores or the need for additional edited copy, I can find a thousand things to keep me otherwise engaged. Recently, the death of Christopher Lee has sent me off on a tangent that I’m having more than a little trouble returning from.

Mr. Lee, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, was a very good actor who set the early standards for characters like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula. In a career that spanned 70 years, he made lots and lots of movies. And in more than 20 of those films he worked with his best friend, Peter Cushing.

In 1957, Lee played the Monster in Frankenstein. Peter Cushing played the Baron. In 1959, Lee played Henry Baskerville to Cushing’s Holmes. And so it went for many years as they cranked out film after film for Hammer Studios. These were the guys I watched running through graveyards on Saturday afternoon matinees when the cost of admission was 4 RC bottle caps and it wasn’t mandatory to leave the theater at the end of the film. You could stay all day and watch it again, and again and again.

The two men were inseparable in my mind: Mutt and Jeff, Lewis and Martin, Penn and Teller. So, with Lee’s death last week at 93,  it was like having to relive Cushing’s passing as well. It was almost too much to take. I was driven to the couch. Thank God for streaming television! Horror Express was my choice with a featured role by Telly Savalas as the Cossack Captain.

This was just a year before the hit series Kojac and all of Telly’s shtick was on display: the snarky attitude, the bald head, the thin, black cigarettes held underhand with two fingers like a Gestapo interrogator. Combined with the stalwart duo of Cushing and Lee it made for marvelous genre cinema.

A special feature on the DVD release of The Hound of the Baskervilles is an interview with Lee in which he says of his friend, “At some point . . . everyone . . . will notice that you have in your life, one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is  so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. And when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.”

Now we’ve lost them both.

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