CHRISTOPHER LEE; ACTOR WHO BREATHED LIFE INTO NIGHTMARISH VILLAINS
By ANITA GATES
JUNE 11, 2015
- Christopher Lee, the physically towering British movie actor who lent his distinguished good looks, Shakespearean voice and aristocratic presence to a gallery of villains, from a seductive Count Dracula to a dreaded wizard in “The Lord of the Rings,” died on Sunday in London. He was 93.
An official for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London confirmed the death, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Lee was 35 when his breakthrough film, Terence Fisher’s British horror movie “The Curse of Frankenstein,” was released in 1957. He played the creature. But it was a year later, when he played the title role in Mr. Fisher’s “Dracula,” that his cinematic identity became forever associated with Bram Stoker’s noble, ravenous vampire, who in Mr. Lee’s characterization exuded a certain lascivious sex appeal.
When the film was reissued in 2007, Jeremy Dyson of The Guardian wrote, “Lee’s count is piercingly rapt, a fierce carnal evil burning behind his flashing eyes.”
Even in his 70s and 80s, Mr. Lee, as evil incarnate, could strike fear in the hearts of moviegoers. He played the treacherous light-saber-wielding villain Count Dooku in the “Star Wars” installments “Episode II — Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (2005). And he was the dangerously charismatic wizard Saruman, set on destroying “the world of men,” in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies.
Mr. Lee could be philosophical about having been typecast. Of his roughly 250 movie and television roles, only 15 or so had been in horror films, he maintained in an interview with The New York Times in 2002. And they included at least 10 outings as Dracula (sequels included “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” in 1966 and “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” in 1973), as well as one as Frankenstein’s monster and one as the Mummy.
Many of his other characters were nevertheless terrifying. He was the swashbuckling assassin Rochefort in “The Three Musketeers” (1974); the eerily manipulative title character in “Rasputin: The Mad Monk” (1966); the Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974); a Nazi officer in Steven Spielberg’s “1941” (1979); and a mad scientist in “Gremlins II” (1990). During the 1960s, he played the title role of the Chinese criminal mastermind in five Fu Manchu movies.
But Mr. Lee also played men of quieter power. He was the dying founder of Pakistan in “Jinnah” (1998); Sherlock Holmes’s brother in Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970); and Prince Philip in a television film, “Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story” (1982). He even made a western, “Hannie Caulder” (1971), with Raquel Welch, in which he played a peaceful family man.
One of his favorite roles was that of the hedonistic pagan leader who advocates free love, public nudity and human sacrifice in “The Wicker Man” (1973).
Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was born in London on May 27, 1922. He grew up in the fashionable Belgravia neighborhood, the son of Lt. Col. Geoffrey Trollope Lee and Contessa Estelle Marie Carandini, a member of an old Italian family.
His parents divorced when he was 6, and his mother married Harcourt George St.-Croix Rose, a banker who, until his financial failure in 1939, easily maintained their privileged existence. Mr. Lee recalled that lifestyle in his 2003 memoir, “Lord of Misrule,” an adaptation of his earlier autobiography, “Tall, Dark and Gruesome” (1977). “It was true that we’d once failed to travel first-class on the Blue Train,” he wrote, “but that must have been a booking error.”
Mr. Lee attended Wellington College, then joined the Royal Air Force, serving in intelligence and the Special Forces during World War II.
He had reached his full height, 6 feet 5 inches, as a boy. “I went through my school days in a constant state of embarrassment,” he recalled in “Tall, Dark and Gruesome.” His height proved to be a problem in his acting career as well.
After the war, a cousin suggested that he try acting, and introduced him to people at the Rank movie studio in London. Lest he tower over his fellow actors, Mr. Lee remained seated throughout his first film appearance, as a nightclub customer in “Corridor of Mirrors” (1948). That same year he was allowed to stand, as a spear-carrier, in Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet.”
Exactly 30 years later, he had become so well known in the United States that he was asked to host “Saturday Night Live.” He declined to play Dracula in a sketch, but he did appear as Mr. Death, a cultured gentleman in a black hooded robe carrying a scythe. In the part, he comes to apologize to a little girl (Laraine Newman) for taking her dog, Tippy. Mr. Death refuses to take the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus, however (“No, the Romans did that”), and, alluding to the mortality tale “The Seventh Seal,” mentions in passing that “Ingmar Bergman makes movies I’ll never understand.”
Mr. Lee lived in Switzerland and in California for many years before returning to his native England. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2001, knighted by Prince Charles in 2009 and made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2011.
In the 1990s, he embarked on a singing career with concerts and recordings, including arias, show tunes and, in 2010, what he characterized as “symphonic metal” with the album “Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross.” A follow-up album, “Charlemagne: The Omens of Death,” was released in 2013. Mr. Lee had hoped to study at the Royal College of Music but was rejected, in his 30s, as too old.
Mr. Lee continued acting into his 90s. In 2012, when he turned 90, he appeared in Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” and the first of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” prequels, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” reprising his role as Saruman. He played Saruman again in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” the third “Hobbit” movie.
In 1961, Mr. Lee married Birgit Kroencke, a model who later acted under the name Gitte Lee. They had a daughter, Christina.
Mr. Lee often said that he identified with Count Dracula, because they were both embarrassments to an aristocratic family. In “Lord of Misrule,” he expressed sympathy for his famous horror characters.
“In my mind Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster are driven figures, unable to help themselves, eventually out of control like a runaway train,” he wrote, “and consequently very much alone.”
An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to Mr. Lee’s schooling; he attended Wellington College, not both Eton and Wellington.
By BEN RATLIFF
JUNE 11, 2015
- Ornette Coleman, the alto saxophonist and composer who was one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 85.
The cause was cardiac arrest, a family representative said.
Mr. Coleman widened the options in jazz and helped change its course. Partly through his example in the late 1950s and early ’60s, jazz became less beholden to the rules of harmony and rhythm while gaining more distance from the American songbook repertoire.
His own music, then and later, embodied a new type of folk song: providing deceptively simple melodies for small groups with an intuitive, collective musical language and a strategy for playing without preconceived chord sequences. In 2007, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album “Sound Grammar.”
His early work — a personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker — lay right inside the jazz tradition, generating a handful of standards for jazz musicians of the last half-century. But he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise.
He was more voluble and theoretical than John Coltrane, the other great pathbreaker of that jazz era. He was a kind of musician-philosopher, whose interests reached well beyond jazz. He was seen as a native avant-gardist, personifying the American independent will as much as any artist of the last century.
Slight, Southern and soft-spoken, Mr. Coleman became a visible part of New York City’s cultural life, often attending parties in bright silk suits. He could talk in sometimes baffling language about harmony and ontology, but his utterances could also be disarming in their freshness and clarity.
If his words were sometimes oblique, his music was usually not. Very few listeners today would fail to understand the appeal of his early songs like “Una Muy Bonita” (bright, bouncy) and “Lonely Woman” (tragic, flamencoesque). His run of records for the Atlantic label near the beginning of his career — especially “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” “Change of the Century” and “This Is Our Music” — pushed through an initial wall of skepticism and even ridicule to be recognized as some of the greatest albums in jazz history.
His composing voice and his sense of band interplay were intact by 1959, when he caught the ear of almost every important jazz musician. He wrote short melody sketches, nearly always in a major key, that could sound like old children’s songs or, in pieces like “Turnaround” and “When Will the Blues Leave?,” brilliant blues lines. With the crucial help of the trumpeter Don Cherry, he organized his band to act like a single organism with multiple hearts.
Jazz ‘as an Idea’
Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman was born in Fort Worth on March 9, 1930, and lived in a house near railroad tracks. According to various sources, his father, Randolph, who died when Ornette was 7, was a construction worker and a cook; his mother, Rosa, was a clerk in a funeral home. Both, he liked to say, were born on Christmas Day.
Mr. Coleman’s melodies may be easy to appreciate, but his sense of harmony was complicated. When he was learning to play the saxophone — at first using an alto saxophone his mother had given him when he was about 14 — he did not yet understand that because of transposition between instruments, a C in the piano’s “concert key” was an A on his instrument. When he learned the truth, he said, he developed a lifelong suspicion of the rules of Western harmony and musical notation.
In essence, Mr. Coleman believed that all people had their own tonal centers. He often used the word “unison” — though not always in its more common musical-theory sense — to describe a group of people playing together harmoniously, even if in different keys.
“I’ve learned that everyone has their own moveable C,” he said to the writer Michael Jarrett in an interview published in 1995; he identified this as “Do,” the start of anyone singing or playing a “do-re-mi” major-scale sequence. In the same conversation, he said he had always wanted musicians to play with him “on a multiple level.”
“I don’t want them to follow me,” he explained. “I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.”
Learning by ear, he played alto and then tenor saxophone in rhythm-and-blues and society bands around Texas, backing up vocalists and practicing the honking, gutbucket style that made stars out of Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. But he had already become entranced by the new kind of jazz known as bebop, and by Parker’s imaginative phrasing.
In 1949, Mr. Coleman joined Silas Green From New Orleans, a popular traveling minstrel-show troupe on its last legs. He was fired in Natchez, Miss., he said, for trying to teach bebop to one of the other saxophonists.
In Natchez, he joined the band of the blind blues singer Clarence Samuels. While on tour with the group, he said, he was beaten by a gang of musicians outside a dance hall in Baton Rouge, La., for playing strangely; as the climax of a story he would repeat ever after in variations, they threw his saxophone down the street, or down a hill, or off a cliff.
Soon afterward, in 1953, he moved to Los Angeles to play with the R&B bandleader Pee Wee Crayton. In 1954, he married the poet Jayne Cortez, with whom he had a son, Denardo. They divorced in 1964. Mr. Coleman’s survivors include his son, who played drums with him on and off since the late 1960s, and a grandson.
Also in 1954, he bought a white plastic alto saxophone, which became an emblem of his early years. He stayed in Los Angeles for six years, finding a core group of musicians who were not only interested in playing his music but who also helped define it. They included the trumpeters Mr. Cherry and Bobby Bradford, the drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and the bassist Charlie Haden.
No recording of Mr. Coleman’s holds closer to the model of Charlie Parker. But he adhered less to a strict rhythmic grid than Parker did. Operating on his own sense of time, Mr. Coleman raced and flagged and played his own proud blues lines, diatonic runs and plump, raw, crying notes.
Mr. Coleman made one more record for Contemporary, “Tomorrow Is the Question!,” with Percy Heath and Red Mitchell on bass, Shelly Manne on drums and, significantly, nobody on piano. The lack of a pianist to root the music in chords would characterize the sound of Mr. Coleman’s music for a long time. The Ornette Coleman Quartet — with Mr. Cherry, Mr. Haden and Mr. Higgins — then recorded six numbers for Atlantic in May 1959. (John Lewis, the pianist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, had glowingly recommended Mr. Coleman to Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records.)
This session was released as “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” The record’s swing and harmonic freedom, its intuitive communication between Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cherry, and its ease with nonstandard ways of playing jazz made it a classic. But it was not released before other events had made Mr. Coleman notorious.
Later that year, Mr. Coleman was invited to the School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass., a summer institution run by John Lewis. In concerts and workshops, Mr. Coleman fascinated some teaching musicians there and alienated others. On hearing him at Lenox, the critic Martin Williams wrote, “I believe that what Ornette Coleman is playing will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and pervasively.”
Then, with his quartet, in November 1959 Mr. Coleman hit the Five Spot Café in Manhattan, his first New York gig. A two-week engagement stretched to two and a half months, and suddenly it became fashionable for journalists to ask established jazz musicians what they thought of Mr. Coleman’s jolting music.
Many said he was unformed but promising. John S. Wilson, of The New York Times, heard Mr. Coleman at the Five Spot and wrote a few months later that he had initially found his playing “shrill, meandering, and pointlessly repetitious” — although by that time Mr. Wilson had begun revising his opinion. The trumpeter Roy Eldridge did his due diligence on Mr. Coleman before forming an opinion. “I listened to him high, and I listened to him cold sober,” he said. “I even played with him. I think he’s jiving, baby.”
In under two years the group made enough music for nine records with Atlantic, including “Free Jazz,” using a “double quartet” of four musicians in each audio channel. It was not quite “free jazz,” though. Despite the great harmonic mobility among the musicians, Mr. Coleman relied on polished written melodies to cut the piece into episodes; rhythmically, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins swung hard, and not in free rhythm.
Mr. Coleman’s music had such force that even Coltrane said in 1961 that the 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to “the most intense moment of my life.”
But Mr. Coleman’s group was starting to rupture. Mr. Coleman sought more control of his music and insisted on better pay, reducing his bookings to a dribble. Mr. Haden was hospitalized for heroin addiction. Mr. Cherry, needing work, joined Sonny Rollins.
Prolific and Lauded
In 1962 Mr. Coleman rented the Town Hall, the New York performance space, to play with a new trio, featuring David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums, and on one piece with a string quartet. It was the beginning of Mr. Coleman’s public career in classical music, though a more dissonant and self-consciously European-modernist body of work. He retreated from performance and separated himself from New York’s emerging free-jazz scene.
When he reappeared, in 1965, at the Village Vanguard jazz club, he was playing trumpet and violin as well as alto saxophone. He wrote music on a well-paid commission for “Chappaqua,” a movie about drug addiction by the Avon cosmetics scion Conrad Rooks. Mr. Rooks rejected the music, for jazz quartet and orchestra, though it was eventually released by Columbia Records.
In 1966 Mr. Coleman made the album “The Empty Foxhole,” with Mr. Haden on bass and Mr. Coleman’s son, Denardo, only 10 years old, on drums. And in the late ’60s Mr. Coleman bought an industrial building in SoHo, on Prince Street, beginning his do-it-yourself life in earnest. He called the building Artists House and produced concerts, and he formed a new band that included Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone. Among its albums, for Blue Note and Columbia, were “New York Is Now!” and “Science Fiction.”
Mr. Coleman soon began writing a concerto grosso called “Skies of America,” which he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1972. It was the purest demonstration of his harmolodic principle, with parallel lines for orchestra members to play as written, rather than transposing to fit their instruments’ home keys.
In 1973 he traveled to the Rif mountains of Morocco to collaborate with the famed musicians of Jajouka. A short recording of these encounters, displaying the Jajouka reed players’ untempered approach, appeared on Mr. Coleman’s album “Dancing in Your Head,” released in 1977. The collaboration confirmed his belief that the “concert key” system of Western tonality was misguided.
“Dancing in Your Head” marked the beginning of Prime Time, Mr. Coleman’s first electric band — it had two guitarists — and a new chapter in his music. Loud, jagged and densely woven, the music took few cues from rock, but it nonetheless had an influence on what would be called post-punk, the sound of late-1970s bands like the Pop Group and the Minutemen.
Meanwhile, Mr. Coleman was releasing records with Prime Time on his own Artists House label, founded in 1977 with the record producer and lawyer John Snyder, and on A&M Records. He appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in 1979. He moved his base of operations to a building on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, made his son his manager, and worked with Caravan of Dreams, a new performance center and record label based in his hometown, Fort Worth.
In 1985 Mr. Coleman collaborated with the guitarist Pat Metheny on the album “Song X.” In 1987 he released “In All Languages,” a double album, with Prime Time on one disc and his original acoustic quartet on the other. And in 1988 he released “Virgin Beauty,” a Prime Time album with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead on board at times as a third guitarist. In 1991, Mr. Coleman played on Howard Shore’s soundtrack to the film “Naked Lunch,” based on the novel by William S. Burroughs.
Lincoln Center became his stage in the summer of 1997, when he played four nights presenting his 1970s concerto grosso, “Skies of America,” conducted by Kurt Masur, as well as his old quartet music and a strange show called “Tone Dialing” (after his 1995 album of the same name), with dancers, video, circus performers walking on nails and broken glass, and Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson.
By this time Mr. Coleman represented the avant-garde establishment. He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984 and made a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1994. He had reached old-master status on the jazz-performance circuit and gave well-attended concerts — again with a white saxophone, but metal, not plastic.
Mr. Coleman formed a new quartet in 2004, with two bassists and Denardo Coleman on drums, and started the Sound Grammar record label. In 2007, the same year he won the Pulitzer Prize, he received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. To the alarm of the audience, he passed out from heat stroke and was taken to a hospital. His final public performance was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in June 2014, as part of a tribute to him organized by his son.
“One of the things I am experiencing is very important,” he said in his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech. “And that is: You don’t have to die to kill, and you don’t have to kill to die. And above all, nothing exists that is not in the form of life, because life is eternal with or without people, so we are grateful for life to be here at this very moment.”
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the age of Mr. Coleman’s son, Denardo, when he played drums on Mr. Coleman’s album “The Empty Foxhole.” He was 10, not 12. It also misstated the date of an interview Mr. Coleman gave to the writer Michael Jarrett. It was 1987, not 1995.SOURCE
ROBERT CHARTOFF, PRODUCER OF ‘RAGING BULL’ AND ‘ROCKY’
By BRUCE WEBER
JUNE 12, 2015
- Robert Chartoff, half of the powerful Hollywood producing team behind “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” as well as other high-profile dramas, died on Wednesday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his son William said.
For two decades, beginning in 1967, Mr. Chartoff and his partner, Irwin Winkler, produced many of the signature Hollywood films of the era, often plumbing American themes with the help of star-filled casts.
They included the suspense thriller “Point Blank” (1967), an underworld little-guy-versus-the-system tale with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson; “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969), a sad, sardonic Depression-era parable starring Jane Fonda about desperate contestants in a dance marathon; “New York, New York” (1977), an atmospheric drama, directed by Martin Scorsese, about a troubled love affair between a volatile sax player (Robert De Niro) and a singer (Liza Minnelli); and “True Confessions” (1981), a crime story, set in Los Angeles in 1948 and based on a novel by John Gregory Dunne, about a pair of brothers, a cop (Robert Duvall) and a priest (Mr. De Niro), both of them morally compromised.
They also produced “The Right Stuff” (1983) an Academy Award nominee for best picture that was adapted from Tom Wolfe’s exegesis of the early years of the American space program, its macho ethos and the nature of heroism, starring, among others, Sam Shepard and Ed Harris.
But Mr. Chartoff is probably best known for two of Hollywood’s boxing blockbusters. “Raging Bull” (1980), based on a memoir by the former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, directed by Mr. Scorsese and featuring a tour de force performance by Mr. De Niro, was one of Hollywood’s most revered films. In 2007 the American Film Institute ranked it No. 4 on its list of the 100 best films of all time (though it did not win the Oscar in 1980; “Ordinary People” did.)
“Rocky” (1976), the unlikely and inspiring tale of a big-hearted but over-the-hill Philadelphia boxer who gets set up as a tomato can for the heavyweight champion and nearly wins the title, traced an unlikely and inspiring path of its own, mustering a small budget and the work of an unknown screenwriter, Sylvester Stallone, who insisted on playing the central role himself. It made him a megastar.
It was Mr. Chartoff who is widely credited for seizing on Mr. Stallone’s script and backing him as the title character. “Rocky” not only won the Academy Award for best picture but also begat numerous sequels. (“Creed,” the seventh film in the series, with Mr. Stallone starring as the trainer to the grandson of Apollo Creed, the champion he almost dethroned in the first film, is scheduled to open later this year. Mr. Chartoff, his son William and Mr. Winkler are all listed as producers.).
In the 2004 collection “Movie Moguls Speak: Interviews With Top Film Producers,” edited by Steven Priggé, Mr. Chartoff recalled that though he could not have predicted the colossal success of “Rocky,” he did have a premonition that they had hit on a popular nerve.
“All I can tell you is that on the last day of filming, I bought a leather-bound pad and a pen for Sylvester,” he said. “I walked up to him and said, ‘Now go write the sequel.’”
For his part, Mr. Stallone said of Mr. Chartoff in a statement after his death: “He changed my life forever.”
Robert Irwin Chartoff was born in the Bronx on Aug. 26, 1933, to William Chartoff, a professional musician who played bass in the New York Philharmonic, and the former Bessie Rappaport. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., working summers with an uncle who was an agent and talent manager in the Catskills.
Mr. Chartoff graduated from law school at Columbia but decided he liked show business better than the law. After meeting Mr. Winkler, then working for the William Morris Agency in New York, the two (with Judd Bernard) put together their first film, “Double Trouble,” an Elvis Presley vehicle.
Mr. Chartoff’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Jenny Weyman, whom he married in 1991; his sons William and Charley; three daughters, Miranda, Julie and Jenifer Chartoff; and 10 grandchildren.
His other films with Mr. Winkler included “The New Centurions” (1972), a Los Angeles cop story based on a novel by Joseph Wambaugh and starring George C. Scott and Stacy Keach; “The Mechanic,” (1972), in which Charles Bronson played an aging hit man; and “The Gambler” (1974), in which James Caan plays a literature professor with a compulsion for risk and a lot of bad luck. They dissolved their active partnership in the late 1980s, though they remained friends.
Mr. Chartoff later started another company, which, among other films, produced “In My Country” (2004), a drama about a black American journalist (Samuel L. Jackson) in South Africa; an adaptation of “The Tempest” (2010), directed by Julie Taymor and starring Helen Mirren; and “Ender’s Game” (2013), a science fiction action film with Harrison Ford.
After a visit to India some 25 years ago, Mr. Chartoff founded and built a school for rural children in Bihar province in the northeast part of the country.
In the “Movie Moguls” interview, Mr. Chartoff said that making “Rocky” was “one of the greatest experiences of my life,” recalling that the budget for the movie was $950,000 and that it made more than $200 million.
He also addressed the distinction of helping to produce perhaps the two greatest boxing movies ever made.
“Personally, I don’t even like boxing,” he said.