After several years in secondary film roles, the skeletal, menacing Christopher Lee achieved horror-flick stardom as the Monster in 1958's The Curse of Frankenstein, the second of his 21 Hammer Studios films. Contrary to popular belief, Lee and Peter Cushing did not first appear together in The Curse of Frankenstein. In Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), in which Cushing plays the minor role of Osric, Lee appears as the cadaverous candle-bearer in the "frighted with false fires" scene, one of his first film roles. In 1958, Lee made his inaugural appearance as "the Count" in The Horror of Dracula, with Cushing as Van Helsing. It would remain the favorite of Lee's Dracula films; the actor later noted that he was grateful to be allowed to convey "the sadness of the character. The terrible sentence, the doom of immortality...."
Three years after Curse, Lee added another legendary figure to his gallery of characters: Sherlock Holmes, the protagonist of Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes. With the release eight years later of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Lee became the first actor ever to portray both Holmes and Holmes' brother, Mycroft, onscreen. Other Lee roles of note include the title characters in 1959's The Mummy and the Fu Manchu series of the '60s, and the villainous Scaramanga in the 1974 James Bond effort The Man with the Golden Gun. In one brilliant casting coup, the actor was co-starred with fellow movie bogeymen Cushing, Vincent Price, and John Carradine in the otherwise unmemorable House of Long Shadows (1982). Established as a legend in his own right, Lee continued working steadily throughout the '80s and '90s, appearing in films ranging from Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) to Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999).
In 2001, after appearing in nearly 300 film and television productions and being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the international star with the most screen credits to his name, the 79-year-old actor undertook the role of Saruman, chief of all wizards, in director Peter Jackson's eagerly anticipated screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Thought by many to be the millennial predecessor to George Lucas' Star Wars franchise, audiences thrilled to the wondrous battle between Saruman and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) atop the wizard's ominous tower, though Lee didn't play favorites between the franchises when Lucas shot back with the continuing saga of Anakin Skywalker's journey to the dark side in mid-2002. Wielding a lightsaber against one of the most powerful adversaries in the Star Wars canon, Lee proved that even at 80 he still had what it takes to be a compelling and demanding screen presence.