One was the Dickensian leader of a group of petty thieves. Another was the producer who made classic boxing movies happen. And the third was villainy incarnate in franchises such as "Dracula" and "The Lord of the Rings.”
The celebrity rule of three took an unusually cinematic turn Thursday as news broke of a group of movie legends who all passed away. According to a range of news sources, Ron Moody (of "Oliver!" fame), Robert Chartoff (producer of "Rocky" and "Raging Bull") and Christopher Lee (who was — how can we put this? -- Christopher Lee) have died.
Lee, who died at 93, was decidedly a legend, especially as the bad guy: he’s the only person in movie history who ever has or likely ever will play Dracula (“Horror of Dracula”), Lucifer (“Poor Devil”), Saruman (“Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”) and Bond bad guy Scaramanga (“The Man With the Golden Gun”)
Any one of those would be cause for cinematic icon status. Lee of course did that far better, also playing baddies such as Count Dooku in latter-day “Star Wars” movies and a host of roles in Hammer Films entries, which includes the creature in Frankenstein movies (“The Curse of Frankenstein”) and Rasputin (“Rasputin the Mad Monk”). That makes him one of the most copious repositories of evil in film history -- and, with nearly 300 feature-film credits, possibly the most prolific film actor, period.
Though his hauntingly tall presence and deep voice provided his villainous meal ticket, he wasn’t always the mustache-twirler -- he also played Sherlock Holmes multiple times and had more lighthearted parts, including in “Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.” (More on Lee’s legacy in a separate post.)
Chartoff, who died at 81, was lesser known to general audiences but was responsible for some of the most memorable movies of the second half of the 20th century. Most notably those were boxing movies — he produced all six of the extant “Rocky” films” as well as the Scorsese classic “Raging Bull.” He was also known as the producer on the Sydney Pollack drama “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” Lee Marvin’s noir smash “Point Blank” and the space-age epic “The Right Stuff.”
Moody, who died at 91, was best known for playing Fagin in the 1968 film version of “Oliver!,” a role that landed him an Oscar nomination. (He also played the part on stage numerous times, including a 1984 Broadway production that landed him a Tony nom.) But he did yeoman’s work in a host of other pieces, including Mel Brooks comedy “The Twelve Chairs,” British TV drama “EastEnders” and, most prominently to the next generation, as Merlin in the Disney film “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court” 20 years ago.
Moody is also famous for a part he didn’t take -- the title role in “Doctor Who” after Patrick Troughton left the part, a choice he later said he should have made differently.
The deaths, particularly at advanced ages, have a kind of paradoxical effect: They’re sad occasions that reinforce notions of mortality even as they remind of the rich group of film legends who continue to thrive long after we’ve stopped paying close attention.
That said, it’s not like some of these figures really stopped working even as they reached their latter years. Lee had numerous roles recently, in movies such as “Hugo” and “Dark Shadows,” as well as playing Saruman in the “Hobbit” films. Chartoff had produced 2013's "Ender's Game" and been producing “Creed,” a “Rocky” spinoff that’s set to come out later this year from Sundance darling Ryan Coogler.