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July 5, 2010

That One Time When Christopher Lee Hosted Saturday Night Live

If you're like me, you love looking back at the joys of Saturday Night Live. While I wasn't quite born when the show first aired, looking back at the initial seasons of the show and the cast of comedy geniuses fills me with awe. So, imagine the shock that occurred when I put in a disk from SNL's third season and found that something magical happened on March 25, 1978. On that night, Saturday Night Live was hosted by horror icon (and member of FMWL's first Hall of Fame class) Christopher Lee.Surprised? Me too. Thankfully, Mr. Lee explained himself with this monologue:

I'm quite sure that when some of you heard that Christopher Lee was going to host Saturday Night Live you were somewhat surprised, if not a little apprehensive. Well, so was I. In fact, I approached this whole thing with considerable trepidation and dread. You see, I've seen the show, and I admire it enormously; at times I even find it...quite humorous. You know, I've appeared in over 130 motion pictures, and not ALL of them begin at 3 AM on Channel 9. I was The Man With The Golden Gun in the James Bond film; I, uh, played with Raquel Welch in The Three or Four Musketeers; I drowned in Airport '77, and I'm sure that you will remember me vividly as Trixie in The Honeymooners. As you may know, I first came to public attention as a result of my appearances in certain rather eerie and even macabre films. But you may be surprised to know that I haven't made one in several years. This is because I have a great deal of respect for this kind of film, and I don't think that very good ones are being produced anymore. Week after week, I find myself receiving scripts like The Creature from the Black Studies Program...and Frankenstein Snubs The Wolf Man...and of course, Dr. Terror's House of Pancakes. To give you an idea of the depths to which this sort of picture has sunk nowadays, I can't do better than to show you some coming attractions. Here then, are the trailers for three current films:

That was followed up by three trailers featuring the SNL cast: The Island of Lost Luggage (in which "No one will be seated during the horrifying tote bag sequence"), The Thing That Wouldn't Leave (in which John Belushi overstays his welcome and terrorizes Bill Murray and Jane Curtin), and Dr. Jekyll and Mister Rogers (in which Dan Aykroyd plays Vincent Price playing both the mad doctor and the sweatery (Thanks to Emily C!) TV host). After the three trailers aired, the show cut back to Lee who smiled knowingly and said "See what I mean?"Lee only appeared in three skits during the episode, competing for air time with Weekend Update, two musical performances, stand-up by Richard Belzer, a short film by Gary Weis (which features Stacy Keach!), AND an episode of Mr. Bill. But when he did get into the show, he didn't disappoint.

The first skit featured Lee as My Fair Lady's Professor Henry Higgins (originally played by Rex Harrison), who is faced with the challenge of helping out a young TV personality with a speech impediment - ABC's Barbara Walters. The skit works best when music swells up to introduce a musical number...which never happens. It's probably the least interesting of the skits Lee's in - primarily because the movie was already about 10 years old and is now nearly 40 years old - but he plays the role well.
Near the midpoint of the episode, Lee shows up in a full costume as an incarnation of Death itself. It seems a young girl, played by Laraine Newman, has just lost her pet dog, and Death feels a little sorry about it. He explains his profession to the youngster, stating "it's a living", but occasionally gets frustrated with her. When she continues to list the pets she's had that have died, Lee is forced to shout "So I don't like small animals!" The two make peace, and just before he leaves the young girl asks for a kiss good night. Lee fights back the urge to smile as he warns her: "Don't tempt me!"
Later in the show, Lee plays a role that he's familiar with - though he was usually on the other side of the set. With Belushi assisting him, Lee plays a stake-wielding hero whose name might just be Van Helsing. But the duo aren't after a vampire...they're after disgraced ex-President Richard Nixon. Dan Aykroyd plays the non-crook, and is the funniest part of the skit. Lee again seems to be playing the straight man in the scene, but his willingness to mock the character that helped make him famous is quite enjoyable.

Perhaps the biggest laugh of the show comes, however, when Lee introduces the musical guest. He motions toward the band, and grandly pronounces "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like you all to meet....LOAF!" Lee plays confused for a moment, listening to a stagehand, before apologizing to the audience; and proceeds to properly introduce Meat Loaf.Maybe Sir Christopher Lee wasn't the most suited to host the show, especially alongside the comedy heavyweights of that era, but it's most welcome to see him out there having fun. As the show closes, Lee seems genuinely grateful for the opportunity, and the smile on his face is nearly as big as the one that was on mine seeing one of my favorite actors hosting the show I'd never have expected.

And really, if Betty White can do it, why can't we get an encore performance 32 years later? Who's with me????

8 comments:

Matt-suzaka said...

Wow, I never knew he hosted an episode either, and I used to watch the old-school SNL reruns all the time when I was a kid. Maybe I did see the episode, and even as a young horror fan, I still might not have been aware of Lee as of that age still. Great find, though, I would love to check out the episode at some point.

Strange Kid said...

Great post, Mike! This is definitely a side of him that I've never seen before. Does anyone know if there's any footage available online of the episode?

The Mike said...

I tried to hunt down any free and/or legal footage online, but couldn't find anything. However, The episode can be viewed as video-on-demand at Amazon, for a small fee.

AE said...

Oh, the darling mustachioed lambkin!! I will have to look this episode up. How fantastic. By all means let us urge him to come back! I haven't seen the show since I was in short pants, but I would watch it again for him.

venoms5 said...

I got the first four seasons on DVD, Mike, and this is one of my favorite bits. I remember catching it back then (not sure if it was it's original run, or a rerun) along with that great skit with the shark from JAWS knocking on people's doors. Oh! And there's that skit with Belushi and company as Marvel super heroes. Classic stuff and great post!

Grey @ The dARk HOurs Horror Podcast said...

After seeing him in a dress (The Wicker Man) it isn't hard to imagine him on SNL

christian said...

I wrote a post about this particular episode that actually Lee credits for changing his life and career....

http://technicolordreams70.wordpress.com/2008/07/11/christopher-lee-on-snl/

Yolanda Brown said...

I actually have the episode on tape, and I treasure it. I remember watching it when it first aired, and it was hillarious.