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An Open Letter to the Screen Actors Guild

Dear Melissa Gilbert and the voting members of SAG,

I write to all of you today hoping that one of your esteemed members will be given his proper due. Is that not what the Screen Actor's Guild was created for: to make sure the performers under its banner would be treated with respect?

It is time to respect and acknowledge Mr. Christopher Lee.

He is one of you. He is one of the greats of cinema history. He is many things at once. The diabolical charm of Dracula -- the cunning madness of Rasputin -- the rapier wit of Sherlock Holmes -- and the insidious Lord Summerisle from The Wicker Man.

He is an indomitable actor of outrageous capacity. We have waited for many years to see him properly acknowledged by his peers. The BAFTAs have not done it. The Academy has not done it. And even if the Seattle Film Critics group recognizes him as a "Living Treasure" you must stop and ask yourself: how has SAG, his own union, acknowledged him?

Not at all.

After more than 60 years of the most wondrous, villainous roles ever to grace the silver screen, SAG has done nothing. The members of SAG have recently ignored Mr. Lee as a participant in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Even though all the other actors have walked away with an award, Mr. Lee receives not a word from you. Not a single word.

Melissa, is this truly fair? Members of SAG, I ask all of you to "consider this."

Your awards categories are structured to honor not just individuals who work in single roles. You had the foresight to put forth the larger concept of an ensemble award -- a wonderful way to congratulate the bigger picture, the group of players who elevate an entire film to the point of pure artistry. So why is Christopher Lee not included in this year's SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture?

How very sad and strange this had to happen. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is truly, inarguably, a piece of motion picture history happening right before our eyes. It is the film series that will be considered a classic 50 years from now. Along with The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, these films will endure. Most often "great" films are not recognized in their truest light until much time has passed. But in this case, we understand this filmic achievement today… right now… no need to wait for the clarity of distance. And Christopher Lee is part of that film history.

He participated in all three films, becoming the face of corruption and evil that everyone could see. The "other" great villain in the Rings story is never seen, for he remains off-stage, a vague threat of globalized evil. It was up to Christopher as Saruman to put a true face on such villainy; and he did it with all the panache we have come to expect from him. He was the instrument through which the audience understood Professor Tolkien's grand themes of corrupt power losing all regard for life and soil and sunlight. And I daresay he was BRILLIANT.

Just because his scenes in The Return of the King were cut from the theatrical release -- does that mean he should be excluded from the Cast award? It is clear to me this award was given as a sweeping hurrah for all three films. This award is for all the cast to share, is it not? Do you not realize that much of his performance will re-appear in the extended version that director Peter Jackson wants the world to see?

You cannot simultaneously give this award to Sean Bean and withhold it from Christopher Lee. Granted, Sean Bean is a powerful and deserving participant in the trilogy, but he doesn't appear in Return of the King except in a 2-second flashback. Christopher Lee will have restored to the film's running time a magnificent and meaty scene, including a grand exit that will surely be operatic. I am not saying any person in the cast is less deserving than another -- just that ALL of them are EQUALLY deserving.

Do not ask yourself about the issues of whether the DVD version is considered the "real" version or not. It has nothing to do with that.

Do not hesitate and justify this by saying "He wasn't in the credits. He doesn't get his name on a statue."

Do not equivocate and blame New Line Cinema by saying "His name was not submitted by the studio" (although New Line should indeed feel a piercing shame for not properly doing this).

Do not think for a minute this has gone unnoticed by your active membership.

The exclusion of Mr. Lee from this Cast award is an ugly oversight that can be easily corrected. All you have to do, Melissa, is make another trophy and have it properly engraved. Change the announcement on your website. Give the man his award. Write his name in your permanent records alongside all of his co-actors.

He worked with them. He was their partner and team-mate. He sweated and rehearsed and struggled and created a fantastic, enduring character just as they did. He is part of film history just as much as they are. He knew Professor Tolkien in real life -- he is part of the Rings forever.

And he is now 82 years old. If there is a time to acknowledge this titan among actors, the time is now. It will show needful grace and generosity on the part of the Screen Actors Guild, qualities that all actors universally uphold when regarding their fellow players.

History is watching.

Much too hasty,

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Past Limbs
An Open Letter to the Screen Actors Guild
Review: The Return of the King
Kingly Proof
For the Love of Arwen
The Atlantis Connection
Noble Is As Noble Does
Send in the Penguins
War! What is it Good For?
In Defense of Philippa Boyens
Movie Review - The Two Towers
The Final Word
Very, Very, Very Impatient
Book Review: The Annotated Hobbit
Finding a Hobbit’s Voice
Conversation with a Newbie
Inside Information
The Silver Lining
Movie Review - Fellowship of the Ring
Where the Stars are Strange: Part V
Where the Stars are Strange: Part IV
Where the Stars are Strange: Part III
Where the Stars are Strange: Part II
Where the Stars are Strange: Part I
The Spectacular Cannes Footage
Comic-Con International 2001
An Open Letter to Jeffrey Wells
The Shadow of Racism
All About Sam
The Game’s the Thing!
Who’s Spiking Who?
The 2000 Vote: Gandalf or Saruman?
Tolkien’s Greatest Hits
Return to The Furthest Reaches
The Furthest Reaches
True Fans, Truly Obsessed
"Yes, Elanor, there really is a Gandalf"
…And In the Closet Bind Them
Welcome to Merchandising Hell
In Defense of Escapism
Out on a Limb Home


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