My Dream Come True: Monster Rally '99
Being 43 years of age, I’ve been a fan of Christopher Lee for many years. I can remember seeing “The Horror of Dracula” on television for the first time when I was but 12 years old; my sister was with me. We were fortunate that we were able to watch it, as our Mother would usually never let us stay up that late. It must have been a Friday. Of course we had first been introduced to the Universal monsters, Dracula (Lugosi), Frankenstein (Karloff), and so on, but on that night, when Dracula made his entrance and fought with his rival Van Helsing, the Universal page had turned.
From that moment forwards, we were Christopher Lee fans!
In the years that followed, you could find me scrutinizing newspapers, magazines and TV Guides for anything that featured Christopher Lee. I would go out to see his films many times, and I began collecting everything related to Mr. Lee that I could get my hands on. So when I first became aware of Monster Rally ’99 (Thanks to the Internet!) something inside of me told me that there was no way that I could miss this event. The Rally was to last three days, and it was to feature my dream guest list, consisting of (to name just a few…) Christopher Lee, Michael Ripper, Veronica Carlson, Ingrid Pitt and many others. Even if Virginia was miles away, even if the value of our Canadian dollar would likely mean that I would surely return nearly bankrupt…I simply had to go. After a discussion with my wife and my sister, I booked rooms at the Crystal City Hyatt in Virginia and began my long wait. The thought that I was going to meet Christopher Lee in person and have him sign his autobiography right in front of me, helped me be patient (sort of) until that distant day in August. I pre-ordered my copy of “Tall, Dark and Gruesome” and began my wait…
Finally, the day of departure came, it was the 5th of August and we left our city at 10:00 PM. We drove all night and arrived at the hotel at 11:30AM. Boy was there an excitement in the air! I was only a few hours away from meeting Mr. Lee, as the signing session was scheduled for 5:00PM. We unpacked our things, got a bite to eat and picked up our passes for the weekend. The countdown had started, and already I was becoming amazed at the “reality” of it…it wasn’t just a dream anymore!
In heading through the lobby, we spotted Ray Harryhausen checking in. I also saw Richard Klemensen, editor of “Little Shoppe of Horrors”, talking with someone. We moved on and made sure we knew which room the signing was to be in. My sister came with me because I wanted her to take pictures of Mr. Lee and myself when the moment of truth arrived.
At 4:15PM I arrived in the room where the signing was to be. There were already a lot of people sitting and patiently waiting. It was a small convention hall, with wall to wall carpeting and rows upon rows of chairs for the fans to sit in. At the front stood a long table where Mr. Lee would be sitting in but a few minutes. Beside the table there were lots of boxes of books containing the pre-ordered hardcover copies of “Tall, Dark and Gruesome.” We would each receive our copy shortly before our turn meeting our hero. I got #160 of 500 numbered copies of the hardcover.
A little before 5:00PM, Gary Svelha of Midnight Marquee Press and the organizer of the event, arrived and began instructing us on how the things would proceed. People would be brought up in front of Mr. Lee row by row. Of course we would be allowed to shake hands, but due to the large number of people, there would be no time for personalized signing or for posing in pictures. Anyone disregarding the rules would have to leave. A door opened at the side of the room and then Christopher Lee made his entrance!
Absolutely everyone stood up and began to applaud him. There he was; Christopher Lee, the man, the legend and my hero…it was truly a magical moment! We could feel that presence…that strange and extraordinary feeling that we were all in the company of a great and talented cinematic legend that we all immensely admired and respected. He looked as tall as I imagined he would, somehow larger than life and in splendid shape.
There he stood smiling and waving back at us.Mr. Lee then took his seat behind the table, still smiling and looking out at his fans. A brilliant flood of flashbulbs filled the room as the first row slowly started parading in front of the table where their idol was waiting for them.
While awaiting my turn to get my book autographed, I just couldn’t take my eyes off of Mr. Lee. Images of Scaramanga, Lord Summerisle, Rochefort, Count Dracula and Rasputin, etc…were appearing one after another like a slide-show in my mind. The man who played all those great roles was there, right in front of me…was I dreaming?
My moment had arrived. As I approached, I decided that I would speak to him in French, knowing that Mr. Lee is fluent in many languages. I shook his hand and, like the good fan that I am, told him that it was an immense honor to meet him and that I had grown up watching his films. Finally I said to him “Vous etes le meilleur!” (You are the greatest!). He replied to me “Merci beaucoup, c’est tres gentil.” (Thank you very much, it is very kind of you to say so). Then, after signing my copy of the book, he handed it back to me and the moment was over, but it was forever etched in my mind! That was just the start of the Rally!
That same evening, Mr. Lee received another standing ovation at the official Opening Ceremonies. When he went up on stage, he addressed the crowd and gave a warm tribute to his friend Michael Ripper. (who was also a guest).
The Rally concluded with a 2-1/2 hour Question and Answer session featuring Mr. Lee in the company of authors Tom Johnson and Mark Miller. This was a wonderful session, as we were treated to various stories and anecdotes from Mr. Lee’s life and career. Fans were also permitted to ask questions. At one point we were privileged enough to hear Mr. Lee sing something for the fans and even an impression of the famous cartoon character, Yosemite Sam.
Well, needless to say that I had the best time of my life during those three days. It has been more than a year already, and I still think a lot about those three memorable days. Now, thanks to our newly founded fan club, and to a wonderful group of people, the dream continues, and we can all feel a little closer to our hero, we can even talk to him from time to time.
What can I say, this is too good to be true, can anyone pinch me?