Tony Sokol at The Chiseler Online Magazine interviews Zeena about her memories of actor Christopher Lee:
The interdisciplinary avant garde artist spoke exclusively with the Chiseler about the legendary actor.
Zeena “met Christopher Lee as a result of being co-producer for the CD ‘Christopher Lee Sings Devils Rogues and other Villians.’ Specifically, I first met him at the apartment in Los Angeles that [former husband] Nikolas and I rented for him and his wife Gitte to stay in while we worked on the recording of ‘Christopher Lee Sings Devils Rogues and other Villains.’ ”
Long before Lee recorded with the symphonic power metal group Rhapsody of Fire, he was involved with “Christopher Lee Sings Devils, Rogues & Other Villains (From Broadway To Bayreuth And Beyond).“
“Nikolas knew of Lee’s love of classical music, opera and Broadway musicals. But at that time, the general public only knew Lee for his vampire roles and had little awareness of his musical talent and appreciation,” Zeena explained.
Lee maintained that his one regret was his decision not to become an opera singer.
“Nikolas conceived of the idea to spotlight Christopher Lee’s considerable singing talents,” Zeena said. “But he knew that to do that effectively, such a project would need to focus on musical selections one would automatically think of Lee singing, appropriately sinister villainous characters from Opera and musicals.
“Lee was very enthusiastic at the proposal. So it was through helping Nikolas with the planning, production and coordinating of that project that I got to know Christopher. We recorded it at a studio in Crossroads of the World in Los Angeles. A considerable amount of work and expense went into finding suitable, classically trained musicians and a musical director (Dean Shepherd, who was fantastic) who had the right skills and temperament to work well with Lee.”
The friendship endured long after the work was completed.
“We stayed in contact throughout the years following that album,” she said. “We’d see him whenever he was in Berlin for the Berlin Film Festival and the ‘Cinema for Peace’ benefit.”
“It goes without saying that Christopher was a very colorful person,” Zeena said. “But for me, the most interesting conversations with him revolved around his descriptions of his WWII work as a British Intelligence officer. He talked about parachuting into German enemy Waffen SS camps and, well, he did what the British government trained him to do, which was not pretty.”
“I got the impression he was still rather haunted, even decades later, by some of his experiences during the war. Even though he believed that what he did was for virtuous and just reasons,” she added.
“He definitely had an interest in magic beyond the roles he played,” Zeena said. “But we need to make a distinction between 'interest’ and 'involvement.’ He had no first-hand involvement in any magical, occult or satanic groups and even declined direct invitations from such groups.
“He liked horror fiction of authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Algernon Blackwood, etc. But that was purely a literary appreciation. He also had an interest in John Dee, The Golden Dawn and other 19th and early 20th century magical groups,” she explained.
“However, it should be stated that Lee had an interest in a wide variety of eclectic subjects, which had nothing to do with occultism. He was simply very well-read and inquisitive by nature,” she added.
Lee was in the enviable position to be able to satisfy his many curiosities.
“As a result of his years in British intelligence, he’d known figures like Dennis Wheatley, his cousin Ian Fleming, etc., and had heard of their experiences with Aleister Crowley. In fact he was lifelong friends with Dennis Wheatley and agreed with Wheatley’s views on the occult. But their friendship grew out of their mutual intelligence work, not because of occult or magical interests.
Christopher Lee was instrumental in getting Wheatley works to film. Wheatley’s The Forbidden Territory was made into a movie starring Ronald Squire as Sir Charles rather than Duke de Richleau in 1934.
“It was Lee who convinced Hammer films to buy the rights to Wheatley’s books for the films he would star in,” Zeena said. “But it should be clarified that Lee was very dismissive and wary of occultists, black magicians or satanists.”
During Zeena’s involvement in the Lee album, she had the opportunity to ask Lee about the rumor that her father knew Christopher Lee.
“When Nikolas and I got to know Lee, we were able to discuss this rumor with him in detail,” Zeena said. “Both Lee and his wife Gitte refuted the rumor vehemently. Lee explained that, as a result of working on the U.S. TV movie Poor Devil, with Sammy Davis, Jr. (who became a Priest in the Church of Satan), Davis tried to ingratiate Lee into accepting an invitation at the behest of my father, offering Lee a copy of The Satanic Bible, personally inscribed and signed by my father.
“Lee still had the book in his collection and, on one of Nikolas’s visits to London for preparations of the CD, Lee showed Nikolas the book referring to it as a cheap paperback from the '60s witchcraft fads. Lee didn’t take it at all seriously,” Zeena said. “His wife Gitte recalled another time they visited Sammy and his wife Altovise in Los Angeles, when again Sammy tried to serve as middle-man between Dracula and the Black Pope, and again to no avail.
“Lee had no interest. He said Sammy was nuts about my father but Lee saw my father as a 'Johnny-come-lately opportunist and con-man’ within the occult. Lee expressed that he had no intention of ever meeting LaVey. Then, Lee pointedly looked me in the eye and said 'I’m very glad that you had the sense to get out of all of that destructive rubbish,' expounding on what he called 'the ruinous effects of that type of belief system.' ” she concluded.
The levelheaded enchantress also got to see the work that went into his actor’s preparation.
“Lee took personal responsibility to research his roles, to learn what he could about the characters and the historical context, in order to bring a more believable performance to each character,” Zeena said. “His interest in devilish and monstrous roles was purely a matter of aesthetics and literary appreciation - but not at all a personal lifestyle.
“I think he considered the villainous roles he played as having allegorical and moral significance. Sort of like morality tales for a new generation. I don’t think he expected to actually inspire people to want to become the characters he played. He was part Italian and had a very strong sense of religious moral ethics. So even though he befriended Wheatley and personally researched the villainous roles he would play, it was really out of a dedication to portray those roles in as real a way as possible, to understand those characters from their own points of view and to make them believable,” she said.
[End of excerpts]*
*THERE'S EVEN MORE TO THIS ARTICLE - READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE
Originally posted to Chiseler on June 9, 2015
In the run-up to Halloween, we're re-posting some of Zeena's past Samhain-specific articles and vintage pictures. This first installment is from Zeena's VICE Magazine column titled, "Halloween in a Satanic Household"
To the article:
"As I write this, I'm already decked out in orange and black apparel in preparation for the most wonderful holiday of the year. I'm happy Berlin's finally caught up to the joys of that kooky American custom Samhain, because for the first quarter century of my life, back when I was the devil's defender, Halloween wasn't the fun and merriment it was for many others.
Statistically, crime rates rise on Halloween night, so you can imagine the kind of mayhem the HQ of the Church of Satan—a black house centered in one of San Francisco's most conservative, pastel-lined districts—invited upon itself. Early 70s San Francisco was hit by a steep spike in the crime rate, with a special twist of Barbary Coast weirdness added by such local lunatics as the Zodiac Killer, who brought fear into the city even when it wasn't Halloween.
My parents didn't allow my friends to visit our house—my daily routine consisted of coming home from school, checking in for headcount, immediately escaping to a friend's house or going out alone to play, then reporting back for dinner at our kitchen's grim mess hall before bed check.
You might expect that this drill would be different on Halloween in the most celebrated Satanic household of the 70s, but Halloween was the same old same old. Rituals were only held for the rubes—no special ceremonies necessary for family, who were all a part of Chez LaVey's mitt-camp (criminal fortune-telling rings of the carnival). We didn't spend Halloween celebrating spooky self-indulgence. We spent the harrowing night warding off the many thrill seekers who picked our infamous dwelling as the perfect target-practice for Halloween vandalism. It was bad enough this was a problem every night of the year, but on Halloween it was guaranteed that maniacs would use our house for even more imaginative drive-bys.
Like a Dickensian feral child, I always found other neighborhood kids whose parents let me tag along on Halloween nights, to make sure I was safe.
When I was eight years old, I thought I had my Halloween strategy all worked out. One of my best friends, Frankie, a Chinese boy with a Siamese cat named Mamacita, persuaded his father to take us trick-or-treating. Frankie would dress as Batman, and I would dress as Catwoman. We spent weeks preparing for Halloween, ardently studying Batman reruns, learning our lines, staging dress rehearsals, and getting all our gear in order for the big day.
Frankie and I had a lot of adventures together, encouraging each other into mischief. One day when I showed up for our Halloween training, Frankie was particularly excited about something. In hushed tones, he said he had something to show me. We went into his parents' room, and as he pulled a cardboard box from under his father's bed, he enthusiastically told me, “I found a Q-U-I and other cool magazines! You won't believe it!”
What the hell is he talking about? “What's a Q-U-I?” I asked.
“You know,” he said, “magazines for men!”
Oh! Just as my eye landed on the title, it hit me, “You mean Oui! Sure, I know Oui. My father's got tons those kinds of magazines.” (Frankie misread the title of the October '72 premiere issue as beginning with a “Q.”)
Okay. So soft-core porn was a big news to Frankie, but it was small potatoes to me, considering I belonged to a family who first come to prominence having salacious rites covered in porn rags. Cute, I thought. But let's get back to Batman. So we didn't give it much more thought about the magazines... until the big day.
Halloween night 1972: I methodically got all decked out in my sexy hand-me-down black leotard, tights and turtleneck sweater. Applied my whiskers, tail, and cat ears. Added some Julie Newmar eyebrow pencil and super sneaky-silent ballet slippers for paws.
Every good little ghoul knew it was bad luck to begin trick-or-treating before sundown. But by 5 PM, I couldn't contain myself any longer. I bolted out of that black house like a cat out of hell. Pillowcase in hand, I charged over to the corner grocery store where Frankie lived in the upstairs flat. After a while, I banged impatiently on his door. I could hear Frankie padding down the stairs. Good! I thought. Now we're getting somewhere!
When Frankie opened the door, NOT in Batcostume, my heart sank. What happened? Frankie simply said, “I can't go with you tonight. My father found out about the Q-U-I,” and then shut the door.
To keep San Francisco safe, Catwoman prowled the darkened streets without the Caped Crusader. I spent a very scary couple of hours stalking the avenues alone, ardently fulfilling my Halloween vow: Give me trick-or-treat or give me death.
That Halloween night abruptly came to an end when I knew I'd gone to the wrong house. I ascended the stairwell to a flat absent of festive Halloween decorations, but took my chances ringing the bell in pursuit of one last Snickers bar or pack of Fizzies. The creepy, disheveled occupant looked at me like a trap-door spider looking at its prey.
He grinned with an unfriendly smile and said, “What do you want?”
Immediately, I realized I'd come to the wrong door. I made something up about confusing the house with my friend's and pivoted to leave. But he grabbed my arm and said, “That's okay, I don't have any candy, but you can come in, and I'm sure I can find something.” In a nanosecond, the survival fear-reflex propelled me down the stairs and straight home.
Just one of many close calls in my life. But as you can see by the photo of the booty I plundered, my rat Orwell was happy I returned home safely.
After renouncing Satanism in 1990, in favor of sharing life with more considerate and generous entities, I'm freed up to fully enjoy Halloween as I never could when I served in defense of an ungrateful devil." --Zeena Schreck
Posted to VICE magazine website on October 26, 2013, 3:00pm at: https://www.vice.com/en/article/4w7dg3/halloween-in-a-satanic-household
The below article was originally posted in San Francisco newsgroups for Halloween by Jeff Farris, who shares first-hand impressions of Zeena in early life. Farris and Zeena attended the same schools yet have never met. Many thanks to Mr. Farris for allowing us to reprint his article here! An afterword from Zeena follows his article:
Lucifer's Daughter in the Richmond District by Jeff Farris
In San Francisco on California Street, between 23rd and 24th Avenues in the Richmond District, there once was a house that was painted pure black long before it was fashionable or cool to do so. The home was rumored to have a real live roaring lion as well as human occupants, we were warned, who were devotees to the Prince of Darkness himself. Other than the austere and gloomy color, it was an unassuming little home just a few blocks down the road from where I grew up.
A typical San Francisco A-framed, 3 story Victorian, The Black House, as it was known for many years, was the official First Church of Satan and the home of Anton LeVay, aka, The Black Pope and Lucifer’s Great High Priest and author of the Satanic Bible, as well as his family, including 2 young children and his companion, the self professed sorceress and High Priestess, Diane Hegarty. An ex-carnival worker and notable chronic liar, Anton established the Church of Satan in 1966 where it had a run for about 35 years until it was eventually torn down in 2001, only to be replaced, unceremoniously, by a cheap, 4 unit apartment complex commonly known among locals as a Richmond Special. The son of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants who had arrived in the United States sometime near the turn of the 20th Century, Mr. LaVey had finally made a name for himself in the late 1960’s with his audacious ambition to create the first church of Satan ever, anywhere.
San Francisco, at the time, was ripe for such a plan and Anton soon found himself at the center of controversy along with much welcomed attention from the ranks of luminaries such as Hollywood elites, avant-garde artists, and rock superstars of the time. One of his first and most celebrated religious ceremonies held at The Black House was the “Baptism” of his youngest daughter, Zeena, in 1967, when she was just 3 years old.
You may have some familiarity with Anton LaVey, but it’s his daughter, Zeena, that I am most curious about today. Anton, who died in 1997, seemed more like an opportunist and a showman than that of a bonafide Satanist, but not Zeena. She was destined for a much more televised profile than her father, becoming the official spokesperson for the Church of Satan in the mid-1980’s during the days of what is now called the “Satanic Panic” wherein born-again, Christian fundamentalists and the U.S. media sensationalized what they said was rampant Satanic Ritual Abuse all across America, especially towards children. In actuality, there was really none happening at all.
Some say that it was a modern day witch-hunt fueled by rumors and hearsay, but it was not without serious repercussions when innocent citizens, mostly teachers and staff from 19 daycare centers and pre-schools, were convicted and some even imprisoned based upon the fabricated testimony of toddlers and therapists who said they had uncovered memories of ritual abuse after hypnotizing previous students. Basically, Christians giving false testimony and acting more like Satan, than, well... Satan.
Zeena was invaluable during this time, advising police departments throughout the country with a general understanding of Satanic practices which helped quell, at least some, of the satanic ritual abuse allegations. I guess that one could say that the first person to have ever been publicly christened, if I can even use that term, for dedication to Lucifer, could have no other destiny in store for her other than to set the record straight regarding the activities of Beelzebub and his followers.
Zeena was one year younger than I, born in 1963, and we went to the same middle school, Presidio Jr. High, on 30th Avenue in between Geary and Clement. I remember her as a very attractive young girl with sensuous lips and an almost ever present furrowed brow. I didn’t know her personally, but being that her father was a somewhat famous, or better yet, infamous San Franciscan, everyone knew who she was, even I. She got pregnant in the 8th grade, at the age of 13, which didn’t help her reputation at all. Vicious rumors went around school stating that it was her father who had impregnated her. Kids can be so mean but, to my knowledge, not one of them had the guts to ever confront Zeena personally. We were all afraid of her clan and no one was brave enough to start trouble with Lucifer’s very own baptized child.
Anyhow, as the years have transpired, I have kept my eye on the life and times of Zeena LaVey, or Zeena Schreck, which is her current last name. I wouldn’t say that I am a stalker, but I have always felt for her as one would feel towards any misunderstood outsider. I felt bad for her, actually, not that she needs my sympathy and she could probably care less of what I think, for that matter. But I’ve always believed that she was a good soul under extraordinary pressure from circumstances beyond her control. She was a San Francisco kid, caught up in those crazy times, no different than I, but definitely more complicated and dark.
As you can imagine, Zeena and her family weren’t very welcome in our working class, multicultural, mostly Catholic, and Asian, and Russian Orthodox neighborhood. In a 2012 interview with Vice Australia, she explains that she had to transcribe for the SFPD death threats left for her on her father’s answering machine wherein she was to be raped and killed. She was 11 years old at the time. She also states that her father may have haphazardly fallen into the role of The Black Pope by sheer accident and that the Church of Satan was created after a local publicist described Anton as a neighborhood eccentric and “the first priest of Satan.” Anton then seized the idea and transformed it into a religion and that it all took off from there.
To be clear, Anton’s belief system did not include an actual deity or entity that one would call Satan or Lucifer, the Angel of Light. He believed that there wasn’t a devil at all. It was an ego driven theology. Each person is a God, in essence, and the tenets of the religion are almost all selfishly motivated and self aggrandizing. It’s also important to note that the Church of Satan, for the most part, was ultimately a failed venture leaving Anton destitute by the time he died. He sold his soul for nothing more than a limited and fleeting run at popularity, poor thing.
By 1990, Zeena had renounced her father’s church and belief structure, and likewise the Church of Satan vehemently denounced Zeena, commencing a campaign to discredit her name. I don’t think she ever had contact with Anton after that. She claimed that her father was basically a charlatan and a con artist and that he never had the depth of knowledge to be a true Satanist and that it was all for show and celebrity.
Whether or not I believe her completely is predicated upon the publication of the Satanic Bible, which is still the definitive go to resource for anything Satanic. It is clear that he gave that book some thought. Nonetheless, Zeena then applied her spiritual endeavors towards the Temple of Set, which could best be described as a pre-christian, Egyptian mystery religion, but highly influenced by other ex-members of the Church of Satan and the writings of Aleister Crowley. But even here, Zeena failed to find an environment that was to her liking and she resigned from her post as High Priestess in 2002. She then formed the Sethian Liberation Movement, donned with a title that could only be conjured up by an ex-San Francisco kid who survived the citywide pandemonium that the Symbionese Liberation Army caused when they kidnapped Patty Hearst in the early 70’s.
Currently, Zeena is a self avowed Tibetan Tantric Buddhist and she offers counseling services and specifically ministers to victims of extreme circumstances, the socially stigmatized, outcasts, and those otherwise subject to prejudice. By use of yogic, meditative and shamanic exercises, she offers short-range treatment, she says, without having to become an initiate of any particular spiritual path. Like the Phoenix, she claims that she can help you rise from the ashes of difficult experiences, find your own inner mystical resources, and have a spiritual awakening towards a foundation of inner strength.
Personally, I believe in her and I want her to succeed. If anyone has experience of overcoming difficulties, Zeena is among those who have. It seems poetic to me that a young girl from San Francisco, without any act of her own volition, was baptized at the tender age of 3 into the milieu of post-modern sensationalized Satanism, only to come out the other side finding peace and stability from the teachings of someone as self effacing and modest as the Buddha. I sincerely hope that she ultimately finds the peace that surpasses all understanding. As a fellow San Franciscan, I am rooting for her. How about you?
– Jeff Farris
San Francisco, Halloween 2014
Afterword by Zeena:
Thank you Jeff, wherever you are! Though it's true we never met, nor shared any words in those years, I never forget a face and knew it was you, because you still look the same, some 40 years later. You are correct that most people didn't have the guts to speak to me then in school, unless antagonistically. The same character traits usually remain on into adulthood. People who refuse to educate themselves about what they're frightened of, find comfort in remaining ignorant. So thank you for your curiosity to educate yourself, and for your candid recollections.
And, as you alluded to, I have found peace and contentment. When we have peace within ourselves and develop intrinsic happiness and relinquish hope for extrinsic sources of happiness, we have peace and joy wherever, and in whatever, situations we find ourselves.
Wishing you [all] a fantastically Happy Halloween.