Christopher Guest
The Right Honourable
The Lord Haden-Guest

Guest speaking at Vancouver Film School, July 18, 2008
Born Christopher Haden-Guest
February 5, 1948 (1948-02-05) (age 63)
New York City, U.S.
Influenced Ricky Gervais, The Comic Strip
Spouse Jamie Lee Curtis (1984-present)

Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest (born February 5, 1948), better known as Christopher Guest, is an American screenwriter, composer, musician, director, actor and comedian. He is most widely known in Hollywood for having written, directed and starred in several improvisational "mockumentary" films that feature a repertory-like ensemble cast. In Britain, he holds a peerage, and has publicly expressed a desire to see the House of Lords reformed as a democratically-elected chamber. Despite initial activity in the Lords, his career there was cut short by the House of Lords Act 1999. When using his title, he is normally styled as Lord Haden-Guest.

Contents

Early years

Guest was born in New York City, the son of Peter Haden-Guest, a British United Nations diplomat who later became the 4th Baron Haden-Guest, and his second wife, Jean Pauline Hindes, a former vice president of casting at CBS.[1] Guest's maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. His paternal grandfather, Leslie, Baron Haden-Guest, was a Labour Party politician who was a convert to Judaism, and his paternal grandmother's father was Colonel Albert Goldsmid, a British officer who founded the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade and the Maccabaeans.[1][2][3][4] Both of Guest's parents had become atheists, and Guest had no religious upbringing.[3] Nearly a decade before he was born, his uncle David Guest, a lecturer and Communist Party member, was killed in the Spanish Civil War fighting in the International Brigades.

Guest spent parts of his childhood in his father's native United Kingdom. He attended The High School of Music & Art (New York City), studying classical music (clarinet). He later took up the mandolin, became interested in country music, and played guitar with Arlo Guthrie.[5] Guest later began performing with bluegrass bands until he took up rock and roll.[6]

Career

1970s

Guest began his career in theatre during the early 1970s with one of his earliest professional performances being the role of Norman in Michael Weller's Moonchildren for the play's American premiere at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. in November 1971. Guest continued with the production when it moved to Broadway in 1972. The following year he began making contributions to The National Lampoon Radio Hour for a variety of National Lampoon audio recordings. He both performed comic characters (Flash Bazbo-Space Explorer, Mr. Rogers, music critic Roger de Swans, and sleazy record company rep Ron Fields) and also wrote, arranged and performed numerous musical parodies (of Bob Dylan, James Taylor and others). He was featured alongside Chevy Chase and John Belushi in the Off-Broadway revue National Lampoon's Lemmings. One of his earliest films includes a bit part as a uniformed police officer in Death Wish starring Charles Bronson.

Guest played a small role in the 1977 All In the Family episode "Mike and Gloria Meet", where in a flashback sequence Mike and Gloria recall their first blind date, set up by Michael's college buddy Jim (Guest), who dated Gloria's girlfriend Debbie (Priscilla Lopez).

1980s

Along with Martin Short, Billy Crystal and Harry Shearer, Guest was hired as a one-year only cast member for the 1984-85 season on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Recurring characters on SNL played by Guest include Frankie, of Willie and Frankie (coworkers who recount in detail physically painful situations in which they have found themselves, remarking laconically "I hate when that happens"); Herb Minkman, a shady novelty toymaker with a brother named Al (played by Crystal); Rajeev Vindaloo, an eccentric foreign man in the same vein as Andy Kaufman's Latka character from Taxi; and Senor Cosa, a Spanish ventriloquist often seen on the recurring spoof of The Joe Franklin Show . He also experimented behind the camera with pre-filmed sketches, notably directing a documentary-style short starring Shearer and Short as synchronized swimmers. In another short film from SNL, Guest and Crystal appear as retired Negro-League baseball players, "The Rooster and the King".

He has appeared as Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, Charley Ford in The Long Riders, Lord Cromer in Mrs Henderson Presents and Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men. He had a cameo role as Dylan, a smarmy pedestrian, in the 1986 musical remake of The Little Shop of Horrors, that also featured his SNL co-star, Steve Martin. As a co-writer and director, Guest made the Hollywood satire The Big Picture.

Guest's biggest role of the first two decades of his career is likely that of Nigel Tufnel in the 1984 mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap. Guest made his first appearance as Tufnel on the 1978 sketch comedy program The TV Show.

Upon his father succeeding to the family peerage in 1987, he was henceforth known as The Hon. Christopher Haden-Guest in full. This was his official style and name until he inherited the barony in 1996.

1990–present

The experience of having made Spinal Tap would directly inform the second phase of his career. Starting in 1996, Guest began writing, directing and acting in his own series of heavily improvised films. Many of them would come to be definitive examples of what came to be known as "mockumentaries".

His frequent writing partner is Eugene Levy. Together, Levy, Guest and a small band of other actors have formed a loose repertory group, which appear across several films. These include Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer, Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley, Jr. and Fred Willard. Guest and Levy write backgrounds for each of the characters and notecards for each specific scene, outlining the plot, and then leave it up to the actors to improvise the dialogue, which is supposed to result in a much more natural conversation than scripted dialogue would. Each of these movies also shares a hallmark plot development, where the movie leads up to some kind of a highly anticipated performance, or the outcome of a performance. This could reflect Guest's background in theater, and simply a kind of meta-commentary, as a real performance is of course what is being improvised for the duration. Notably, everyone who appears in these movies receives the same fee, and the same portion of profits.[7]

Despite making a number of mockumentaries, Guest dislikes the term. He maintains that his intention is not to mock anyone, but to explore insular, perhaps obscure communities through his method of filmmaking. When pressed in a 2003 interview by Charlie Rose, he could not provide a word to substitute for "mockumentary".[7]

He had a guest voice-over role in the animated comedy series SpongeBob SquarePants as SpongeBob's cousin, Stanley.

Guest appeared in the 2009 comedy The Invention of Lying.

He is also currently a member of the musical group The Beyman Bros, which he formed with his childhood friend David Nichtern and Spinal Tap's current keyboardist CJ Vanston. Their debut album Memories of Summer as a Child was released on January 20, 2009.[8]

In 2010, the United States Census Bureau paid $2.5 million to have a television commercial directed by Guest shown during television coverage of Super Bowl XLIV.[9]

Peerage and heirs

Guest became The Rt. Hon. The 5th Baron Haden-Guest, of Saling, in the County of Essex, when his father died in 1996. He succeeded upon the ineligibility of his older half-brother, Anthony Haden-Guest, who was born prior to the marriage of his parents. According to an article in The Guardian, Guest attended the House of Lords regularly until the House of Lords Act 1999 barred most hereditary peers from their seats. In the article Guest remarked:

There's no question that the old system was unfair. I mean, why should you be born to this? But now it's all just sheer cronyism. The Prime Minister can put in whoever he wants and bus them in to vote. The Upper House should be an elected body, it's that simple.[10]

Personal life

Guest married actress Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984 at the home of their mutual friend Rob Reiner. They have two adopted children: The Hon. Anne (born 1986) and The Hon. Thomas (born 1996). Because Guest's children are adopted, they cannot inherit the family barony under the terms of the letters patent that created it, though a 2004 Royal Warrant addressing the style of a peer's adopted children states that they can use courtesy titles. The current heir presumptive to the barony is Guest's younger brother, the actor The Hon. Nicholas Haden-Guest.

Off-stage demeanor

Guest is sometimes off-putting in interviews and promotional appearances (having been described by reviewer Warren Etheredge as, "rude, condescending and intolerable"),[11] as well as with people who have met him outside of the work environment because contrary to expectations of him as a comedian he often seems deadpan, even dour. Of this, Guest has said, "People want me to be funny all the time. They think I'm being funny no matter what I say or do and that's not the case. I rarely joke unless I'm in front of a camera. It's not what I am in real life. It's what I do for a living."[12]

Recurring cast members

Actor This is Spinal Tap
(1984)
The Big Picture
(1989)
Waiting for Guffman
(1996)
Almost Heroes
(1998)
Best in Show
(2000)
A Mighty Wind
(2003)
For Your Consideration
(2006)
Bob Balaban NoN NoN NoN NoN
Ed Begley Jr. NoN NoN NoN NoN
Jennifer Coolidge NoN NoN NoN
John Michael Higgins NoN NoN NoN
Michael Hitchcock NoN NoN NoN NoN
Eugene Levy NoN NoN NoN NoN NoN
Jane Lynch NoN NoN NoN
Michael McKean NoN NoN NoN NoN NoN
Larry Miller NoN NoN NoN NoN
Catherine O'Hara NoN NoN NoN NoN
Parker Posey NoN NoN NoN NoN
Harry Shearer NoN NoN NoN NoN
Fred Willard NoN NoN NoN NoN NoN

Filmography

Titles and styles

  • 5 February 1948 – 26 May 1987: Mister Christopher Haden-Guest
  • 26 May 1987 – 8 April 1996: The Honourable Christopher Haden-Guest
  • 8 April 1996 – present: The Right Honourable Baron Haden-Guest[13]

References

  1. ^ a b Witchel, Alex (2006-11-12). "The Shape-Shifter". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/magazine/12guest.html. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  2. ^ Murray, William Henry (1952). Adam and Cain: symposium of old Bible history, Sumerian Empire, importance of blood of race, juggling juggernaut of the leaders of the Jews, the Gothic civilization of Adam and the ten commandments of his church. Murray. 
  3. ^ a b Rosen, Steven (2006-11-16). "Want to spoof Purim and the Oscars? Be our Guest!". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles 21 (39). http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=16799. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  4. ^ "A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe". thePeerage.com. 2006-11-12. http://www.thepeerage.com/p12484.htm#i124837. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  5. ^ Richard Grant (January 10, 2004). "Nowt so queer as folk". The Guardian Weekend. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/jan/10/features.weekend. 
  6. ^ Gross, Terry (September 14, 1989). "Christopher Guest Plays with Parody". Fresh Air, WHYY (Philadelphia: NPR). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14081515. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  7. ^ a b Rose, Charlie (May 12, 2003). "A conversation with director Christopher Guest". Charlie Rose LLC. http://www.charlierose.com/shows/2003/05/12/1/a-conversation-with-director-christopher-guest. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  8. ^ Moon, Tom (February 2, 2009). "Beyman Bros: The Thinking Person's Americana". All Things Considered. NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100007776. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  9. ^ "Taxpayers to Fork Out $2.5 Million for Single Census Ad During Super Bowl". Fox News. February 3, 2010. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/02/03/taxpayers-fork-million-single-census-ad-super-bowl/. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  10. ^ Richard Grant (January 10, 2004). "Nowt so queer as folk". The Guardian Weekend. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/jan/10/features.weekend. 
  11. ^ Dizon, Dristin (March 30, 2007). "If it's happening in Seattle, you can bet movie lover Warren Etheredge is in the loop". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. http://www.seattlepi.com/movies/166799_filmguy30.html. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  12. ^ Hobson, Louis B (October 10, 2000). "Guest Shots". Canoe Jam! (Canoe Inc.). http://jam.canoe.ca/Movies/Artists/G/Guest_Christopher/2000/10/10/pf-758773.html. Retrieved 2007-08-29. 
  13. ^ http://www.thepeerage.com/p12481.htm#i124805

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Brad Hall
Weekend Update Anchor
1984–1985
Succeeded by
Dennis Miller
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Peter Haden-Guest
Baron Haden-Guest
1996–present
Incumbent

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