Off-Key Facts About Christopher Plummer, The Secretly Scandalous Icon

April 5, 2023 | Byron Fast

Off-Key Facts About Christopher Plummer, The Secretly Scandalous Icon

Christopher Plummer would rather fans forget his most famous role as the stoic head of the Von Trapp family. That guy was a real bore compared to the real-life Christopher Plummer: A self-proclaimed boozer and serial womanizer. If anyone thought Plummer was the male version of his saintly co-star Julie Andrews, here are some facts that’ll prove them wrong.

1. He Says He Was Raised By Wolves

Well, not exactly wolves, but Christopher Plummer, who was born in Toronto in 1929, claims to have been raised by a dog—an airedale to be exact. Plummer says he has no memory of any interaction with his parents during his formative years. This might explain the outrageous off-the-leash behavior that came to typify his private life...

Christopher Plummer

2. His Broadway Debut Tanked

In 1954, after studying acting and booking some minor roles, Plummer finally got his big break on Broadway. The play was The Starcross Story and it ran for, drumroll please, exactly one night. In a scandalous twist, it wasn't the negative reviews that closed the show, but a darker reason. It turned out that the entire play had been plagiarized, leading the production to immediately shut down. But this wasn’t going to be Plummer’s only light on Broadway.

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

3. His First Wife Was Loud

In 1956, Plummer married Tammy Grimes, who, besides being a Tony award winning actress, was known for having a voice that sounded like a buzzsaw. I’m not sure what her voice did for their marriage, but it didn’t stop them from quickly having a child together. It may also have been responsible for a rather rude early departure by Plummer.

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

4. There Was An Ironic Twist

Here's what makes Plummer's quick exit from his marriage to Grimes even worse. Some sources report that their baby's impending arrival was the only reason that Plummer and Grimes even got married in the first place. Something tells me this marriage might not work out in the long run...

Christopher PlummerGetty Images

5. His Second Marriage Started With A Bang

By 1960, Plummer and Grimes had drifted apart and were soon courting other possibilities. Plummer dated entertainment journalist Patricia Lewis and their romance started with quite a bang. Well, more like a crash, and one that occurred right in front of Buckingham Palace no less. Lewis crashed her car with Plummer in the passenger seat. And the consequences were disastrous.

Cristopher PlummerGetty Images

6. He Had A Chilling Romance

While Plummer was mercifully unharmed by the accident, Lewis wasn't so lucky. She injured her jaw and fell into a dangerous coma. Doctors didn't think she would wake up, but thankfully, they were wrong. After a few terrifying months, Lewis regained consciousness. Plummer, despite his already-present womanizer reputation, had stayed by her side throughout the ordeal.

Cristopher PlummerGetty Images

7. His Bride Wasn’t At Her Best

Lewis was recovering from the car accident when Plummer asked for her hand in marriage. At the ceremony Lewis was fresh out of a coma, her jaw hadn’t healed, and her hair was still growing in from surgery. Let’s just say she didn’t make the cover of Today’s Bride. But Plummer’s next move would make everyone forget all about this disastrous wedding.

Christopher PlummerFlickr

8. He Had A Hit

Plummer, now happily married, spent the next few years building an impressive stage and film career. It all came to a head in 1965, when he was cast as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Nothing could have prepared Plummer for the reaction to this Titanic of a movie. But more than a small part of him wished it had sunk.

Cristopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

9. He Hated His Most Famous Movie

Plummer was a serious actor of Shakespearean quality and he often looked down on Hollywood fluff. He described The Sound of Music as "so awful, and sentimental and gooey". He even gave it some choice nicknames: S&M and The Sound of Mucus. It seems to me he could’ve also called it the Sound of Money. But not even a huge salary could make Plummer excited about this role.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

10. He Thought Captain Von Trapp Was A Big Bore

Another reason for Plummer to detest The Sound of Music was the character he played: Captain Von Trapp. Plummer found the Captain one dimensional and boring. Plummer worked at fleshing out the role, but in the end he still wasn’t pleased. Besides this, there was something at the core of The Sound of Music that Plummer loathed.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

11. He Wasn’t A Singer

Plummer says he accepted the role of Von Trapp in The Sound of Music only to try out the musical genre for a future project he had in mind. In fact, he claims to have never sung before he got the part — not even in the shower. Maybe a little shower singing might’ve prevented technicians from having to improve Plummer’s performance.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

12. He Failed HARD

Since Plummer had no practice singing, his voice had to be overdubbed in the finished film. Bill Lee stepped in to sing for Plummer. Lee was famous as a Disney stand-in for actors, like Plummer, who didn’t have a clue about how to use their voices. But maybe it wasn’t Plummer’s vocal stylings that got him the part in the first place.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

13. Mae West Was Wowed

Sultry Mae West took one look at The Sound of Music and decided that it wasn’t Julie Andrews’ amazing voice that stole the show, but Plummer’s fit body. West even went on to take the unlikely opinion that Plummer had carried this family picture with his sensual appeal. Well, by the end of shooting, this same sensual appeal was taking a beating.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

14. It Wasn’t Only His Ego That Was Inflated

Plummer gained weight during the filming of The Sound of Music. He put it down to having loads of free time and easy access to Austrian pastries. At one point, one of his costumes for Von Trapp had to be resewn so he could fit in it. You can be sure that all this weight gain didn’t do wonders for his dating life.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

15. A Famous Actress Made A Fool Of Him

In spite of Plummer’s newfound fame, one woman stands out as clearly not on team Plummer. In 1965 he was still married and filming Inside Daisy Clover with Natalie Wood, who was playing a teenaged starlet. Wood brought out Plummer’s worst amorous behavior, which she simply laughed off. But rumors started circulating about Plummer’s proclivities and producers found themselves going to great lengths to keep this now-in-demand actor happy.

Christopher PlummerInside Daisy Clove, 1965, Columbia Pictures

16. The Producers Procured For Him

By 1968, Plummer was divorced from Lewis and still on the prowl. His lecherous reputation preceded him on a shoot in Greece. The film was Oedipus The King, and the producers were prepared for Plummer the womanizer. Waiting for him was a 20-year-old assistant, who Plummer described as having never ending legs. By the end of the shoot, Plummer and the assistant were coupled up. Well, until a surprising twist. 

Christopher PlummerFlickr

17. His Art Started To Imitate His Life

In 1969 Plummer made a film that seemed based on his own free-spirited life. It was the musical romp Lock Up Your Daughters and it promised "more gropings, seducing and plunging necklines than Tom Jones". The always amorous Plummer must’ve felt right at home, but instead of his usual antics, Plummer fell in love.

Cristopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

18. He Met A Woman Who Would Change His Life Forever

While filming Lock Up Your Daughters, Plummer locked eyes on co-star Elaine Taylor, who was 11 years his junior. Maybe Taylor’s parents should’ve listened to the title of the film and protected her from Plummer’s advances. But Taylor was no quiet ingenue in need of protection, she was an incredible force that Plummer would have to reckon with.

Christopher PlummerWikipedia

19. He Had An Ultimatum

The shoot for Lock Up Your Daughters was finished, but Plummer wanted to see more of Taylor. She liked Plummer well enough, but wasn’t a fan of his constant drinking. She refused to see him unless he promised to cut down on his booze consumption. To Taylor’s—and probably his own—surprise, Plummer agreed.

Christopher PlummerGetty Images

20. This Wedding Seemed Doomed

By the next year, Taylor and Plummer were seriously in love and planning a trip down the aisle. The officiant they chose, didn’t bode well for the couple. The reverend had previously performed a ceremony for another Taylor marriage: serial divorcée Elizabeth Taylor to Richard Burton. With a bad omen like this, did this marriage stand a chance?

Christopher PlummerGetty Images

21. His Wife Stopped His Carousing

Elaine Taylor had already gotten Plummer to slow down his drinking, so next on her list was the partying. She made Plummer take a close look at his buddy Peter O’Toole. He was getting older and not getting more mature. Did Plummer want to end up like him? Plummer agreed to cool down the partying, but there was one thing about Plummer, she could never change.

Christopher PlummerGetty Images

22. He Insulted An Idol

Plummer’s lifestyle was new and improved, but his over-the-top arrogance stayed intact. Just because acting legend Laurence Olivier was one of Plummer’s idols, didn’t mean he was protected from Plummer’s egotism. Before rehearsals for a stage play, Plummer announced that he wouldn’t have Olivier as a director because Olivier wasn’t good enough. Oh the drama!

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

23. He Got Canned

Another sign of Plummer's, ahem, healthy ego? Why, even more backstage drama, of course. On the set of a 1971 stage production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Plummer was such a diva that he got fired. In the end, his rival Anthony Hopkins took the role while Plummer slunk away with his tail between his legs. And his next project? Let's just say it wasn't as high-profile as Shakespeare.

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

24. He Wasn’t Above A Little Melodrama

Plummer wasn’t above doing some soap opera work. While 1983’s The Thornbirds wasn’t exactly a traditional daytime soap, it’s melodramatics put it in the same category. Plummer, who had problems with The Sound of Music’s mushy story, must’ve had some reason for turning a blind eye here. Maybe money? But there was still more slumming in Plummer’s future.

Christopher PlummerThe Thorn Birds, 1983, ABC

25. He Even Gave Sci-Fi A Try

Decades after training together in Montreal, Plummer and Shatner were reunited, this time on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Maybe this wasn’t what their snobbish acting teachers had envisioned for these men’s careers. But don’t be fooled, Plummer was still able to bring his stage snobbery on board this classic ship.

Christopher PlummerStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991, Paramount Pictures

26. He Wanted Shakespeare In Space

Plummer wanted all his lines in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country rewritten to sound like Shakespeare. Apparently, and nonsensically, Plummer envisioned his Klingon character to be a fan of Macbeth. Or maybe he was just embarrassed playing an ordinary alien. But his next demand on the set was even more ridiculous.

Christopher PlummerStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991, Paramount Pictures

27. He Wanted To "Klingon" To His Dignity

Even though Plummer was slumming it in the sci-fi genre, he refused to go in full on. He was playing a Klingon but refused to wear the makeup that would make him look like one. Maybe he thought his acting was just that good. Well, he did bring some professionalism to the role, but his poor stage fighting skills were about to get him into a mess of trouble.

Christopher PlummerStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991, Paramount Pictures

28. He Struck A Co-Star

While Plummer’s wife was keeping the carousing on hold, it didn’t stop Plummer from getting lost in a woman’s eyes. In 1994’s Wolf he got so lost in Michelle Pfeiffer’s gorgeous peeps that he smacked her. It was supposed to be a fake screen smack, but Plummer connected full on. He blamed it on her deep eyes, but maybe he was just angry that he couldn’t have her.

Christopher PlummerWolf, 1994, Columbia Pictures

29. He Appeared In A Video Game

As Plummer got older, he continued to step down from his elitist tower. But a video game? Sure, why not. A man’s gotta eat. As he crossed into the new Millenium, Plummer appeared in the video game Star Trek: Klingon Academy. While busying himself in video games, he missed out on a part in one of the most popular film trilogies of all time.

Christopher PlummerStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991, Paramount Pictures

30. He Missed Out On A Huge Role

Plummer says he turned down the role of Gandalf in the wildly popular trilogy The Lord of the Rings because of the long shooting schedule. In a rare moment of humility, Plummer said that acclaimed actor Sir Ian McKellen played the role better than he would have. Besides, who had time for playing Gandalf when Plummer still had a reputation to destroy: his own.

Christopher PlummerThe Lord of the Rings, 2001, New Line Cinema

31. His Memoir Didn’t Do His Reputation Any Favors

It’s easy not to feel much guilt when gossiping about Plummer because he provides the most incriminating stories about himself in his 2008 memoir.. What some critics found after reading In Spite of Myself was that Plummer came off a little pervy, especially when describing young women. He didn’t come off well with the LGBTQ community either.

Christopher PlummerGetty Images

32. He Missed The Mark On Personal Gender Pronouns

In his tell all memoir, In Spite of Myself, Plummer relates the story of a "mincing" orderly who worked at the hospital where Plummer was recovering from kidney stones. Plummer says he wasn’t sure if the orderly was a man or not, so he referred to him as "it". Yikes! But this is just the beginning of a long list of slurs.

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

33. He Made A Very Royal Insult

Plummer was once sitting next to Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, at a formal dinner. An effeminate man entered and Plummer snidely asked the princess who the "raving poofter" was. It was her cousin and the princess wasn’t amused. Ironically it was playing gay that finally got Plummer the the public acknowledge he craved.

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

34. He Played a Hero Gone Bad

In Disney Pixar’s animated Up, Plummer voiced Charles Muntz, a young boy’s idol who turns out to be a villain. It seems to be another case of art imitating Plummer’s real life. Playing the bad guy seemed second nature to Plummer, especially off screen. And unfortunately for Plummer, his decades of bad behavior led to some pretty serious side effects.

Christopher PlummerUp, 2009, Walt Disney Pictures

35. The Reason Why Oscar Was Always Out Of His Reach

Plummer’s arrogance and bad temper were well known in Hollywood. Some have speculated that this was the reason he had to wait so long before he got a single Academy Award nomination. The truth was, he wanted an Oscar very badly. He should’ve seen that he needed an attitude adjustment, instead Plummer decided to beg for mercy.

Christopher PlummerFlickr

36. He Begged The Academy For Mercy

Plummer’s total snub by the Academy became a joke in Hollywood. This acting legend had many Oscar-worthy roles. In 2009 his nomination finally came: for The Last Station. In the press Plummer begged for mercy from the Academy but lost anyway to another Christopher: Waltz from Inglorious Basterds. But a surprise was right around the corner.

Christopher PlummerThe Last Station, 2009, Egoli Tossell Pictures

37. He Finally Got His Gold Statue

Considering his womanizing and insults toward the gay community, it’s ironic that Plummer’s only Oscar came when he played a gay character. Plummer was 82 years old when he won a best supporting actor for 2010’s Beginners, making him the oldest person to win an acting Academy Award. His age wasn’t about to slow him down, in fact he was about to replace someone much younger than him.

Christopher PlummerBeginners, 2010, Olympus Pictures

38. He Helped Cancel A Disgraced Actor

In 2017, Plummer replaced a publicly shamed Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World. The film had already been shot, but Alien director Ridley Scott made the surprising decision to completely remove Spacey from the film and replace him with Plummer. Unfortunately, Scott clearly hadn’t read Plummer’s memoir before hiring him.

Christopher PlummerAll the money in the world, 2017, TriStar Pictures

39. He Was A Poor Substitute For Spacey

After scanning Plummer’s memoir, more than a few Hollywood reporters found the replacement of Spacey by Plummer odd. While Spacey was on the outs for being a predator, Plummer, according to his own memoir, had lived a lifetime of harassing almost countless young women. To make matters even worse, Plummer voiced his sympathy for Spacey.

Christopher PlummerAll the money in the world, 2017, TriStar Pictures

40. He Thought Spacey Got A Bum Rap

Plummer believed that Hollywood gave Spacey poor treatment for his misbehavior. In an interview with Vanity Fair Magazine he said that "it was very sad what happened to Spacey". I guess Plummer had no sympathy left for Spacey’s victims. But could Plummer have been so bad if saintly Julie Andrews remained a lifelong friend?

Christopher PlummerAll the money in the world, 2017, TriStar Pictures

41. Julie Andrews Was His Friend To The End

When they were filming The Sound of Music, Plummer said that working with Andrews was the only thing he liked about the experience. I guess kids just weren’t his thing. For all his philandering and womanizing, Plummer seemed to have respect for some women. In the end, it was another strong woman who he stayed with for over 50 years.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

42. His Wife Saved His Life

Toward the end of his life, Plummer acknowledged that if it hadn’t been for his wife he may not have lived such a long and prolific life. Elaine Taylor was responsible for stopping what he called his "over-drinking". It seems pretty clear that she saved this Plummer’s life from going down the drain. But she did so much more than that.

Christopher PlummerThe Anniversary, 1968, Associated British Picture Corporation

43. He Remained Politically Incorrect To The End

Plummer definitely was thankful for his wife saving his life, but even when he heaped praise it sometimes sounded like a heap of something else. He called his wife of 50 years his "nurse and cook". Plummer still lived in a time when wives served husbands and women couldn’t be doctors or chefs. Let’s just assume he meant it as a compliment.

Christopher PlummerGetty Images

44. He Never Stopped Acting

Plummer was busy with projects right up until the end of his life. In 2019 he co-starred with Daniel Craig in the hit film Knives Out and was also appearing in a Canadian-British TV show called Departure. There was the second season of Departure coming up and also a filmed production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Sadly he never made either.

Christopher PlummerKnives Out, 2019, MRC

45. His Life Ended At Home

Plummer’s life ended in an accident at his home in Connecticut with his wife Elaine by his side. He was 91 years old. The response from his many friends and co-stars poured in praising his talent and humor. HIs manager mentioned Plummer’s old fashioned manners and Julie Andrews said she lost a cherished friend.

Christopher PlummerKnives Out, 2019, MRC

46. He Abandoned His Wife In The Worst Way

Plummer's legacy is carried on by his daughter, the actress Amanda Plummer. But the actor's start as a father wasn’t a great one. In fact, it couldn't have been worse. He actually ditched the birthing room when his wife and Amanda's mother was in the middle of labor. And the reason he left was awful too: He wanted to go out on a bender.

Christopher PlummerWikimedia.Commons

47. He Fathered A Star

Plummer admits he was a lousy husband and an even worse father. He barely saw his lovely daughter Amanda after the birth. Once she grew up and embarked on her own acting career, many film goers were slow to realize that Pulp Fiction’s Amanda Plummer and Christopher were related. One thing is for sure, though: She definitely inherited her father's acting chops.

Cristopher PlummerPulp Fiction 1994, Miramax

48. He Made An Exception

Forty years after the release of The Sound of Music, Plummer was still not feeling any love for the iconic film. When the plans were in the works for the 40th anniversary, Plummer made it clear he wasn’t interested in attending. But when Oprah came calling, Plummer jumped on board, along with the entire Von Trapp cast.

This show was the first time the cinematic family had been all together since filming the original movie. But one of the actors let a secret slip out at the reunion.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

49. He Went For A Girl Who Was 16 Going On 17

At the Oprah reunion the actor who played teenager Liesl let a shocker drop. Turns out Plummer and her had been cavorting during the filming of The Sound of Music. Charmian Carr was 21 at the time, which made her evenings drinking and flirting with Plummer legal, but still creepy. Watching Plummer squirm through the interview has become one of my favorite things.

Christopher PlummerThe sound of music, 1965, 20th Century Studios

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

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