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007/ 50: “My name’s Bond, James Bond” #3 ~ the four years of three Bonds (1969-73)

September 27, 2012

Trio of heroes: the casting of Connery in Diamonds (l), Lazenby in Majesty’s (m) and Moore in The ‘Die (r) is a tale of reluctance, resignation and reignition, but who won and who lost?

What would you do if your little boy kept on throwing tantrums and wouldn’t play with his hollowed-out volcano sets and cool toy gadgets anymore? Ditch him and get a new one, right? Well, surely for right rather than wrong, the real world doesn’t work like that. But the world of the cinematic Bond does. For when the actor who played James Bond throughout the 1960s wanted out, producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman didn’t blink; they let him go and hired someone new. Having said that, though, perhaps the world of the cinematic Bond does work like that, because after just one film they actually went back and re-hired their original actor (all right, someone else replaced him again after just one further film, but still).

Yes, between 1969 and 1973 – surely one of the most culturally and socially transformative periods of the 20th Century – the Bond films went through a white-knuckle Louisiana Bayou speedboat ride of change the like of which it’s never experienced since, for in a space of just four years, three different actors played the main man himself, our man Bond. And this blog post, peeps, the latest in celebration of Blighty’s finest‘s big 50 this autumn (and more specifically the third of four looking at the casting of 007) tells that very story, one that’s as intriguing, engaging, surprising and colourful as any plot of an actual Bond film.

Sick and tired of playing a character that, by the end of the stratospherically successful and fun but stratospherically OTT You Only Live Twice (1967), had become more robotic than dramatic, 007 actor Sean Connery had severed his ties with Eon Productions’ Bond film series. In all fairness, as big a reason as the latter was the effect it was having on his downtime from Bond – the intense media intrusion  had become just too much; during the filming of Twice he’d even been followed into the loo by an over eager Japanese journalist. In which case, the two-year lead up to the next Eon effort On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) began with the search for the next James Bond. And, from the off, it was as media-fixated and public-aware as Connery’s private life.

Rumour suggests that two familiar names were in the running to slip on the shoulder-holster next. Apparently, Saltzman was keen on travelling to Cambodia to adapt The Man With The Golden Gun with Roger Moore as 007; this didn’t happen (not least because Moore was still committed to playing TV’s The Saint), but of course Golden Gun would eventually get made as his second  flick in the role. What certainly seems true is a young Welsh classically-trained actor who’d just made his big screen debut in the acclaimed The Lion In Winter (1968) was considered by Broccoli and Saltzman. But, believing himself too young for the role, the 22 year-old Timothy Dalton took himself out of the running. His chance though, like Moore, would come again…

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In the end, the opportunity to fill Connery’s Conduit cut suit was whittled down from around 400 hopefuls (also apparently including future TV Sherlock Holmes and co-star in 1964’s My Fair Lady, Jeremy Brett) to a shortlist of just five: Englishmen Anthony Rogers and John Richardson, American Robert Campbell, Dutchman Hans de Vries and Australian George Lazenby. Like Connery had been back in ’62 before being cast in Dr No, they were all relative (and, in some cases, complete) unknowns.

Out of the five, Richardson probably boasted the most screen experience, having had lead roles opposite Honey Ryder herself Ursula Andress in She (1965) and Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. (1965), while Rogers had played Sir Dinadin in the cinematic adaptation of musical Camelot (1967), had acted opposite John Wayne in El Dorado (1966) and had essayed an alien in five episodes of TV’s Doctor Who. For his part, de Vries had actually appeared in the previous Eon Bond effort You Only Live Twice as a control technician and, sort of ironically, in the Sean Connery-starring western Shalako (1968). Conversely, Campbell seemingly was without a major credit to his name. New to the acting game too – and maybe the least experienced of the five – was Lazenby. And, somewhat surprisingly, after all five  wannabes were screen-tested, it was the latter who won the role.

Hailing from New South Wales and a bit of a ‘larrikin’ (a bit of a lad, Aussie-style) while growing up, Lazenby had come to London in ’63 and, while working as a car salesman in Park Lane, had been spotted by a talent scout and quickly hired as a model. His most high-profile work during this time came on TV, though – as a grinning chap holding on his shoulder a box of Big Fry chocolate in a commercial. And yet, in spite of having practically no acting experience and certainly no thespian training, his casting as Bond was arguably no accident – at least, from his point of view.

Knowing full well that the 007 role was open, the 28 year-old Lazenby decided to pursue it. Cannily, he a bought a suit from the Saville Row outlet used by Connery that the star had ordered but not collected, as well as acquiring a Rolex Submariner watch (the model worn by 007 in the films), had professional photos taken of him in Bondian poses around London wearing both and, having found out who Broccoli’s barber was, booked an appointment to get his hair cut at the exact time he knew the producer would be there. Amazingly, his efforts paid off – Broccoli offered him an audition.

Five down to one: the grandstand media event that was the casting of the new James Bond in 1967 led Life magazine to devote an entire article to the final five, (clockwise from top right) Anthony Rogers, George Lazenby, Robert Campbell, John Richardson and Hans de Vries

And apparently what eventually swung Lazenby the Bond gig was a swing – at a stunt co-ordinator during a mock fight-scene in the screen-test, with the auditonee landing one on the guy’s nose. Impressed then by Lazenby’s physical prowess, as well as his physique, handsome features, swagger and (no doubt) Connery-modelled look, Broccoli and Saltzman decided they’d got their man. But, as has become legend, from now on it was a bumpy ride at almost every turn.

The trouble seems to have stemmed from that fact that, no doubt due to his larrikin nature and an oversized, youthful ego, Lazenby felt because he’d been cast as Bond he was now a star and behaved as such on the film’s set. Broccoli, Saltzman and the film’s helmer Peter Hunt very much felt otherwise – Lazenby had to earn his stripes to become a star; he had to prove himself a success as Bond first. Not only did his attitude rub up the producers the wrong way, but apparently owing to friends of his hanging around the set now and again, Hunt became riled and thus the two went through phases of not being on speaking terms, far from an ideal situation for a lead actor and director to find themselves in.

At the time, the UK press too tried to stir up the idea there was a rift between Lazenby and his leading lady Diana Rigg (well known for having played Emma Peel on TV’s The Avengers) when a reporter overheard her telling her co-star she’d been eating garlic ahead of a love scene to be filmed in the afternoon – apparently she had said it to Lazenby in jest. However, in a BBC interview with Rigg last year, she did admit to Lazenby’s behaviour being a difficulty on-set and his inexperience dooming him from the start (he also even managed to anger M actor Bernard Lee by playfully chasing him while on a horse).

And weeks before the flick opened in December ’69, Lazenby announced to the world he’d decided to move on from Bond already (see video clip above). Thanks to dubious advice from his agent Ronan O’Rahilly and his own assertion that as Anglo-American cultural changes of the time had forced Hollywood to embrace ‘New Wave’ in order to ‘connect’ with the youth (examples being films such as 1969’s Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy), Bond’s days on the silver screen were numbered. He turned up at the premiere of Majesty’s with a fashionable if very un-007 long hairstyle and beard and announced: “Bond is a brute, I’ve already put him behind me. I will never play him again; peace – that’s the message now.”

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  • Years after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby ‘enjoyed’ another brush with Bond when he cameoed in TV movie The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1983), dressed in a tuxedo and driving an Aston Martin DB5 with the number plate ‘JB007’
  • Nearly a decade before Live And Let Die, Roger Moore guest-starred in an espionage-themed sketch on UK variety star Millicent Martin’s TV show Mainly Millicent (1964-66) as one ‘James Bond’
  • Despite being good mates off-screen, Connery and Moore have never appeared together on the big screen, although they have both starred opposite their great mutual friend Michael Caine – Connery in classic adventure The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Moore in madcap comedy misfire Bullseye! (1990)

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But just two years later and in the midst of a stalled acting career (aside from Bond, he’s been most notable for appearing in the 1990s-filmed Emmanuelle soft porn sequels), he apparently appealed to Broccoli and Saltzman to cast him again in the role for the next effort Diamonds Are Forever; unsurprisingly, they didn’t acquiesce. Eventually, in 1992 he admitted in an interview with US TV’s Entertainment Tonight: “I was so naïve, so green. I was a country boy from Australia, basically, who walked into the Bond role.” For his part, Peter Hunt opined before his death in 2002 that Lazenby was “a great looking guy [who] moved very well. I think if things had gone the other way, he would have gone on to be a very good Bond”.

The next man cast as 007 certainly didn’t ‘walk into the Bond role’, for he was the chap who’d walked out on it just two or so years before. Unimpressed with Majesty’s grosses (although it was the #1 film at the UK box-office in its year, it didn’t quite pull in the mega bucks like the Bond epics before it, especially in America), studio backer United Artists put pressure on Broccoli and Saltzman to do all they could to re-cast Connery as Bond. This, rather amazingly given the gruff Scotsman’s very negative recent attitude to the role, they eventually managed to do for Diamonds – but not before checking out other options first.

There’s perhaps no better proof that Diamonds is a very ‘American’ Bond film than the fact a US actor was so strongly considered for 007 the producers offered him a contract (which he accepted and, thus, had to be paid in full when Connery was eventually cast). Yes, that’s right, unthinkable today it may be but an American almost became Eon’s James Bond. Who was he? The middling famous John Gavin, whose most recalled performance is as Janet Leigh’s boyfriend in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Surprisingly another yank was also considered, namely Adam West, who was much more famous for playing ’60s TV’s Batman (1966-68), while now legendary Brit thesp Michael Gambon was apparently in the running too, although he quickly ruled himself out.

In the end, though, when United Artists chief David Picker informed Broccoli and Saltzman that Connery must be hired whatever the price, it seems they caved. And the price turned out to be high, nay astronomical – a cool $1.25 million (£20 million in today’s money). But that wasn’t all; as part of his deal, Connery was assured United Artists would fund two further movies of his choice. One was the Sidney Lumet drama The Offence (1971), which turned out to be rather the box-office turkey, and the other a version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to both star Connery in the title role and be helmed by him, yet this one wasn’t even made as UA backed out when learning Roman Polanski was filming an adaptation (also 1971). Undaunted, though, Connery put his inordinately high fee to good use – with it he helped set up the Scottish International Education Trust, an initiative to fund promising Scottish artistes so they’d stay in the old country. Alex Salmond would have been very proud.

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And yet, despite the unprecedented deal struck to entice him back into ‘Bondage’, it seems the Big Tam actually enjoyed himself making Diamonds. Not only did he ensure he got much of the afternoons off to play a round of golf, he also appeared to make the most of being in Las Vegas – he was quoted in a July ’71 article of Montreal Gazette saying: “The first week [of filming] I didn’t get any sleep at all. We shot every night, I caught all the shows and played golf all day. On the weekend I collapsed – boy, did I collapse. Like a skull with legs”.

During the Amsterdam leg of filming he appeared to be in good spirits too (see video clip above), while at the time he went on record that he approved of the movie’s script (no doubt owing to Tom Mankiewicz’s über-witty dialogue rather than the plotting) and apparently he especially enjoyed the company of one of his co-stars – years later Lana Wood (Plenty O’Toole) admitted that they’d had a discreet affair during filming.

In the end then, one might even wonder why Connery knocked – at least Eon’s – Bond on the head after Diamonds (he’d return to cinemas in 1983 in ‘rival’ 007 production Never Say Never Again)?  Well, perhaps a make-up man who was also quoted in the Montreal Gazette piece, while holding the toupée he’d just removed from Connery’s bonce, had the answer: “You know, I sometimes think that the reason he doesn’t want to do any more Bond pictures is that he hates this bloomin’ thing so much”. Who knows…

Just a handful of months after the release of Diamonds, Broccoli and Saltzman were tasked with finding another actor to portray their hero – yes, the third in four years. This time, though, he’d be neither contentious nor inexperienced, nor would he require a toupée despite actually being born three years before Connery. However, Roger Moore apparently wasn’t the absolute shoe-in to slip on the shoulder holster in Live And Let Die (1973) that legend might suggest.

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Back in the swing and bright young(?) thing: Connery enjoys himself on the ‘moon’ set of Diamonds Are Forever as Terry O’Neill snaps him playing golf (left), while Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star Roger Moore while filming Live And Let Die (right)

Rather unbelievably, the two producers seemed happy to consider United Artists’ rather illogical desire to see an American star fill the role this time out (names UA bandied about are supposed to include Burt Reynolds for sure and maybe both Paul Newman and Robert Redford) by approaching Clint Eastwood. The latter, though, saw sense immediately and told Broccoli and Saltzman only a Brit should play the part – see, Clint’s a sensible chap if he’s not on a stage and there’s an empty stool next to him.

English thesps whom apparently tested for the role include Jeremy Brett (again), Simon Oates and John Ronane (who?), familiar UK TV face William Gaunt, Julian Glover (who’d go on to play Bond villain Kristatos in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only) and perennial ‘possible 007’ of this era Michael Billington (who would play Ruskkie spy Sergei Barsov in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me).

In the end, though, it appears Roger Moore was head and shoulders above the crowd; in fact, according to his 2008 autobiography My Word Is My Bond, so sure was he that he stood a good shot, he stepped away from his cult TV adventure drama The Persuaders! (1971), co-starring Tony Curtis, after just one series. However, it wasn’t entirely plain sailing prior to filming. Apparently Saltzman phoned Moore to tell him Broccoli felt he should lose some weight, then Broccoli phoned him to tell him Saltzman felt he should get a haircut – to be fair, they both had a point, especially Saltzman; Rog couldn’t have sported his Swinging Sixties-esque Persuaders! barnet as Bond.

But following the experience they’d gone through with Lazenby, Broccoli and Saltzman as well as – and in particular – The ‘Die‘s director Guy Hamilton were clearly sagacious in selecting their new Bond and how they introduced him to the world. Hamilton took the smart step of ensuring this 007 (unlike poor George’s ’69 model) didn’t do ‘Connery Bond’ things in the latest film. Thus, watch The ‘Die again and you’ll neither see Moore’s Bond here wearing a tuxedo and bow-tie nor will will you hear him order and drink a ‘shaken not stirred vodka Martini’ (actually, he wouldn’t do that until his third film The Spy Who Loved Me). So ingrained into the identity of the cinematic 007 was it, mind, that the inevitable introduction ‘My name’s Bond, James Bond’ was a line he couldn’t escape from uttering; although in his autobiography he admits he may have been conscious of trying not to do it this with a Scottish accent.

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With time it became abundantly clear, though, that the filmmakers had chosen very wisely. Not only did The ‘Die turn out to be a box-office giant (of all 22 of them thus far, it’s still the third biggest Bond film in cinema takings – inflation adjusted – while its premiere on British TV in January 1980 remains the most watched movie broadcast in UK television history, but it also set up a long and, certainly compared to the Connery years, happy marriage between Eon and their lead actor.

Moore would go on to play 007 in six further flicks, of course: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy (1983) and A View To A Kill (1985). Some may say that when his era entered the ’80s he went on in the role too long. Fair dues, maybe in hindsight he did. But maybe he didn’t.

His combination of more than effective light-comedy and convincing action-man credentials made for a Bond that was an utterly unflappable, debonair gentleman jet-setting around the world and preventing megalomaniacs from destroying it, with a raised eyebrow here, an innuendo there and many notches on the bedposts everywhere. Together with Broccoli (without Saltzman after Golden Gun), he capably and very stably guided the series through 12 years; for an entire generation he is simply their James Bond.

But every dog – or lucky devil of a dog, as Sir Rog’s Bond was – has its day. And following the release of A View To A Kill and at the age of 58, absolutely rightly Sir Rog had his, hanging up his shoulder holster for the last time. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, roles in all cinema was up for grabs again, so who would claim it this time? Well, it’s a tale as twisty-turny and unlikely as Octopussy‘s plot and one I’ll tell in a future post (the last in this particular series) that’ll come shooting towards you like a ‘007’ bullet from Scraramanga’s golden gun some time soon, peeps…

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