July 27, 2021

Sean Connery saved James Bond before it all started


    The obituaries will describe Thomas Sean Connery as the actor made famous by James Bond. They will tell you that he was a truck driver, lifeguard, life model, underwear model, milkman and, most famously, coffin polisher … a guy who finally landed the role of his life.

    But all those news about his death have been understood backwards. Sean Connery was the actor who made James Bond famous. Connery made Bond.

    Ian Fleming’s books were already, of course, hugely popular. So it’s not that Bond’s character was totally unknown. But at that time he was still not a front-line character, not at least as he ended up being over the years.

    “I wanted Bond to be an extremely boring and uninteresting man to whom things would happen,” Fleming said to the The New Yorker with a medium dry martini with lemon zest in between. He came up with the name Bond, James Bond, from the author of an ornithology book on the shelf of his Goldeneye home in Jamaica: “I thought, ‘My God, that’s the most boring name I’ve ever heard.”

    BettmannGetty Images

    The literary Bond is a bland and obedient civil servant, a type on whom the reader can project his own fantasies. And I say it as a fan. The character of Bond is quite debatable. Like Fleming, he is an old Etonian and a terrible snob.

    Fleming wanted David Niven for the role, but he also liked the idea of ​​casting an unknown actor to make Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” project profitable, without having to spend a large sum on hiring a star. He dismissed Connery by calling the Scottish actor “that damn trucker.”

    The producers of the first Bond film, Harry Salzman and Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli, could not even dream of the success of their franchise. But they did know that a protagonist of an English public school would not be successful at the English box office, nor internationally.

    Niven wasn’t tough enough for Broccoli, who met his future lead on the set of the movie. Mists of unease, in which Connery allegedly disarmed the jealous boyfriend of her co-star Lana Turner, Los Angeles mob thug Johnny Stompanato, when he showed up waving a gun. Broccoli was impressed by Connery’s “animal manhood”, who had “just the right touch of menace behind that tough smile and faint Scottish armor.”

    And while Cary Grant (another of Fleming’s favorites) was considered, the producers also liked the idea of ​​a stranger, because a star would never sign up for the six-movie series they envisioned and besides, they only had $ 140,000. to spend on the entire cast. They chose to do “Dr. No“, the sixth novel, because they did not have the rights to”Casino Royale“The first, and because they thought that”Goldfinger” Y “Operation thunder“They would be more expensive to shoot. The studio, United Artists, was reluctant to do” Dr. Not “with a stranger, but they were also reluctant to bet big. The budget was $ 1 million, so the producers struggled to deliver a $ 5 million movie. The budget, in the end, was $ 1, 2 million dollars.

    Other names that sounded to embody Bond were Roger Moore (too young, although he was older than Connery, and too “handsome”), Patrick McGoohan, Albert Finney, Trevor Howard, Michael Redgrave and Richard Johnson. Broccoli’s wife, Dana, urged her husband to do a screen test with Connery after his kissing technique seduced her into Darby O’Gill and the Goblin King, the 1959 Disney live-action film. In his first formal meeting with the Bond producers, Connery expressed his opinion – shared by his then-wife, actress Diane Cilento, that he found the character “relentlessly terrible” – that humor was “essential.”

    1964  actor sean connery poses as james bond next to his aston martin db5 in a scene from the united artists release goldfinger in 1964  photo by michael ochs archivesgetty images

    Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Images

    “Every time he wanted to make a comment, he would bang his fist on the table, the desk or his thigh, and we knew this guy had something,” recalled Salzman. “When he left, we watched from the window as he walked down the street and we all said, ‘He has what we need!'”

    It’s hard to overstate how essential Connery was to selling Bond and getting the public to buy him. While Fleming’s books were generally more grounded in reality than the movies would later become, they are also, at some points, quite laughable. In the novel “Dr. No“The villain for whom the play is named is a hook-wielding former Chinese gangster who sells bird shit as fertilizer from his home island as a cover for using radio beams to sabotage US rocket tests.

    “The books are very exaggerated,” Salzman said. “In fact, I think we are more realistic than the books.” That didn’t last long though. And in one of the first scripts of what later became Agent 007 vs. Dr. No, the 1962 film The Villain Was a Monkey, which at least would have been less racist than Fleming’s oriental cartoon. If the producers had a master plan for world domination, they hid it well.

    What they did have was Connery. But even then they didn’t know how important it was until he decided to walk away, tired of being mixed up with the character and overshadowed with stupid gadgets. They only managed to convince him to star Diamonds for eternity with a record salary of $ 1.25 million (which he donated to his charity, the Scottish International Educational Trust) plus a 12.5% ​​bonus from gross profits.

    Those who definitely had no idea what was at hand were responsible for the study. After viewing Connery’s screen test for Agent 007 vs. Dr. NoFrom United Artists in New York they telegraphed the following: “NO. KEEP LOOKING.” Fortunately, the studio representative in London lobbied for Connery. And the only positive reaction from United Artists to the finished movie, after the initial silence, was that at least they didn’t lose too much money.

    At the premiere, though, “You could feel the excitement, especially the moment he says, ‘Bond, James Bond,’ and the music plays right after,” Monty Norman, the song’s composer, told the book’s authors. “Some Kind Of Hero: The Remarkable Story Of The James Bond Films“” That was an incredible moment. “

    That iconic first appearance, remembered by director Terence Young, is “of a man so sure of his beauty that almost half a century later he still takes your breath away,” as author and film critic Christopher Bray writes in his 2010 biography. , “Sean Connery: The Measure Of A Man”. The way Connery purrs the name, it’s anything but boring.

    If you want to understand Bond’s immortal appeal, it’s there, in those three languid syllables. A pity for any other actor, past, present and future who wants to compare with him, and who has to try in some way to pronounce that immortal phrase with a quantum of that charisma.

    “Anyone who wants to be Bond wants to be Connery,” writes Bray. “No one ever imagined himself as the next Roger Moore.” Hard, but probably fair. Nobody does it better. No one has. Nobody will.

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