The Forgotten James Bond
George Lazenby completed one mission on Her Majesty’s Secret service, gaining a superspy image he hasn't been able to live up to—or live down—ever since.
By LEE GOLDBERG
He’s the guy no one seems to remember, an actor whose entire career can be summed up in a popular trivia question: “Who played James Bond after Sean Connery but before Roger Moore?”
He’s a man who has lived in the shadow of 007 ever since, an actor frequently called away from bit parts in kung fu flicks and day gigs modeling in commercials to portray James Bond-types once again in exploitation movies and television cameos.
Most recently, he played a thinly disguised 007, “J.B.,” in Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
“I could be working my gut out right now if it hadn’t been for James Bond,” George Lazenby laments. The lanky Australian concedes he took the U.N.C.L.E. part “because they paid me. I don’t get that many roles.” He says his portrayal of superspy James Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has been a “total hindrance” to his career. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” Lazenby announces, “or I wouldn’t have given up the role the way that I did. I would have continued to do it at least until I became a millionaire.”
Or multi-millionaire. His fellow secret agents have done very well. Roger Moore collected a reported $3 million to encore as 007 in Octopussy, while Sean Connery scored an estimated $5 million for toting a Walther PPK in Never Say Never Again.
With both Connery and Moore espionage epics premiering this year (STARLOG #68, 72), Lazenby has become the odd man out. “Why doesn’t someone make one with me?’ he asks. “That’s my competitive nature speaking. But James Bond fan clubs from Texas to Berlin are pushing to get me back in as 007.”
LEE GOLDBERG, an expert in James Bondage, interviewed 007 screenwriters Richard Maibaum (STARLOG #68) and Tom Mankiewicz (STARLOG #69).
If offered the chance to play the suave superspy again, he would “consider it, no doubt about it. I’ve got nothing to lose. And I would do it better than I did it last time; there would be no point otherwise. I still feel my Bond stands up to the portrayals by Sean Connery and Roger Moore and that was before I was an actor. Now, I would really blow ’em away, wouldn’t I?”
Photo: Through rain, sleet and snow, nothing can stop superspy James Bond—in his George Lazenby incarnation—from firing his appointed rounds.
The Mission's Beginnings
George Lazenby was plucked out of male-model obscurity to play James Bond when Connery left the role following You Only Live Twice. But after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the film in which 007 marries Diana Rigg, it was clear that Lazenby’s Licence To Kill would not be renewed. The press branded him an egomaniac who was just too difficult to work with, a constant problem on the set. Critics tore apart his performance like a pack of starving wolves while the public picked at the bones with unfavorable comparisons to the departed Connery.
And the film didn’t raise much of a stir at the box office, either.
Lazenby says there was some validity to the critical assaults on his acting. “I think the most acting I did was to acquire the part in the first place,” he declares.
When he was cast as Bond, Lazenby says he was “just fresh on the horizon as an actor, although, to begin with I wasn’t an actor. I was like what you might call vour leading-man type—someone who can say his lines and hit his marks. And as far as acting was concerned, I thought, ‘Leave it to the character guys, the ugly boys.’ ”
Lazenby laughs. “It’s a terrible way to say it now, but that’s where I was at the time. I had no acting experience, I was coming from the male-model point-of-view. I walked in, looking like James Bond, and acting as if that’s the way I was anyway. And they thought, ‘All we have to do is keep this guy just the way he is and we’ll have James Bond.’ ”
Lazenby contends that stories about his so-called egotism on the set were circulated by 007 series producer Albert R. Broccoli when he turned down an offer to continue as the British secret agent in future films.
“I mean, that was such a kick in the tails to their egos,” Lazenby says. “They couldn’t believe some actor wouldn’t want to play James Bond, so they passed the word along that I was hard to get along with. The only way I was hard to get along with was that I wouldn’t sign their contract.”
The producers, he claims, wanted him to sign a seven-year contract. “When I read it, I said, ‘Look. I’m not going to do all this for seven years, so count me out.’”
The actor passed up the offer because he felt he could make more money doing other movies. “I was offered a few films, like Italian westerns and what have you, and I could have gotten three times the amount of money they would have given me for a James Bond film,” he says. “So, I opted to get out of Bond and take those kind of offers—which never came around. By then. Connery was back in the role [for Diamonds Are Forever], Roger Moore was waiting in the wings, and [producers] Broccoli and [his then-partner, Harry] Saltzman and I had all insulted each other in the press. So, there was small chance of me ever being Bond again. I didn’t chase after it at all.”
And he’s not chasing after the role now. Even in the extremely unlikely event that they did ask him to return, George Lazenby isn’t so sure going home again as Bond would work out.
“Broccoli wouldn’t want me interfering or getting deeply involved in the film,” he says. “When I did On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I tried to get involved with the music, the direction and the writing They said ‘Get out there, get on your marks, and do what you’re told. We don’t want you involved in any other areas.’
“I was trying to get away from what they were doing with Sean Connery. But they didn’t want some new guy coming in and telling them how to run their show after they had been very successful at it for 10 years before they even saw me.”
Lazenby says he tried to convince Broccoli to hire Blood, Sweat and Tears for the soundtrack of OHMSS. “In 1967, I had an underground tape of them before they even recorded an album,” he says. “Some guy laid it on me to introduce them to Broccoli. In July 1967, I was telling the producers about this group; when the film came out, in 1969, they had five hits.”
Among hardcore Bond fans, the biggest criticism of George Lazenby lies in his performance during the final reel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where audiences saw 007 emotionally hurt for the first time, as he cradles his murdered wife, Tracy, in his arms, noting they have all the time in the world.
“Read the last page of the book; that’s what I did before I played that scene. I had nothing else to go on. I mean, no one was talking to me at that stage. Everyone was upset with me because I didn’t want to play Bond again,” the Australian actor explains. “The director [Peter Hunt] and I hadn't spoken throughout the whole film. So. I was completely on my own and the only place I could get guidance was Fleming’s novel.” Lazenby says he did the last scene in two takes—once with tears, once without. “The director said. ‘James Bond doesn't cry, can you cut the tears?’ So, the second version was without tears— that’s the one used.” Now, more than a decade later, when George Lazenby watches himself On Her Majesty’s Secret Sen-ice as Agent 007 he sees “an inexperienced actor—that guy could have done it better.
Photos: George Lazenby of today and yesterday. Inset, top left: As James Bond, Lazenby studies the file on master criminal Ernst Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Inset, bottom left: And as James Bond, Lazenby makes a play for the ladies, risking all at the gaming tables for just a little love.
Barry Nelson The First James Bond
They called him card-sense Jimmy Bond then, and he wasn’t quite the suave, witty womanizer he is now.
He also wasn’t Sean Connery, George Lazenby or Roger Moore.
The year was 1955, long before the adventures of Agent 007 would explode on the big screen, when Barry Nelson was asked to play James Bond in a live television production of Casino Royale on CBS’ Climax Theatre anthology series.
Twenty-seven years later, the black and white relic was uncovered by Chicago film collector Jim Shoenberger, who has screened the kinescope at various James Bond festivals around the country.
“It certainly is a curiosity,” Nelson says of the kinescope, “there being a James Bond picture hardly anyone has ever seen.
I had forgotten it years ago.”
Nelson doesn’t hold a grudge against the later, more popular Bond characterizations by Connery and company. “It’s kind of a novelty for me to be the first one. I’ve always approached James Bond with humility. Sean Connery was 007 and I never pretend to be anything more than 001. No one ever stops me on the street and recognizes me as James Bond,” he jokes.
Casino Royale was “a modest effort for what it was. We didn’t have all the stuff that they have in the Bond pictures. This show was done live at CBS Television City on a budget of about $25,000, while the Bonds today are done for S25 million or more. When Connery looks over his shoulder and sees he’s been followed, he can just adjust his ring and zzzzzappp!
The bad guys are wiped out and melted. I couldn’t get a ring like that.”
The 1955 James Bond was a far cry from the 007 audiences are used to seeing today. Nelson’s Bond was a rough American gambler, more of a thug than a spy. “I was very dissatisfied with the part,
I thought they wrote it poorly,” he recalls. “No charm or character or anything.”
And while audiences are accustomed to Bond films beginning with an exhilirating stunt, Casino Royale—filmed for theaters in 1967 with David Niven, Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole and Woody Allen—opened with a dull pop from a late-firing gun.
Photo: Actor Barry Nelson
“My entrance in the picture was really, truly funny and that’s too bad because it wasn’t supposed to be.”
Just before airtime, Nelson recalls, the producers realized that the episode would run about three minutes too long. “So, they went through and cut three words here, a line there, a half-a-word here, and the script ended up looking like a bad case of tic-tac-toe. I tell you it was so frightening that when I entered my only thought was, ‘Oh, God, if I could only get out of this mother!”’
Nelson laughs. “When some people get nervous, they get a facial twitch. Well, I had a body twitch. Somebody said, ‘He’s trying to imitate Bogart.’ I wasn’t trying to imitate anyone. It was sheer fear.”
Peter Lorre, who played the shrewd villain Le Chiffre in the TV episode, was as wickedly funny and sadistic as any of the later Bond foes—apparently off-screen as well as on-screen.
“Peter Lorre saw me shaking and said, ‘Straighten up, Barry, so 1 can kill you!’ ”
[Source: Starlog #75 (October 1983) P 32-34]