Those famous words became the hallmark of one of the most famous characters in cinema history. James Bond was a likeable, charismatic, suave, elegant, brave, at times foolhardy, superspy with the moniker 007 and a “license to kill.” He was famous for carousing, chasing beautiful women, and, oh yes, saving England from vicious villains. Fans knew he always drank vodka martinis “shaken, not stirred.” The American Film Institute recognized the Bond character as the third greatest hero in cinema history. Can you guess numbers 1 and 2? See below.
The Bond franchise is one of the most famous, successful and enduring in cinema history. The first film was Dr. No in 1962 and the franchise is still active today. Seven actors have played James Bond in over 30 movies. Connery was the first and, to me, the best. How many of them can you name? (If you get all seven you are a true Bond savant, and I tip my cap to you.) See answer below.
Thomas Sean Connery was born on August 25, 1930 in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Scotland. He came from very humble beginnings. His father was a factory worker and a lorry (truck) driver. His mother was a cleaning lady. Connery said he was known by his middle name as a child. When he became an actor he kept his middle name and dropped his first name. Thomas Sean Connery was thought to be too long to fit on a theatre marquee.
Prior to becoming an actor Connery worked at a succession of jobs. He took any work he could get, among them milkman, cement mixer, steel-bender, lorry driver, lifeguard, laborer, artist’s model and coffin polisher. As a youth he was undersized, but by the age of 18 he had grown to his full height of 6′ 2″. Along the way he acquired a new nickname, “Big Tam” and took up body building. In addition, he served in the Royal Navy.
In the 1950s he began helping out backstage in the theatre in order to supplement his income. In 1953 he entered a bodybuilding competition in London. One of his competitors advised him of an audition for a production of South Pacific. Connery was hired as one of the Seabees chorus boys. He remained with the troupe and eventually worked his way up to a featured speaking role.
As often happens in the entertainment business Connery’s big break, his selection as James Bond, was a combination of talent and fortune. Ian Fleming, the author of the series of Bond books, was not in favor of casting Connery in the role. According to Fleming, Connery was “not what I envisioned [as Bond].” He considered Connery to be “unrefined” and “an overgrown stuntman.” Without Fleming’s blessing Connery’s chances of landing the role were remote. However, both Dana Broccoli, producer Albert Broccoli’s wife, and Blanche Blackwell, Ian Fleming’s girlfriend, convinced the two men that Connery was the right man. Blackwell opined that Connery has the “requisite sexual charisma.” We all know how persuasive wives and girlfriends can be. So, Connery got the role, and the rest was history.
Dr. No (1962) was a huge success, and the studio eagerly produced a succession of sequels, which were also wildly successful. Fleming soon forgot about any reservations he had had about Connery and became a strong advocate. With each sequel the plots became more outrageous, the locales more exotic, the stunts more elaborate, and the women more sexy and beautiful Every aspiring actress wanted to be cast as a “Bond girl.” It was almost a rite of passage. The public couldn’t get enough of Bond and Connery. Soon the movies bore little resemblance to Fleming’s books, but nobody really cared.
In 1971, after having starred in six Bond films Connery was ready for a change. Despite critically-acclaimed performances in Marnie and The Hill he lamented that he wasn’t being taken seriously as an actor. He complained that the image of him the press had fostered did not do justice to his acting ability. So, at the age of 41 he walked away from the role of a lifetime.
The conventional wisdom of the Hollywood experts was that he had made a grave error. They thought no one would want to hire a “balding, middle-aged actor with a funny accent.” However, Connery got the last laugh. He was not a one-hit wonder as an actor. He went on to appear in many “hit” films, such Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Untouchables, and The Hunt for Red October.
Connery’s personal life did not measure up to his acting career. It left a lot to be desired. His first marriage was marred by accusations of physical abuse, and it didn’t last long. Connery did not deny the charges. In fact, he defended his boorish behavior. In a 1965 interview he told Playboy that he did not see “anything particularly wrong” in striking a woman. To him, “an open-handed slap is justified.”
Connery was the recipient of numerous awards. For example, as an actor he won one Academy Award for his role in the Untouchables and three Golden Globes, among others. In 1989 People Magazine voted him the “Sexiest Man Alive; in 1999 People proclaimed him to be “The Greatest Man of the Century; in 2004 the Sunday Herald proclaimed him to be the “Greatest Living Scot;” and in 2000 Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed him to be a British knight.
Connery passed away on October 31 at the age of 90. According to his son he died “peacefully” in his sleep after having been “unwell for some time.” Among the mourners was Barbara Broccoli, Albert’s and Dana’s daughter, who was said to be “devastated” by the news. She told reporters that Connery’s “gritty, and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent” was primarily responsible for the success of the Bond franchise.
Quiz answers: (1) Atticus Finch and Indiana Jones. (2) Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig