The hunt for James Bond was on. Ian Fleming’s famous fictional spy was finally about to embark on a career in films. But who would portray the suave, cold-blooded agent with a license to kill? Among the names bandied about were Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Trevor Howard, James Stewart, Michael Redgrave and Peter Finch.
Fleming himself had shown a preference for David Niven. The basic problem was in finding an actor who would sign a multi-picture contract for an entire series of Bond films, something which established actors weren’t prepared to do. James Mason was offered the part but said he’d be prepared to make two Bond films, but no more.
it was decided to look for an unknown who could be groomed for the role
and would sign for the series. The Daily Express newspaper ran a competition
to find a Bond and there were 1,100 replies, including one from a man
called James Bond! They were all considered unsuitable. The Express
also had a list of 250 actors suggested as Bond by the readers – and
Sean Connery’s name was near the top. Sean was also on a list of five
hopefuls, along with Roger Moore, Patrick McGoohan, Bob Simmonds and
Richard Johnson. Johnson wasn’t willing to sign for a multi-picture
deal (yet appeared as Bulldog Drummond in two Bond-style pictures in
the late Sixties). Patrick McGoohan rejected the role on moral grounds
and found fame as a secret agent in ‘Danger Man’ and ‘The Prisoner’
TV series, with the stipulation that John Drake, the agent, have no
sexual affairs. Bob Simmonds ended up as Sean’s stunt double in the
movies. Roger Moore was due to start filming the TV series ‘The Saint’
and wasn’t considered ‘he-man’ enough for the part at the time.
For some years, Fleming had wanted the Bond books to be translated to the screen and after his deal with CBS TV to make a series fell through, he sold the rights to ‘Casino Royale’ for a pittance in 1955. Harry Saltzman, a Canadian producer working in England, joined forces with another producer Albert Broccoli of Warwick Films and, with the backing of United Artists, paid for the film and TV rights to the James Bond books, with the exception of ‘Casino Royale.’ Fleming was guaranteed a minimum payment of $100,000 a film plus 5% of the producer’s profit. In October 1961 film editor Peter Hunt, who’d worked with Connery on the film ‘On The Fiddle’, suggested Sean to Saltzman.
accent didn’t prove to be a problem. One of Sean’s friends, a director
called Robert Henderson who’d helped him in his early stage career,
was to remark, “People later said, oh, how lucky he was getting James
Bond – lucky my foot! He had a Scots accent that was so thick it was
like a foreign language. He cured himself of that, but think of the
study that took. He worked and sweated blood. He always moved marvellously,
like an animal. But when anybody says this just came from luck, it’s
the old thing in the theatre, everybody gets their chance, and the trick
is to be ready.”
Sean observed that Scots stressed words differently from the English and said, “So because of my word stress I was able to get away from the original Bond character and take the sting out of those bad-taste jokes that crop up in the films.
artistically satisfying were his roles on television, including the
part of Mountain McClintock in BBC TV’s version of Rod Serling’s ‘Requiem
for a Heavyweight’ and Count Vronsky in ‘Anna Karenina’ opposite Claire
Bloom. In 1961 Sean signed his original contract to make one Bond film
a year until 1967 and for ‘Dr No’ he was paid £5,000.
Despite its relatively low budget, ‘Dr No’ had high production values and was a major success, particularly in Europe. ‘From Russia With Love’ consolidated the popularity of the series, but the third film ‘Goldfinger', brought Bond into the big time. President John F.Kennedy had rated the book ‘From Russia With Love’ as number nine in his all-time Top Ten favourite books, which popularised Bond overnight in the States. ‘Goldfinger’ was a sensational hit in America and, at one New York cinema, it was screened constantly 24-hours a day. 'Bondmania' was sweeping the world!
‘Thunderball’ was initially plagued by legal problems. Some years earlier when Fleming had been trying to bring Bond to the screen, he’d collaborated on a screenplay with Kevin McClory and Jack Wittingham and later adapted it as the book ‘Thunderball’, without their permission.
McClory had considered making ‘Thunderball’ on his own with Richard Burton, but came to an agreement with Eon (Saltzman and Broccoli), which involved him in the fourth film on condition that he would not revive Bond again as a film project for at least ten years.
Connery was becoming disenchanted with what he considered a low wage,
now that he’d helped to establish the Bond character internationally.
Everywhere he went there was merchandise with his image for which he
wasn’t receiving any remuneration and the media attention and constant
pressure of being Bond was causing a rift in his marriage with Diane
Cilento (right). Yet Saltzman and Broccoli wouldn’t bring him in as
a partner at Eon and so he announced that ‘You Only Live Twice’ would
be his last appearance as 007. Terence Young told Eon, “Take Sean as
a partner, make it Cubby, Harry and Sean. Sean will stay with you because
he’s a Scotsman. He likes the sound of gold coins clinking together.
He likes the lovely soft rustle of paper. He’ll stay with you if he’s
a partner, but not if you use him as a hired employee.”
At the Royal Charity premiere of ‘You Only Live Twice’, the Queen asked him, “Is this really your last James Bond film?” “I’m afraid so, Ma’am,” he told her.
They were talking of having Sean as M, with Roger Moore as Bond. Sean
said, “The three of us did a screenplay and put all sorts of exotic
events in it. You remember the aircraft that were disappearing over
the Bermuda Triangle? We had SPECTRE doing that. There was also this
fantastic fleet of planes under the sea – and they were going to be
used to attack the financial centre of New York by going through the
sewers of New York – which you can do – right into Wall Street.
There were going to be mechanical sharks in the bay, a take-over of the Statue of Liberty and the main line of troops on Ellis Island. All that sort of thing.” The title had now been changed to ‘Warhead,’ there was talk of Sean reappearing as Bond, with Orson Welles as a villain and Trevor Howard as M. Then the Fleming Estate sued and Paramount pulled out of the venture, but the fact that Sean was now involved came to the attention of Jack Schwartsman, executive vice president of Lorimer.
He was able to raise the money from 25 independent backers and the legal action faded because the script had been restricted to the plot defined in ‘Thunderball.’