Last time around, in our regular look back at Hollywood History, we looked at the most infamous studio of them all, B-movie factory Cannon Films. This time we travel back to 1969, and what would be destined to go down in history as one of the most idiotic career decisions of all time. We take a look at the one-time Bond.
The Man Who Would Be Bond
When the runaway success of Dr No turned him into a global celebrity, Sean Connery was not happy about the sudden interest in his private life. He felt he wasn’t being paid enough to compensate for the loss of privacy and demanded more money on several occasions as the popularity of his movies soared, with him still tied to his contract rate. The answer was always a “no” from Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.
Things came to a head during the making of You Only Live Twice. This was Connery’s fifth Bond movie in five years. Connery was photographed in the toilet by a paparazzi and he was outraged. Once again he asked producer Cubby to increase his pay. When Broccoli refused, Connery quit the role on the spot.
This caused a feud between the two that would continue for decades. As production on You Only Live Twice was completed, the relationship between Connery and Broccoli was so volatile that they could not even be on set together.
The feud was eventually settled in 1996 when Connery received word that Broccoli was seriously ill and unlikely to recover. He flew half way across the world to be by his side and apologise.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the few Bond novels to be written and published after the movie adaptions had already begun. Broccoli and Saltzman had originally intended to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with Connery in the role, after Goldfinger.
Richard Maibaum was finalising the script when news came through that the rights issues over Thunderball had been temporarily settled, so they decided to make Thunderball instead. The plan was then to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
A warm Swiss winter and inadequate snow cover at the locations they needed meant they had to change paths again. They turned to You Only Live Twice. After Connery’s shock resignation they planned to adapt The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia and cast Roger Moore as 007 to replace Connery. Cambodia then collapsed into political instability and Moore signed up for a new series The Saint. The search for a replacement Bond was back on.
Broccoli met with Terence Stamp about playing the part, and was also interested in rising star Oliver Reed. After deciding Reed already had a distinct public image that was at odds with James Bond, Broccoli looked at Timothy Dalton who had won rave notices for his role in The Lion in Winter but, at just 25 years old, decided he was too young.
The short-list came down to Englishman John Richardson, Dutchman Hans De Vries, Australian Robert Campbell, and Englishman Anthony Rogers, and one other.
29 year-old model and actor George Lazenby was working in television advertisements. He was Big Fry, the face of Fry’s Chocolates and confectionary.
Lazenby had designs on the role and began to ensure he crossed paths with Broccoli about town in London. He blew his savings on a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and went to the same hairdresser as Connery, at the Dorchester Hotel. He even found a Savile Row suit that Connery had ordered and then never collected, so he snapped it up. Making sure he looked the part, he set out to make an impression on Broccoli.
Broccoli noticed and offered him an audition. During the fight test part of the audtion Lazenby accidentally punched the professional wrestler who was acting as stunt coordinator in the face. Broccoli and director Peter Hunt were impressed with the level of aggression he showed. Peter Hunt would later claim:
“We wanted someone who oozed sexual assurance, and we think this fellow has that. Just wait ’til the women see him on screen… I am not saying he is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star. Didn’t they find Gary Cooper when he was an electrician?”
So that was it. An offer was made, the stage was set and the world had it’s new James Bond.
Adventures In The Alps
Turning 30 before shooting, Lazenby experienced difficulties on set. He did not receive any coaching despite his lack of acting experience. There were rumors that director Peter Hunt also went method, only addressing Lazenby through his assistant asked the rest of the crew to keep a distance from him, as Lazenby said:
“Peter thought the more I was alone, the better I would be as James Bond.”
Other rumors included personality conflicts with Rigg, who was already an established star. Hunt has always denied these rumors and said they started as a result of a joke between Rigg and Lazenby on set when, directly before a love scene, she joked:
“Hey George, I’m having garlic for lunch. I hope you are!”
In commentary Hunt also says he had long talks with Lazenby. On the day they shot Tracy’s death scene Hunt brought Lazenby to the set at 8 o’clock in the morning and made him rehearse all day long, deliberately:
“I broke him down until he was absolutely exhausted, and by the time we shot it at five o’clock, he was exhausted, and that’s how I got the performance.”
One thing was clear. The Bond machine was well-oiled at this point, six movies in. Lazenby was not quite aware that James Bond was the star, not George Lazenby. So when he started making suggestions, he became frustrated that he wasn’t listened to. As he said afterwards:
“The producers made me feel like I was mindless. They disregarded everything I suggested simply because I hadn’t been in the film business like them for about a thousand years.”
As filming wrapped, he was offered a contract for seven movies starting immediately. The next movie was to be Diamonds Are Forever.
The plan was that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would end with Bond and Tracy driving away from their wedding. The attack by Blofeld and Tracy’s tragic death, along with Lazenby’s reaction, would be the opening sequence of the next movie, segueing into the titles. First of all it was to be The Man With The Golden Gun, then the producers changed course to Diamonds Are Forever.
Diamonds Are Forever was to be a very different movie to the version we eventually got. It was to continue Lazenby’s highly physical portrayal of 007. Bond would be a broken man, drinking too much and making mistakes following the death of Tracy. Fearing he was becoming a liability, M would send him on a simple, easy mission out of pity. The plot would have started with the Spangled Mob of the book but then Blofeld and SPECTRE were to be revealed as behind everything, allowing Bond to have his revenge.
Lazenby returned home to Queanbeyan, Australia to see his parents following the end of filming. He told people he had 18 films to consider:
“But it’s all commercial rubbish, such as the guy getting the girl at the end of the Battle of Britain, I’ll just have to wait and see.”
He also told the press:
“I don’t think I’m ready for anything like Hamlet yet but I’d love to play Ned Kelly.”
At this point Bond was still very much in his future. Nobody is quite sure what discussions were had, but shortly after returning to Britain everything changed.
It was before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released that George Lazenby dropped his bombshell. He would not be returning as James Bond.
The Worst Career Advice
His agent Ronan O’Rahilly convinced him that the world was changing. The swinging 60s were giving way to the liberated 70s and his agent felt James Bond’s time was over. That the character would be out of place and archaic. Where have we heard that before?
Lazenby decided to turn down the seven picture deal and walk away. His co-star Diana Rigg was stunned and commented on his decision:
“The role made Sean Connery a millionaire. It made Sean Connery … I truly don’t know what’s happening in George’s mind so I can only speak of my reaction. I think it’s a pretty foolish move.
I think if he can bear to do an apprenticeship, which everybody in this business has to do – has to do – then he should do it quietly and with humility.
Everybody has to do it. There are few instant successes in the film business. And the instant successes one usually associates with somebody who is willing to learn anyway.”
Lazenby angered his co-stars and the producers by growing a beard and long hair, turning up for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service promotional engagements looking very much the antithesis of Bond. He struck many as simply being ungrateful for the fabulous opportunity he had been handed, and chose to walk away from.
Rigg would go even deeper at the time:
“I can no longer cater for his obsession with himself. He is utterly, unbelievably… bloody impossible.”
Desmond Llewelyn, gadget master Q in 17 Bond movies, also weighed in:
“I draw a veil over the chap. How can you expect someone who’s never acted before … to take on a leading role?”
Broccoli was annoyed at Lazenby’s post-movie attitude:
“I find it incredible that a plum role can’t be respected. We chose George because in his physique and his looks and his walk he was the best of the candidates.
He had the masculinity. Looking at the film, to put it in an old Spanish phrase, one could wish he had less cojones and more charm.”
Lazenby had this to say:
“Bond is a brute … I’ve already put him behind me. I will never play him again. Peace – that’s the message now.
I much prefer being a car salesman to a stereotyped James Bond. My parents think I’m insane, everybody thinks I’m insane passing up maybe millions of pounds. Nobody believed me. They thought it was a publicity stunt. But it’s just me doing my own thing.”
Clearly showing where his head was at when he made the decision, he went on to say:
“Fantasy doesn’t interest me. Reality does. Anyone who’s in touch with the kids knows what’s happening, knows the mood. Watch pop music and learn what’s going to happen. Most film-makers don’t watch and aren’t in touch.
People aren’t going to films because film-makers are putting out films people don’t want to see. As for the so-called “Tomorrow movies” they are only tomorrow movies with yesterday directors… Actors aren’t all that important. Directors are.
I’m terribly impressed with Dennis Hopper. I’d like to work for him. I also like Arthur Penn, John Schlesinger and Peter Yates… What I’m going to do is look for a great director first, a good screenplay second. Meanwhile, no more Bond. I make better money doing commercials.“
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a smash hit, but it performed slightly below its predecessor You Only Live Twice. It received some mixed reviews with many pointing to Lazenby’s performance. Broccoli disagreed:
“I don’t agree with the press. I think they should have given him A for effort. It’s true he’s not Olivier but Olivier could not play Bond in any circumstances.
John Aspinall‘s mother Lady Osborne told me she thought he was the best of the Bonds.”
One thing is for certain. Lazenby’s self-predicted grand movie career failed to materialise. He ended up doing Hong Kong movies and several episodes of Matlock Police back home in Australia. On American TV he appeared as Jor-El in the television series Superboy.
His name came to be something of a punchline in the entertainment industry. A review of Batman & Robin said that George Clooney “should go down in history as the George Lazenby of the series”. Actor Paul McGann has described himself with good humour as “the George Lazenby of Doctor Who” because, at the time, he had only appeared once as The Doctor.
In a September 2006 episode of The Daily Show, comedian John Oliver suggested that Pope Benedict XVI is the George Lazenby of the papacy, in comparison to “John Paul II’s Sean Connery”
A Lifetime Of Regret
Lazenby, now the oldest surviving screen Bond at 82 with 5 children from 2 marriages, looks back on his decision with regret.
“After the Bond fiasco nobody would touch me. Harry Saltzman had always said, ‘If you don’t do another Bond you’ll wind up doing spaghetti westerns in Italy. But I couldn’t even get one of those. My agent couldn’t believe it. But the word was out – I was ‘difficult’.
It hasn’t been easy, trying to climb back… I admit I acted stupidly. It went to my head, everything that was happening to me. But remember, it was my first film.”
Perhaps he takes comfort from the fact that time has been very kind to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With more time having passed, removing the adjustment shock of somebody other than Connery in the lead role and with his negative behaviour also a distant memory, the movie has undergone a reappraisal and renaissance.
No longer just a curio and footnote in Bond history, it is widely regarded by Bond aficionados as one of the best. In the 1998 book The Essential James Bond, Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrell write:
“Although OHMSS was routinely dismissed by critics who cited Lazenby as a brave but disappointing successor to Connery, the intervening years have been notably kinder to both the film and its star.
Indeed, due in no small part to Peter Hunt’s inspired direction, OHMSS generally ranks among the top films with fans.
Likewise, Lazenby has emerged as a very popular contributor to the series and has enjoyed large enthusiastic audiences during his appearances at Bond related events. In summary, OHMSS is a brilliant thriller in its own right and justifiably ranks amongst the best Bond films ever made.”
Roger Moore himself made reference to Lazenby in his commentary for a 2007 DVD release of The Man with the Golden Gun:
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – very well made film – Peter Hunt – excellent, excellent, excellent fight stuff, excellent snow effects… but I think the end result for George was that it was one of the better Bonds.”
The movie, its plot, and its treatment of the character of Bond are now such an important touchstone in 007 lore that it was referenced several times in most recent outing No Time To Die including in Hans Zimmer’s score.
Lazenby was approached by Sean Connery in a restaurant who simply told him:
“You were good.”
Two sides of the same “what could have been?” coin are either Connery playing Bond in the most emotional story of them all for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or Lazenby giving us his physical approach in a revenge story in Diamonds Are Forever.
We have covered the history of stunts, of special effects, of the studio system, and explored Hollywood’s ties to the mob. We have also examined some of the spooky goings-on associated with Tinseltown and we told the story of one of the true giants of Hollywood. We delved into the backstory of one of the best-known names in the history of horror, Hammer. We took a walk through the history of one of cinema’s greatest art forms – the world of miniatures and model-making for movies.
We explored the history of the box that changed so many Outposters lives – the VCR. We even delved into the murky waters of movie money and the hidden world of Hollywood Accounting and we went deep into genre with a history of disaster movies. Uncover the mystery and the horror surrounding a little known on-set incident during the making of Shark!
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