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Stephen Schochet

 

 

 

Who Is James Bond?

by Stephen Schochet

 

Novelist Ian Fleming (1908-1964) claimed he based his smooth secret agent character James Bond on Cary Grant. But in 1957 the fifty-three-year old British actor turned down producers Albert"Cubby" Broccoli's and Harry Saltzman's offer to play the super spy on screen in a series of films. Grant was now to the point where he was getting paid seventy five percent of the gross revenues of each movie. Some in Hollywood said he was richer than NATO. He was willing to do one movie not five and the two producers realized they needed somebody cheaper.

That same year the 27-year-old former Tommy Connery (he renamed himself Sean after his favorite movie character Shane), was making Another Time, Another Place (1958) in London with Lana Turner, ten years his senior. There was a strong rumor that Sean and Lana were having an affair on the set. Word got back to Turner's mobster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato who confronted her. "Its not true and don't come to the studio while we are shooting." Stompanato ignored her plea and witnessed the filming of a scene where Connery and Turner were embracing on a couch. After several retakes the enraged thug walked into the frame with a handgun and pointed it at Connery, telling him to take his hands off her. But the Scotsman, who grew up getting into fights with gang members in Edinburgh, simply grabbed the gun out of Stompanato's hand, twisted his wrist and sent him running off, yelping in pain. All the while the cameraman kept filming. "Should I cut yet?" he asked the stunned director.

Soon afterward Connery went to Los Angeles to make Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) for Walt Disney. He was shocked to hear that Stompanato was stabbed to death in Turner's rented Beverly Hills home, apparently by her fifteen-year-old daughter Cheryl. The girl had allegedly walked in between the two with a butcher knife during a domestic squabble in which the thug threatened to mess up her mother's face. Cheryl escaped charges, it was ruled justifiable homicide. But many wondered how it was that a young girl could kill an ex-marine (Years later, after Lana passed on, her hairdresser claimed that the star confessed that she had killed Johnny, and let Cheryl take the fall knowing that the minor would get off.)

LA mob boss Mickey Cohen was convinced that Lana had actually murdered Johnny because he had threatened to leave her. He promised revenge on anyone who had something to do with his death. A nervous Connery kept checking into fleabag motels looking over his shoulder to see if anybody was after him, nobody was. Since he was connected to a scandal, he wondered if the squeaky clean Walt Disney would fire him off the picture. But Walt who was always thoughtful and kind to him, never mentioned the incident. Perhaps due to stress, Connery gave a stiff performance as the romantic lead in Darby O' Gill that impressed few critics and seemed far away from any future work in spy movies. But Cubby Broccoli's wife was impressed enough after seeing the film to recommend that Sean Connery be hired to play James Bond in Dr. No (1962).

Broccoli and Saltzman were unsure about Connery after meeting him. His salary demands were cheap, they could sign him for five films, but was he right for Bond? The former truck driver and coffin polisher with the receding hairline seemed too unsophisticated. Connery kept banging his fist on a table to emphasize what he would do with the character. The concerned producers began to take him out to dinner to teach him proper table manners. They then sent him to meet Bond's creator Ian Fleming, who lived in a house in Jamaica called Goldeneye. When Fleming was not getting drunk with Noel Coward, Connery found out the fictional spy's history. How when the mild mannered author of Birds of the West Indies had turned forty-four he had been terrified of getting married for the first time. Fleming had decided to create the ultimate bachelor fantasy character who shared his love of fast cars, beautiful women, golfing and card playing. A high ranking British Naval Officer during World War II, Fleming was able to use the Bond novels to display his knowledge of intelligence work, including a training mission where he had swam underwater to successfully attach a mine to a tanker. Strangely, he had chosen the name James Bond after an American ornithologist because it was the most boring one he could find. Sean and Ian approved of each other, although Connery thought the upper crust author a tremendous snob. For his part the novelist wistfully wished that Roger Moore wasn't tied up playing The Saint (1962-1969) on TV.

After World War II the major film studios chose to reduce costs by getting out of production and focusing on distribution. Though the new arrangement opened up opportunities for independents like Broccoli and Saltzman, it made it harder for many films to actually reach the screen. Back in Hollywood the risk adverse executives at United Artists were not impressed with the early Dr. No footage they were sent from Jamaica. Actress Ursula Andress' English was impossible to understand. And Connery's accent changed in every scene. In this one he sounded English, in this one Scottish, what the hell was he in this one, Polish?! By the time the movie was completed UA declared Dr. No unreleasable.

With their film on the shelf Broccoli and Saltzman lobbied for it to be tested in England. United Artists reluctantly gave in and were shocked that Dr. No was a hit. Well Bond is English they said. It won't work in the states. Six months later they were proven wrong. Phrases like "The name's Bond, James Bond" or "a vodka martini, shaken not stirred" became part of the lexicon. Spy Movies were in vogue. Connery who would become bitter about his low salary and long term contract, was suddenly an international star. Fleming was so impressed by his impact that he changed Bond's background to Scottish. The author's untimely death in 1964 due to a heart attack changed the direction of the series from realistic to showcasing humor and outlandish gadgets. The only downside for Broccoli and Saltzman was that Dr. No failed in Japan. The movie exhibitors there translated the title to "We Don't Want A Doctor."

 

 

Stephen Schochet is the author of the upcoming book

Hollywood Stories: Short Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies. He is also the author of two acclaimed audiobooks

Tales of Hollywood: Hear the Origins of Hollywood!

and

Fascinating Walt Disney: Hear How Walt Disney's Dreams Came True!

These entertaining gift items are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 1-800-431-1579 or wherever books are sold.

View samples at www.hollywoodstories.com

 

 

 

 

 

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