This cover story was originally published in the October 27, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.
IT WAS ON APRIL 4TH, 1958, that Lana Turner’s teenage daughter shoved a carving knife into the unsuspecting stomach of one John Stompanato, her mother’s menacing boyfriend, thus not only ending Stompanato’s unpleasant career on what seemed an altogether appropriate note but setting off a succulent Hollywood scandal (Aging Actress Whipped like Dog by Hoodlum Lover!) and also causing no end of inconvenience for young Sean Connery, who was in town at the time working for Disney.
Connery remembered Stompanato, of course. He had paid a brief, disruptive visit to Turner in London the year before, when she was starring in Another Time, Another Place, a wheezing screen vehicle for which Connery had been chosen by Turner, who was 10 years his senior, to play the love interest. Stompanato was a flashy L.A. thug who wore lime-green suits and little pistols for cufflinks, and he was known to guard the body of Mickey Cohen, the noted racketeer. A nasty customer, Connery had decided at the time. Something of a sentimentalist, too, as it turned out: he had saved Turner’s love-and-hate letters from London, and in the wake of his death, choice passages from them were splashed all over the local press. Some of the letters were innocent, some intimate. Some detailed the after-work excursions of Turner and her daughter to London vaudeville shows in Connery’s company. Some of Stompanato’s friends didn’t like the sound of this.
One day, Connery got a phone call in his room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It was Mickey Cohen. He came right to the point. “Get your ass outta town,” he said.
Connery did not need this. At 27, his movie career — studded so far with stiffs like Hell Drivers and Action of the Tiger — was just beginning, however tentatively, to blossom. He was under a seven-year contract to 20th Century Fox, at whose behest he was in California in the first place, having been rented out for a Disney opus called Darby O’Gill and the Little People. He was working, damn it.
Under the circumstances, however, Cohen’s advice had a certain attraction. Connery packed his bags and disappeared into the San Fernando Valley, holing up at an inelegant oasis called the Bel Air Palms Motel. It was probably a provident move. As he says, “I didn’t know what I was dealing with, and I didn’t see any point in discussing it.” And that, for the record, is the last known time that anybody pushed Sean Connery around.
And got away with it, that is.
A QUARTER OF A CENTURY LATER, I am sitting in the private, palm-coddled garden of the Marbella Club, where the whitewashed walls are acrawl with colorful flowers and the fat Mediterranean sun is just cresting over the sloping, red-tiled roof of the indoor restaurant. Connery has lived in Marbella, an inordinately gorgeous resort situated on Spain’s Costa del Sol — midway between the teeming tourist middens of Torremolinos to the east and Algeciras, gateway to Morocco, a quick 70 kilometers to the south — for the last 20 years. He has a beachfront villa nearby, abutting the glittering Puerto Barnis — a rambling Andalusian affair he acquired for what one is tempted to assume was a song at the time. The villa is not without distinction — a mosaic by Jean Cocteau is embedded in one wall — but there is no swimming pool, and one would hardly describe the place as a pleasure dome. It is, however, home to Connery — at least on those rare occasions when he isn’t off traipsing through the Sahara, climbing about in the Alps or splashing around (as he was for his latest movie) in the Caribbean — and to his spirited second wife of eight years, Micheline, who is a painter and, like her husband, a golf nut. There are, perhaps not coincidentally, more than a half-dozen golf courses in the Marbella area.
Home is an important concept to Connery. A sign out front, near the small fountain in the drive, announces PROPIEDAD PRIVADA, and means it. Connery will not have journalists in the house, writing up the furnishings and sniffing in the fridge. He will meet them, when he must, at the Marbella Club, and he will meet them early. Except for the sparrows that flit and skitter among the empty tables, the garden is practically deserted. Not a ripple disturbs the surface of the nearby swimming pool, where a prominently posted message from the management discourages female toplessness in four different languages. It is 9:30 on the dot when Connery comes gliding across the patio, heavy with presence, and pulls up a chair.
He is dressed casually, in light blue slacks, loafers and a pink knit shirt bearing the small but celebrated crest of the Sunningdale Golf Club. A thin gold chain around his neck sets off his clear brown eyes and deeply tanned features. His hair is long on the sides and frankly graying. He is, of course, not wearing his working toupee. A dapper mustache droops down over the corners of his mouth, and his occasional smile is craggy and rather magnificent. Yesterday, August 25th, Sean Connery turned 53. He looks great.
Enough of this small talk, though Connery slides the keys to his Mercedes — an economical diesel turbo he bought in honor of the oil crisis in 1978 — onto the table and summons a waiter. His thistly Scottish accent seems less pronounced now than it was 21 years ago when Dr. No, the first installment of the long-running James Bond series, suddenly rocketed him to international stardom.
Café con leche arrives in two porcelain pots, and Connery pours. He is cordial, but hardly, effusive. This is as expected. His enthusiasm for personal publicity may be gauged by the fact that he has never in his life employed a press agent. One understands: this is work. We are here because James Bond is back. The real James Bond. Not Roger Moore, the foppish pretender who usurped the role when Connery last walked out on it, after Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. And certainly not George Lazenby, the Australian male model who briefly desecrated the part (in the little-loved On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) after Connery defected the first time, following You Only Live Twice, in 1967. At that point, the recalcitrant Scot had been heard to rumble, “Never again.” But now he’s back in his seventh outing as 007, and its title, Never Say Never Again, is one of the film’s several engaging ironies. What’s the story?
Connery’s official line on this return to the Bond role is simply that he “reconsidered.” But was it the $5 million, plus percentage, that he is reportedly receiving for his performance that swayed him? Or was it the rare, promised chance to exert quality control over everything from the script to the casting? Was commerciality a consideration? Did Connery long for one more major popular success in his advancing years?
The personal possibilities are complex, considering the caved-in state Connery was in by the time he made his fifth Bond film, You Only Live Twice, in 1967. He was more than bored. He was sick — sick of his circus-like celebrity, the pointless public clamor, the ever-intruding press. “At the highest time of the Bond films,” he says, “like when I was doin’ Thunderbolt in the Bahamas … 15 consecutive nights, shooting from 6:30 until 6 in the morning. Long nights, long days. And then I’d go back and try to have some free time to sleep, but the ‘hotel was full of journalists and photographers who had been promised all sorts of things by…I don’t know who. I’d get messages, telephone calls. And I was left to handle it, you know?”
Staying with the series, lucrative as it was, could only lead to artistic suicide. “I’d been an actor since I was 25,” he says, “but the image that the press put out was that I just fell into this tuxedo and started mixing vodka martinis, And, of course, it was nothin’ like that at all. I’d done television, theater, a whole slew of things. But it was more dramatic to present me as someone who had just stepped in off the street.”
James Bond had become, as Connery later observed, “a Frankenstein monster.”
So what is he doing in Never Say Never Again? Connery peers off into some private middle distance. He is a man of deep and abiding reserve, and thus reluctant to elaborate on the reasoning behind this latest contradictory comeback — starring in the movie they said would never be made, in the role he’d sworn he would never play again. “Back in Bondage,” as the fan press puts it. Why, exactly? Connery says, simply, “I was curious.”
Hmmm. Three thousand miles from New York to Spain, and he was “curious”? One had been warned, of course: Connery is a notoriously tight-lipped interview. All of his friends testify to his self-containment, his monumental passion for privacy. He recently sued one unauthorized biographer for bringing out a book that Connery contested as inaccurate. He won that suit, he says (a thousand pounds plus court costs, which he donated to charity), and is now closely scrutinizing a second biography out of Britain.
“You cannot stop anybody if he wants to write a book about you,” says Connery, frowning at the injustice of it all. “That’s the law. But anybody who takes it upon himself to write one should know that I’m not interested in giving any kind of assistance.” And, of course, be aware that he may sue your ass. Connery wants to be known for what he does onscreen; his onscreen life is nobody’s business.
“He really is the anti-James Bond in private,” says one longtime friend, Parisian film rep Denise Breton. “I remember that when we were filming Five Days One Summer in Switzerland, he wanted to see a movie one night with his son. He got in line but couldn’t get tickets; they were sold out. Nobody recognized him, and he refused to go to the manager and say, ‘I’m Sean Connery, could I get in?’ He wouldn’t use his name. So they went to dinner instead.”
Obviously, the man revels in anonymity. Not for him the game of idle gossip or the presumptuous probing of his private life. Sex, you say? Has he ever succumbed to carnal temptation, especially back in the halcyon Bond days?
“Well,” says Connery, very evenly, “if I had, I certainly would never reveal it.”
Right, none of my business. What about religion? Has he pondered life’s great questions?
“I get very few answers when I try,” he says. “If one has any kind of philosophy, it’s just to leave the world a better place than you found it —or at least no worse.”
OK. Politics, then: does he vote in Britain?
“No, I’m not involved in that scene at all. I follow it, as I fallow what’s going on in the United States. It’s a sort of hobby of mine, geopolitics.”
What is going on, then, in his view?
“Well, I’ve never seen the situation in the world so pronouncedly right and left. It seems everybody’s pushing to their frontiers: Zia in Pakistan, Thatcher in England, Marcos in the Philippines, Mitterrand… You know, it’s ironic that Mitterrand is attacking Reagan for being a warmonger, and here he is in Chad with more troops than the Americans have in the whole of Central America. The lesson there is, keep your mouth shut and your front door clean.”
Connery, of course, learned that lesson long ago. So what are we to make of his serendipitous career a working-class Scot from the slums of Edinburgh who came to symbolize all the gleaming values of well-off Western society; a ferocious patriot who’s opted for exile rather than pay the queen’s taxes; a profoundly private man who makes normalcy seem enigmatic. Connery is a conundrum. So let us, then, attempt to unravel his roots.
CONNERY IS DISINCLINED TO ROMANTICIZE the deprivation of his childhood, but it was real enough. Born Thomas Connery in Edinburgh in 1930, the eldest of two sons of Joseph Connery, a Scots-Irish truck driver, and his wife, Euphamia, Sean grew up in a cold-water tenement flat with no bathroom and began earning his keep at age eight, delivering milk. Times were tough, and they got tougher when Britain went to war with Germany in 1939. Connery quit school when he was thirteen and scuffled hard for jobs. “The war was on, so my whole education time was a wipeout,” he says. “I had no qualifications at all for any job, and unemployment has always been very high in Scotland anyway, so you take what you get. I was a milkman, laborer, steel bender, cement mixer — virtually anything.” He was a fighter, and so the Royal Navy must have seemed a good way out of all that. Connery signed up for a lengthy hitch, picked up two now-faded tattoos on his right forearm (MUM AND DAD and SCOTLAND FOREVER), developed an ulcer and was given a medical discharge after three years’ service. Back home in Edinburgh, he used his navy disability grant to learn the wood-polishing trade and soon was buffing coffins, side-boards and all sorts of furniture fur a living.
But he would also begin paying more attention to his imposing, 6-foot-2-inch physique, working our and lifting weights as if his life depended on it — which, in a way, it did. He worked as a lifeguard at the Portobello swimming pool in the summer, and in the winter, be says, “I worked as a model at the art college in Edinburgh, for which I used to get I don’t know, one pound something an hour. You posed for 45 minutes. It wasn’t nude; you wore a pouch thing, but that was it. It was very arduous — quite a good discipline.”
At this point in his life, Connery’s career seemed to be bordering on beefcake. Advised that a competition for Mr. Universe was being held in London, he headed south to participate. He didn’t win, but his ticket turned out to be worth the investment. While in London, he heard about auditions for a roadshow company of South Pacific. He somehow landed a job in the chorus and toured with the company for 18 months.
Connery doesn’t recall where the nickname “Sean” came from; as a child, he’d been “Big Tammy.” But Sean was the handle he answered to when he joined South Pacific, and when asked how he wanted to be billed, he decided on Thomas Sean Connery. “They said it was too long. I didn’t know if I was gonna stay an actor, so I used Sean — Sean Connery. And it’s stayed.”
He soon decided he loved the theatrical life, but realized that his new artistic enthusiasm considerably outstripped his cultural education. “When I decided to be an actor,” he says, spent all the time on the tour going to the library in whichever town we were in — ’cause one was always staying in pretty lousy digs, you know? So it was the theater and the library. I had a motorcycle with me, so I’d usually go to the theater in the morning to collect the mail and whatever I needed, and then go from there to the library or the repertory or the cinema in the afternoon. And that’s how I turned it all around and gave myself an education.”
He read Stanislaysky. He worked on his diction. He began getting jobs in television and in 1956 even landed his first movie role, a minor bit in a forgotten film called No Road Back. In 1957, however, he appeared far more memorably in a British TV production of Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, in which he played the over-the-hill protagonist, Mountain McClintock, to considerable critical acclaim. Film offers poured in. Connery appeared with Claire Bloom in a BBC-TV production of Anna Karenina, and his big-screen billing improved when he made a potboiler called Hell Drivers with Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom and Patrick McGoohan. Soon, he signed to do a similarly awful movie called Action of the Tiger, which starred Van Johnson and Martine Carol and was directed by Terence Young. It turned out to be a fortuitous film.
“He was a rough diamond,” Young remembers. “But already he had a sort of crude animal force, you know? Like a younger Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas. The interesting thing is that Martine Carol, who was a very famous French actress at the time, said, “This boy should be playing the lead instead of Van Johnson. This man has big star quality.”
The movie was a dud. “A terrible film,” says Young, “very badly directed, very badly acted — it was not a good picture. But Sean was impressive in it, and when it was all over’, he came to me and said, in a very strong Scottish accent, ‘Sir, am I going to be a success?’ I said, ‘Not after this picture, you’re not. But,’ I asked him, ‘Can you swim?’ He looked rather blank and said, yes, he could swim — what’s that got to do with it? I said, ‘Well, you’d better keep swimming until I can get you a proper job and make up for what I did this time.’ And four years later, we came up with Dr. No.”
It was producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli who cabled Young about the possibility of directing the first James Bond movie. Broccoli and his partners sensed that a James Bond film could be very big. It was 1961, and Ian Fleming’s books were slowly creating a buzz: John Kennedy was a big booster (and so, it turned out, was Lee Harvey Oswald, who borrowed Bond novels from the library); CIA chief Allen Dulles was a fan, and so was England’s Prince Philip. Sean Connery, a 31-year-old former coffin polisher from an Edinburgh tenement — who had only recently asked for and received a release from his seven-year Fox contract — seemed an unlikely choice to play the Dom Perignon-drinking sophisticate of Fleming’s novels. But after a no-nonsense interview — during which Connery declined to test for the role — the producers signed him up. Next came his grooming for the part, which was undertaken by Terence Young, a man of assiduously cultivated tastes.
“I had a very clear idea of what an old Etonian should be,” says Young. “I was a [Royal] Guards Officer during the war, and I thought I knew how Bond should behave. So I took Sean to my shirtmaker, my tailor and my shoemaker, and we filled him out.
“He knew this was a big chance, and he made no mistake about it. But don’t forget — he was a damn good actor by then. He’d had stage success; he’d appeared in Macbeth, and he’d been brilliant in a Jean Giraudoux play called Judith, which played in the West End for about six months. Besides, four or five years had elapsed since Action of the Tiger. He’d matured, he’d become a better actor—and when the chance came, he was ready for it.”
Dr. No was shot in Jamaica on a shoestring budget of $1 million. Bernard Lee played M, the crusty old secret-service chief, and Lois Maxwell played his lovelorn secretary, Moneypenny (a part she’s reprised in all of the Bond films to date). Also on hand were television’s Jack Lord as Felix Leiter, James Bond’s CIA buddy; Joseph Wiseman as Dr. Julius No; and — oh, yes — Ursula Andress, who made one of the most stunning bikini debuts in screen history.
“The thing that looked great right when it was being filmed was that scene with Ursula Andress coming out of the water,” says Island ‘ Records head Chris Blackwell, a young friend of Ian Fleming’s who worked on Dr. No as a location scout. “When that scene was done, everybody applauded.”
Another scene, in which Connery — who likes to do his own stunts — was required to drive a small sports car between the giant tires of a construction crane, was nowhere near as pleasurable.
“He’s very lucky to be alive,” says Young. “We damn near killed him. When we rehearsed it, he drove about five or ten miles an hour, just to see if he could go under it, and he cleared it by about four inches. But as we were shooting it, he was coming at forty, fifty miles an hour —and he suddenly realized the car was bouncing two feet up in the air, and there he was with his head sticking out. It so happened that the last bounce came just before he reached the thing and he went down and under — or he would’ve been killed.”
Says Connery: “If I remember correctly, going under the crane was Cubby Broccoli’s idea. Maybe,” he says, with a mordant chuckle, “he’d paid very heavy insurance beforehand.”
CUBBY BROCCOLI, WHO HAS GROWN extraordinarily rich as the moneyman behind and purveyor of James Bond films, is inexorably linked to Sean Connery’s career. If he thought he had made Sean Connery and, thus, could break him, he’d likely forgotten the rough-and-tumble roots of his star.
His relationship with Connery has been tempestuous. There were regular disagreements about pay (mostly won by Connery). There were long negotiations about Connery buying his way out of the Bond bind after Live and Let Die, which resulted in the actor making that film for less than he would normally have attempted to negotiate. There was the successful attempt by Broccoli to lure Connery back in 1971 to make Diamonds Are Forever for the then-astronomical sum of $1.25 million, plus a percentage. Connery promptly donated his salary to charity, the Scottish-International Educational Trust, an organization he’d founded in hopes of reversing the sort of emigration that had earlier carried him away from his homeland.
Whether Cannery’s action was, in part, a way of showing Broccoli — and the movie industry — that he didn’t really need James Bond money anymore is another issue. That Broccoli has had huge success with Bond films without Connery, and that Connery, without Bond, hasn’t done nearly as well, is indisputable. Yet it is also indisputable that Broccoli has gone to extraordinary lengths to block Never Say Never Again from being released — in essence, to prevent Connery from being Bond without Broccoli’s blessing. And this tale illustrates well the intrigue that has surrounded the Bond opus from the start.
The new film is technically a remake of Thunderball, the 1965 Bond epic in which Connery also starred. Ian Fleming, who began writing the Bond novels in 1952, had conceived the initial setting for the Thunderball story during a rehabilitative visit to a health clinic in Surrey in 1956. In 1959, stuck for a follow-up to the seventh Bond book, Goldfinger, Fleming was persuaded by Irish movie entrepreneur Kevin McClory to turn the Thunderball idea into a screenplay for a James Bond film.
Together with another writer named Jack Whittingham, McClory and Fleming turned out a script called James Bond of the Secret Service. According to McClory, it was he who introduced SPECTRE — the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion — into the Bond canon as a substitute for Fleming’s outdated Soviet apparat, Smersh.
Fleming eventually drifted away from this collaboration, returning to Goldeneye, the Jamaican retreat where he wrote all of the Bond novels, and churning out Thunderball. McClory decided that the book derived in large part from the screenplay he and Whittingham had helped write, and he took Fleming to court. After much legal wrangling, it was agreed, in 1963, that Fleming would be allowed to retain the literary rights to Thunderball (with credit for his collaborators appended to subsequent editions of the novel), but that McClory would get the screen rights.
The legal impasse over Thunderball halted plans for it to become the first Bond novel to be brought to the screen. Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, co-owners of Eon Productions and a Swiss-based holding company, Danjacq S.A., thought they had bought all the Fleming movie rights. When McClory won the film rights in court, Eon had no choice but to bring him in as executive producer of the 1966 version of Thunderbolt. As part of their deal, McClory contends, he had signed a contract allowing him remake rights to Thunderball after 10 years had elapsed. But by 1976, when McClory attempted to implement this option, Eon was still raking in bucks from the Bond films and wanted no competition from a rival production — especially one in which McClory hoped to feature Sean Connery. McClory was taken to court.
Connery, who knew Fleming in the years before he died in 1964, and liked him (“A terrific snob, but very good company—tremendous knowledge, spoke German and French, got an interview with Stalin one time when he was working for Reuters”), had always been amused by McClory’s upset victory over the influential author and his obtaining the Thunderball film rights.
“With all of Fleming’s connections — Eton, Sandhurst, naval intelligence, all that — everyone figured McClory, an Irishman in an English court, didn’t have a chance. But never underestimate Kevin McClory.”
Connery initially became involved in McClory’s remake project not as an actor, however, but as a writer. McClory suggested that he and Connery team up with espionage author Len Deighton (The Ipcress File) to confect a new screenplay based on the old James Bond of the Secret Service. According to Connery, they came up with quite a bizarre tale.
“We had all sorts of exotic events,” he says, sipping his coffee. “You know those airplanes that were disappearing over the Bermuda Triangle? We had SPECTRE doing that. There was this fantastic fleet of planes under the sea — a whole world of stuff had been brought down. They were going to attack the financial nerve center of the United States by going in through the sewers of New York — which you can do — right into Wall Street. They’d have mechanical sharks in the bay and take over the Statue of Liberty, which is quite easy, and have the main line of troops on Ellis Island. That sort of thing.”
As time passed, though, and the legal challenges to the McClory project proliferated, Connery finally bowed out. McClory persevered in court, however, and eventually, abetted by Micheline Connery, persuaded Connery to take another crack at acting the role he’d originated on the screen two decades earlier. A fiftyish James Bond? Could be fun, Connery figured. And Micheline provided the title: Never Say Never Again.
The movie began filming late last year, but even after it had been completed, legal objections continued to accumulate. Broccoli was unavailable for comment on the case, but, Connery is well acquainted with the efforts to halt the new film.
“There was a time when I had tremendous loathing for [Broccoli and Saltzman],” he admits. “But I don’t see that much of them now Cubby and United Artists have been quite relentless with the lawyers; they haven’t won a round, but there’s been an enormous amount of money and time spent. I think the next hearing is in November but then, the intention really was to stop the film coming. Now that they’ve had their innings, as it were, with Octopussy [the latest Roger Moore movie], I can’t imagine why they persist.”
Well, actually, yes he can. In the mean streets of Edinburgh, where Connery grew up, people pushed you around with their fists; in the movie business, they use lawyers. Either way, the result is essentially the same. Connery’s pal, actor Michael Caine, has an interesting way of putting it. “In Japan,” says Caine, “if you have a son who is a ne’er-do-well, you make him a lawyer. Because in Japan, being a lawyer is an extremely dishonorable profession. The Japanese are men of their word, so what do they need lawyers for? People who break their word in Japan kill themselves. People who break their word here kill you.”
THE BOND CAREER QUICKLY BROUGHT with it massive changes in Connery’s life. Shortly after Dr. No opened in 1962, Sean Connery and Australian actress Diane Cilento slipped away to Gibraltar, where they were married in a quick civil ceremony — he for the first time, she for the second. They honeymooned on the Costa del Sol. Cilento, who brought a five-year-old daughter to the marriage, was a woman of considerable talent (she was later nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as the trollop in Tom Jones) and a volatile temperament. The marriage officially lasted eleven years—not bad, considering the strains of their dual careers—and was, by all ‘One more word out of you lot,’ Connery said, ‘and I’ll smack you through the wall!’ accounts, a loving one. At times, it was also quite tempestuous.
“I remember once I was with them in Nassau,” says Michael Caine. “Diane was cooking lunch, and Sean and I went out. Of course, we got out and one thing led to another, you know, and we got back for lunch two hours later. Well, we opened the door and Sean said, ‘Darling, we’re home’ — and all the food she’d cooked came flying through the air at us. I remember the two of us standin’ there, covered in gravy and green beans.”
In most respects, however, Connery and Cilento seemed well matched. Both were pros, and before their marriage, they had studied movement theory together in London. Connery was fascinated by all the new notions of time and motion and “inner attitudes in action” that he learned during that time, and you can still see the results in the way he walks through a scene today.
“He has a whole thing about the physical part of acting that’s real interesting,” says Brooke Adams, who worked with Connery on the Richard Lester film Cuba in 1979. “It’s about how much space a character needs around his head and how centered he is and how much weight he has. Sean is intuitive, but he’s also very trained.”
In 1963, his training was put directly back into the service of the second James Bond movie, From Russia with Love, which was filmed on location in Turkey with a splendid cast that included Robert Shaw as the chilly blond SPECTRE assassin and, perhaps most memorably, Lotte Lenya as the crypto-lesbian Rosa Klebb. From Russia also featured one of the most hyperkinetic fight scenes ever filmed, a breathtaking bash-out aboard the Orient Express between Connery and Shaw that was scheduled for several days’ shooting but was wrapped in a single day when the actors decided to forgo their doubles and do the fight themselves.
“I had $2 million far From Russia with Love,” says Terence Young, who once again directed. “That was a good budget, and it was, in my opinion, the best of all the Bond films — because it was the best of the Bond books.”
Connery agrees with this assessment — he has striven in Never Say Never Again to retrieve some of the humanity that so distinguished that second Bond epic. But at the time, he was already getting restless with the role. Broccoli and Saltzman were cleaning up, and Connery felt he deserved a bigger piece of the action. He also had certain artistic ambitions — non-Bondian ones. In 1964, he appeared in Woman of Straw with Gina Lollobrigida, and with Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie — a movie that, as detailed in Donald Spoto’s recent Hitchcock biography, The Dark Side of Genius, was unpleasantly disrupted when Hitchcock made a blatant sexual overture to Hedren. Connery was unaware of the incident ar the time, he says, and he doesn’t much care to hear about it 20 years later, either. He dislikes armchair analysis and any sort of breach of personal privacy.
“I know that Hitch was intrigued by that blond, Grace Kelly-type of woman,” he says, “but I find it kind of sad to be looking for something like that against somebody as special as Hitch was. I’m not mad about that sort of Sherlock Holmes bit, you know?”
Hedren, who today lives on a California ranch, was engaged at the time of Marnie but not unaware of Connery’s magnetism. “It was interesting doing Marnie,” she says, “because Sean Connery is a very, very attractive man, and here I was playing the part of a woman who screamed every time he came near her. But he was marvelous. He practiced golf a lot. In his free time, he always had his golf shoes and clubs out. I guess if I hadn’t been interested in somebody else at the time, I probably would’ve played golf.”
IT IS SOMETIMES HARD TO REMEMBER, but in the wake of Goldfinger’s release there erupted a James Bond craze that made such recent rages as E.T. seem like mere publicity stunts. Shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Secret Agent filled the TV screen, commercials began featuring such characters as “James Bread from Bond” and “Goldnoodle,” and novelty stores were filled with toy versions of the latest futuristic James Bond gadgets.
But surely that sort of Bond hysteria has died out now, right?
Meet Richard Schenkman. Richard is 25, works for MTV in New York City and is, in every outward respect, a rational, responsible person. He is also president of the James Bond 007 Fan Club, which caters to the connoisseur of 007 minutiae.
Schenkman hatched the idea for a James Bond fan club with a friend in the summer of 1972. “We realized that we should create a fan club for the fictional character of James Bond,” he explains. Good point: after all, actors come and go, but there’s nothing like the real thing.
“Bond is a traditional hero in the sense of Robin Hood,” says Richard, “and an intellectual adventure hero. He’s very contemporary, in that he touches on cold-war politics, hot-war politics, science-fiction-tinged espionage capers. And there’s the travelogue aspect. too. The detail! Fleming’s books are so under-rated. He was such a good writer.”
And Sean Connery? Richard is grateful to him for being the best of all possible Bonds and wishes him well in whatever he may undertake. “He’s always good,” Richard says, even in a bad film like The Red Tent. “He’s taken his money and bought his privacy and freedom.”
JAMES BOND HAS MADE SEAN CONNERY a very wealthy man. But Connery has refused to be held hostage to such profit. He’s continually struck our in search of new films to make, new chances to take. Some of these movies, like the Russian-Italian production of The Red Tent, Richard Lester’s Cuba and Richard Brooks’ Wrong Is Right, have been fairly awful — and yet Connery has always managed to emerge from them with his class intact. And when the films are good — like John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King — Connery reminds you anew what star quality is all about. A good deal of that quality is on display in Never Say Never Again, a carefully crafted and quite lively addition to the lately listless Bond series. Connery actually seems in better shape now than he did in Diamonds Are Forever back in 1971, and he occupies the movie with effortless ease. Whether blowing away a host of bad guys in the early scenes or unexpectedly dancing a courtly tango with Kim Basinger in the casino at Monte Carlo, Connery’s Bond seems wittier and altogether more human than ever before. At 53, he may just be reaching the peak of his career.
So this is life at the top with the lion of Marbella: quiet, sunny days spent far from the gaudy bazaars of the film business and the prying scribes who infest them. Golf, tennis, tranquility, freedom. Connery is a man who grabbed his main chance and rode it to freedom — and never stopped to kiss anybody’s ass along the way. Back in the mid-Sixties, against the imprecations of his advisers, he sued Jack Warner for a relatively minor amount of money owed him from the film A Fine Madness. Warner might have squashed him like a bug, blackballed him — but thought better of it and paid up. A decade later, when Allied Artists failed to come forth with $180,000 he said it owed him from The Man Who Would Be King, Connery sued again, and Allied went toppling into bankruptcy. He will not be bullied, will not tolerate injustice in any form.
Michael Caine recalls the night he and Connery went to a comedy club in Los Angeles and were confronted with a decidedly unfunny novice comic. Connery endured the routine quietly, as did Caine. “But there was a group of English guys behind us who were heckling him, and he couldn’t handle it. Finally Sean got up, lifted the leader off his chair and said, ‘One more word out of you lot and I’ll smack you through the fuckin’ wall! Now give the kid a chance!'”
That’s Sean Connery. As Terence Young says, “With the exception of Lassie, he is the only person I know who’s never been spoiled by success.”
And so there we close the Connery case. He is exactly what he appears to be, and he lives, according to John Huston, calling one day from Cuernavaca, “a very stable, steady, conservative life — no cavorting, no deep coughing, no nonsense.” If we’ve unearthed no answers about the man, perhaps it’s because there are no questions.
Well, there is one: Will he ever find a professional life beyond Bond?
Huston on the horn again: he’s got the answer to that one, too. “May I say that as long as actors are going into politics, I wish, for Christ’s sake, that Sean Connery would become king of Scotland.”