Contrary to popular belief, Sean Connery is not the first actor to play James Bond. From October 1954 and June 1958, CBS aired a dramatic anthology series called Climax! The show featured one-hour adaptation of classic stories like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Many of the episodes were performed like stage plays and broadcast live on television. CBS paid Ian Fleming just $1,000 to adapt his first novel, Casino Royale, into a one-hour television adventure in 1954.
NOTE: This was the first-ever live action portrayal of a James Bond novel and made years before Eon Productions was founded.
The Casino Royale episode aired on October 21, 1954 and starred American actor Barry Nelson as secret agent James Bond. That’s right. An American actor was the first to play British agent James Bond. In fact, Bond in this version was retooled as an American agent named ‘Card Sense’ Jimmy Bond, working for “Combined Intelligence”. This change was made to have the character be more acceptable for the consumption of American audiences.
Tenure – 1962–1967, 1971, 1983
Sean Connery became the first actor to portray Bond on the big screen in Dr. No (1962). Connery had come to the attention of the Bond film producers after several appearances in British films from the late 1950s.
He won the role of James Bond after producer Albert R. Broccoli attended a screening of Sean in Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). He was particularly impressed with the fistfight Sean has with a village bully at the climax of the film. Cubby later had his wife, Dana Broccoli, see the film and she found him to be quite sexy.
Since he was a rough muscular 6’2″ Scotsman, Connery was initially met with disapproval from Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming. Fleming saw Sean as basically an overgrown stuntman who didn’t have the finesse and elegance to play James Bond. However, after seeing him in action in Dr. No, Ian Fleming was completely won over by Connery. As a matter of fact, Fleming gave Bond’s character a Scottish ancestry in later novels as a tribute to Connery.
Albert Broccoli himself stated “I wanted a ballsy guy … put a bit of veneer over that tough Scottish hide and you’ve got Fleming’s Bond instead of all the mincing poofs we had applying for the job“. After Connery was chosen, director Terence Young took the actor to his tailor and hairdresser, and introduced him to the high life, restaurants, casinos and women of London. Young educated Sean “in the ways of being dapper, witty, and above all, cool”.
Honor Blackman, Connery’s co-star in Goldfinger said this of Sean: “He was exceedingly handsome, virile and sexy and that really was the tenor of what the script was always trying to display”. Connery’s interpretation of the character differed considerably from Fleming’s, being more promiscuous and cold-blooded than the literary version. Connery described Bond as “a complete sensualist—senses highly tuned, awake to everything, quite amoral. I particularly like him because he thrives on conflict”.
Fellow Bond Roger Moore commented that “Sean was Bond. He created Bond. He embodied Bond and because of Sean, Bond became an instantly recognizable character the world over—he was rough, tough, mean and witty … he was a bloody good 007”.
The Bond films turned Sean into an instant mega star. However, the pressures of making five films in six years eventually got to Sean. He was being mobbed in the streets and his privacy invaded by the press. Connery officially left the role after the 1967 film You Only Live Twice saying, “It became a terrible pressure, like living in a goldfish bowl … that was part of the reason I wanted to be finished with Bond. Also I had become completely identified with it, and it became very wearing and very boring”.
After a hiatus of one film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Connery returned to the role for Diamonds Are Forever. David Picker, the then-head of United Artists, made it clear that Connery was to come back to the role and money was no object. When approached about resuming the role of Bond, Connery demanded—and received—a fee of £1.25 million (£27 million in 2019 pounds), 12.5% of the gross profits and, as a further enticement, United Artists offered to back two films of his choice.
Battle of The Bonds
In 1983. Sean returned to the role of Bond one last time in the Warner Brothers movie Never Say Never Again. This movie was intended to go head-to-head with the official Eon Productions Bond franchise movie that year, Octopussy at the box office. This movie was released four months after Octopussy.
Since both movies starred two actors who were equally recognized as James Bond, the press was dubbed this box office showdown “The Battle of the Bonds” . A majority of movie industry analysts predicted that Never Say Never Again would win out at the box office because it had the return of Connery and a much bigger production budget than Octopussy .
According to a press release from Variety in 1985, Variety quoted the following figures from MGM and Warner Brothers:
- Octopussy‘s U.S. gross: $67.9 million; Never Say Never Again’s U.S. gross: $55.4 million.
- Octopussy‘s worldwide gross : $187.5 million, Never Say Never Again’s worldwide gross: $160 million.
- Octopussy had $34 million in U.S. rentals, Never Say Never Again had $28.2 million in U.S. rentals.
The final results were in: Sean Connery and Never Say Never Again ended up losing the “Bond vs. Bond” showdown to Roger Moore and Octopusssy.
- In 2003, Connery’s version of James Bond was selected as the third-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute, losing to Indiana Jones and Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird.
- The very first scene Sir Sean Connery as James Bond is the sequence in the Kingston Airport in Dr. No where he passes a female photographer and holds his hat up in front of his face. The filming date was January 16, 1962.
- Contrary to rumors, Connery was not wearing a hairpiece in his first two outings as James Bond. However, the time of Goldfinger (1964), Connery’s hair was too thin and he used toupees for his last Bond outings.
- His favorite Bond film is From Russia with Love (1963).
- He was voted People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1989 and, in 1999, he was voted ‘Sexiest Man of the Century’ .
- Connery is tied with Roger Moore for the most portrayals of James Bond with 7 appearances each.
- Of the six actors who have played Naval Commander James Bond, he is the only one who actually served in the Royal Navy.
- He is the only Bond actor to have actually had sex with the Bond girls in his films: He was involved with his co-stars Jill St. John and Lana Wood at the same time while filming Diamonds Are Forever(1971).
- He is the only Bond actor to appear in both EON and non EON productions of Bond.
Best Bond Film: From Russia, With Love
Synopsis: James Bond is sent to assist in the defection of Soviet clerk Tatiana Romanova in Turkey where the evil organization SPECTRE plans to avenge Bond’s killing of Dr. No.
- It took in more than $78 million in worldwide box-office receipts, far more than its $2 million budget and more than its predecessor Dr. No, thereby becoming a blockbuster in 1960s cinema.
- Final James Bond movie viewed by Ian Fleming before his death.
- Then-President John F. Kennedy listed From Russia With Love as among his top ten favorite novels of all time. That list was published in Life Magazine on March 17, 1961. Possibly as a result, the producers decided to make this the second James Bond movie. According to the book “Death of a President“, From Russia With Love was the last movie J.F.K. ever saw in a private screening in the White House on November 20, 1963.
- The scene in which James Bond and Tatiana Romanova first meet in the hotel suite has since been used as an audition scene for potential Bond actors and Bond girls. This can be seen in the “making of” documentaries for other Bond movies
- The film introduced several conventions which would become essential elements of the series: a pre-title sequence, the Blofeld character (referred to in the film only as “Number 1”) , a secret-weapon gadget for Bond, a post action scene after the main climax, a theme song with the name of the movie in the lyrics, and the line “James Bond will return/be back” in the credits.