The year is 1964. George Lazenby arrives in London from his native Australia at the same time as an eleven year-old Pierce Brosnan. Pierce’s time will come later.
Lazenby, former car salesman, mechanic, and successful model spends the next few years in television commercials, serving up Fry’s chocolate cream. He auditions for the role of James Bond when Sean Connery announces, having filmed five Bond movies, that he never wants to play the secret agent again. Lazenby, up against John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Robert Campbell, and Hans de Vries for the role, gets it for two reasons:
1) He roughs up a stuntman in the screen test.
2) He reads for the part wearing a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit, actually ordered by Sean Connery, but never collected.
The producers only open auditions for the role of Bond after a 21 year-old Timothy Dalton turns it down, believing himself to be too young for the part. When On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (budget: 7 million pounds) comes out in 1969, it grosses over $84 million worldwide. That’s less than the previous Bond film You Only Live Twice, but still respectable.
Lazenby’s big-screen debut was based on Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name. Contemporary reviews are good, but the general critical reception is mixed. History has actually favoured the movie, with many believing it to be one of the best Bond films ever. Roger Moore thinks so, mainly due to the direction of Peter R. Hunt.
At the time, however, Lazenby finds himself on a roller-coaster ride of circumstances. He is not a trained actor, and receives a cold reception from his co-workers in the industry, possibly believing he has not served his time or paid his dues. In fact, director Hunt would not speak to Lazenby directly during filming and Diana Rigg, who played Bond’s wife, Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, famously eats garlic prior to their intimate scenes.
George makes a few more enemies when he utters the line “this wouldn’t have happened to the other guy” in the film. The off-hand reference to Connery is considered a cardinal sin by industry professionals, breaking the “fourth wall,” the imaginary wall between the actor and the audience.
Lazenby, by his own admission, is outrageously arrogant. Many feel it gets him the part, but it also means that in negotiation for the next Bond films, he approaches the bargaining table with a dismissive attitude. Something he regrets to this day. It means he and the producers part company, and the next Bond film in 1971, Diamonds are Forever, stars. . .Sean Connery back as the agent he said he would never play again! Lazenby all but disappears, playing a few non-descript roles in far flung places.
Cubby Broccoli, the famous Bond producer, said that Lazenby could have been the best Bond ever. Instead, George is contracted to film with Bruce Lee in his next project after Enter The Dragon, but all-too-soon, this rising star, like Lazenby’s, dies. After a few Hong Kong offerings, George actually turns up in soft-core erotica Emmanuelle with Sylvia Kristel.
I have sweet memories of watching On her Majesty’s Secret Service, open-mouthed, at the Odeon Cinema on a windswept Saturday afternoon on Edinburgh’s Lothian Road. George Lazenby, having uttered the words “We have all the time in the world” at the end of his one and only Bond film, finds he has just that.
Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish. His next book, The Politics of Murder (The X-Press UK/US) will be published July 31, 2011.