James Bond: licence revoked

The case for George Lazenby

`This never happened to the other fella." It is 25 years since George Lazenby said that line in his first and last film as James Bond, and it perfectly summed up his brief, unhappy tenure as 007.

Lazenby was the Australian male model selected after a Scarlett-like search to step into Sean Connery's tux and shoulder holster for On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969 - the film for which Louis Armstrong's posthumous chart hit, "We Have All the Time in the World", was the theme song.

Conventional mythology holds that Lazenby gave a terrible performance in the worst film of the series, which flopped at the box-office - after which he was dismissed. Not true: On Her Majesty's Secret Service made a healthy profit, is now regarded by true aficionados as one of the best ever Bond movies, and Lazenby resigned. And his performance, derided by critics as wooden, was, in retrospect, an object lessen in fluidity compared with the humourless stiffness of prevailing 1990s action-adventur e stars like Van Damme and Seagal.

Lazenby, an absolute beginner, more than held his own in a film that also featured the most accomplished actress ever to appear in the series, Diana Rigg. No one can claim he wasn't awkward in some scenes. But then, so was Sean Connery in his first Bond film, Dr No (1962).

In fact, it took Connery three Bond movies to establish himself as one of the coolest, hippest cultural icons. By then, it no longer mattered if he was miscast as Ian Fleming's James Bond: Bond and Connery were synonymous. If the Beatles were bigger thanJesus, Connery as Bond wasn't far behind. Every lad wanted to be Connery, every Dad thought he already was. "Sean Connery is James Bond!" screamed the posters for You Only Live Twice in 1967. But in 1969 he wasn't. George Lazenby was. And everyone resented Lazenby for it.

Worse, a decidedly hostile press dreamt up an alleged on-set feud between Lazenby and Rigg. The relentless negative publicity provoked Lazenby into displays of truculence that fed the popular but grossly inaccurate perception of him as an uncouth, arrog a nt Aussie. Lazenby found himself the most misrepresented actor in screen history and felt compelled to resign from future Bondage even before On Her Majesty's Secret Service had wrapped.

Lazenby's career never recovered. Despite some notable performances in films like Universal Soldier (1971) and Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack (1979), his film appearances have been sporadic at best.

He made a wry Bondian cameo performance in the 1983 television movie The Return of the Man from UNCLE, and hosted a biopic of Ian Fleming on American television in 1990. Yet Lazenby's link with Bond remains ignored by audiences and the industry's bizarr e prejudice against On Her Majesty's Secret Service persists: it's the one Bond film MGM / UA Home Video has not re-released as a "special collector's edition".

Lazenby didn't survive Bond, but Bond easily survived him. Sean Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) before handing over the licence to get rich to Roger Moore. Every Bond film ends with the promise that "James Bond Will Return". Sadly, Geor g e Lazenby's 007 never did.

Martin Sterling

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