In 1967, Sean Connery, the walking embodiment of onscreen suave, hung up his tailored tuxedo and bid farewell to the role of James Bond – for a few years, at least – leaving 007 fans wondering whether the series had come to a premature conclusion. Whether Connery moved on after You Only Live Twice due to a beef with producers over salary or simply grew bored of the role, it was going to be tough to replace him.
Of all the big guns at the time, it was slim pickings. John Wayne? Swagger yes, Bond no. Jack Lemmon? Too animated. Paul Newman? Too pretty. Warren Beatty? Too difficult. Dustin Hoffman? Well, too short. Besides, none of them were exactly known for their British accents. If another Bond film was to eventuate, what was the world to do?
Turn to a hot Aussie mechanic, that’s what.
Enter George Lazenby
Born in Goulburn, NSW, George Lazenby is the only man to have ever played James Bond once – in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). After moving to Queanbeyan in his teenage years, he worked both as a mechanic and a car salesman, the latter of which just screams 007, doesn’t it? Oh, and he also served in the Australian army.
Eventually, he approached the vicinity of the spotlight by working as a male model, but that didn’t mean the man could act. Since replacing Connery was one of the most coveted roles of the late '60s, it must have bugged the hell out of Hollywood’s leading men to know the new Bond had never spoken a line of scripted dialogue his entire life. Unless, of course, you consider the spiel of a car salesman dialogue.
Break a nose for a breakout role
One of Bond’s producers, a man with perhaps the healthiest surname in the history of surnames, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, saw Lazenby in an ad for a brand of chocolate, in which no dialogue was spoken. The Australian actor became one of over 400 actors to audition for the part (a total which included a then 22-year-old Timothy Dalton, who ended up playing Bond two decades later). But it was Lazenby’s boldness (or naivete?) in going all out and breaking a stuntman’s nose during a screen test fight that won over Broccoli.
Say what you will about Lazenby’s eventual performance, but he was definitely the Bond with the most convincing combat skills.
Opted or kicked out?
The reason for OHMS ending up as Lazenby’s sole stint as the big screen’s most renowned spy is a point of contention. If one was to believe co-star Diana Rigg, who played Countess Tracy di Vincenzo, Lazenby just didn’t have what was required to nail Bond for a second or third outing, let alone a first. If you were to believe Broccoli (and I’m inclined to always trust Broccoli), then Lazenby’s refusal to cut his flowing hair for the film’s press circuit saw him relieved of all promotional duties, and hence, any chance to once again play the part.
If you were to believe Lazenby himself in Becoming Bond, then we could have seen more of the Aussie sipping martinis. As the doco proves, there’s a lot more to this particular, peculiar slice of cinematic history.
Watch Becoming Bond on SBS On Demand: