For a child of the 1970s, James Bond was a very big deal.
Back before cable-TV, mobile phones and streaming music, going to the movies was a big time event. Unlike today, there were a lot fewer films being produced. James Bond was one of the few film franchises of the era, and sequels were rare and exceptional.
So when news broke that Roger Moore would be taking over for the iconic Sean Connery as British MI6 secret agent 007, most adults were skeptical. How could anyone replace Connery? Through From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball, the Scottish actor had come to symbolize a certain essence of cool that in retrospect seemed to have crossed the 1960s generational divide. Connery, who will turn 87 in August, had become so synonymous with Bond’s character that few actors dared follow him in a role that he’d come to define.
Indeed, it seemed unlikely that anyone could replace Connery’s portrait of Ian Fleming’s secret agent, a man equally comfortable with espionage, shooting a gun and sweet-talking young women. So when Connery declared that the 1967 You Only Live Twice, his fifth Bond film, would be his last, actors including Michael Caine demurred. Finally, a less well-known British model turned actor, George Lazenby, was cast as Bond for the lead in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But Lazenby wasn’t particularly well-received, prompting Eon Productions to pull Connery back for Diamonds Are Forever.
Moore, meanwhile, had made a name for himself as the lead in the television series The Saint. Remarkably, Moore had a lot of Connery at his best. He, too, was a very good-looking man, suave and athletic, with perfect diction and who never appeared to sweat no matter the number of goons who happened to be chasing him.
For a kid of 12, Moore, who died Tuesday at 89, was a more modern than Connery, and his films were in color. The 1973 Live and Let Die, which benefited from a very popular Paul McCartney soundtrack, was one of the first films I recall seeing in a theater without adult supervision. The film had it all: fast cars, really fast speedboats, international travel and, yes, lots of young women. To a pre-teen it was heaven. I returned for a second viewing a few weeks later.
Looking back, James Bond was among Hollywood’s first franchise films, the kind of character that Hollywood studios have since made the foundation of their business. Just this week, Mike Cavanagh, the finance chief of Comcast (CMCSA – Get Report) , owner of Universal Studios, boasted that it manages eight movie franchises compared to just one as recently as five years ago. The James Bond films, going back to Dr. No in 1962, were distributed by United Artists, which was taken over by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. MGM continues to hold the James Bond franchise.
In searching for a photo of Roger Moore to run with this story, photo editor Kevin LeVick found it was difficult to find any photo of Moore unaccompanied by a young women. Indeed, as Hollywood’s sensibilities became more liberal in the 1970s and 1980s, Bond’s sexual exploits became more central to his character. Moore would go on to star in six more Bond films over the next 12 years, eclipsing Connery’s tenure in a classic role that became a model for private investigators, playboys, good guys and villains. Moore would give way to Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.
But for me, James Bond will always be Roger Moore.