OHMSS: Astor Theatre (w/ George Lazenby)

George Lazenby: Astor Theatre, Melbourne Australia (13th October 2012)

On Saturday night, the Astor Theatre, in Melbourne had a rare screening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth James Bond film. As it is one of the few Bond movies that I had never seen on the big screen (I still haven’t seen Diamonds Are Forever), I had to go along. The sealer was that George Lazenby, himself was going to be introducing the film, followed by a Q & A.

The Astor is (and has always been) an amazing venue. It’s a old, art deco single screen movie palace. I remember when I first moved to Melbourne (all those years ago – before movies were available on sell-through), the Astor was the only place you could see many cult and classic films. The venue was crowded – I am guessing around 500 people (maybe more) – without being packed.

George was generous with his time, talking for over an hour, about everything from Bond, to his time working in Hong Kong, and much more – sharing many anecdotes about the mischief he got up to. My one complaint about the evening, and it must be said that George handled himself very professionally, is that somebody decided to bring their terrible two year old kid along. The kid kept jumping up and down on the seat and yelling out. George joked about it, but on a couple of occasions, his train of thought was interrupted.

At one point, as George was interrupted, the crowd actually turned on the family, yelling at them to take the kid outside. But the parents didn’t, steadfastly refusing to leave the auditorium. The kid kept interrupting. As a parent, I love my son more than anything, and yes, I would love for him to experience any ‘once in a lifetime’ event, but really the child was too young to appreciate where he was or who George was. Ultimately it was a rather selfish act on their behalf, and only George’s professionalism stopped it from ruining the night for the five hundred odd patrons who attended the event.

For a person of my age, it’s funny looking back at On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I am too young to have seen it on it’s original release at the movies, and by the time I saw it on television many years later, I was very confused by the negative reaction by the adults around me. I watched the film and wondered what all the fuss was about. Sure, George Lazenby was no Roger Moore – the incumbent Bond at the time – but the film was still highly entertaining. In fact, it was better than that – it was bloody good with some amazing scenes – but still the film seemed to have this stigma attached to it – especially for the older generation who grew up with Sean Connery as their James Bond. As an example of this, recently I watched a repeat of Parkinson, the UK talk show hosted by – who else – Michael Parkinson, and one of his guests was comedian Eddie Izzard. During their conversation, the topic of ‘Bond’ came up and Izzard was asked his favorite film. He said On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Parkinson, who is quite a bit older, was visibly shocked at Izzard’s response and screwed up his nose. It seems that as time has gone by, the younger generation who grew up with a multitude of different Bonds are a lot more willing to embrace On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and see it as simply a part in the Bond series, rather than George Lazenby’s failed attempt to replace Sean Connery in the hearts and minds on Bond fans all around the world.

One of the big differences between On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and some of the preceding Bond films is that it is almost gadget free. Goldfinger had a tricked up Aston Martin, Thunderball had every underwater device imaginable, and You Only Live Twice had an aggressive gyrocopter called ‘Little Nellie’, but this film has ‘radioactive lint’. Q’s grand moment comes early in the film where he presents his new tracking device for ‘double O’ agents, which lines the agent’s pockets. I am sure gadget lovers were disappointed. It’s hardly the kind of exciting espionage gadget we are used to from the highly inventive Quartermaster. Later in the film, Bond uses an elaborate safe cracking and photocopying device. As I mentioned earlier, the first version of this film that I saw was on television, and the version shown happened to be an extended version. Apparently, the original theatrical version didn’t have the safe cracking sequence – so it could be argued that ‘lint’ is all that this film has to offer. These days though, on video, DVD and Blu-ray the film is the extended version, so we get the extra gadget. But however you look at the film, it is still very light on for gadgets.

Among On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s many strengths is the score by John Barry. It is undoubtedly his best score (although Thunderball is pretty hard to beat), and provides pounding excitement for the action scenes and the passion for the romantic scenes. The title tune is unusual as it is an instrumental, but this is countered by the song, ‘We Have All The Time In The World’, performed by Louis Armstrong at a pivotal point in the film.

A frequent supposition among Bond fans is, if On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had Sean Connery it, it would have been one of the greatest films of all time. I like the basis of the argument – that being that Connery was the best Bond, and that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service contained the best Bond story. Combined, they would have been a sure fire winner. But in reality, had Connery made himself available to do On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I doubt we would have got the film that we did. Connery had a very set style, which involved quite a bit of humour and his films featured quite a few gadgets. With Connery in the lead, undoubtedly the formula would have continued and we would have ended up with a very different Bond film, and in my mind at least, I do not feel it would have been as strong.

In all in all, it was an enjoyable evening, and it was great to finally see On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on the big screen after all these years.

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OHMSS: Astor Theatre (w/ George Lazenby)

Flashback No. 5

Warhead 2000AD

Once again a little history from the Bond universe. Unfortunately I do not have a credit for this snippet from the past. I was sorting through my papers on the weekend and I came across a piece of paper with the following (below) written on it. I can only guess that it came from the old KISS KISS BANG BANG website, and I believe it was posted between Goldeneye and pre-production on Tomorrow Never Dies (I guess around 1996).

Bosses of the latest JAMES BOND caper AQUATICA are refusing to be shaken by news of a rival on the horizon. Last week producer KEVIN McCLORY announced he will be signing up past 007s SEAN CONNERY, TIMOTHY DALTON and GEORGE LAZENBY for a Bond adventure called WARHEAD 2000AD. But that has not even caused a raised eyebrow in the headquarters of EON PRODUCTIONS – mastermind behind Aquatica, which stars Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Spokeswoman, AMANDA SCHOFIELD says, “Of course it’s not a threat. McClory says he’s signed up all those stars but it’s not certain yet. We won’t be speeding up production because of another movie – Bond carries on and nothing like that worries us.”

The ‘Flashback’ articles on Permission To Kill are re-printed from original newspaper, magazine and web articles, and are presented as a piece of history. The article has been posted in good faith, and the original author, publication and date have been listed (where known). If you are the original author or publisher, and would like the this article removed from the blog please feel free to contact me.

Flashback No. 5

Flashback: No. 1

George Lazenby’s $6 million secret

By Bob Cameron

This article appeared in the Australian New Idea 10/11/1979

The former 007 star tells for the first time about the illness that nearly killed him

Some of the world’s top actors were more than a little miffed when the brash, rangy car salesman-cum-male model landed the role of James Bond, super spy.

And producer Cubby Broccoli was also more than a little edgy about gambling $6m on this untried unknown. So imagine his expression when he was let into what has become one of the movie industry’s best-kept secrets about George Lazenby.

“I told them that I only had half a kidney left. The other one and a half had been removed when I was a child, but I honestly hadn’t given much thought about it until the Bond thing came up.” wryly explained George as we relaxed in the boathouse below his new, half built home overlooking Sydney Harbour.

“Anyway, they made me spend two days in a private clinic and I was subjected to a barrage of tests. They were a lot more sophisticated than the doctors who checked me when I joined the army, although one of that mob hit me over my precious half-kidney with a hammer.

“Well, the clinic pronounced me fit and well but the films backers were not going to take any chances. They had my half kidney insured for $6m, the budget for the film, so they wouldn’t lose their money if something happened to me before shooting finished.

“I hate to think what the premiums were…”

George has never talked publicly about his childhood illness before – it was a harrowing time and he nearly died.

“It was in 1942 and I was only 3. A growth was causing a blockage and I had tubes coming out all over the place. The pain was very bad and I must have had a hundred operations. I’ll never forget the ether, or those scalpels.

“I remember one day in particular. They thought I was dying and my uncle left me his gold watch to play with. When they left the room, I got a hammer out of this tool kit I played with and smashed the watch.”

It was probably the first sign of that strong streak of Lazenby defiance that was to help him weather more than one storm ahead. At that time, his father, a railway worker in Goulburn, NSW, couldn’t afford a specialist to save George’s life – but the uncle whose watch had gone under the hammer turned up with the money.

George said: “I gather it was a pretty rare operation. It had only been performed once before and the baby died. But as you can see, this patient survived.”

After that, his parents tried to protect him from injury by making him wear a sort of protective corset.

“It had stays and was very uncomfortable. I used to take it off on the way to school and stash it behind a bush, then pick it up on the way home.

“You know how it is with kids – I didn’t want to be regarded as some sort of weakling. I wanted to play football.”

We were talking just two days before George’s 40th birthday: a time most people pause to reflect on the past and the lessons it should hold for the next 20 years at least.

So we wound the reel back to his 24th, the year most of his troubles began.

He was manager of three used car yards in Canberra and was seriously contemplating marriage. But his fiancee decided to go to England. He followed her and found she had met another men. He planned to stay in England for three months but was still there 10 years later.

George began his new life by selling used cars in an outer London suburb for 10 pounds a week. Then he was earning 30 pounds and, finally three or four times that figure selling Mercedes in Park Lane.

That was when a photographer spotted him. Most male models in London at that time were cast in the pretty-boy mould and this photographer was looking for someone rugged and aggressive.

George filled the bill. One cigarette company even paid him not to model – they were looking for a theme to suit him and didn’t want to lose him to rivals.

He bought an Aston Martin, made up the rules as he went along and thought that life was great. Then in walked James Bond with a martini, shaken not stirred in one hand and the inevitable beautiful girl in the other.

Cubby Broccoli had first seen George in an advertisement. There followed some fast talking by the boy from Goulburn.

George says those years were truly mad. He was offered $100,000 a day to appear in television advertisements but knocked it back. He left suitcases full of unworn clothes in hotel rooms as he headed for airports and his next slice of paradise.

He had a mania for buying wristwatches. Just about everyone wanted to know him, although tempers were flaring behind the scenes on the set.

And, of course, there were plenty of girls. Five of them were staying in his London house when Chrissie, the daughter of a three-times-married American socialite, came to dinner one night. She stayed, too, and unlike the others, she stayed when Bond walked out.

At that time, George was still being offered $300,000 to appear in Italian-made westerns. “But I was still on the Bond thing. I said no, what was $300,000 to me? Ironic, isn’t it – I ended up making Kung Fu movies in Hong Kong for less.”

Suddenly, the money was nearly all gone. He sank the last of his savings into a catamaran and he and Chrissie then went roving in the Mediterranean.

But George’s luck was still running out. He fell gravely ill with hepatitis and Chrissie nursed him back to health. “She’s the only real friend I’ve got,” said George.

Then Chrissie became pregnant despite the fact that doctors had told her she could never have a baby. They married and that little bundle of impossibility, Melanie, is now 5. Her brother Zachary is 4.

It’s 10 years since George and Chrissie met and they’re still very much living happily ever after.

During that time, George has been ‘broke’ twice and sunk some hard-earned money into lessons at a famous acting school in Los Angeles.

“The guy’s name is Charles Conrads. He’s terrific. The first thing he said to me was: ‘George you’re so bor
ing I can’t stand it. If you’re going to keep on giving me those James Bond type looks, you’ll have to go.’

“I felt like punching him., of course, but he was only telling the truth. He took my ego apart and helped put me back together again.

“It’s hard to explain, but he shows you how to reach into your soul and really let go. And, when I finally did let myself go, it was terrific. All the kids in the class cheered. I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

George is now based in Sydney and, while he’s waiting for his second big break, he commutes to Hong Kong or America where he picks up some very handsome fees for cigarette or car advertisements.

Does he sometimes get the feeling that he’s come full circle?

“No, I feel I’ve got all that old rubbish out of my system. I’m trained now, not making up the rules as I go along, and I’m looking for something completely different. I want to do a George Segal or Cary Grant type comedy. Charles Conrads says I’ve got it in me.

“You know, I went to see this psychic once. I met her the day before it was announced I would be the next James Bond. It was a big secret. No one, least of all she, knew about it.

“But she predicted something very big would happen to me, then I would lose it all. She said I also would be very sick; and believe me, I was. She said lots of other things that have come about too. She said I’d have a second big break, and I believe her…”

It was time to close the interview. I asked for directions to the nearest bus stop. George looked bewildered, then appalled. “You’re not going to get the bus are you? I haven’t been on a bus since I first went to London.”

Bearing in mind his first profession, selling cars, I gently explained that I had never bothered learning to drive. He didn’t exactly go pale under his Californian tan, but said: “C’mon, I’ll drive you back to civilisation.”

No, there wasn’t a trace of an ejector seat.

The ‘Flashback’ articles on Permission To Kill are re-printed from original newspaper and magazine articles, and are presented as a piece of history. The article has been posted in good faith, and the original author, publication and date have been listed (if known). If you are the original author or publisher, and would like the this article removed from this site, please feel free to contact me.

Flashback: No. 1