Classic Hollywood #102 – Sean Connery, Before He Was James Bond

Before Being Cast As James Bond, Sean Connery Was Determined To Be A Star

Sean Connery 1960 photo The Picturegoer

James Bond is dead. At least to millions of movie fans who associate only one man, Sean Connery, with the role of Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007.

Sean Connery who epitomized James Bond on the big screen died on October 31, 2020 at age 90.

In multiple obituaries this past week, the story of Thomas Sean Connery has been told. His early years as a body builder, working in a coffin shop and a coal cartman in Edinburgh have been recounted.

What has not been clearly expressed is Connery’s self-assured ambition to reach the top of his profession as an actor.

Before Connery was cast as James Bond, he acted on the stage and in television which led to movies.

Connery made his stage debut in 1954 in a supporting role in South Pacific as Lieutenant Adams. On October 3, 1955 at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre the traveling company’s production got decent notices, and Connery’s performance stood out as “convincing,” to The Irish Times.  It was an early taste of success for Connery’s hard work.

Connery’s rise was a combination of self-confidence, determination, serendipitous circumstance and an appreciative female fan-base with a generous dose of male admiration.

In this fascinating, prescient profile piece by Margaret Hinxman in The Picturegoer from June  8, 1957, Connery had his plan for success laid out.

Connery would later say that luck played a big part in his rise to fame, culminating in getting the role of James Bond which shot him to international stardom. Several actors turned down the role of Bond before Connery was offered the part.

Sean Connery photo Apris

1965 Sean Connery surrounded by press – photo Apris

The Man No One Wanted Is Going Places Now

At the TV studios they told him he was “ too thin .. . or too fat .. . or too big . . . or too different.’’ At the Old Vic, Michael Bentall dismissed him gently with: “ You don’t fit into the composition here. Take elocution lessons. Study your’ diction.”’

At Twentieth Century-Fox he lost a part in Boy On A Dolphin because he was too tall. At Rank he. lost a part in High Tide At Noon because he was too dark.

And just when Sean Connery began to think he didn’t fit in anywhere, this ruggedly built
twenty-six year old Scots-Irishman exploded on the British public in TV’s “ Requiem For A
Heavyweight’’ with the kind of rare impact that happens once in an actor’s lifetime.

No one worried about his being “ too different.’’ Success has an odd way of making an actor look exactly right in the eyes of any producer.

Larry Hoodhoff lays a punch on Sean Connery in Requiem For A Heavyweight (1956) photo BBC

The day after his performance, he was offered a part of a punch-drunk fighter, a bad imitation of his role in “ Requiem For A Heavyweight.’’  He turned it down. But in one sense it was the final seal of approval. When producers start wanting you to repeat yourself, you’re in!

With a fat, new seven-year contract, just signed, for Twentieth Century-Fox in his pocket, Connery is the new boy to watch in films.

To “ Picturegoer” that is not news. That infallible barometer of picturegoing approval — letters to Reader Service —had already indicated that Connery had made an indelible impression. When I told him, he was interested, but not unduly enthusiastic. .

“ Overnight success?’’ His quizzical expression carried a hint of resignation born of memories of the long, lean years of trying to get somewhere in the business and not succeeding very well.

Still slightly overwhelmed by the sharp turn in his fortunes, he is ambitious and can shrewdly assess the value of an international build-up such as Fox can give him.

‘In seven years—when my contract ends— I’ll be thirty-three. By then I reckon I should be in a position to pick and choose.’’ No new-comer to films, however, he has recently played in Hell Drivers and Action Of The Tiger.

He admits that, so far as he was concerned, luck had a lot to do with his “ Requiem For A
Heavyweight” success. Jack Palance, who appeared in the play on American TV, was interested in doing it here.

The B.B.C. was prepared to subsidize. him during his stay in London and pay a substantial
star fee. Then the Palance deal fell through.

Connery was picked for the part from dozens of other acting hopefuls. “ What the B.B.C. paid me would have just about covered the bell-boys’ tips if Palance had come over.”’

He has a horror of type-casting. For that reason he deliberately played down the Brando On The Waterfront aspect of his TV role; went cold on a possible Rank contract when he was asked: “What type of actor are you?”’

At the same time that Fox was negotiating his contract, Ealing was also interested: “ But what could I play in—Whisky Galore!?”’

Also, in common with several other young actors with a lot of what it takes, he hasn’t yet quite
adjusted to the idea that at the moment the only important thing is to get his face on the screen as often as possible, even if the parts aren’t right.

When he has learned it—as he will—and if he accepts it, then Connery could very likely become a big international actor: a role in which, I suspect, he rather fancies himself.

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