Battle of the Bonds // Part 002 // George Lazenby
The rebel, the playboy, the one-and-done Bond
George Lazenby gets a bad rap.
As the only Bond actor to star in just one film, history has understandably downplayed Lazenby’s contribution to the grand tapestry that is the James Bond film franchise. Even though his lone film is one of the very best in the series.
The Australian used car salesman turned male model turned one-time 007 is almost certainly most people’s least favorite Bond (not mine though), if for nothing more than a lack of familiarity. Over the decades, his name has become synonymous with the most forgettable iterations of popular franchise characters, a scarlet letter to brand on any poor soul failing to make a mark.
George Clooney’s turn as The Dark Knight in Batman & Robin “inspired” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle to write that Clooney “should go down in history as the George Lazenby of the series.” Paul McGann refers to himself as “the George Lazenby of Doctor Who.” And John Oliver once characterized Pope Benedict XVI as “the George Lazenby of the papacy to John Paul II’s Sean Connery.”
I don’t associate with the Lazenby hater hive.
In fact, I believe George Lazenby was the perfect choice of actor to slide into the role and succeed Sean Connery’s standard-setting tenure as James Bond.
Why? Because he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Over four hundred actors auditioned for the role of James Bond that Sean Connery had vacated following You Only Live Twice, including established names like Oliver Reed and Adam West. Would-be Bonds Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were both considered, but Moore was contractually tied to his hit TV series The Saint, and Dalton, only in his early twenties at the time, believed he was too young to do the role justice.
Starry-eyed hopefuls and grizzled film veterans alike lined up for a sacrificial shot at filling Connery’s shoes, no matter how inevitable or unfavorable the comparisons were destined to be…
Becoming Bond was worth it.
Despite the odds, a wily, young Aussie with no acting experience and even less to lose landed the highly sought-after role. Life had a way of presenting George Lazenby with big breaks on a silver platter.
Lazenby worked as a used car salesman after moving to London in 1963 when a talent scout, apparently in need of a new vehicle, noticed him while the two prowled the lot. This chance encounter would land Lazenby a successful modeling gig, which led to appearances in a few commercials, ultimately resulting in Lazenby gaining a considerable amount of European fame in a short span of time; he was even named Top Model of the Year in 1966.
As Lazenby’s profile grew, so too did his already-sizable ego. “I’d see something, I’d just go get it,” Lazenby has said, repeatedly, to anyone willing to listen. “I’d walk up to [women] in the street and say, ‘Hey, you and me. Let’s go?’ And they’d say, ‘Get out of here,’ or they’d go. It was in the ’60s, when the pill came out and there was no deadly disease. It was great. It was OK to smoke and OK to drink — nobody looked down on you for anything.”
For all intents and purposes, Lazenby was, and probably still is, a fuckboy. The man can hardly go three minutes without making some sort of reference to his sexual history or proclivity for “bagging broads.” It’s honestly obnoxious. And yet, it was that horndog, “just go get it” mentality that, at least in part, helped Lazenby land the job of Britain’s chief fuckboy.
As soon as word hit the street that Bond was up for grabs, Lazenby chased down the role in the same way he chased tail. Which is to say, with complete and utter reckless abandon.
Lazenby, to his credit, realized the best bet at winning over casting directors, producers, and the Bond-adoring public was to simply ape Connery as best he could. The wallaby wannabe splurged on a new Rolex watch, slipped into a Savile Row suit tailored for, but never picked up by, Connery himself (remarkably, it fit Lazenby like a glove), and even stopped by Sir Sean’s barber to receive the certified Connery cut.
If Lazenby could muster an attempt at Connery’s legendary Scottish affectation, I’m sure he would have tried it out during auditions.
The story goes that producer extraordinaire Albert R. Broccoli stepped into Connery’s preferred salon at the same time Lazenby was receiving the Sean Special. Broccoli noticed the strapping fellow with the sharp new hairdo, recognized him as The Big Fry Guy from a run of popular television adverts, and offered him a spot in the casting call.
Sure enough, Lazenby would go on to impress Broccoli’s partner in crime, Harry Saltzman, shortly after his fortuitous run-in at the barber. Lazenby manufactured an acting resume, blew past Saltzman’s secretary the second her attention was averted, then refused to sit down and idly wait for Saltzman to finish his phone call once he got up to the powerful producer’s office, choosing instead to look wistfully out the window.
You have to give Lazenby points for the gusto.
Ol’ Georgie’s macho acts helped move him onto the next stage of his Bond courtship: a series of trials that included riding a horse and swimming laps to prove his physical fitness, having an arranged sexual encounter with a random woman while a producer watched to prove he wasn’t gay, and breaking a stunt coordinator’s nose during a fight scene screen test.
That final act of Bond-like aggression sealed the deal, with Saltzman famously remarking to Lazenby, after stepping over his bloodied sparring partner, “We’re going with you. Tell anybody, and the deal’s off. Get out of town.”
Lazenby secured the gig (ever on-brand, he publicly replied, “I’m really looking forward to being Bond, for the bread and the birds.”) and lucked into another silver platter-delivered opportunity: starring in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a film many now rightfully hold up as a high-water mark for the franchise. Although contemporary audiences weren’t exactly thrilled by the first post-Connery outing.
The entire Bond production machine fired on all cylinders around Lazenby. OHMSS featured the most faithful-to-Fleming plot of any film before or since, long-time Bond editor Peter Hunt’s directorial debut was brilliantly framed, composed, and structured, distinguished future-Dame Diana Rigg turned in an all-time “Bond Girl” performance, Telly Savalas provides the franchise’s most sinister take on Bond arch-nemesis Blofeld, and composer John Barry showed out with one of the most incredible and innovative scores of his illustrious career.
Lazenby couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Bond.
And he still fucked it all up.
I’ll go into greater detail on the film itself down below, but just know that even though Lazenby is better than history gives him credit for, the film works in spite of Lazenby, not because of Lazenby.
It wasn’t Lazenby’s lack of acting chops that was his downfall, however, it was the same no-fucks-given, willfully-ignorant attitude that helped him land the role in the first place. Every bridge extended to the new Bond was promptly burned. His relationship with Diana Rigg quickly turned adversarial, Peter Hunt hardly spoke to him on set, and John Barry (quite humorously) remembered Lazenby “ruefully” as a pompous dolt:
“[He] came down to one of the sessions,” Barry recalled. “He stood at the back and listened to the score for one of the scenes. Then he came up to me and said, ‘It fits!’ as if it was the greatest compliment I could ever have hoped for. I thought, ‘Christ, we’ve got a real brain going here. What do you think I do for a living?’”
It’s one thing to rub your co-star, director, and composer the wrong way, it’s quite another to get on the bad side of those that gave you the job.
Lazenby made Broccoli and Saltzman regret their decision at seemingly every turn. He’d ride a motorcycle to set (violating his safety contract), carry loaded guns that he’d fire off at random on those sets (putting his crew on edge), and continually put off signing a long-term contract (reportedly offering him $1M in 1969 money) to remain Bond for another six films (one he deemed a “slave contract”).
It was clear Lazenby wasn’t going to be the long-term Connery replacement Broccoli and Saltzman had hoped he’d be, a point made crystal when Lazenby showed up to his film’s premiere looking very much unlike Bond with long, shaggy hair and a full beard to match.
Ronan O’Rahilly, Lazenby’s smarmy, Palpatine-like manager had slithered into the young actor’s brain, convincing him there was no future for Bond following the late-60’s movements promoting peace and free love. “People weren’t into James Bond,” Lazenby would justify. “Out of vogue, it wasn’t current. Make love not war. [People were] smoking marijuana on the streets in London. Even Wall Street had taken off their ties. I’d go into a restaurant and they’d say, ‘Waiter!’”
Lazenby publically relinquished the role of James Bond, more-or-less became blacklisted within the industry, and eventually turned to real estate (quite successfully) to make his way in the world.
Now, here we all are still wondering what could have been for the Bond from down under.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
After saving a mysterious woman from taking her own life, Bond checks into a hotel and heads to the casino for a bit of Baccarat. As if dictated by fate, Bond encounters the woman yet again, learns she is Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, and bails her out once more, this time by paying off her gambling debt. Following an evening spent with Tracy, Bond is kidnapped and taken to meet Marc-Ange Draco, head of a European crime syndicate and father of, you guessed it, the woman 007 shared the night with. Draco is worried about his daughter and offers Bond a dowry of £1 million to marry her. Bond refuses the arrangement but agrees to watch over Tracy if Draco can help him find his archfoe: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
With Draco’s help, Bond learns his adversary is held up atop the Swiss Alps within a clinical research institute, supposedly tending to the allergies of twelve beautiful women. Things, of course, are not as they seem. Bond traverses the snowy mountaintop and uncovers Blofeld’s insidious intent to brainwash the women, dubbed his “Angels of Death,” into carrying out bacteriological warfare around the world. Bond foils Blofeld’s plans, professes his love to Tracy, and the two marry, living a few all-too-brief moments of newlywed bliss before Bond’s love is gunned down in cold blood…
First off, whether you’ve seen this film or not, please watch the way Terry Savalas’ Blofeld holds and smokes a cigarette. It’s really important to me that you acknowledge this before we move on. What a choice.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you should also be aware that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is your favorite filmmaker’s favorite Bond film, a testament to Peter Hunt’s brilliant direction. Intending to put his mark on the franchise he edited and became intimately familiar with over five films, Hunt is credited as stating, “I wanted it to be different than any other Bond film would be. It was my film, not anyone else’s.” As a pure piece of visual filmmaking, OHMSS was by far the most cinematically intoxicating film in the franchise at the time of its release, and it still stands triumphantly today (even in a post-Skyfall and No Time To Die world) as one of the most innovative and Perfect Shot-worthy entries across all twenty-five films.
Rather interestingly, Fleming began writing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the novel, in his Jamaican estate on his golden typewriter as he did for all his novels, while the first full-length Bond feature, Dr. No, was filming just down the road. Perhaps in response to witnessing the scale of production his own creation commanded, Fleming would go on to write one of his most exactingly stripped-down and revelatory Bond stories, one that was light on gadgetry and heavy on emotional character development. As Fleming’s novel was brought to life, writers, producers, and filmmakers alike strove to make the film as faithful to the source material as possible. Hunt himself even carried a marked-up copy of the novel on set at all times. What resulted was an undeniable jolt of realism, revitalization, and revolution back into a franchise looking desperately to make its post-Connery mark.
Bond’s cinematic evolution was bolstered by one of composer John Barry’s very best scores; a score he described as needing to be “Bondian beyond Bondian” to help usher in a new era unique from Connery’s. A true love story lies at the heart of all the audio and visual artistry surrounding it, and the dearly departed Dame Diana Rigg as Tracy, arguably the best “Bond Girl” in all the series, provides the lifeblood propelling the central romance forward to its shocking conclusion. There’s no denying that OHMSS packs a greater emotional punch than the five previous films combined, drawing from a deeper well of emotion not again touched until Casino Royale came around nearly four decades later.
The last Bond film of the ‘60s is a true outlier in the series, and it is made so much better by the fact.
All of the above was made possible while James Fucking Bond was played by an Australian male model with more moles on his face than prior acting credits to his name. Say what you want about Lazenby and his stilted performance, but this film simply wouldn’t work the same with Connery, and the Aussie possesses more nuance than he’s given credit for. That said, he’s most definitely the worst part of this film, and the fact OHMSS is widely considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise (after years and years of not getting its due) despite its lackluster leading man is pretty astounding.
And…that’s about it. I have a hard time finding real flaws with this film. It’s the longest pre-Craig Bond film, and some sections are quite deliberately paced in the way films of the era often were, but there are enough uniquities, oddities, and memorable moments to keep even the antsiest, post-TikTok brains intrigued. Oh yeah, there’s also the ever-so unfortunate first and last time Bond ever broke the fourth wall and the almost comedically cringe moment where Draco straight up cold clocks his daughter to get her aboard a helicopter against her will. The ‘60s were a trip, man.
Audiences weren’t quite ready for the wild, psychedelic ride On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would take them on, and they surely weren’t ready for anyone but Connery to guide that ride. OHMSS made less money at the box office than any of the previous five Bond films aside from Dr. No, but what the film lacked in contemporary success has been more than made up by a groundswell of growing estimation over time. If you’re a cinephile or a true Bond head, you probably ride for this film.
On Her Majesty’s has become a true dark horse of the franchise in the intervening decades since its release in large part to how many of the foundational elements we expect from a Bond film are reinvented, reimagined, and repackaged in ways previously unseen. There’s something to be said for how modern a film from 1969 still feels today, especially in contrast to subsequent Bond films in the 70s, 80s, and 90s that distinctly feel of their respective eras.
There are few other films in the series as unpredictable or evolutionary as OHMSS, and that means quite a lot for a franchise built on predictability.
Lazenby’s legacy is rife with “What if?” questions Bond fans still passionately ponder on to this day.
What would Diamonds Are Forever have looked and felt like with Lazenby seeking revenge on Blofeld for the death of Tracy? What if Lazenby took his acting more seriously and grew into the role over time? How many more broads could our guy George have bagged with a couple more films under his belt?
We probably would have never gotten our Connery reunion if Lazenby signed his contract, and who knows when Roger Moore would have entered the picture in this alternate timeline. The truth is often stranger than fiction, however, and in this case, I think the right scenario bore out.
With only one Bond film to his name, and a wild, sordid tale underpinning his time as 007, Lazenby’s story as the one-Bond wonder has become the stuff of legend. We can talk about how if Lazenby had just a bit more patience or perspective he could have gone on to really make the character his own, but the man’s Australian audacity was always to be his blessing and his curse.
While Lazenby is most definitely not my favorite Bond, nor is he my pick for the best Bond, I don’t rank him dead last among the group of six either. Maybe that’s a bit controversial, but there’s something to be said about Lazenby’s brazen willingness to throw himself into the franchise’s Connery-shaped void without so much as a second thought.
Lazenby has gone on to become a true ambassador for the franchise in the years since his unceremonious exit, attending film premieres and fan events, championing his Bond successors, and never turning down a photo op or autograph ask.
He knows he squandered a golden opportunity, and he’s been trying his best to make it up to the fans, perhaps even himself, ever since.