Since this is my first article for Meer Magazine I thought I'd better begin with an attention-grabbing headline.
Having spent sixty years in show business, as an actor, playwright, theatre director, and novelist, I can look back on a wealth of stories and encounters. Tales, yes, about the stars and the glamour of stage and screen between London, New York, and Hollywood, but also stories of the heartaches, the frustrations, and the tragedies that lie behind the razzmatazz. And, stories of the politics and the philosophies that are invariably invoked during the intense creative process of mounting plays, movies, and TV shows.
The editors have kindly given me carte blanche over what topics to write about, so I will be ranging over the full gamut of my passions, prejudices, and political viewpoints, without any particular sequence or strategy. It will be as much for my own entertainment and instruction as I hope, my readers.
So, back to James Bond. A tale which illustrates both the aspirations and the pitfalls of the acting profession. I had left London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) some twelve years previously and had followed a reasonably successful career as an actor, playing an assortment of parts in rep, in the West End, and on TV. I had even had a short spell as a minor film star, playing the male lead in the spectacularly eccentric When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, followed by the even more eccentric James Bond spoof, Zeta One (The Love Factor in the USA), playing a character named James Word, who had the memorable line, "My word is my bond.".
Meanwhile, Sean Connery had established the real James Bond as a hero like no other and began a franchise that looks to continue forever. He was followed briefly by a statuesque model with little acting experience called George Lazenby. After this man’s single uninspiring Bond movie, the producers announced that they would start looking for someone else for the next one, Live And Let Die.
All the leading young actors in London were put up by their agents for the part, including myself. Before meeting the producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, I was advised by the production manager to dress conservatively, in a business suit with white shirt and not too flashy tie, and to make myself look as hunky as possible – with shoulder pads in my jacket and lifts in my shoes. And I had to be sure to get into the conversation that I liked girls because they were fearful of casting someone gay as James Bond. And, last but not least, I had to practice my walk. Apparently, the pair decided from the way one walked into their big office, all the way from the door to their desk, whether one was James Bond material or not.
When the day came, I put on my only tailored suit, added the homemade shoulder pads and shoe lifts, and returned to the offices. In the outer waiting room were a number of other hopefuls, most of whom I knew at least vaguely, all dressed in smart suits, probably with shoulder pads and shoe lifts.
“Hi, Robin. Hi, Simon. Hi, Ian,” we greeted each other in deep voices, and with Bondian expressions.
One by one the others were called through a big mahogany door into the main office. When my turn came I went, quaking inwardly, through the door, and did my James Bond walk (with difficulty as the carpet pile was several inches deep) towards the big desk at the far end of the room. Behind it sat the two stout Hollywood moguls, one actually smoking a cigar if memory serves.
The interview passed in a haze – the standard listing of my career credits, with the obligatory mention that I had had various romantic female encounters, and was now married. The pair knew about my previous starring roles, but thankfully hadn’t actually seen the films.
Then, midway through the ordeal, one of them turned to the other and said, “I think we should test this boy, Harry. Whaddaya think?” The other nodded, and said to me, “Yeh, yeh. We’ll give you a film test, kid. Coupl’a weeks. We’ll let your agent know.” I thanked them, did my James Bond walk back to the door, then rushed off to the nearest telephone to tell my agent.
The two weeks passed, with both my wife and I on tenterhooks. Then my agent rang to say, “Sorry, Robin, but the test has been canceled. They didn’t give a reason.” I was naturally shattered. However, a few days later I opened my morning paper to see the headline, ‘Roger Moore to be the next James Bond.’ Moore was already well-known as ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘The Saint’ on TV, and through various starring film parts. He had been in the frame for Bond for a while, but previous commitments and Sean Connery’s monopoly of the role had prevented it. He was older and heavier and much better known than me, and the negotiations had probably been going on all throughout the audition process.
It was typical of the many disappointments that actors have to endure. However, in retrospect, it was a lucky escape. I would never have lived up to Sean Connery’s iconic portrayal, my marriage would probably never have survived the Hollywood holocaust, and I would not have had the happy and fulfilled writer’s career that followed.
Writing is creative, whilst acting is interpretive. Both careers are insecure, but a writer can always write, whereas an actor needs a job. An actor must always be available on the end of a phone, so can never make long-term holiday plans or decide to go and live in the Scottish highlands, but a writer can live and travel wherever he/she wishes. An actor is always reliant on a good script, a competent director, and a properly financed production, whereas a writer is only dependent on his own inspiration and talent (and with luck a good agent). I write about all this at greater length in my memoir, Almost Famous, in which the many stories of my activities - both elating and distressing - within the two professions illustrate the contrasts graphically.
After more than two decades as a performer, I eventually reached the conclusion that an actor's life, whilst often exhilarating during one's carefree youth, can prove extremely challenging later on, with its fluctuations, uncertainties, and domestic upheavals. I eventually abandoned mine to concentrate on the more stable and creative one of the stay-at-home writer. Of which more later.