He started as a knitwear model and became the suavest James Bond. William Langley pays tribute to Roger Moore.
As he grew older, Sir Roger Moore had to give up many of the things he most enjoyed – skiing, tennis and drinking martinis. One pleasure he refused to abandon was explaining why he was the worst actor ever to become a major star.
“I was hopeless,” he would say, lounging with 007-like nonchalance on a Monte Carlo sun terrace. “My expressions ranged from eyebrows raised to eyebrows lowered or, if I really tried, both of them doing different things.”
The inability to take himself too seriously was part of what made Sir Roger, who died of cancer on May 23, aged 89, one of the bestloved movie stars of the age. While other actors obsessed over their work, the former knitwear model tended to see his whole career as a hoot and never stopped wondering how he got so lucky.
Yet the self-deprecation did him an injustice. Roger Moore is the main reason the James Bond movie franchise is still alive and kicking today. When Sean Connery declared he was finished with the role in 1971 (only to return as Bond in 1983’s Never Say Never Again), it was feared audiences would never accept another 007 and the producers considered pulling the plug on the series. Instead, they approached Roger, who was then 45 and starring in TV’s The Persuaders! with Tony Curtis.
Roger’s version of Bond was cheesier and more credulity-stretching than Connery’s, but his first effort – 1973’s Live and Let Die – caught the mood of the times and proved the franchise could evolve. While Roger, naturally, always rated himself the worst Bond (he thought Connery and Daniel Craig the best), many critics disagreed. “He was the best because he always struck me as the truest expression of the Bond ideal,” says US film writer A.O. Scott.
There was always plenty of his own sunny self in the parts Roger played, yet his life was not without difficulties – especially in terms of his complicated relationships with women. His first
two marriages were marred by explosive, even violent upheavals and it wasn’t until he was in his mid-70s, when he wed a Swedish-born socialite, Kristina “Kiki” Tholstrup, in 2002 that he appeared content.
For all the suave charm and plummy voice, Roger was raised in modest circumstances, the only child of George Moore, a South London policeman and his wife, Lily. Roger left school at 15 and after catching the show business bug while working as a messenger at a West End film company, enrolled at drama school.
It was there that he met his first wife, Doorn Van Steyn, an ice skater set on a career in films. They married when he was 18 and she was 24, and moved into a single room in her parents’ house. Quickly convinced that Roger would never make it as an actor, Doorn reluctantly returned to the skating circuit to pay the bills and the rare times they spent together were troubled.
“All we ever did was row,” Roger remembered later. On one occasion, he claimed, she threw a teapot at his head. “At least it made a change,” he dryly told an interviewer, “because usually she punched me.”
His next and most famous liaison would be even more tempestuous. At a show business bash in 1952, he met Welsh singer Dorothy Squires, who was 12 years his senior and a huge international star.
No one pretended that the harddrinking, party-loving Dorothy was easy company, but she saw in her handsome, unemployed lover the potential others had missed. Vowing to make him a Hollywood star, she took him to America aboard the Queen Mary, and when he next travelled there it was to an MGM contract for his big screen debut alongside Elizabeth Taylor in 1954’s The Last Time I Saw Paris.
As his career took off, Dorothy, who married him in 1953, grew suspicious – rightly, as it turned out – of the attention he attracted from starlets. Her jealousy, according to Roger, led to outbreaks of violence, with her once smashing a guitar over his head.
When he finally left her for sultry Italian actress Luisa Mattioli, whom he wed in 1969, the vengeful Dorothy caused a sensation by suing him in the British High Court for “loss of conjugal rights”. His marriage to Luisa lasted nearly 30 years and produced two sons and a daughter, although this relationship, too, was volatile, and when Roger ran off with her best friend, Kiki, his children took their mother’s side, leading to a long estrangement.
Roger’s breezy approach to life was that everything would be fine in the end, and in a sense it was. When Dorothy was dying and broke he took her back under his wing, paying for her care, and although Luisa never entirely forgave him, he was financially generous towards her and eventually made up with his children. He did great work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, never lost his charm and good humour, and almost certainly died knowing that only a good actor could have posed so convincingly as a bad one.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Roger Moore starred in seven Bond films. In 1960s TV series Maverick with Jack Kelly and Robert Colbert. As The Saint. With Barbara Bach in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. With Bond Girls Maud Adams and Britt Ekland in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun. On set as Bond. OPPOSITE: Martini in hand, Roger in 1968, when smoking was considered sophisticated and not taboo.
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Roger with second wife Dorothy Squires, in the 1950s. Wife number one, Doorn Van Steyn in the 40s. Wife three, Luisa Mattioli, and two of their children in the 70s. With the final Mrs Moore, Kristina Tholstrup, in 2008.