Me­chanic landed Bond role with a sin­gle punch

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - History - TROY LEN­NON HIS­TORY ED­I­TOR

The high-paid male model and as­pir­ing ac­tor turned up for his au­di­tion look­ing ev­ery inch the part. His Rolex watch, great pos­ture and Sav­ile Row suit spoke of the sort of style, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and con­fi­dence ex­pected from a British su­per-spy.

But Ge­orge Lazenby was no Brit and his only act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence had been in a few TV com­mer­cials. He was a bloke from coun­try NSW, a for­mer me­chanic and car sales­man turned model, who con­vinced pro­duc­ers to give him a crack at one of the hottest film roles go­ing — play­ing James Bond.

On the strength of a choco­late com­mer­cial, he wan­gled an in­ter­view, giv­ing a list of fake film credits from for­eign coun­tries. It worked and he got his chance.

Ini­tially lit­tle set Lazenby apart from other au­di­tion­ees but then he ac­ci­den­tally punched out a stunt co-or­di­na­tor. It could have lost him the role, but in­stead pro­ducer Al­bert R. “Cubby” Broc­coli thought Lazenby looked like a man who could han­dle him­self in a fight, just like Bond. He got the role and made the film On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice, the high­est gross­ing film of 1969. But, badly ad­vised, Lazenby thought there was no fu­ture for him­self as the spy, or a fu­ture for the Bond franchise, and opted out of fu­ture films.

His de­ci­sion shocked many and made him the only ac­tor to have played Bond just once in the franchise. While some rate him a lesser Bond, others beg to dif­fer. Di­rec­tors Steven Soder­bergh and Christo­pher Nolan cite his film as a favourite. In 2019, Aston Martin, high-end tai­lors Or­lebar Brown, games com­pany Up­per Deck and Omega watches are putting out OHMSS-themed James Bond col­lectibles. Lazenby is the face of Mel­bourne Gin and will also soon re­ceive a Lifetime Achievemen­t Award

at the Miskolc In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Hun­gary.

As the youngest ac­tor to play Bond and the only Bond to marry, his one-off por­trayal has had a big im­pact. Lazenby, who turns 80 to­day, had a widely var­ied ca­reer af­ter Bond. While his de­ci­sion to leave the franchise may have meant he never be­came as big a star as he could have been, he has been able to keep a lower pro­file and do pro­jects that in­ter­est him.

Born in Goul­burn on Septem­ber 5, 1939, his fa­ther was a rail­way worker and me­chanic and his mother worked at Fosseys. The fam­ily later moved to Quean­beyan and Lazenby went to school in Goul­burn but left in 1954 to be­come an auto me­chanic. In 1957 he did na­tional ser­vice and was pro­moted to cor­po­ral.

Af­ter his ser­vice he re­turned to his work as a me­chanic, but re­alised he could at­tract more women sell­ing cars rather than fix­ing them. In 1964 he fell in love and fol­lowed a woman to Lon­don, but couldn’t find her when he got there. He worked sell­ing cars, then he met a pho­tog­ra­pher who got him mod­el­ling work. It was at this time the orig­i­nal film Bond, Sean Con­nery, an­nounced he was leav­ing the role and Lazenby sur­prised ev­ery­one by beat­ing out other con­tenders as his re­place­ment. It was his man­ager who ad­vised him against do­ing more Bond films, fear­ing type­cast­ing. He sug­gested Bond’s ap­peal might not even last the seven films Lazenby was of­fered. In an era of peace and love when men wore long hair and bell-bot­tom trousers, the bel­liger­ent Bond in his square suits seemed on the way out. Of­fered roles he thought were “com­mer­cial rub­bish” and want­ing more creative con­trol, Lazenby pur­sued his own path, help­ing to write and star in 1971’s Univer­sal Sol­dier, about a mer­ce­nary who turns paci­fist. In 1973 he mar­ried Chrissie Townsend, with whom he would have two chil­dren (Me­lanie and the late Zachary). With of­fers dry­ing up and funds run­ning low, he went to Hong Kong where he was of­fered a film with Bruce Lee, but Lee’s death ended the pro­ject. How­ever, con­tacts Lazenby made there led to him be­ing of­fered a role as a crime boss in Aus­tralian-Chi­nese ac­tion film The Man From Hong Kong in 1975. His pro­file as a for­mer Bond and his screen pres­ence lifted the film and its suc­cess re­vived his ca­reer. He moved to the US where, while never do­ing any­thing as big as the Bond films, he worked with fa­mous di­rec­tors on a range of films and TV shows.

In 2002 he mar­ried ten­nis star Pam Shriver, but the pair split in 2008. They have three chil­dren, Ge­orge Jr and twins Sa­muel and Kaitlin. From an ear­lier re­la­tion­ship he has an­other daugh­ter, Jen­nifer, and by her daugh­ter has be­come a great­grand­fa­ther. He still makes per­sonal ap­pear­ances and films around the world. Re­cently he launched a web­site (george­lazen­by­of­fi­ and he is ac­tive on so­cial me­dia.

Ge­orge Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice; (in­set) turn­ing 80 to­day, he re­mains ac­tive in the film in­dus­try.

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