Mechanic landed Bond role with a single punch
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 (georgelazenbyofficial.com) 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.