Licence to thrill
Tributes to Sir Sean Connery, dead at 90
With his smouldering menace, rugged ru sex appeal and growling Scots brogu brogue, Sean Connery was not the Mr Bond Bo that writer Ian Fleming had been expecting.
Yet his sharp intelligence and sophisticated swa swagger transformed the dull public s school spy into a Hollywood legend legen – and turned Connery into a superstar. sup
And while the a actor’s own background was noticeably notice short of fast cars, beautiful wo women and vodka Martinis – either shaken or stirred – for many he was the definitive 007.
Connery, who ha has died in his sleep aged 90, played Ja James Bond seven times between 1962 196 and 1983 – starring in Dr. No, From F Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Goldfin Thunderball and You O Only Live Twice, then re reprising his role in Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again. His career in entertainment spanned seven decades, with his role as the deadly lothario leading on to films including Highlander, The Untouchables, and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade – in which he played Indy’s father, Prof Henry Jones.
But while his later roles were more critically acclaimed, it is his licence to kill that he will be best remembered for.
Born Thomas Sean Connery in 1930 to rubber mill worker Joe, 26, and laundress Euphemia, 20, his early years were spent in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh.
Their flat had no hot water or bathroom and was on the “street of a thousand smells” – where the stench of a nearby rubber mill and several breweries hung in the air. His childhood passion was football – during his years at Bruntsfield Primary School, he kicked a football all the way there and all the way back home. Despite being accepted to Boroughmuir High School – known for high achievers – he switched to Darroch Secondary because they played football instead of rugby.
But at 13, Connery left school to become a milk delivery boy – the dairy’s youngest ever to get his own cart and pony.
He once said of his decision: “I couldn’t see the point of returning to school. I wasn’t learning much. I wanted to work, earn money and play soccer.”
Ironically, one stop on his round was posh Fettes School – the school attended by Bond in Ian Fleming’s
School..? I wanted to work, earn money and play soccer SEAN CONNERY ON HIS FIRST JOB AT AGE OF 13
It was my inability to take orders that gave me ulcers SEAN CONNERY ON HAVING TO LEAVE NAVY
novels. Connery’s pride in his first full-time job as a junior horseman with the St Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society dairy never left him. He said: “I remember that day so well.
“Years later, as a fledgling actor when I began to read scripts seriously and study plays, I tried to recapture the emotions of the first day I left home to trot my own milk cart out of the dairy into the Edinburgh dawn.”
Although known to many by his middle name Sean, in his younger years he was Tommy.
A growth spurt saw him reach his full height of 6ft 2in at 16, earning him the nickname “Big Tam” among friends at Saughton Park, where he played football every evening.
Although happy in his job, at 17 he had an “ever- increasing desire to experience the wider world” and signed up as a Royal Navy Volunteer.
During training in Portsmouth he carried out the naval ritual of getting tattooed. Connery said: “Instead of the erotic fantasies favoured by many, I chose to have ‘Mum and Dad’ and ‘Scotland Forever’ on my right arm.
“Although now much faded, they still evoke memories of life at home and my passion for the old country.”
Two years later, he was an able seaman on HMS King George V.
But after he developed stomach ulcers he spent eight weeks in Royal Hospital Haslar and was discharged with a 20 per cent disability pension.
He recalled: “I’ve never had ulcers since. Looking back, it was probably my inability to take orders from the officers – especially those I found had reached their position largely through privilege – that gave me ulcers.”
Back in Edinburgh, his next few years were spent flitting between jobs. His first, as a French polisher, saw him smoothing and shining coffins which, he said, “always struck me as a real waste of time”.
To earn extra money, Connery posed in skimpy briefs for students at Edinburgh College of Art.
Richard Demarco, now a major force in Scottish art, recalls him from his student days, saying he was “very straight, slightly shy, too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis”.
Connery’s modelling led on to bodybuilding – he even entered the 1953 Mr Universe contest in London.
But he said: “Despite what many claim, I never won any awards. I appeared ridiculous next to the eventual winner, an American called Bill Pearl, with a physique like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Beside him I looked like a seven- stone weakling.” But while he got no trophy,
Connery did win the opportunity of his life at the Mr Universe tournament.
A fellow competitor told him of castings being held for a British run of the musical South Pacific, and all he had to do was look like an American and do a couple of handsprings.
Connery won a role, which involved cutting up wood on stage before leaping up and singing “There is Nothing Like a Dame”.
He said: “Since they were guaranteeing £12 a week – which was as much as I’d ever earned – I signed up for the two-year national tour.
“I had no ambition then to be an actor. It was purely the money and the fun that got me hooked.”
Yet Connery’s acting career came close to getting derailed even before it
properly began. During the theatre tour, the actors formed a South Pacific XI football team – and played Manchester United’s junior squad.
The club’s legendary manager Matt Busby watched the match and invited Connery for a trial.
Connery said: “My affection for the theatre took a sudden swerve stage-left to a soccer field’s left wing. Could I still be that footballer of my dreams?”
But a South Pacific colleague, Robert Henderson, kept him on the right path. Connery recalled: “The advice this remarkable man gave me would change my life.”
Henderson told him sagely: “If you choose soccer you may have another 10 years, but as an actor you could go on till you drop.
“But if you choose acting you have two real problems. The first concern is your near-impenetrable
Scots burr. Secondly, you have to educate yourself.”
It was a key turning point in Connery’s life. Deciding he wanted to make acting his career, he showed his characteristic drive by throwing all his energies into it.
He set about honing everything from his voice, vocabulary and literary knowledge to his physical movements.
First, after hearing that his fellow cast member Millicent Martin had thought he was Polish, he set about softening the rough edges of his accent.
Connery once explained: “I bought a reel- to- reel Grundig tape recorder to hear for myself how heavily accented my voice really was. I practised articulating my words more distinctly.
“Yet at the same time I wanted to retain the personality of my own voice and be true to my Edinburgh roots.”
His mentor Henderson also gave Connery a hefty reading list – including Shakespeare, Dickens, Proust, Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway.
He borrowed stacks of books from libraries as he toured, as he could not afford to buy them. As well as increasing his vocabulary, the breadth of his new-found knowledge boosted his selfesteem and confidence.
When the run of South Pacific ended, he landed bit parts to develop his craft.
Then in 1957 came Connery’s first major role – as Mountain McClintock in the BBC’s boxing play Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Thanks to his Navy-learned boxing prowess, casting agents struggled to find anyone willing to face him in the ring.
Broadcast live, it earned him a
£35 fee and rave reviews for his “shambling and inarticulate charm”.
The following year, Connery starred alongside Lana Turner in the film Another Time, Another Place.
But Turner’s gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, a former Mob bodyguard, became convinced the pair were having an affair.
He turned up on set with a gun, threatening to kill Connery. Again, it was the
actor’s Navy training that saved the day, as he wrestled Stompanato to snatch the weapon from his hand.
By 1961, when he landed a starring role in a Canadian film version of Macbeth, the then 31-year-old Connery was dating Diane Cilento, 20 months his junior.
She was an Australian actress who had studied at RADA and had a child with her first husband.
Diane introduced Connery to the teachings of Yat Malmgren, a Swedish dancer who taught him grace and awareness in movement.
At first he could afford only three lessons a week. Again showing his fierce determination to achieve the ultimate level of performance, he continued to take lessons for the next 11 years. He recalled: “Up to that point, I’d never had a single acting lesson.
“My training as a bodybuilder greatly helped me play the many tough parts I was offered.
“But here was a system applicable to all roles. It provided me with the essentials in creating a character, and I’ve used his system ever since.”
Diane and Connery married in Gibraltar in 1962 and their son, Jason, was born the following llowing year.
At the same time me as he found und stability in his personal life, Connery’s ry’s public life was taking ing off.
His big break came after afte r meeting with Albert “Cubby” ubby” Broccoli , who was casting ng for the first Bond movie, Dr. No.
But the actor did not win his career-defining ning role easi ly. He said: BOX OFFICE E HIT With Ursula Andress in Dr No
“Fleming had the right of who would play the part or not. “A terrible snob, you know – but he went to Eton and I think that explains quite a bit of that side of him.”
Fleming felt th the stocky Scot was too “unrefined” and did di not want to cast him. But Connery turned to the film’s director, Terence Young, who schooled him in navigating the finest win wine lists and menus.
He also taught him to dress in Savile Ro Row suits – even advising him to sleep in one to wear it w with nonchalance.
H He also had Fleming’s gi girlfriend onside – who to told the author Connery had ha rare sexual charisma.
And after Dr. No’s successful premiere, Fleming was a firm fan.
Connery said of landing the part: “Ah, they tried everybody else, didn’t they?
“They went to David
Niven, James Mason and Cary Grant. They tried all of them but they were too dear. I suppose what was left was me.”
The low-budget movie became such a hit that Fleming altered Bond’s backstory to make him half-Scottish.
Connery started losing his hair at 21 and wore a toupee in all his Bond years and beyond.
He said: “I don’t like wearing a hairpiece. I don’t like sticking a beard on, I’d rather grow a beard. Unfortunately, I can’t grow hair.”
He went on to star in six more Bond films until 1983. His earnings ballooned from £10,000 for Dr. No to a record million-dollar fee for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
He used it to set up the Scottish International Education Trust.
But the life-changing fame cost him his first marriage.
Diane’s claims that Connery was a violent husband left an indelible stain on his reputation – not helped by quotes he gave to Playboy in 1965.
He told the magazine: “I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman – although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man.
“An open-handed slap is justified, if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.”
Connery later said the quotes were taken out of context. But in a 1993 magazine interview, he said: “There are women who take it to the wire.
“That’s what they are looking for, the ultimate confrontation. They want a smack.”
Again Connery backtracked, saying he was not advocating violence against women. But the damage was done. By the time he and Diane divorced in 1973 he had already met wife number two.
In March 1970 he was in Casablanca to take part in a golf tournament. On the course he met French-Moroccan artist Micheline Roquebrune, who was married with three young children.
But her husband had returned home, annoyed at his form on the course.
Despite the fact he spoke no French and she virtually no English, he spent the remainder of the week wooing her.
After the holiday, Connery returned home to Diane. But three months later he called Micheline to tell her he was in love with her.
They wed in Gibraltar – where he had married Diane – in May 1975 and they remained together till his death.
As the Bond franchise grew,
They tried others but they were too dear. I was left... SEAN CONNERY ON LANDING ROLE OF BOND
Connery’s relationship with Cubby Broccoli fell apart. Relations became so strained, he refused to come out of his trailer if Cubby was around.
And his feelings about the role that made him a star were complicated.
He once said he “hated” Bond, yet remained proudly connected to it.
But his next roles were chosen in a bid to distance himself from the role and to flex his acting muscles. And the next three decades of his life were the most critically acclaimed.
Connery also won immense respect from actors and industry bosses as he successfully sued studios for unfair wages – and became the first actor to ensure he was paid before his agents took their cut.
Yet he said of his bumper pay packets: “I have no desire to have one hundred million pounds, or 50 million
Hpounds, at all. I know exactly what it is to be without money. And I know exactly what money is to me.”
Perhaps more important than the money were the plaudits. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for The Untouchables, two Bafta Awards, including the Academy Fellowship, and three Golden Globes – among them the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions.
e was also once voted the greatest living Scot and the sexiest man of the century – to which he responded succinctly: “Well, they have great taste.”
In 2003, Connery filmed the movie that drove him to quit acting – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
He called it “a nightmare” adding: “The experience made me think about showbiz. I get fed-up dealing with idiots.” He even claimed director Stephen Norrington was “insane”.
Lucrative offers rolled in but were batted away. Connery said: “Retirement is too damn much fun.” He continued instead to enjoy his golf – which he learned while filming Goldfinger. He played almost daily.
In 2000, Connery became a Sir, knighted for services to film drama. It was a day he called the greatest of his life.
He has lived in Spain, Greece and latterly the Bahamas, where he died.
But he said he would not return to Scotland until the country won independence.
Back in Edinburgh, his childhood home was demolished in the 1960s and is now the site of a modern housing and office complex.
But the plaque he unveiled there in 2010 now has a new poignancy.
It reads: “Sean Connery,
Born Fountainbridge, 25 August 1938, Oscar winning actor, International film star.”