Movie Legends Revealed: Was Roger Moore Really Ian Fleming’s First Choice to Play James Bond?

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Roger Moore was Ian Fleming’s first choice for James Bond.

One of the most debated subjects in all of Hollywood (and beyond) is which actor should play James Bond in the film adaptations of Ian Fleming’s classic spy novels. Each time casting begins for the role, the level of scrutiny and outrage reaches a level similar to the election of a new president. While the selection process is still quite controversial (many die-hard Bond enthusiasts still can’t wrap their heads around the idea of Daniel Craig as 007, even as Skyfall just passed $1 billion at the global box office), it pales in comparison to when the first James Bond, Sean Connery, was replaced for 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with actor George Lazenby. Lazenby was not accepted by fans, and Connery returned for the next Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. However, in 1973, Connery was finally successfully replaced by Roger Moore, who ended up doing seven films as the super-spy. After the disaster of Lazenby, there was obviously much trepidation over whether the public would accept any actor as Bond other than Connery. However, in a revelation that would hopefully serve to put minds at ease, it was said that Fleming’s first choice was Moore, who Fleming liked in the TV series The Saint.

Is that true? Was Roger Moore almost the first actor to play James Bond? The truth is quite complicated, as you’ll soon find out. ..

The first part of the well-told story that is plainly false is that Moore’s success on The Saint could not have been the reason Fleming was interested in the actor. Although Andrew Lycett states in his Fleming biography that the author was interested in “Roger Moore, who was enjoying some success as The Saint on television,” The Saint did not debut until literally the day before the first Bond film, Dr. No, was released (The Saint first aired on Oct. 4, 1962 and Dr. No was released in the United Kingdom the next day).

That’s typically been used to debunk the story, that Fleming could not have been interested in Moore because the role that would have most clearly made the actor a good fit for Bond had not debuted yet (and indeed, when Moore eventually was chosen, his performance as Simon Templar on The Saint likely did make fans less wary of Moore’s chances at succeeding as Bond). However, that is not necessarily so. Fleming was actually quite plugged in to the movie “scene” in the days before Bond was first cast, and he did quite a bit of research into deciding who he thought would be the best choice.

However, this research by Fleming makes it fairly unlikely that Moore was ever his first pick. You see, Fleming, like most any author looking for an actor to play his most famous character, tended to look toward the most famous names in the business. The odds are that Fleming likely considered nearly every major movie star of the time as a good choice to play his character. In his excellent book The Battle For Bond, Robert Sellers uncovered a letter from Fleming where he notes, “Richard Burton would be by far the best James Bond!” There is a reason why so many different actors, like Richard Todd and Cary Grant, have been labeled as “Ian Fleming’s first choice to play James Bond,” as it seems like Fleming liked pretty much any major movie star! Fleming was also very fond of David Niven for the role (Niven famously/infamously played Bond in the “non-canon” James Bond film Casino Royale).

So right there, we have our answer to the main legend, “Was Roger Moore Ian Fleming’s first choice for James Bond?” Almost certainly No.

However, a far trickier question was whether Moore was in the running to play Bond right from the start. Here, it seems like it is a lot more likely that Moore was a serious candidate for the role. When asked about Fleming’s interest in him for the role, Moore told Entertainment Weekly, “That’s what they told me, at least. They also said I was Ian Fleming’s first choice. But Ian Fleming didn’t know me from shit. He wanted Cary Grant or David Niven.” Moore has always been quite humble when speaking about his career, but even then, it seems pretty clear that he knew that Fleming was not looking toward a “no-name” when it came to casting Bond. He wanted a “star.”

The producers, however, obviously were looking for what they felt were the best fit. After all, Connery certainly was not a major star when he eventually got the role of Bond for Dr. No. So did Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman‎ (the producers on eight of the first nine James Bond films) consider Moore for the role back in 1962? There seems to be some strong evidence that they did. Moore was friends with both Broccoli and Saltzman going back into the 1950s, and even lived nearby Saltzman. So when Moore says in his autobiography that, “I was, apparently, on the shortlist of would-be 007 actors back in 1962, when they were casting for Dr. No. I certainly wasn’t aware of that, nor was I approached,” I believe him.

As he notes, of course, the fact that he was never approached suggests that he was never the leading candidate for the role, but still, just the fact that Moore was a candidate for the role in 1962 is interesting, considering how things eventually turned out.

The legend is…

STATUS: False (with just a tad bit of truth behind it)

Thanks to the good folks of The Alternative 007 for their great research skills. They were a massive help in the writing of this piece.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

News From Our Partners

Comments

  • percane

    i have always heard that david niven was the visual basis for fleming’s bond

  • demoncat_4

    always thought that this legned that ian was after roger from the start to play bond was false sine seldom do writters of characters like bond get any say in who they would like to maybe play their characters for studieos do not like that. and interesting to see how later on moore got his chance any way to be bond

  • Rollo Tomassi

    “Lazenby was not accepted by fans and Connery returned…”
    “The Fans” had nothing to do with Lazenby not coming back for a second film. Lazenby’s manager and agent and whoever all got big heads and started demanding too much from Broccoli and Saltzman and the producers told them where to go. Essentially, Lazenby and his handlers burned their own bridge. The producers then had to go back and beg Connery to come back last minute because they didn’t want Two New Bonds in subsequent back to back films. Lazenby was supposed to be in Diamonds. In fact, the ending of OHMSS where Tracy is killed was intended to be the pre-credits sequence for Diamonds.

  • Jenny

    Exactly. Lazenby’s OHMSS wasn’t a financial disaster either. 82 million dollars worldwide and the largest grossing film of that year. The film only cost 7 million dollars to make as well. Diamonds are Forever, Connery’s return to the role made 116 million dollars worldwide. No much of a difference IMO.

    Lazenby wasn’t fired as you said – he left the role thinking James Bond was a franchise that was dead in the water in light of all the “realistic” films starting to emerge from Hollywood. His huge mistake. It’s a shame because I personally think he would have gotten better and better in the role with subsequent films.

    Still OHMSS still generally ranks higher in any “best of” lists than most of Moore’s films (only the Spy Who Loved Me generally ranks higher.)l

  • Schnitzey Pretzelpants

    Was going to chime in with the actual – you know FACTS – regarding Lazenby’s turn at Bond, but others have already done so.

    The only detail I would add to what they have all said is that I don’t think it’s quite so simple to say that he (Lazenby) got too big for his britches.  Yes, it’s apparent from his own accounts of the matter that their was a bit of that, but Lazenby DID NOT make demands that lead the producers to replace him.

    The producers had already locked him into 2 more films (and he spent years paying them back for breaking his contract) and Saltzman and Broccoli were at the time Lazenby walked, pressuring him to sign for 7 pictures.

    I’m kind of surprised that you’d be so haphazard with these details when they are really easy to find – simply by looking on Wikipedia or reading Roger Moore’s autobiography.

    The wikipedia entries for both Lazenby and OHMSS would have given you the details and all the sources for the information are endnoted.

  • Schnitzey Pretzelpants

     That’s not true – it was Hoagy Carmichael.

    I used to have a great book by Raymond Benson – The James Bond Bedside Companion – and it had a sketch in it by an artist who had used all of Fleming’s descriptions of Bond.

    The drawing looked like a cross between Carmichael and Moore.

    That’s not what I am basing this on BTW, I believe he may even have written about the Carmichael likeness himself in one of the novels.

  • Schnitzey Pretzelpants

     I think you’re right, and I also think that some of this misinformation stems from Broccoli and Saltzman themselves.

    I bought the 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray set, and have now (yawn) watched all of the films and most of the supplemental material.  Well, it seems to me that Saltzman and Broccoli were all too fond of spinning yarns for PR purposes.  It’s what producers do.

    When Lazenby replaced Connery the pair of them were on camera talking diminishing Connery as necessary to Bond, and speaking of how Lazenby was their guy – of course they couldn’t make any claim of wanting him first.

    When Connery came back, they were on camera talking about how integral Connery was to Bond.

    When Moore came on Board, they started saying how Moore was always their first choice for the role but that he was unavailable. 

    When Dalton finally took up the reins they spoke about how he had been their first choice to replace Connery.

    Now, I have no doubt that in planning Dr. No, the pair of them may well have said/discussed ‘What about Roger Moore?’ – but if, as Sir Roger Moore himself points out – they didn’t actually screen test him, then it’s unlikely he was seriously being considered.

    Similarly, yes they got so far as speaking to Dalton back in the early 1970′s, but Dalton’s version of the story makes it pretty clear that (A) both he and them ultimately felt he was too young to play Bond, and that (B) He was never screen tested.

    Producers feel and probably have to spin these yarns, because sometimes the truth is way too mundane for good copy/sound bytes. The problem is that it then becomes ‘fact’ to too many people not willing to do some – extremely minor – digging.

  • bond

    i read that DALTON  was asked in 1968 or 69 but he turned it down cause he felt he was too young

  • RHandley

    Great article, Brian, though as some have pointed out, Lazenby’s departure was due to his having received bad advice from his management, not due to being fired. I interviewed Lazenby in the mid ’90s for Cinefantastique magazine, and he confirmed this. He was asked to return for Diamonds Are Forever, but he took bum advice–advice he regrets, in fact.

    An interesting tidbit, by the way: Roger Moore DID play Bond very early on, in a 1964 episode of the TV show Mainly Millicent. You can view it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYkTwXAyOBU

  • http://www.facebook.com/herb.finn Herb Finn

    Moore wasn’t totally an  unknown – having done the IVANHOE TV series, followed by a year+ on MAVERICK and a season of THE ALASKANS.

  • http://twitter.com/LadiesMaknComix Ladies Making Comics

    Yeah, I read that too, that he was approached for OHMSS.  I think Dalton is really under appreciated as Bond, and I really do not like Moore’s Bond, so I often wonder what it would have been like if Dalton had been Bond from OHMSS straight through to Licence to Kill. At the very least, the thematic connection of Tracy Bond’s murder to Felix & Della Leiter’s maiming/murder would have resonated much better if Bond was played by the same actor the whole time.

  • http://twitter.com/LadiesMaknComix Ladies Making Comics

    Yeah, Bond is compared to Hoagy Carmichael in the Moonraker novel, and I think Live and Let Die too. Though I always picture Cary Grant when I read them for some reason, even before I knew he was once considered for the role.

  • Claytonemery

    True.  I remember Hoagy was the only real person mentioned as a model in an actual 007 novel.  That said, Timothy Dalton should be the best model, because he most resembles Hoagy.

  • http://captainvideossecretsanctum.blogspot.com/2012/09/life-magazines-flawed-james-bond-50th.html Atomic Kommie Comics

    After The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore was doing the Bond films on a picture-by-picture basis, and he wasn’t planning on continuing as Bond after Moonraker.
    The producers were looking for a new Bond, which is why the “Tracey’s grave” scene was written as the opening of For Your Eyes Only…to link whoever the NEW Bond would be to the existing continuity.
    Moore signed-on at the last minute, so the script (and storyboards) meant for the “New Bond” were used.
    Picture Timothy Dalton or someone else doing it, and it works beautifully.

  • Schnitzey Pretzelpants

     Sort of yes, sort of no.  It’s more like I said above – that discussions were had, but that in the end both he and they (Saltzman and Broccoli) ended up agreeing that they he was too young.

    When Dalton became Bond, Broccoli (by then the sole producer) spun this as ‘We wanted him to sign back when Sean left but he said he was too young.’

    It’s funny, and a terrible thing to say, but I truly think more and more that Saltzman – while obviously having made some disastrous financial decisions – brought with him a far better sensibility to balance against Cubby Broccoli.

    In hindsight I feel that Broccoli was far too much concerned with the bottom line, and not enough else.

    It seems to me in many ways that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have finally returned the series to a healthy artistic-commercial balance.

    The only failing of this theory is that those two did produce most of Brosnan’s Bond sans Cubby.

    I never thought I would say this, but again, having rewatched all the Bond films in the last 3 months, I have to say that as bad as some of Moore’s are, I actually found them far more watchable than I did ANY of Brosnan’s.

    They all just feel so much a mash-up-retread and seem so unoriginal.

    The series is bound to cannibalize itself by this time, but even Skyfall managed to reuse Bondian tropes and cliches in a way that felt fresh to me.  Brosnan’s felt entirely like a ‘paint-by-numbers’ approach to Bond.

  • dark-void

    “Lazenby was not accepted by fans, and Connery returned for the next Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.”
    Not true – Lazenby was bloody brilliant as bond and he was most definitely wanted back, but he was given some very poor advice by his agent and declined to return – a decision he regretted ever since, only then did the producers approach Connery to return (at great expense).

  • Ron Lang

    I remember hearing this story years ago except I heard it told as they wanted Brosnan for Bond instead of Dalton but it was due to his Remington Steele contract he was unable to accept. Sounds like the same story almost…

  • Alex

    I saw a bunch of Bond films on video once, as we had a lot of them. Lazenby’s entry was so interesting because of what happened in it was so different from the other films.

  • RHandley

    Both are true–both Brosnan and Dalton were sought prior to actually taking the job.

  • Ecron Muss

    What about Patrick McGoohan, where does HE fit into the myths and legends of Bond casting?

  • John Smith

    What a shame Lazenby didn’t continue with the series; the 70s films might’ve been less ridiculous. The three Daniel Craig films are a reminder that the best Bond films are the serious ones. The Timothy Dalton ones were serious, but sadly seem to be under-appreciated compared to the others. If Moore had done more films like For Your Eyes Only, his body of Bond movies would’ve been stronger and looked back with less eye-rolling.

  • Schnitzey Pretzelpants

     I believe that McGoohan was at least approached, but turned down the role flat as he found Bond too morally bankrupt a character to play.

    I love McGoohan, and The Prisoner is one of my all time favourite TV shows, but if it is true that he turned down the Bond producers, it was a gift for Broccoli and Saltzman.

    If the featurettes on my Prisoner Blu-Ray set is to be believed, McGoohan was a sheer terror to work with.  Let’s just say that it isn’t just a thematic choice that there was usually a new #2 in ever episode is that almost NONE of them ever wanted to work with McGoohan or on the show again.

  • Martyn

    In the biography of Ian Fleming by John Pearson, Hoagy Carmichael was a film star who  Ian Fleming thought James Bond would look like.

  • bayma

    I like (and liked) your comment, because you absolutely nailed it.  But $82 million to $116 million is actually quite a jump.  About 40%.  I’d take that.  OHMSS has only in the last twenty years really gained the popularity it deserved.  In the 90′s, I couldn’t find a copy to rent until about 96 — and I tried! — it was the only one to that time I hadn’t seen.

  • Kevin

    You make it sound like George Lazenby was outright rejected by the fans, leading to a disastrous reception and his removal. The truth is he left of his own volition before the movie even came out because he felt spy movies were becoming obsolete. He is disliked by a lot of fans, but that likely has much to do with the fact that he only made one film and never had a chance to grow on people.

  • Kevin

    THIS.

  • Kevin

    Wait a minute, Lazenby claims he never signed a contract in the first place!

  • Guest

    It’s Casino Royale that it was first mentioned, not Live and Let Die.