Sean Connery succeeded twice as James Bond. Roger Moore is best remembered for doing so in 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE — but George Lazenby did it five years earlier after Connery quit for the first time.
Lazenby, who was born Sept. 5, 1939, in Australia, had no acting experience aside from commercials when Bond producers Harry Saltzman & Albert Broccoli hired him for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. While he was eager to play 007 then, he’s famous now for having walked away from the role despite having a seven-picture Bond deal.
Lazenby’s strategy to become Bond brought him to Connery’s London barber and tailor so he’d have a Connery-type look when he first met the producers. As luck had it, Broccoli also used Connery’s barber and saw Lazenby there — and reportedly thought he had a Bond look. Lazenby spent some of his last Pounds at the time buying a bespoke suit that had been cut for Connery but hadn’t been picked up.
Thus armed, Lazenby met with Saltzman, Broccoli & Peter Hunt, who was directing SERVICE after having edited early Bonds like DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE & GOLDFINGER. After bluffing about his acting credits, Lazenby got a screen test, during which he told Hunt he’d made everything up and really wasn’t an actor. Hunt, however, laughed, “You just strolled in here and managed to fool two of the most ruthless bastards in the business. You’re an actor!”
When Connery exited after 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Saltzman & Broccoli were going to say Bond needed plastic surgery because he’d become too recognizable to work undercover. They didn’t do that but did include an inside joke in the pre-credits scene where Bond saves a mysterious woman from drowning, but she then speeds away in her convertible — leaving Lazenby to protest into the camera, “This never happened to the other fellow!”
Lazenby quit just before SERVICE had its Royal Premiere in London. He’d come to believe that youth appeal films like THE GRADUATE & EASY RIDER would be the most popular type of movies in the ’70s. Lazenby confided to his agent his doubts about playing Bond and when that got back to the producers they were, understandably, quite unhappy. Despite Lazenby’s seven Bond film offer and a signed letter of intent for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, it all ended.
The producers’ first choice for the next Bond was Burt Reynolds, who wasn’t unavailable. Adam West passed because he felt Bond should be British. So they signed John Gavin, who’d recently played a French spy in a European thriller. Then Connery unexpectedly agreed to be handsomely over-paid to return as Bond. Of course, they now also had to pay Gavin in full to not play Bond.
“For someone who had never done a movie before, he was quite good.” – Diana Rigg, Lazenby’s Co-Star