The Men Who Could Have Been Bond (Reloaded) - Part 2

Diamonds Are Forever

In 1970 the producers of the James Bond series had to unearth a new 007 actor much sooner than expected when George Lazenby quit the franchise after his one and only film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Some claim that Lazenby did not resign but was fired during complicated contract negotiations for demanding too much money. It matters not. Lazenby was history and a new Bond was needed. Lazenby was left to ramble Kennedy assassination theories to a bemused Simon Dee as his planned film career vanished into thin air. The man chosen to fill Lazenby's shoes was John Gavin. Gavin was a handsome if limited actor best known for roles in Psycho and Spartacus. He also played copy-cat Bond OSS 117 in a couple of mostly forgotten spy films.
Gavin was American but Broccoli and Saltzman must have seen something in the actor and felt him capable of heaving the 007 brand into the new decade. "Time was getting awfully short", said Broccoli. "We had to have someone in the bullpen." We all know what happened next. United Artists were not happy with Gavin and went all out to entice the recalcitrant Sean Connery back. Gavin's contract was fulfilled as if he had played the part of James Bond. He received a fee for a film he didn't end up appearing in and later went on to become President Reagan’s Ambassador to Mexico. But who were the men competing with Gavin to replace Lazenby before Sean Connery was lured back into the arena?
There are conflicting accounts of when Burt Reynolds was approached about playing James Bond. Sometimes it's for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and other times Live and Let Die. Reynolds seems to place it around 1970 so maybe it was for Diamonds are Forever. It is possible that Reynolds was considered for more than one of these Bond films. He was in his mid thirties at this time. Reynolds claims it was Cubby Broccoli who asked him although director Guy Hamilton had a contradictory anecdote. Hamilton said he thought he had found the perfect Bond in Reynolds but that Broccoli was not so keen and preferred to look for a British actor. Whatever the truth, Reynolds was famously a name floated and discussed. “I think I could have done it well,” said Reynolds. “In my stupidity, I said, ‘An American can’t play James Bond, it has to be an Englishman – Bond, James Bond. Nah, I can’t do it.’ Oops. Yeah, I could have done it. I would’ve liked to have had a shot at James Bond, if for no other reason, I’d be very rich now, and I could’ve had a good time with him. I would’ve at least smiled once in a while, whereas the new guy [Craig] doesn’t even chuckle.” In his memoir, Bond writer Tom Mankiewicz backed up Guy Hamilton and said that Hamilton and Harry Saltzman were happy to hire Reynolds but Cubby Broccoli thought he was too short and referred to him as a 'shrimp'.
The acclaimed actor Michael Gambon has recounted more than once in humorous fashion how he was asked by Cubby Broccoli to test for the part when Sean Connery left but backed out because he felt he was inappropriate for the role. “I was given a smoked-salmon sandwich and a glass of champagne and Cubby said: ‘We’re looking for a new James Bond.’ And I started laughing. ‘James Bond, me? I'm not the right shape.’ He said: ‘Well, we have ice bags for Sean’s chest and  your jowls, doesn’t take more than two days and the recovery period’s a week. Teeth, well we can do that in an afternoon. And Sean wears a piece. I’ll get a toupee for you’!” Curiously, Gambon says that Cubby Broccoli wanted to cast Patrick Mower but the studio blocked this because they didn't want another unknown actor after Lazenby. Who knows if this is true.
In his autobiography Back to the Batcave, Adam West writes of a meeting with Cubby Broccoli where the possibility of his playing Bond was discussed. It is possible that West was considered for OHMSS rather than Diamonds Are Forever. Supposedly, Broccoli asked him point blank if he would be interested and, though tempted, West passed on the part due to his belief that Bond should be played by a British actor. "One night, I heard somebody saying that they liked Bond better than Batman. Then I thought: Well, why can’t I do both? But I thought that was a little greedy.” It is possible that West exaggerated the apparent eagerness to have him play Bond but Dana Broccoli did confirm his name was discussed. His Batman series was hugely popular and West was a very suave fellow.
Another of the American actors considered around this time was the grizzled screen icon Clint Eastwood. Eastwood says that he was approached and given a serious offer to take on the superspy role but he wasn't interested. He didn't feel the part was right for him. “I was offered pretty good money to do James Bond if I would take on the role. This was after Sean Connery left. My lawyer represented the Broccolis and he came and said, ‘They would love to have you.’ But to me, well, that was somebody else’s gig. That’s Sean’s deal. It didn’t feel right for me to be doing it. I thought James Bond should be British. I am of British descent but by that same token, I thought that it should be more of the culture there and also, it was not my thing.”
American actor Brett Halsey was also considered around this time. Halsey was in his thirties. Sometimes credited as Montgomery Ford, he had a prolific career in B pictures, Westerns and European-made feature films. In 1986 he starred with Bond girl Corinne Cléry in the horror film The Devil's Honey for Lucio Fulci and in 1990 made an appearance in The Godfather III.
Robert Wagner is yet another American actor who claims he was approached to be James Bond. Wagner was about 38 at this time. His career hadn't been as stellar as he'd once hoped. He later had success on the small screen with Hart to Hart. "Around the time I got back together with Natalie (Wood) in 1971, the producer Cubby Broccoli did me the great honour of suggesting that I play James Bond. George Lazenby had replaced Sean Connery, but while his film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, had been a good picture, it hadn't done anywhere near the business that the Connery films had. There was no formal offer but Cubby thought that I was a viable candidate to replace Lazenby. I thought about Cubby's suggestion for about two seconds, but realised it just wasn't a good fit. 'I'm too American,' I told Cubby. 'James Bond has to be English. Roger Moore is your guy.' I had known Roger ever since I was under contract at Fox and he was with MGM. Roger has always been blithe, charming, hilariously funny. So Roger, if you're reading this, please make the cheque out to cash..."
Peter Anthony, the model who won the Daily Express talent competition to find the perfect Bond for Dr No, claims he was tested again for Diamonds Are Forever. Anthony performed the scene in which Bond introduces himself as Peter Franks to Tiffany Case. It appears that once again he was passed over for the part. This seems to have been Anthony's last rendezvous with potential James Bond fame.
The singer Malcom Roberts, who started his career as an actor in Coronation Street, was apparently looked at as a potential Bond. Roberts was about 26 and had a big Desperate Dan style chin. He had three hit singles from 1967 to 1969 in the UK Singles Chart. In 1991, Roberts attempted to represent the United Kingdom in Eurovision but finished last in the A Song For Europe contest. He sadly passed away in 2003.
New Zealander Roger Green played rugby for the Junior All Blacks before trying his hand at acting. He tested for Diamonds Are Forever and was told he was close to the part by director Guy Hamilton. Green's chance of being Bond was torpedoed when Connery decided to come back. "The director sat me down and said ‘Roger, you've got a great chance of getting this part'. I drank for a week on that one. Ten people did the test that day and one by one were told they were not wanted, except for me. Then I read in the paper a couple of months later ‘Sean Connery agrees to do two more Bonds'. I could never understand what the Bond producers saw in me, as I’m well aware that training and experience were required before one succeeded in this cutthroat business. Still, who was I to complain? My friend Johnny Harrison was a theatrical agent who felt I would make a good Bond, and he got me meetings with Cubby Broccoli and Harry. Broccoli said they were considering me for the role of James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. I was relieved when Broccoli said, 'We’re not so concerned with your acting ability, we are more interested in how athletic you are'. I turned up at Pinewood in at 6am in a suit and tie. The very lovely Imogen Hassall was playing the role of Tiffany Case that morning in the tests. The Bond main stunt-arranger and stuntman Bob Simmons took the part of Peter Franks, the character who Bond is impersonating, and who proceeds to take a swing at Bond. The audition ended with the director Guy Hamilton saying, ‘You have a great chance of getting this part, we will get back in touch with your agent.’ For this sheep farmer on extended holiday in the UK this was certainly an event to cause me to walk on air for the next three months. Eventually I read in the press that Sean Connery had done a deal with United Artists to return one final time in Diamonds Are Forever. My agent said that Hamilton, Broccoli and Saltzman had wished me to play the role but United Artists had said, ‘Not another unknown Antipodean actor please!’ Unusually, the production company gave me a copy of my screen test, which I’ve watched again recently – it really stands up pretty well." Green's audition co-star Imogen Hassall starred in Carry On Loving around this time.
Simon Oates was a familiar face on British television and best known for the ecological sci-fi series Doomwatch. His son said in an interview many years later that he was very close to getting the part of Bond for Diamonds Are Forever but the return of Sean Connery altered these plans. The late actor had already confirmed this story. “I was more than a possible for the part," said Oates in an interview. "I was told that I was going to do it, but then Sean Connery came back and said he’d do it if they gave his fee to a charity, and when it came up again I was doing something else. I don’t regret it that much — I’m very happy with the way my life has gone.”
Michael McStay was a TV actor who - years later - featured in Coronation Street for seventeen episodes. At one point he even thought he'd won the part but it wasn't to be. "There was an article in the paper saying one of these six actors is James Bond and I was one of them. I'd been through a fair selection process, the only thing I hadn't done was a film test. Then I got a phone call call from a reporter in the Far East who said he'd got a cable saying Michael McStay is the next Bond. My agent heard nothing about it, couldn't confirm it, the press arrived at my house in force."
In the book Masters-of-the Shoot 'Em-Up, McStay was asked if he could remember the other actors he was competing with to be Bond. He named George Innes as one candidate. "He wasn't your conventional good looking lad," said McStay. Innes was 33 and had appeared in Billy Liar, Charlie Bubbles, and The Italian Job. Innes doesn't look much like a potential James Bond even in his younger days. Is it possible that McStay got this wrong or Innes was up for another part in the film?
The other actor named by McStay was Robert Powell. At the time Powell was in his late twenties and about to feature in the British horror film Asylum. It's an interesting and believable suggestion because the young Powell was quite handsome and a competent actor. If Powell was up for Bond though he seemed unaware of this. In an interview with the Express newspaper many years later, Powell said he was telephoned about James Bond by a journalist in the eighties and asked to comment on being in contention for the part. Powell said he had no knowledge of ever being in contention for Bond. There was also some fanciful speculation in the early nineties that a James Bond television series was being made and Powell was one of the actors in contention to play him. The conclusion of this circuitous tale is that Powell probably wasn't in serious contention to be James Bond at any time.
In 1972 Roger Moore became the third official James Bond. But who were the contenders vying with Moore for the part? Who else might have been the third big screen James Bond?
The brooding English actor Jon Finch, who always resembled a handsome aristocratic amnesiac who can't find his gentleman's club and has fallen into a hedge, was being tipped for potential superstar status thanks to Roman Polanski's Macbeth and some Hammer films. He also boosted his profile by playing the framed ex-RAF pilot Dick Blaney in Alfred Hitchcock's classic suspense thriller Frenzy. With his dark good looks and booming theatrical voice (and it couldn't have hurt either that Finch had served in The Parachute Regiment and the SAS Reserve) it doesn't come as a surprise to hear that he was on the actor radar of the Bond people. It looks like Finch was offered the chance to replace Connery - or at the very least test for the part - but declined the invitation. Finch also turned down the role of Aramis in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. It seems as if the very private Finch was not motivated by fame or money when it came to choosing his parts. Finch was later cast as Kane in Ridley Scott's Alien but had to pull out because of a severe diabetic episode. He was replaced by John Hurt.
John Ronane was an actor in films like King Rat and Charlie Bubbles and his television work included Z-Cars, Dixon of Dock Green, The Saint, The Avengers, and Department S. Ronane was tested for the part in Live and Let Die and seems to have got to the final round or so of auditions. He was in his late thirties at the time. He later tuned his hand to writing and also taught drama and acting.
The famous explorer and former soldier Ranulph Fiennes apparently tested for Live and Let and got surprisingly close to the part - if he is to be believed. "They decided that, rather than get an actor, they’d get someone who’d actually done all the Bond kind of stuff. Someone suggested me and I needed money for an expedition I was planning at the time, so I came down to London to see Cubby Broccoli. To my amazement, out of 400 people, I got down to the last six. Unfortunately, it only took two minutes for him to say, rather rudely, that I looked like “a farmer whose hands are too big and clumsy”. So they chose Roger Moore instead."
John Richardson, who narrowly lost out to George Lazenby during the auditions for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was looked at again for Live and Let Die. The blue eyed Richardson was 37 at the time. Cubby Broccoli suggested that Richardson was a strong contender for the second time. This was truly the last chance of mainstream fame for Richardson. He subsequently spent most of the decade making 'giallo' thrillers in Italy.
It's David Warbeck. Warbeck described his Live and Let Die test experience like this - “I was more sure of myself. We had a script, walked in and met on the set. How do you do?/How do you do? I said: How do you want this? Do you have anything in mind like the way it’s gone before? No, he said, play it your way. We want to see how you’re going to do it. So there I was, trying to be nice and cool, a few quips with the bird, then a whole fight scene after just a walk through of the choreography! That wrapped it up, we shook hands - bye!” Needless to say, the legend that was David Warbeck walked away again minus the keys to the Aston Martin.
Julian Glover, later cast as Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, was considered for the part of Bond for Live and Let Die. He was in his mid to late thirties at the time. Glover was a very impressive candidate with his height and polished voice and acting persona. At the time Glover was becoming a well known face through credits like Quatermass and the Pit and Doctor Who.
Later to be famous for his much praised Sherlock Holmes in the handsome 1980s Granada series, Jeremy Brett was under consideration for Bond when Connery left after Diamonds Are Forever. "It's the sort of role you cannot afford to turn down, but I think if I had got it, it would have spoiled me," reflected Brett. Brett was nearly 40 at the time, 6'1 and suave. He played many classical roles on stage, including about a dozen Shakespearean parts at the Old Vic and four while a member of the National Theatre Company from 1967 to 1970. His film appearances included My Fair Lady.
Let's throw Michael Petrovitch into the Live and Let Die mix. Petrovitch is said to have been considered for Bond and this seems like it would have been the most likely time. He was 27, slightly sinister looking, and had just played a voodoo murderer in the horror film Tales That Witness Madness. His career fizzled out and he never became famous but you'll still see him in repeats of shows like The Professionals. Other acting work for Petrovitch included Len Deighton's Spy Story and the violent 'Ozploitation' film Turkey Shoot. Petrovitch passed away in 1999.
Best known as the super-powered secret agent Richard Barrett in the 1968 espionage/science fiction series The Champions, William Gaunt was another of the actors tested for the part of Bond for Live and Let Die. Gaunt was around 34 at the time of testing. A stage actor with many television credits over the years, the wimpy looking Gaunt seems like a rather unlikely contender. His Champions co-star Stuart Damon looked much more like James Bond than Gaunt. Maybe they should have tested him.
Patrick Mower claims that he was tested again for the part of James Bond but lost out to Roger Moore this time. So naturally this means he tested for Live and Let Die. It seems that Mower, if he is to be believed, must have rivaled Michael Billington for James Bond interviews and auditions.
Gary Myers was an Australian actor who played Captain Lew Waterman in Gerry Anderson's cult TV series UFO. In 1968 he became the original 'Milk Tray Man' (a series of British adverts where a mysterious Bond style action man character delivers chocolates to a beautiful woman). Myers was about 30 years old when they were looking for a new Bond to replace Connery again. Myers, who was chosen as the Milk Tray Man because his James Bond looks, is often said to have been someone discussed around this time. 
Some stories suggest that John Gavin was brought back again and tested for Live and Let Die but rejected because he was too wooden in the screen test. This is certainly not beyond the realms of the impossible but it seems far fetched that an actor they signed to play Bond in the last film was now unsuitable because of his acting. They must surely have been happy enough with his acting to sign him last time around.
Guy Peters was a stage actor with some television experience and in the early seventies came to the attention of a casting agent who knew the James Bond role was going to be up for grabs again. "Having left Cartier the Court Jewellers, I had gained an Actors Equity card and appeared in TV commercials both here and abroad, worked as an extra in various films and at the Royal Opera House," Peters explained. "I had previous stage experience too. My stage name at the time was Peter Laughton and that was the name on my Equity card - later changed back to Guy Peters. The reason for the stage name was that I am related to the late, great, actor Charles Laughton on my mother's side of the family. It came about that, on the 26th April, 1972, Mayfair (8, Hill Street) casting agent Alan Foenander, met me and thought I'd make a good Bond. He arranged a four way meeting between the producer 'Cubby' Broccoli, director Guy Hamilton, himself and me. The meeting took place at EON productions' then headquarters at 2, South Audley Street, Mayfair on 1st May, 1972. At the interview, Cubby Broccoli asked me about military service. I pointed out that conscription was stopped one year before I would have been called up, so I never did National Service. However, I was a cadet in the ATC as a lad! He asked me about my acting experience in general and what parts I had played. I can't readily recall the whole conversation - after all, it was thirty nine years ago this month! The film director Guy Hamilton was present and asked me questions too. Cubby Broccoli said that had he met me when they were looking for a new face, they might have used me instead of Lazenby but, now, they might want a known face to play Bond. Afterwards, the man who had arranged the interview, Alan Foenander (casting agent), said that the interview went well and they would be in touch. I finally learnt that it was to be Roger Moore's first outing as Bond. On this point, I had heard that they were considering Moore before I had my interview and mentioned this fact to Cubby Broccoli. He said that Moore was known as The Saint and couldn't be Bond too!"
Michael Billington, a perennial Bond contender until the early eighties, was the biggest obstacle to Roger Moore becoming Bond. It appears that he was Eon's preferred candidate but the studio felt the relatively unknown Billington was a risk. The final auditions were Roger Moore and Billington. Saltzman and Broccoli were happy to use Billington but - when asked - the director Guy Hamilton felt Moore should be chosen. Moore got the nod but only just. Here is what Billington had to say of Live and Let Die - "I didn’t hear anything again until about the time of Diamonds Are Forever, which was just opening I recall. I was filming a television series called U.F.O. when Harry Saltzman came to see some footage from the filming, as he was planning to do Moonraker next and he was looking for some expertise with special effects. The producer Sylvia Anderson, an accomplished casting director herself, suggested I might be right to play Bond if it went ahead and I have to say that there was some evidence that the role of ‘Foster’ that I played might, with a little grooming, have served the part well. It didn’t happen, so when I heard a year or two later that Cubby Broccoli wanted to meet me with the prospect of a screen test, I was somewhat surprised. I was having some success on British television at the time but really wanted to do a quality movie. I felt the meeting went well and I liked Cubby as a person. When they confirmed their interest, I thought I should take a look at some current Bond productions, as I hadn’t seen anything since Goldfinger. I took a look at Thunderball and liked it well enough except for the ending, which had a rather ‘shaky’ high speed boat chase and I detected a certain element of self parody much like that now exploited so successfully by Austin Powers. I think I did well on the test for Live And Let Die and liked Guy Hamilton, the director. The scene was a specially written scene, which I played with an actress called Caroline Seymour. I heard from my agent’s insider that there was going to be an offer made and there was some national press to that effect. When it was announced that Roger Moore was going to do it, I was stunned."
Moonraker turned out to be Roger Moore's fourth Bond film but there was a flurry of press at the time that he might not be back. Roger was in his fifties and he and Cubby Broccoli (now the only producer after Harry Saltzman sold his rights) would sometimes engage in a stand-off regarding his wages. Who might have starred in Moonraker if Roger hadn't come back?
It's that man again. Michael Billington, who had a small role in The Spy Who Loved Me, was brought in to play Bond alongside prospective Moonraker actresses to test them - and also himself should Roger Moore want too much money. "I got the call to go to Paris for another series of tests. Moonraker was being prepped and they were looking at Bond Girls. I didn’t feel much like playing Bond having just played a crazed underworld criminal but I took the job. I did some scenes with imported beauties like Shelly Hack and Susan Reed. Also local talent such as the beautiful Sylvia Krystel and a lovely girl called Cyrielle Besnard. The word got out that they wanted Lois Childs. Lois came over to shoot some tests but I think she already had the role so the rest was strictly cosmetic. Lewis (Gilbert) told me that he thought I should do the next one, but it was up to Cubby. My final obstacle, according to Lewis, would be if Cubby invited me out to dinner on the last night of the tests. He did and we had a pleasant dinner with Cubby, Mrs Broccoli, Lois, John Glen, myself and Barbara, Cubby’s daughter. Barbara and I spent a night ‘on the town’ in Paris, with John Glen as chaperone. The next day I was on a plane back to London; and that was that, or so I thought."
Also back to throw his hat into the ring once again is Patrick Mower. Mower claims he was brought in for another test when there was some doubt about Roger coming back for a fourth film. Mower was about 40 years old by this point. He'd recently starred in Carry On England and would have bitten their hand off if offered the part of James Bond.
There was a lot of speculation about Scottish actor David Robb - well known for playing Germanicus in the famous 1976 BBC production of I, Claudius - becoming the new Bond around this time. Years later Robb denied he'd ever had any contact regarding the role. Robb became well known to modern television viewers when he played played Dr Clarkson in Downton Abbey.
We know that Lewis Collins was endlessly linked to James Bond in the early eighties but what about his Professionals co-star Martin Shaw? Shaw later revealed that he turned down a chance to screen test for the part in 1978. "They asked me way back to do a screen test for James Bond. I said no. I just didn't want to play him because it dominates everything you've done or go on to do. I was having dinner with the daughter of Cubby Broccoli. This was about 1978. She'd seen me in The Professionals and begged me to do a screen test. She was astonished when I said no thanks."
- MC

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