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Sean Connery, 007, represented the search for ‘real’ manhood

He was the James Bond who taught us the most.

I was 15 in 1963, a more innocent time, and my best chance at a cheap thrill was to persuade my dad to take me to see the new James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

There we were at a Long Island movie theater, watching Sean Connery on the big screen as 007. He had already seduced a spectacular blond beauty named Jill Masterson. And now, at a crucial moment in the plot, he was enjoying a literal roll in the hay with a character named Pussy Galore.

“I must be dreaming,” I thought.

That famous female character with the outrageous name, played by the elegant Honor Blackman, was a woman who favored other women — I had no name for that back then. Miss Galore ran a team of Amazonian female pilots whose evil mission was to spray Fort Knox from the air with poison gas.

That way, the maniacal Auric Goldfinger could set off an atomic weapon inside the vault, destroying the wealth of the United States, and inflating the value of his own gold holdings, making him the richest man in the world. Simple, right?

To foil that plot, Bond had to convert Miss Galore from one team to the other, and from the dark side to the cause of Queen and country.

At one tense moment, Goldfinger has Bond strapped to a table made of gold. A laser beam burns its way up the slab, headed between 007′s legs toward his, uh, torso. “Do you expect me to talk?” says the nervous spy to his nemesis. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

But Goldfinger could not manage to kill Bond. Nor could Oddjob with his deadly derby or Rosa Klebb with that poison blade in her shoe. The Soviets couldn’t get him with their counterintelligence agency Smersh. Not even S.P.E.C.T.R.E., that syndicate of terrorists, could finish him off.

All the evil geniuses concocted elaborate plots to end Bond’s life, so ridiculously complicated that they were bound to fail. Why not just shoot him?

No, Bond would outlive them all.

Bond, or Sean Connery, the actor who best embodied Ian Fleming’s famous secret agent, died recently in Nassau in the Bahamas — a very Bond-like setting — at the age of 90. Three decades earlier, at the age of 59, he was selected by People magazine as the Sexiest Man Alive. If she had a vote, my wife would have voted twice.

In his personal life, Connery had the reputation as a decent and congenial bloke, a hard-working professional and a champion of Scottish independence. His biggest public mistake was when he more than once defended the occasional slapping of women. But he stopped saying it. Queen Elizabeth might have slapped him back, but instead traveled to Scotland to dub him a knight. Sir Sean wore a kilt.

The Great Scot’s death has inspired a flood of memories. If you read me now and then, you know I was a good Catholic school boy. In those Puritanical 1950s and into the ’60s, my parents consulted an index of movies created by something called the Legion of Decency. Some movies — the ones starring Brigitte Bardot — were rated C for Condemned. The Bond movies never rated a C, but were considered out of bounds for a young teenager.

My dad was a bit of a prude, but he loved adventure movies, so he brought his oldest son to see Goldfinger. God bless him. It changed my life. Or maybe just my imagination. Here was this suave but cruel hero, whose virtues were considered vices in my little world. He smoked, drank, gambled, drove too fast, and, on assignment, was quick to kill.

And then there were the women. They became known as Bond Girls. But in my adolescent view they were never girls. They were grownup women. Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterson. She is assassinated for her disloyalty to Goldfinger, who orders her body painted gold. On billboards, posters and in magazines, that image lit up the world.

On April 20, 1964, James Bond, played by Sean Connery, finds himself in a sticky situation with actress Shirley Eaton at Pinewood Studios, near London. Eaton was given a liberal coating of gold paint for a scene in the Bond thriller "Goldfinger." Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, recently died at age 90. (AP Photo/Victor Boynton)
On April 20, 1964, James Bond, played by Sean Connery, finds himself in a sticky situation with actress Shirley Eaton at Pinewood Studios, near London. Eaton was given a liberal coating of gold paint for a scene in the Bond thriller "Goldfinger." Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, recently died at age 90. (AP Photo/Victor Boynton) [ VICTOR BOYNTON | AP ]

Miss Galore seemed impervious to 007′s charms, until she was not. There is a standard move in old movies — and it applies to the early Bond films — that goes like this. A handsome hero meets a beautiful woman. There is tension between them. The woman thinks he’s a cad. He flirts. She ignores. He grabs her and plants a kiss. At first, she tries to push him away, but then gives in and returns his passion.

If any young men are reading this, let me assure you that it doesn’t work that way in real life. Back then, these love scenes inspired countless bad moves by young men who took their romantic lessons from the movies.

It’s weird. I didn’t have the courage to kiss a girl until I was 18. I feared the rejection. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never had a martini — shaken or stirred. I drive really slow. I’ve never bet more than a dollar at a casino. And yet I hold in my imagination a fantasy of masculinity that has coexisted with the virtuous version by which I try to live.

And then there is chest hair. It is striking how a signature mark of James Bond’s masculinity is his hairy chest. It may be the one characteristic I actually share with the first 007. I have seen every single Bond movie and the devolution (depilation?) of chest hair is striking. Compared to Connery, the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, looks like a plucked chicken.

When I heard of Connery’s passing, I relived one of the most memorable days of my youth. It was Dec. 22, 1965. I am 16 years old, and a blizzard has buried Long Island. I should have been out shoveling driveways for a little cash.

But wait. It was that very day when the new James Bond movie, Thunderball, was to open at the big theater at the Roosevelt Field shopping center.

I bundled myself up, put on my rubber boots and slogged in the snow about 2 miles to wait for a bus, which finally arrived. It was freezing. The theater was open and toasty warm. Bond killed a villain on a beach with a spear gun and nonchalantly said to his beautiful companion: “I think he got the point.”

Sean Connery, as James Bond, poses in an event for the movie "Thunderball." (AP Photo, FILE)
Sean Connery, as James Bond, poses in an event for the movie "Thunderball." (AP Photo, FILE) [ AP ]

I couldn’t get enough. I stayed, without paying, and watched the movie a second time!

As a child, I watched Roy Rogers on television and decided I wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. But I was older now. As I made my way home in the snow, I had a new vision of what I would become: Clark. Roy Clark. British secret agent. 0017!

Favorite Bond actors

1. Sean Connery

2. Daniel Craig

3. Roger Moore (He was better as The Saint.)

4. George Lazenby (the Bond who got to marry Diana Rigg)

5. The next Bond? Idris Elba? Maisie Williams? (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones)

Best Bond movies with Connery

1. Goldfinger

2. Thunderball

3. From Russia With Love

4. Dr. No

5. Diamonds Are Forever

Best Bond women (we don’t call them “Girls”)

1. Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder

2. Honor Blackman as Miss Galore

3. Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova

4. Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson

5. Claudine Auger as Domino Derval

Best Bond villains

1. Rosa Klebb (played by Lotte Lenya)

2. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe)

3. Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman)

4. Red Grant (Robert Shaw)

5. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence, inspiration for Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies)

6. Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi)

7. Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi)

8. Oddjob (Harold Sakata)

Best recurring characters

1. Q (the fussy Quartermaster played by Desmond Llewelyn in 17 Bond movies)

2. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, coyly trying to keep 007 on the straight and narrow)

3. M (wish that Connery could have lasted for Judi Dench to become his boss)

4. Felix Leiter (top CIA agent, actor irrelevant)

Best song

Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)

Live and Let Die (not a Connery movie, but perhaps the best song Paul McCartney made without the Beatles)

Best Bond gadget

Aston Martin DB5 sports car with an ejector seat. Got to get one of those in case the person sitting next to me is not wearing a mask.

What are your favorite characters or moments from the James Bond movies?

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