Monday, June 5, 2017

Roger Moore: In Memoriam

A Saint and a Bond

By Ed Garea

Roger Moore, who breathed new life into the James Bond franchise by bringing a tongue-in-cheek approach, died on May 23 at his home in Switzerland after a brief battle with cancer. He was 89.

Before taking on the role of the British super spy, Moore was best known for his role as Simon Templar in the television series The Saint, which ran from 1962 to 1969. He brought to both roles a casual air of dashing elegance, sophistication and a surprising cold-blooded streak. He was also aided by the fact that at 6’ 2” with pale blue eyes and fair hair, his debonair good looks proved ideal. 

When not playing Bond he appeared in a slew of mediocre films, including Gold (1974), The Wild Geese (1978), Escape to Athena (1979), and The Cannonball Run (1978), besides lending his voice to a couple of animated features. He wound down his movie career in 1991 to devote his attention to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador after being recruited to the cause by good friend Audrey Hepburn and shocked by the poverty he saw in India. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1999 and was knighted in 2003.

He was born Roger George Moore on Oct. 14, 1927, at Aldebert Terrace, Lambeth, South London, the only child of George Alfred Moore, a London police officer who moonlighted in amateur theater, and the former Lily Pope. He attended primary school in Stockwell and, to everyone's surprise including his headmaster, he won a scholarship to Battersea Grammar School, but was evacuated to Holsworthy, Devon, during the Second World War. Later he attended Launceston College. The young Roger expressed interest in becoming a commercial artist and while a teenager, worked at an animation company. However, his career there came to an end after he was fired for making a mistake with some animation cels. 

When his father investigated a robbery at the home of film director Brian Desmond Hurst, young Roger was introduced and hired as an extra for the 1945 film Caesar and Cleopatra. Hurst convinced Moore's father to pay for a course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. But he remained for only three of the six terms because of the financial strain he felt he was putting on his parents. While there, though, he would develop the relaxed bearing that later became his screen persona.

At age 18, shortly after the end of the war he was conscripted for national service, and on Sept. 21, 1946 he was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps as a second lieutenant. He eventually rose to the rank of captain and commanded a small depot in West Germany. He was later transferred to the Combined Services Entertainment Unit in Hamburg. 

After his release back into civilian life, Moore married Doorn van Steyn, who he met at the Royal Academy, and spent several years living with her in one room of her sister's house. As there was little work at the time for the young actor, he began a part-time modeling career, appearing with Audrey Hepburn in an advertisement for Valderma “to get rid of the blemishes off your back.” He also appeared in advertisements for knitwear and toothpaste, among other products. He also broke into television, making his first television appearance on March 27, 1949 in The Governess. He supplemented this with a string of uncredited appearances in movies. 

In 1953 he set out for the United States, having divorced his wife in March of that year. On July 6 of that year he married singer Dorothy Squires. The marriage lasted until they divorced on November 25, 1968. Moore also caught on at MGM, where his cockney accent was eliminated by sessions with a dialogue director. 

While at MGM he worked as a supporting actor in a number of fairly unimpressive films, the most notable of which was The Last Time I Saw Paris, with Elizabeth Taylor. His last project for MGM was the 1956 film Diane, where he was billed third after Lana Turner and Pedro Armendariz. The film was set in 16th-century France with Moore playing Prince Henri, the future king. The failure of the film, both financially and critically, led the studio to release him from his contract. 

He then turned to television in a string of guest parts before making an impression in the television series Ivanhoe (1958-59) as Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe. He later starred in The Alaskans (1959-60), about the gold rush, as Silky Harris before replacing James Garner in Maverick as cousin Beauregard Maverick. His accent was explained away as the result of a British education.

It was a brief return to films in 1961 that led to the dissolution of his second marriage. While starring as the title character in Romulus and the Sabrines (1961) in Rome he fell for co-star Luisa Mattioli. He asked Dorothy for a divorce, but she refused. This didn’t stop him from setting up house with Luisa. Later, in an interview, Squires said she suffered a series of miscarriages during their marriage and opined that if she had been able to have children, it might have saved their marriage. When she learned of Moore’s liaison with Mattioli, Squires reacted by smashing a guitar over his head. She finally agreed to a divorce in 1968, but continued to be a factor in Moore’s life. Letters from Mattioli to Moore that she intercepted were to have been included in her autobiography, but the couple won injunctions against the publication in 1977. This led Squires to sue them (unsuccessfully) for loss of earnings. She filed so many cases against the couple that it led to Squires being declared a vexatious litigant in 1987. Moore paid her hospital bills after her cancer treatment in 1996, until her death in 1998.

Moore and Mattioli had three children together: Deborah, and two sons, Geoffrey and Christian. Deborah and Geoffrey became actors and Christian a film producer. Moore and Luisa divorced in 1996, and in 2002 he married Swedish-born Kristina “Kiki” Tholstrup, who survives him. 

In 1962 Moore returned to television after he was picked by ATV boss Lew Grade as Simon Templar for a revamped version of Leslie Charteris's hero, The Saint. The television series was made in the UK with an eye toward syndication, especially in the American market. Its success here (and in other countries) made Moore a household name. He played the role for seven years and, with it, came fame and worldwide recognition, being seen eventually in more than 80 countries. The series did so well in syndication in America that NBC picked it up as an addition to its prime-time schedule, where it ran from 1967 to 1969. 

The Saint ran for six seasons and 118 episodes. It tied The Avengers as the longest-running series of its kind on British television. But Moore grew increasingly tired of the role, and wanted to branch out. He made two films immediately after the series ended: Crossplot (1969), a lightweight spy caper, and the much better The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). Directed by Basil Dearden, the film gave Moore the chance to demonstrate that he could escape the typecasting of Simon Templar. In a 2004 interview Moore said of the film that, “It was one of the few times I was allowed to act . . . Many say my best role was in The Man Who Haunted Himself. Being a modest actor, I won't disagree.”

QUIZ: What car did Roger Moore drive as Simon Templar?

However, two years after The Saint ended, Moore starred with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders for ABC as playboy partners solving glamorous European crimes. The series only lasted a year as fans continued to identify him with Simon Templar.

Its cancellation really didn’t matter to Moore, for he was chosen as the next James Bond when the producers accepted the fact that Sean Connery had meant what he said when he decided Diamonds Are Forever was to be his curtain-call in the role of 007. The problem going in was that Connery was so much the embodiment of Bond that many feared Moore would lack the essence of the steely killer behind the suave exterior.

The critics were silenced when Moore turned James Bond into a triumph at the box office in Live and Let Die in 1973. Although Connery’s Bond would never be forgotten, Moore proved to be an excellent replacement and the series didn’t miss a beat.    

Although he was the oldest Bond ever hired for films in the official series (although David Niven was in his 50s when he played Bond in the spoof Casino Royale) at the age of 45 (Connery was 32 when he signed on for Dr. No), the key to his success as Bond was due to the sardonic approach he adopted. It was as if he was winking at the audience and asking them to share his inside joke, saying: “I'm having a ball. How about you?” For although his acting style was frequently criticized for a lack of depth, he still achieved huge success while happily acknowledging his limitations, in one interview admitting that although he could not act “in the Olivier sense,” he was nonetheless a good technician. “When I was doing The Saint on television I had two expressions; as Bond I've managed to work up to four,” he joked.   

Over the next 12 years Moore starred in six more Bond films: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker(1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985). After he finished A View to a Kill he decided that at the age of 58, enough was enough, and handed over his license to kill to Timothy Dalton. “I realized that jumping around with bullets and bombs in my middle-fifties was really daft,” he said. “It’s embarrassing making love to actresses who are young enough to be my daughters.” More than a billion people saw him play Bond, making him one of the best-known British actors in the world. 

Besides the post-Bond movies listed above, his last film appearance was a supporting role in The Carer (2016), about an aging British actor (Brian Cox) suffering from an incurable disease.

The only aspect of entertainment where Moore did not excel was the stage. In 1953 he had a small role in the British drama A Pin to See the Peepshow, which opened and closed on the same night. 

Exactly 50 years later, in 2003, he appeared on Broadway as the mystery guest star in the comedy, The Play What I Wrote, by Hamish McColl and Sean Foley. He collapsed onstage receiving a pacemaker at a New York hospital the next day. At the time he was a 10-year survivor of prostate cancer.   

In 1989 Andrew Lloyd Webber invited him to star in his new musical, Aspects of Love. Despite mounting doubts, he agreed to the part after much persuasion by Lloyd Webber. Six weeks before the musical was due to open in London's West End, Moore abruptly withdrew because he felt his singing was not up to the standard expected. However, it was later revealed that he left at the request of Lloyd Webber.  

Moore's literary output consisted of three books. The first was a book about the filming of Live and Let Die, based on his diaries. Titled Roger Moore as James Bond: Roger Moore's Own Account of Filming Live and Let Die, it was published in London in 1973 with an acknowledgment to Sean Connery with whom Moore was friends for many years: "I would also like to thank Sean Connery – with whom it would not have been possible.”

His second book, an autobiography titled My Word is My Bond, was published in 2008, and his final word on his most famous character, James Bond, was published in 2012 to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films. Titled Bond on Bond, it’s based on the actor’s memories, anecdotes and thoughts about the super spy with a portion of the profits going to UNICEF. 

In 2015, Moore read Hans Christian Andersen’s "Little Claus and Big Claus" for the children's fairy tales app, Giving Tales, with the profits earmarked for UNICEF.

In addition to his work for UNICEF, the actor produced and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras. Due to his presence in the project and being a forceful spokesman against foie gras, the department store Selfridge agreed to remove foie gras from their shelves.

Perhaps the best summation of Moore’s life came from an interview the actor gave himself: “In theatrical terms, I’ve never had a part that demands much of me,” he added. “The only way I’ve had to extend myself has been to carry on charming.”

Answer To Quiz: A white Volvo P1800S. It became so iconic that the English toy company, Matchbox, came out with a replica.

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