Last week, the front page of The New York Times mourned the death of Roger Moore. Shockingly, they ran a photo from Live and Let Die showing the actor, as James Bond, in bed with Jane Seymour, right there on the front page.
How fitting. But there’s a catch. While I’m a big James Bond fan, amongst 007 fans, Sean Connery is always revered at the “real” face of Bond. I get that. And if fact, when I read James Bond prose adventures I generally conjure up Connery’s face and voice as I visualize the scenes.
On the other hand… there was a 70s sentiment that admonished us all to love the one we’re with. And growing up, Roger Moore was the Bond I was with.
I clearly remember the day when my parents were debating the merits of taking my brother, Colin, and me to see a movie. Now, my family reads a lot, so it was natural my parents read the James Bond novels. And Mom and Da, like much of America, had enjoyed the Sean Connery movies. So they knew the deal about James Bond movies. But my mom also read, and loved, Charlotte’s Web. The animated version was playing locally. But also in the local theaters was Roger Moore’s first outing as James Bond in Live and Let Die.
We were little boys at this time. My mom suggested that we all have a sweet, charming night out and enjoy the Charlotte’s Web movie. My dad, usually an easy going guy, roared, “I’m not going to take these boys to see some movie about a pig!” We went to see Roger Moore in Live and Let Die and our lives were changed forever.
Do you remember how this one starts out? Instead of being summoned into M’s stuffy office, there’s an urgent need for Britain’s top agent. It’s so urgent that the head of the British Secret Service and his secretary, unable to reach James Bond, travel to Bond’s apartment to fetch him for the mission.
And I do recall there’s also some exposition about Italy’s diplomats being upset because one of their top agents is missing, or “off the grid” as we’d say today, after completing her last secret mission.
Well… in a scene that would make any modern HR manager cringe, M, the head of the Secret Service, and Miss Moneypenny, his secretary, arrive and knock on the door of Bond’s flat.
There’s a quick scene where a groggy James Bond, played by Roger Moore for the first time, checks his watch. But it was a digital watch, and those were bleeding edge cool at the time. My brother and I were had never seen one before and were captivated by it. And then we realized that the missing Italian agent was naked in James Bond’s bed! Wow! My brother and I had never seen that before and were even more captivated by that!
I think this introduction, doubtlessly duplicated by millions of boys across the world, helped a generation embrace Roger Moore as their James Bond.
Sean Connery was great – but wasn’t he the guy who complains about the Beatles? Kind of like my grandfather?
No, Roger Moore was our guy.
A Dashing Rogue in a Pre-Bond Phase
The Saint, often called the Modern Robin Hood of Crime, was a globe-trotting adventurer created by Leslie Charteris. The character appeared in way too many books and short stories. Although largely ignored today, the Saint enjoyed very healthy cross-media exposure in radio, comics, serials, movies and television. To many, the first actor to portray the Saint on television, Roger Moore is regarded as the best. Moore brought a dashing sense of unflappable whimsy to the role, romancing beautiful women in gorgeous cities around the globe, while inevitably being drawn into some mystery or crime by a dastardly foe.
I discovered Roger Moore as the Saint after I discovered Moore as 007, although he played the character before becoming James Bond. It all seemed like a Junior Varsity warm-up to the James Bond series. It was all there – the car, the bravado, the globetrotting, the casual affairs. But, there was no ignoring it was Bond-Lite compared the cinematic James Bond,
I lived in upstate New York, and watched one of the New York City stations, WNEW, that used to run episodes of The Saint after their “Late Movie.” The problem was that the movies were all of different lengths, so The Saint would start at different times each night. There was a stretch where I’d scour TV Guide to discover the precise time that the Saint started, and set my alarm so I could sneak downstairs at 2:20 am or 3:05 am to watch an episode. It was important to never miss the beginning of an episode.
The theme song had that Rat Pack coolness to it, and each week Roger Moore would break the fourth wall right before it played. In the show’s teaser, before the theme song, the Saint would be in Rome or Madrid or some other exotic locale and another character would recognize him. “Wait, aren’t you Simon Templar… the Saint? ” they’d always ask. Then Roger Moore would sheepishly smile and look upwards, at the animated halo (he was the “saint”, get it?) above his head. This bit never got old and to his credit, Moore made it work for six seasons and 118 episodes.
As the story goes, one reason Roger Moore kept doing The Saint series was because he was saddled with overbearing alimony payments following an acrimonious divorce. I can only imagine.
Persuaded by the Riviera
But then the crew of The Saint magically transformed everything into another show called The Persuaders! This was bromance adventure of two wealthy rivals who became chums and started gallivanting across Europe. Roger Moore played a British aristocrat named Lord Brett Sinclair and his counterpart was a Brooklyn-American, charmingly overacted by Tony Curtis.
One can’t help but wonder if there might have been some financial or personal incentives to filming this series on locations across Europe. In The Persuaders!, viewers were taught that if you were clever or rich enough, all of Europe was just one big cocktail hour and there were more than enough beautiful women waiting to be charmed off their feet. Nice work if you can get it, eh?
Although The Persuaders! was shown during primetime on ABC in America in the early 70s, I discovered the show much later in syndication. While I certainly didn’t romance beautiful women as frequently as Lord Brett Sinclair did, I think the easy-breezy attitude of confidence and mischief was good to learn, at least in moderation.
Years later, after one of my business partners Joe Ahearn and I assumed ownership of the character Captain Action, we created a female counterpart. It was partially in as a result of exhibiting at comic shows, and partially a desire to create “James Bond’s daughter.” Of course, we couldn’t make our character actually be James Bond’s little girl. Instead, we named her Nikki Sinclair and alluded to the fact that her father was an English Lord. So in essence, since Roger Moore played a similar character in The Persuaders!, we kind of found a way around making her James Bond’s daughter.
Oh sure, we saw Roger Moore as a mercenary in The Wild Geese (a kind of pre-Rambo Dirty Dozen movie) and we suffered though him as Sherlock Holmes (somehow it just didn’t feel right). He was also Beau Maverick, cousin to Bret and Bart and father of Ben, and starred in The Alaskans (the rumors were that he fell in love with his beautiful co-star). He could be a lot of things, but even Roger Moore couldn’t be everyone.
Roger Moore always seems cool and composed when not on camera. He was dapper and in fact took pride at developing his character’s wardrobe in The Persuaders! Gee, that was all so much fun – thanks for showing us how it was all done, Roger!