Of the six actors who’ve brought Ian Fleming’s James Bond to life on screen since 1962, it’s Sean Connery who’s been applauded most for being the Best Bond.
Connery, who was born August 25, 1930, was just 31 when producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli & Harry Saltzman were trying in 1961 to find a studio to greenlight a film based on any one of Fleming’s novels. Saltzman had a six-month option from Fleming with only 30 days left. Broccoli had made films for Columbia Pictures, but they would only budget $300-400K as a favor to him, not nearly enough to shoot an action movie on an exotic location. When they turned to United Artists’ marketing & production chief David Picker, the producers were eager to move forward quickly. Their future depended on this deal, which is why they named their production company EON — meaning “Everything Or Nothing!”
When UA agreed to make “DR. NO” on a tight budget of $1.1M, the deal required EON to cast Bond with an actor willing to do sequels. Well-known actors got more money than this budget would allow and the better known the actor, the less likely he’d be to tie himself up for years making sequels and being typecast as 007.
Back at their London offices, Broccoli sent Picker some possibilities — like Patrick McGoohan, who was popular at the time from starring in the British TV spy series “DANGERMAN;” and a promising young actor, Robert Shaw, who later wound up being cast as a villain Bond battles in 1963’s “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.”
Then Picker heard from Saltzman, who flew to New York with film footage & stills of a young Scottish actor, Sean Connery, who’d already been in a few American movies. Picker, in his wonderful 2013 memoir “MUSTS, MAYBES, AND NEVERS,” recalls asking Saltzman if Connery “was the best he could find” and being told, “He’s the richest man in the poor house.” They didn’t think Connery was perfect for the role, but he met their needs.
UA agreed to Connery despite Fleming’s opposition to casting the then unpolished Scotsman to play his elegant and quite British MI6 agent. “He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks,” Fleming explained. “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man.” But the novelist had second thoughts about Connery after the sensational world premiere of “DR. NO” at the London Pavilion on Oct. 5, 1962. So when Fleming wrote his 1964 novel “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE,” he decided to make Connery’s Scottish heritage part of Bond, giving him a father from the Scottish Highlands!
“I am not an Englishman, I was never an Englishman, and I don’t ever want to be one. I am a Scotsman! I was a Scotsman and I will always be one.” – Sean Connery