Richard Johnson, would be 007, dies

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

Veteran actor Richard Johnson, a potential screen James Bond, died over the weekend.

How close Johnson, who was 87 when he died, to snagging the role isn’t clear.

Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli, in his autobiography, acknowledged Johnson was in the conversation. But the co-founder of Eon Productions, makes it sound as if Johnson wasn’t that close.

(Dr. No director) Terence Young had been promoting the idea of getting that polished British actor Richard Johnson to play Bond. It was a valid idea, but we thought (Sean) Connery was a much more exciting proposition. We called Terence in to hell him.

When the Snow Melts, page 169-170

On the other hand, an obituary by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES) carries a different account.

(Johnson) told Cinema Retro magazine in 2009 that he declined the role and that he felt Sean Connery, who got the part and went on to play it in seven films, was miscast — but that the casting turned out to be perfect, “because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny.”

Whatever the truth, Johnson did get his turn in the 1960s spy boom. The character of Bulldog Drummond was dusted off and turned into a series of spy films with Johnson as Drummond.

For more information, you can CLICK HERE for a post at Cinema Retro’s website. You can also CLICK HERE for an obit at The Telegraph.

UPDATE: The Double O Section blog HAS A POST that details Johnson’s other spy roles.

Dr. No’s 50th anniversary part III: `a pretty rough diamond’

Sean Connery chats with Dr. No co-star Jack Lord.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had $1 million of United Artists’ money to spend to bring Dr. No to the screen. That meant they couldn’t spend a fortune on their lead actor, the man who would personify James Bond. Their choice ended up themselves and the actor involved rich.

The choice, of course, was Sean Connery, 31 years old at the time Dr. No went into production. Ken Adam, in interviews for extras for 007 movie DVDs directed by John Cork, described him as “a pretty rough diamond” at that time. Broccoli, in his autobiography, used nearly identical phrasing: “…an uncut diamond at the time…Physically and in his general persona, he was too much of a rough-cut to be a replica of (Ian) Fleming’s upper-class secret agent.”

The Scotsman wasn’t a star, but he was already an experienced actor. He had acting credits extending back to 1954 (even if some of them were small parts, like on an episode of The Jack Benny Program or a secondary role in 1959’s Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure).

How much, or little, Connery was paid for Dr. No is in some dispute. Connery told Playboy magazine in a 1965 interview, he only received 6,000 British pounds, or $16,800. U.K film historian Adrian Turner, in his 1998 book on Goldfinger puts the figure at $40,000, in line with director Terence Young’s paycheck.

In Broccoli’s autobiography, a reproduction of a message sent from Broccoli to Saltzman appears. It says “New York,” a reference to UA’s New York headquarters, “did not care for Connery feels we can do better.” The UA executives would change their minds, especially once audiences had their chance to evaluate Connery as 007.

Connery was coached by Young in the ways of the Bondian lifestyle despite, according to Broccoli, the director preferred Richard Johnson in the role. Richard Maibaum, one of three credited screenwriters on Dr. No, said at a 1987 conference (the video is included in the DVD extra, The Thunderball Phenomenon) that Connery wasn’t exactly Ian Fleming’s James Bond and a rougher character.

“Our attributing to him all these gentlemanly qualifications and stuff was the cream of the jest,” Maibaum said a quarter-century ago. “It made it funny. It also made him instantly acceptable.”

Whatever the exact reason, the choice of Connery was a successful one. For the actor, it was the springboard to a legendary career. For the producers, it ensured more orders from United Artists for Bond movies. For many fans, Connery supplied an image of 007 that hasn’t been surpassed. Connery would have battles later with Broccoli and Saltzman (especially about money). But, a half-century ago, the choice of an unknown actor was proven right.

NEXT: The elegant Venus

1967: Bulldog Drummond gets revived to cash in on the spy craze

James Bond spurred production of many spy-oriented movies and TV shows in the 1960s. One Bond-inspired production was a film series that dusted off the character of Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond.

Ian Fleming, in discussing his James Bond novels, said they were written to be modern, including depictions of sex and violence, unlike the Bulldog Drummond stories by Herman Cyril McNeile, writing under the name of “Sapper” and continued by Gerard Fairlie. Over the years, a number of actors, including Walter Pidgeon, Ronald Colman and Ray Milland would portray Drummond.

For the 1960s film series, the producers chose Richard Johnson, an actor considered for the role of Bond in Dr. No. Also chosen were actors who’d appear in later Bond movies, including Milton Reid, Laurence Naismith and Virginia North.

Here’s the first few minutes of the film: