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