Sir Roger Moore is widely remembered for his portrayal of legendary MI6 agent 007, James Bond, starring in several iconic films throughout the 1970s and '80s. Moore's approach to the famous role dramatically departed from his predecessors, opting for a more humorous and light-hearted attitude while still maintaining Bond's charming confidence and impressively vast skill set. While Moore's Bond movies are frequently critically divisive and fiercely debated among 007 fans, his sophisticated and polished acting style coupled with the film's comedic elements made him a distinctive and memorable Bond.
Life and Career
Roger Moore was born October 14, 1927 in Stockwell, London and was the only child born to Lily and George Moore. As a young child, Moore suffered several illnesses and experienced bouts with mumps, measles, and chickenpox, almost passing away at age five from double bronchial pneumonia. Despite the health scares and hospital visits, Moore fondly remembered his childhood in his autobiography My Word is My Bond, including an early introduction to pipes, saying, "When everyone was out I would lather up and stand close to the open kitchen window, with Dad's pipe in my mouth, hoping that a passer-by would catch sight of me, an eight-year-old trying to pass as a teenager." (pg. 17)
During World War II, Moore and his family survived the German bombings on London and he was later evacuated to continue his schooling. Moore eventually enrolled in an art college and apprenticed at an animation studio, a job he loathed as he typically performed menial tasks and ran errands for the staff.
After Moore was fired one day for failing to deliver processed film canisters, a friend suggested he apply to be a film extra in the 1945 film Caesar and Cleopatra. Irish director Brian Desmond Hurst worked as a co-director on the movie and reportedly saw the attention Moore was attracting from female fans off-camera. Hurst also recognized Moore's acting potential and encouraged him to apply for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, offering to pay his fees if he was accepted. Moore attended the school for three terms, learning fencing, ballet, miming, and all aspects of proper voice production and diction. It was during this time that Moore cultivated his relaxed, suave demeanor and the Mid-Atlantic accent that became a signature aspect of his on-screen persona.
Shortly after World War II ended, Moore was conscripted into military service and was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps. He served in the Combined Services Entertainment Unit in West Germany, looking after armed forces entertainers passing through Hamburg. After spending three years in the army, Moore returned to acting, landing small theatre and film roles in addition to modeling for women's magazines where he was often depicted as the romantic hero in "true love" stories.
Moore traveled to the United States in 1953 in search of acting work, eventually signing a contract with MGM and acting in a handful of films throughout the decade, performing in minor roles. After a few years he returned to England, finding success in 1958 portraying Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe in a loose television adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's historical novel. It was Moore's first starring role and he seized the opportunity to make his character even more heroic by performing his own stunts, suffering three cracked ribs during a fight scene and being knocked out by the flat of a battleaxe that collided with his helmet.
Moore's next major project, The Alaskans, was a western television series where the Alaskan exterior shots were filmed in the sweltering heat on a Warner Brothers studio lot in Burbank, California. Moore later called it "my most appalling television series ever" and went on to say, "They built Alaska on the studio lot in California, sprinkled it with dried salt and white corn flakes and there we were, snowbound. You can imagine dashing around in thick, heavy furs and gloves, pretending to be icy cold — while the Californian sun is gently turning you into fried meat."
A second western series, Maverick, introduced Moore in the show's fourth season as Beau Maverick, the English-accented cousin of Bret Maverick, played by James Garner who quit the previous season. Sean Connery, the first actor to portray James Bond on film, also auditioned for the role of Beau but turned it down.
Moore recounted his experience with the show in his autobiography and how he felt essentially replacing Garner: "They assured me that I wasn't replacing him. Oh, yeah? Then why did all my costumes have 'Jim Garner' in them, semi-scratched out? They just took two inches off the waist. I wasn't that thrilled about doing the show, particularly after I'd just served my time on The Alaskans, but the carrot of further films was dangled. Maverick was OK, as it happens, and I thought some of the scripts were quite funny."
It was Moore's first starring role and he seized the opportunity to make his character even more heroic by performing his own stunts
Moore's major breakthrough role was The Saint, a television series based on the spy thrillers written by Leslie Charteris. The Saint was the nickname of Moore's character Simon Templar, a wealthy and suave crime-fighter. The show was a major success and lasted for seven years, making Moore an international star and according to the British newspaper The Independent, the first British actor to become a millionaire through television. The Saint showcased Moore's charisma and confidence, with many of Templar's mannerisms, such as his sharp wit and his signature raised eyebrow, carrying over into Moore's time as James Bond.
After the series ended in 1969, Moore acted in two movies, Crossplot, a largely forgotten caper film, and 1971's The Man Who Haunted Himself, a psychological thriller. The Man Who Haunted Himself is based on the short story "The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham" and centers around Harold Pelham, who upon waking up from a car accident begins to notice strange things occurring in his life. Moore viewed the film as his best work, saying in a 2004 interview with The Guardian, "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."
Moore returned to television in 1971 to star in The Persuaders alongside Tony Curtis, with the pair portraying two millionaire playboys from different backgrounds who work together solving cases and stumbling into adventures. The show was successful in several countries, but didn't perform as well in the United States as it aired on ABC during CBS's popular show Mission: Impossible. The Persuaders lasted for one season in America with crew members claiming Curtis and Moore's differing work ethic made production difficult. British media mogul Lew Grade mentioned in his autobiography that the duo "didn't hit it off that well." Reportedly, Curtis despised working longer than necessary while Moore expressed a willingness to work overtime if needed. Moore also acknowledged in his autobiography that Curtis' frequent marijuana use and irritableness posed problems. However, Moore looked back on the show favorably saying in an interview years later, "Tony and I had a good on and off screen relationship, we are two very different people, but we did share a sense of humour."
My Name is Bond, James Bond
After declining to make another season of The Persuaders, Moore received a call from producer Harry Saltzman, who explained that he and fellow producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli wanted Moore to be the next James Bond. Moore was first considered for the role around 1967 while Sean Connery was filming You Only Live Twice, when Connery stated that he had no desire to play Bond again, though he returned in 1971's Diamonds are Forever and a final time in the aptly titled 1983 movie Never Say Never Again. Moore was busy working on The Saint in the late '60s when it was announced George Lazenby would play Bond in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, leaving Moore feeling that the role eluded him for good.
Once Connery left the role a second time, Moore immediately took the offer to play Bond and made his debut in 1973's Live and Let Die. Before filming, the producers asked Moore to lose a little weight, cut his hair, and adopt a stronger fitness regime — demands that Moore initially resented but ultimately met. The film was a major success and established Moore as the new Bond, in spite of the unavoidable comparisons to Connery's work. Moore enjoyed starring in the film despite kidney stone problems and suffering some injuries, the most notable being during a practice run before the famous boat chase scene when Moore's boat failed and sent him flying into a wooden boathouse. Moore recounted the event in his book, writing, "On impact, I flew out of the boat and straight into a wall, cracking my front teeth and twisting my knee badly. I needed a walking cane for days afterwards, but fortunately most of the upcoming schedule involved me sitting down in the boat." (pg. 176).
Roger Moore's love of cigars was readily evident during his time as James Bond and he can be seen smoking them on screen as 007. Moore was the first Bond to smoke cigars, departing from his predecessors who only smoked cigarettes as well as Ian Fleming's description of Bond in his novels. In Fleming's first novel Casino Royale (1953), Bond's cigarette of choice is "a Balkan and Turkish mixture made for him by Morlands of Grosvenor Street." Fleming personally disliked cigars and would use cigar smoke as an image of sadness or cheapness in some of his works.
Moore's major breakthrough role was The Saint, a television series based on the spy thrillers written by Leslie Charteris
Previous to Moore's appearances as Bond, cigar smoking in 007 films was rarely seen. Bernard Lee, who played M, Bond's superior and head of the Secret Intelligence Service, smoked a cigar in Goldfinger (1964) while briefing Bond at the Bank of England. Italian actor Adolfo Celi, who played the villain Emilio Largo in 1965's Thunderball can be seen smoking cigarillos at various points.
Moore's cigar smoking is also a rare instance of an actor's personal preferences being used to inform a characterization of Bond. There's also a popular, long-standing rumor that Moore added a clause in his contract so that he would be provided with an unlimited supply of Montecristo cigars while shooting the Bond films. While he primarily enjoyed cigars, Moore occasionally smoked pipes and can be seen in photographs smoking a Falcon pipe while on set.
Sometimes cigars would be incorporated into action scenes such as Live and Let Die, when Bond used his cigar to create an improvised flamethrower with a can of aerosol aftershave to kill a snake. Later in the same scene, Bond uses his lit cigar to catch an armed intruder off guard as they sneak into his hotel room. The cigar he smokes in the film is a Montecristo Especial No. 1, a smooth, medium-bodied cigar that delivers a creamy, well-rounded flavor profile with notes of vanilla and baked bread.
Cigars returned in The Man with the Golden Gun and Bond can be seen smoking one during a belly dancer's performance, waiting to retrieve a spent golden bullet to track its manufacturer. Bond also smokes one outside of the Bottoms Up Club in Hong Kong, moments before meeting Francisco Scaramanga's henchman, Nick Nack. For this film, Moore smoked the Montecristo Especial No. 3, a shorter, Corona-sized version of the lengthier, Lonsdale-sized Especial No. 1.
Moore's cigar smoking is a rare instance of an actor's personal preferences being used to inform a characterization of Bond
In 1983, two Bond films were released by different production studios, Octopussy starring Moore and Never Say Never Again starring Connery, in his final appearance as 007. The press referred to it as the "Battle of the Bonds" and the movies were released a few months apart, with Moore's film being the first. Despite the perceived public notion and media speculation that Moore and Connery were intense rivals, both men were good friends.
Moore explained his relationship with Connery in his autobiography:
Moore starred in a total of seven James Bond films between 1973 and 1985 and was the oldest actor to portray the iconic spy, retiring at age 58 after A View to a Kill was released. He sporadically appeared in films after Bond and became heavily involved in humanitarian work, succeeding actress Audrey Hepburn as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991. He played a significant role in raising money for children in underdeveloped countries, brought attention to child crisis issues, and introduced several major UNICEF initiatives. In 2003, Moore was knighted in recognition of his charitable services and continued his philanthropic work before passing away in 2017 at age 89.
Roger Moore's time as James Bond remains memorable and iconic, with many fans considering him to be their favorite Bond. "My personality is entirely different than previous Bonds. I'm not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs," Moore once said. His personality made him a fascinating Bond and he was always entertaining no matter how outlandish the plot or whatever seemingly impossible situations Bond faced. A tribute piece written for The Telegraph summed up Moore's Bond rather nicely, saying, "Most people settle on Sir Roger Moore or Sir Sean Connery as their favourite Bond. Why Moore? Because he was Bond incarnate, and then some. He was the quintessential Englishman, somewhere between gentleman and jester — a slick, schmaltzy, suave provocateur. Moore's 007 was, in a word, fun: never above a wry laugh, preferably with a dry Martini in hand." Moore perfectly embodied the role, making one of cinema's most beloved and enduring characters even more spectacular.