I never would have thought that I would be sitting here, in my early thirties with a beard starting to get flashes of grey on my chin, writing this article. See, I grew up fascinated by the Bond franchise. Sean Connery and Roger Moore, both icons in their own respective right, were the unsinkable heroes to me. As each year passed, nothing could take either man down. They could live forever. They were legends for the work they accomplished, I kept saying to myself. So imagine today, a cloudy dreary day 20 miles outside of Philadelphia, when the unthinkable occurred. I saw the news at first but that first cup of coffee really hadn’t kicked in quite yet. Imagine my face when my phone started to buzz. One text. Two texts. Suddenly, I had people asking me if I saw the news. Was it true? You have to know, you’re the mega Bond fan.
And then my heart grew heavy, a frown burrowed onto my lips. At the age of 89, Sir Roger Moore has passed away in Switzerland following complications to cancer.
I remember twenty (!) years ago, when I was first getting really drawn into the world of James Bond. DVD wasn’t all that popular as of yet and I had coerced my mom to enroll with Columbia House. Now, for those of you too young to remember what that was – you ordered five movies at a penny each from some of the day’s biggest movie releases, then had to order another five at full price (read – not at retail price) within a year’s time. And their prices were steep too. I thought FYE’s prices at my local mall were unreasonable with current prices on Blu-Ray’s but Columbia House was far worse with their VHS tape pricing. For those of you who do remember though – wasn’t Columbia House like getting a kick in your behind from an riled up bull? Yeah, you think you’re able to stand tall against the bull but, surprise, you get cornered and stampeded from behind when your guard is down.
I became introduced to a lot of genres right about the time I was in heading from elementary to middle school. Sure, I indulged in many R-rated films but my rooting in the moviephile I’ve become took shape at this time. My parents saw Live and Let Die when they first began to see each other. So, that’s where I started, with the story of 007 tackling a drug kingpin with the feisty Jane Seymour by his side. Once I had finished Moore’s first movie, I was hooked. I needed all of the Bond movies to own. No, not needed, no, I wanted all of them. One by one the bottom shelf in one of our VHS cabinets at the house was filled up. First the Connery movies, then the run of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. I even went outside of Columbia House to obtain the rest of the VHS collection, scavenging clearance VHS bins at local department stores to make sure I had every single one. Eventually, I did. The last VHS tape I purchased for the Bond franchise was 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.
(And, later on, I did upgrade to all of the DVD’s…and now all of the Blu-Ray’s. Oops.)
I still question how my tapes didn’t get ripped apart from the number of times I rewound them over days, weeks, months laying in front of the television in the living room. Every era was distinctive from the next, some more serious and others a little more loose and just simply fun. Nonsense, yes, but absolutely a blast with in part to old-school elaborate miniatures to replicate size and scope of locations and weapons. For Moore’s run, Albert Broccoli played on the style that worked best for the actor – relaxed and campy. Those roots came to light over a decade before Moore would become Bond. At the time the Bond that kept reeling me in was having fun gallivanting around the globe, saving the day and the girl from foes and henchmen alike.
In fact, by the time I got to 9th grade, I was feuding with my Honors English teacher about who the superior Bond was. I was staunchly all for Roger Moore. (Hey, I was 15, and I was just getting started on reading every single book. I hadn’t seen the true spirit of Double-oh Seven from the literary standpoint yet.) My teacher, a goofy but wise gentleman, was wholly for Timothy Dalton. MOORE. DALTON. MOORE! DALTON! We sparred, in jest of course, across days and weeks aiming to drive our point home. Moore, in my eyes back then, got all the ladies and saved the day. My teacher’s defense? Dalton was actually more in line with Fleming’s writings. On April Fool’s Day that year, I created a huge yard sign that I staked in his front yard. He brought it to school the next day, his smile beaming because I was that much in belief Moore was better than Dalton.
Okay – in hindsight, I was wrong. Dalton actually grew on me, but one thing for certain – Moore stood apart from Dalton, Connery, hell, even Daniel Craig today. Moore was just that cool, that kind of cool that saw a gentleman light a cigar one moment and the next use the same lighter to dispose of a slithery cretin creeping along the floor. But that’s just how Moore was – he was tall, he was bright, and he lit up all wherever he went with his bubbly personality and ability to command a room.
Believe it or not, as a youth during the height of World War II, Roger Moore had no aspirations to even become an actor. He was more intrigued in animation. He attempted his hand at animating, taking a role as a junior trainee in cartooning but, after mishandling celluloid, quickly discovered maybe artistry by hand wasn’t what he ought to do. He switched over to acting in 1944, trying his hand as an extra and quickly getting noticed for his tall, thin looks. After several appearances on camera for director Brian Desmond Hurst, Moore found himself auditioning and accepting admittance into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Prior to accepting the role as Double-oh Seven Moore was busy in a role that was as debonair as Bond himself, as Simon Templar on the popular The Saint. Unlike Bond, Templar was a smooth-talking thief but only plundered from the rich and villainous of the world. The show ran for 118 episodes on ITV over in England, first in black-and-white before transitioning to color. The show, clearly shot on sound stages but making clever work out of the British countryside, thrived on stories that boasted exotic locales, sensual women, and enough fisticuffs to draw audiences in weekly. The last episode aired in 1969 but unfortunately Moore had missed his time to accept Bond earlier, as his contract prevented him from accepting the iconic role in 1962 and then again in 1969.
Following the camp of 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever (and Sean Connery yet again leaving the franchise), Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli were finally able to land Roger Moore. Now in his early 40’s, Moore’s Bond veered in the opposite direction of the Sean Connery years. Gone was the ruthless and cold Bond who favored cigarettes but loathed The Beatles. Instead, Moore’s Bond played more on the strengths of the thesp. His Bond chewed cigars and spat quips at baddie cannon fodder with a tongue rooted firmly in cheek. Live and Let Die was very much a send-up of blaxploitation of the early 1970’s, while The Man With The Golden Gun embraced the kung-fu culture that Bruce Lee was off filming in China. Both films were from Guy Hamilton, who directed the 1964 great Goldfinger. Unfortunately, the director’s cred failed to generate interest at the box office. Though both movies weren’t technically flops, the case for Moore to become Bond was not optimisitic. The franchise’s future looked grim.
It wouldn’t be until Saltzman and Broccoli parted ways that Moore would begin to stand on his own and apart from Connery. The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 was a true throwback to the larger-than-life stories of the decade before, with a climax set inside a large cargo ship that housed three (!) submarines. The villain was over the top, with plans of world domination on his mind, aided by an wildly impossible henchman with metal teeth. (Meet Jaws – no, not the shark.) While silly at times, with less a focus on Bond firing his Walther and more on being witty and charming, the film grossed $185.4 million at the time. While that seems low by 2017 standards, adjusting for inflation the total gross is actually $692.7 million. Two years later, riding high on the Star Wars craze, Moonraker would go on to become one of the highest grossing movies of 1979 with $202 million worldwide (not adjusted for inflation).
In the 1980’s, following critical drumming of the outlandish Moonraker, producers took a step back and release a more grounded tale in For Your Eyes Only, easily my favorite of Moore’s movies due to the personal and believable stakes of the main characters. (Also, the slight nod to connect to 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a solid homage to tie the various films together, if only for a brief moment.) However, Moore was approaching his mid-50’s by the time Octopussy was getting off the ground – and Sean Connery had signed on the dotted line to return as Bond for Warner Brothers. When Moore’s canonical film actually ran away with receipts and handily trounced Never Say Never Again, for Connery and Moore (who had been friends for years) the passing of the true Bond drawing power was apparent.
Moore retired as Bond following 1985’s A View To A Kill, a movie that worked on paper but not so much on screen. Timothy Dalton would become Bond not long after, but Moore wasn’t content with just retiring and not acting. He began to ride the curtails of the essence of his Bond, unafraid to wink at his charm and persona.. He appeared as the driver of a Lotus Espirit, possibly Bond but the film could never make mention, in The Cannonball Run. Moore popped up in the final Pink Panther movie, in a clever set up where he was “playing” himself but really a central character who had recently completed plastic surgery to hide from the world. In 2002’s Boat Trip Moore portrayed a flamboyant playboy who seemed like a Bond who recently emerged out of the closet. He also showed up in 1997’s Spice World briefly, as well as a guest appearance on the J.J. Abrams-spy drama Alias in 2003.
However, most of his time from 1991 onward was less about cinema and more about good will. In 1991 Moore became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and was an active advocate for children’s causes both domestically and internationally. In 1999, in honor of his world in the public, Moore was honored by her Majesty and the Royal Government with the title Commander of the British Empire. Sir Roger also published three books in his semi-retirement – an autobiography, another memoir, and a candid telling of his time as James Bond. He even still went out and about to theaters to perform one-man shows for audiences across England.
Moore was always quite the ladies man, both on and off the screen, but much was true in real life as well. He was married just four times in his 89 years, his last love being Danish-Swedish multimillionaire Kristina “Kiki” Tholstrup. The two were still married to this day even, showing that the woman he fell for stood the test of time as they grew older together. Moore is survived by three children, a daughter and two sons – actress Deborah Moore, actor Geoffrey Moore, and film producer Christian Moore.
Sir Roger Moore leaves behind an indomitable spirit and a legacy of being as real and as cool as the characters that he played on both television and the big screen. I had never had the honor of meeting Sir Roger (as much as I wanted to, this Bond fanboy may have had a heart attack in London last year on vacation) but the trick is, we all latch onto those who have roles that change a slight aspect of ourselves. Moore didn’t care what the critics said. He chose the roles that he wanted to to act in; he wanted to have fun and a good time, to make audiences just enjoy themselves. And that’s exactly what he has done. The work that he’s done at home, abroad, for audiences old and young, Sir Roger is an icon hard pressed to be forgotten. Go gentle into the good night and hang on tight, Commander Bond. Be you at the peace you have wholly earned.
Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a blue police box.