It was and remains the biggest role in movie history. Certainly, it was a golden ticket for an Australian model most famous for a chocolate advert. Yet, after only one film with a contract for six more, George Lazenby dramatically quit the James Bond franchise before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had even hit cinemas. Even more perplexing is the undeniable fact that the movie was a huge hit, pulling in $82million on a $7million budget, and Lazenby’s textured interactions with Diana Rigg’s Tracy di Vicenzo were years ahead of the secret agent’s standard relationship with his Bond Girls. His reasons at the time for abruptly walking away were rather confusing – and enraged or bewildered those around him – but these days the actor has made his peace with them.
When Connery told the producers he was quitting after You Only Live Twice, Broccoli’s attention was caught by the model who was starring in the Fry’s chocolate Big Fry TV advert. You can watch it below.
Lazenby was called in to audition and spent all his savings on a Rolex watch and a Saville Row suit that had actually been made for Connery but never collected. When he landed the role, the director Peter R Hunt said; “We wanted someone who oozed sexual assurance, and we think this fellow has that. Just wait til the women see him on screen … I am not saying he is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star.”
Lazenby was offered a contract for seven films but then the unthinkable happened.
Broccoli said: “He was my biggest mistake in 16 years. He just couldn’t deal with success. He was so arrogant. There was the stature and looks of a Bond, but Lazenby couldn’t get along with the other performers and technicians.”
However, even Lazenby admitted: “I was totally out of control” during the shoot, causing a headache for the producers by partying hard, throwing bottles of booze in the air and shooting them on set and chasing women. “You’d get four or five girls a day,” he bragged, but it was another form of company that ultimately caused the problems.
Lazenby’s own personal beliefs, mixed with advice from his agent, Ronan O’Rahilly, meant he believed the 007 role was outdated and about to become unfashionable. He thought being Bond would harm his budding film career and wanted to make films like Peter Fonda’s spiritual Easy Rider about the contemporary hippy and drug culture.
Lazenby dismissed the relevance and credibility of Bond, saying: “Fantasy doesn’t interest me. Reality does. Anyone who’s in touch with the kids knows what’s happening, knows the mood. Watch pop music and learn what’s going to happen. Most filmmakers don’t watch and aren’t in touch.”
Years later, the actor added: “Ronan convinced me Bond was all over… I’d be in danger of becoming part of the Establishment. Something he rebelled against. Easy Rider was supposed to be the way forward and I could do three or four of those type of movies for every Bond. I wanted to be a free spirit, make love, not war. Ronan wouldn’t let me sign the Bond contract – kept sending it back. Who knows what would have happened had Ronan not got a hold of my brain? But I don’t regret a day of my life.”
Instead, the Bond movies continued to be smash hits and Lazenby found it hard to find work – not helped by the fact that the highly influential Broccoli had spoken out against him. In 1978, the actor issued a public statement, hoping to rebuild his credibility and his career.
He said: “It hasn’t been easy, trying to climb back… I admit I acted stupidly. It went to my head, everything that was happening to me. But remember, it was my first film… Now what I’ve got to do is live down my past; convince people I’m not the same person who made a fool of himself all those years ago. I know I can do it. All I need is the chance.”
Unfortunately, few substantial chances came his way on the big screen, while he picked up small screen roles over the years in shows like Baywatch, Hawaii Five-0 and General Hospital.
Promoting the 2017 docudrama Making Bond, Lazenby looked back on it all and said: “Do I have any regrets? Only when I was broke… But I thought about how my life would be like if it continued. I’d have had three wives in Beverly Hills, mansions, and been a drug addict. I thought, well, I think I did the right thing.”