Born: September 5, 1939
Birthplace: Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia
George Robert Lazenby (/ˈleɪzənbi/; born 5 September 1939) is an Australian actor and former model best known for his portrayal of James Bond in the Eon series in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service at the age of 29, making him the youngest actor to date to have portrayed the character. Lazenby is also the only Bond actor to receive a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor.
Prior to appearing as Bond, Lazenby was a model and appeared in advertising. After declining to do another Bond film, Lazenby acted in Italy, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. His career stalled in the 1970s and he moved into business and invested in real estate. He later appeared in several films and television series, including roles spoofing the James Bond character. In 2017, a documentary entitled Becoming Bond was released on Hulu, featuring Lazenby recounting his life story.
Lazenby has been married twice, first to Christina Gannett (1971-1995) (heiress to the Gannett News Service publishing empire) and then from 2002 to 2008 to tennis player Pam Shriver.
Lazenby was born in 1939 in Goulburn, New South Wales, at Ovada Private Hospital, to railway worker George Edward Lazenby and Sheila Joan Lazenby (née Bodel), who worked at Fosseys. He went to Goulburn Public School in his primary years, and Goulburn High School until either 1953 or 1954. His sister, Barbara, was an accomplished dancer. When he was young he spent 18 months in hospital after having an operation which left him with only half a kidney.
When Lazenby was about 14 he moved with his family from Goulburn to Queanbeyan, where his father ran a store. He worked as a car salesman and mechanic, before serving in the Australian Army.
Lazenby moved to London in 1963 to pursue a woman he'd fallen in love with. He became a used car salesman in Finchley, then sold new cars in Park Lane. He was spotted by a talent scout who persuaded him to become a model, and he was soon earning £25,000 a year (£444,000 today). He was best known for an advertisement for Big Fry Chocolate. In 1966 he was voted Top Model of the Year.
In 1968, after Sean Connery had left the role of James Bond, producer Albert R. Broccoli met Lazenby for the first time while they were getting their hair cut at the same barber. Broccoli later saw him in the Big Fry commercial and felt he could be a possible Bond, inviting him to do a screen test.
Lazenby dressed for the part by sporting several sartorial Bond elements such as a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit, which had been ordered, but not collected, by Connery.
Broccoli offered him an audition. The position was consolidated when Lazenby accidentally punched a professional wrestler, who was acting as stunt coordinator, in the face, impressing Broccoli with his ability to display aggression. Director Peter R. Hunt later claimed:
|“||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. Didn't they find Gary Cooper when he was an electrician?||”|
In July 1969 Lazenby returned home to Queanbeyan to see his parents. He said he had 18 films to consider. "But it's all commercial rubbish, such as the guy getting the girl at the end of the Battle of Britain", he said. "I'll just have to wait and see". At this stage Lazenby said he intended to make the next Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.
In November 1969, prior to the release of the film, Lazenby announced that he no longer wished to play the role of James Bond, saying, " made me feel like I was mindless. They disregarded everything I suggested simply because I hadn't been in the film business like them for about a thousand years."
His co-star Diana Rigg was among many who commented on this decision:
|“||The role made Sean Connery a millionaire. It made Sean Connery ... I truly don't know what's happening in George's mind so I can only speak of my reaction. I think it's a pretty foolish move. I think if he can bear to do an apprenticeship, which everybody in this business has to do - has to do - then he should do it quietly and with humility. Everybody has to do it. There are few instant successes in the film business. And the instant successes one usually associates with somebody who is willing to learn anyway.||”|
Rigg was also quoted as saying, "I can no longer cater for his obsession with himself. He is utterly, unbelievably ... bloody impossible".
"I draw a veil over the chap", said Desmond Llewelyn (who played Q in 17 Bond films). "How can you expect someone who's never acted before ... to take on a leading role?"
Lazenby grew a beard and long hair. "Bond is a brute ... I've already put him behind me. I will never play him again. Peace - that's the message now", he announced.
|“||I much prefer being a car salesman to a stereotyped James Bond. My parents think I'm insane, everybody thinks I'm insane passing up maybe millions of pounds. Nobody believed me. They thought it was a publicity stunt. But it's just me doing my own thing.||”|
He later elaborated:
|“||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 film-makers don't watch and aren't in touch. People aren't going to films because film-makers are putting out films people don't want to see. As for the so-called "Tomorrow movies" they are only tomorrow movies with yesterday directors ... Actors aren't all that important. Directors are. I'm terribly impressed with Dennis Hopper. I'd like to work for him. I also like Arthur Penn, John Schlesinger and Peter Yates ... What I'm going to do is look for a great director first, a good screenplay second. Meanwhile, no more Bond. I make better money doing commercials.||”|
At the time of the release of OHMSS, Lazenby's performance received mixed reviews. Some felt that, while he was physically convincing, some of his costumes were inappropriate - "too loud" according to some - and that he delivered his lines poorly.
Others, however, have developed differing views in the decades since the film. In the 1998 book The Essential James Bond, Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrell write:
|“||Although OHMSS was routinely dismissed by critics who cited Lazenby as a brave but disappointing successor to Connery, the intervening years have been notably kinder to both the film and its star. Indeed, due in no small part to Peter Hunt's inspired direction, OHMSS generally ranks among the top films with fans. Likewise, Lazenby has emerged as a very popular contributor to the series and has enjoyed large enthusiastic audiences during his appearances at Bond related events. In summary, OHMSS is a brilliant thriller in its own right and justifiably ranks amongst the best Bond films ever made.||”|
In Roger Moore's commentary for a 2007 DVD release of The Man with the Golden Gun, he made reference to George Lazenby:
|“||I have a great deal of e-mail contact with George Lazenby; he's sort of in on the joke circuit ... that we simply send jokes to each other. OHMSS - very well made film - Peter Hunt - excellent, excellent, excellent fight stuff, excellent snow effects ... but I think the end result for George was that it was one of the better Bonds.||”|
Broccoli told the press shortly after the film's release:
|“||I don't agree with the press. I think they should have given him A for effort. It's true he's not Olivier but Olivier could not play Bond in any circumstances... John Aspinall's mother Lady Osborne told me she thought he was the best of the Bonds.||”|
Broccoli did admit that he found Lazenby's post-movie attitude annoying:
|“||I find it incredible that a plum role can't be respected. We chose George because in his physique and his looks and his walk he was the best of the candidates. He had the masculinity. Looking at the film, to put it in an old Spanish phrase, one could wish he had less cojones and more charm.||”|
Although Lazenby had been offered a contract for seven movies, his agent, Ronan O'Rahilly, convinced him that the secret agent would be archaic in the liberated 1970s, and as a result he left the series after the release of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969. After this role Lazenby began to study drama at Durham University's College of the Venerable Bede.
Lazenby has portrayed James Bond several times over the years in numerous parodies and unofficial 007 roles, most notably the 1983 television film The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (in which his character is identified only by the initials J.B.), 1996 video game Fox Hunt (parts of which were reedited into a feature film) and an episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, entitled "Diamonds Aren't Forever". In 2012 Lazenby made a guest appearance on the Canadian sketch comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, spoofing the 007 series in a skit called "Help, I've Skyfallen and I Can't Get Up".
For a time there was some talk Lazenby would appear in a western, Deakin. He talked to the press about his use of LSD and marijuana and was involved in a well publicised incident helping a friend of his who was arrested in Germany. He grew his hair and a moustache and talked about rejecting the "trappings of materialism".
Lazenby eventually made another film a year after On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Universal Soldier (1971), which he helped write. He said the movie was "anti-guns and anti-Bond... a with no plot. It is really just a series of happenings which keep the audience entertained. This is the kind of film which is coming out in Europe now." It starred Chrissie Townsend, his 18-year-old girlfriend and future wife. The film was a financial disaster which was barely released.
"After the Bond fiasco nobody would touch me", admitted Lazenby. "Harry Saltzman had always said, 'If you don't do another Bond you'll wind up doing spaghetti westerns in Italy. But I couldn't even get one of those. My agent couldn't believe it. But the word was out - I was 'difficult'."
Lazenby next appeared in the 1972 Italian film, Who Saw Her Die?, a performance for which he lost 35 pounds and has since received critical acclaim. He spent the next 15 months sailing around the world with Chrissie Townsend which ended when she became pregnant with their first child, prompting Lazenby to settle down and try to re-activate his career as an actor.
Lazenby played a role in the BBC's Play For Today series in 1973, starring in Roger Smith's The Operation. Broccoli claims that Lazenby asked for another chance to play James Bond in 1971 but the producer refused.
In 1973, Lazenby said he was "flat broke" when he went to Hong Kong to meet Bruce Lee and producer Raymond Chow. They ended up offering him $10,000 ($55,100 today) to appear in a film with Lee, which was going to be the Golden Harvest film Game of Death. However this collapsed after Lee's sudden death - Lazenby was actually meant to meet up with Lee for lunch on the day that Lee died.
Instead it was announced Lazenby would make The Golden Needles of Ecstasy for Golden Harvest. "I'm excited to be able to concentrate on just acting in this film", he said. "On Universal Soldier I was involved in the production, the writing and even a bit in direction. I don't think I'm a good enough actor to get fragmented like that on a job. Now I can give my full concentration to acting. I hope it will be good and lead to other roles."
He revealed he had been consulting an astrologer for four years. "Even before I made the Bond picture she said I would become famous, and that there would be big problems for a couple of years", he said. "Then she assured me that I would be back at the top of my profession by the end of 1973. It's absolutely fantastic, because everything she has told me has happened".
In the end, Lazenby did not make Golden Needles but shot three other films for Golden Harvest, Stoner (1974) (aka The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss), The Man from Hong Kong (1975) (also known as The Dragon Flies), and A Queen's Ransom (1976).
In the mid-1970s, he appeared in a number of television movies shot in his native Australia, and an episode of the local police drama series Matlock Police. He also returned to modelling, appearing in a number of advertisements for Benson and Hedges cigarettes.
A few years later he told an Australian magazine, "I got a few roles but nothing spectacular, yet I was ready, willing and able to work. I just don't think I'm going to make it here. If something good came along I'd stay, though."
In the late 1970s Lazenby moved to Hollywood where he started taking acting lessons and set about trying to reactivate his career. "I enjoy the States, to be quite honest about it", he said. "I've got an American wife and green card so I have the best of both worlds."
In 1978 Broccoli described casting Lazenby as "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." Sean Connery came to Lazenby's defence saying "I have known George for many years and arrogance is not in his character. Alas I cannot say the same for Cubby Broccoli".
"The interesting thing about that is - I've never met Sean", said Lazenby. "I don't know him at all. Once, years ago, he came to pick up someone who was staying at my house and I saw him through the door. That's all. But I always admired him. I tried to copy him when I played Bond because, after all, I wasn't an actor so I thought my best chance would be to try and be as close to Connery as I could."
Lazenby went on to add:
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.
In 1978, he took out an advertisement in Variety, offering himself for acting work. "If I could get a TV series or a good movie, I swear I'd do it for nothing", he told a journalist. "People ask me if the Bond movie wasn't worth it if it got me into acting. It's true that it got me in, but it wasn't worth the ten years it cost me."
He was particularly keen to do The Thorn Birds. but that project was not made until a number of years later and without Lazenby. He did manage to secure roles in Hawaii 5-0 and Evening in Byzantium. The latter was seen by Harry Saltzman who offered Lazenby a leading role in a proposed science fiction film The Micronauts. "When I tossed Bond in after one movie he said he'd make sure I never got another job", said Lazenby." Now he's offering me one. It seems that the 10-year sentence is up. Harry saw me in a TV show I'd recently made for NBC. He rang me up out of the blue and said, "Now that was a damn lousy show, but one thought that you were ger-reat." However the movie was never made.
Lazenby made a guest appearance on the television series Superboy, as an alien disguised as Jor-El, in a two-part episode during the series' second season in 1990. He appeared with Sylvia Kristel in several new Emmanuelle films in the 1990s, many of which appeared on cable television. In 1993, Lazenby had a part in the film Gettysburg as Confederate General Johnston Pettigrew. On 19 September 2013, comedian Jim Jefferies announced on Twitter that Lazenby would be playing his father in the upcoming second season of his FX network sitcom Legit.
Lazenby's single portrayal of the iconic Bond character, and his lack of standing as a favourite in the series has resulted in his name being used as a metaphor for forgettable, non-iconic acting efforts in other entertainment franchises, and for entities that are largely ignored. In his review of Batman & Robin, widely regarded as the weakest and least successful film in the Batman film franchise, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said that George Clooney "should go down in history as the George Lazenby of the series." Actor Paul McGann has described himself with good humour as "the George Lazenby of Doctor Who" because, although he has continued in the role of the Eighth Doctor in other media, he made only two appearances on TV as the Time Lord. In a September 2006 episode of The Daily Show, comedian John Oliver suggested that Pope Benedict XVI is the George Lazenby of the papacy, in comparison to "John Paul II's Sean Connery".
In 2009, Sondre Lerche released a song called "Like Lazenby" on the album "Heartbeat Radio" in which he laments squandered opportunities wishing for a "second try." Lerche wrote the song after receiving a VHS of the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service as a child after sending away for a free copy of the movie only to find he had joined a James Bond film club. He got in trouble when his mother was contacted to pay for the membership. Years later watching the movie again on DVD (with Lazenby's interviews), he found it a perfect metaphor for life's disappointments.
In 2010 Roger Moore, who also played James Bond, provided the voice of a talking cat character named Tab Lazenby in the film Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, which contained several references to, and parodies of, Bond films.
In 1973, Lazenby married his girlfriend of three years, Chrissie Townsend, a member of the Gannett family. They subsequently had two children, Zachary and Melanie. Zachary was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour when he was eleven and died when he was 19 years old. Melanie became a real estate broker in New York.
In 2002 Lazenby married former tennis player Pam Shriver. In August 2008, it was reported that Shriver had filed for divorce from Lazenby. Documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court cite "irreconcilable differences" for the end of the couple's six-year marriage. The couple have three children, including twins born in 2005.