Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Moore: Debonaire But Effective

For Many, Roger Moore Always Will Be James Bond, and a Real-Life Hero as Well

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Roger Moore is perhaps the most debated James Bond of them all. There is no question that he played his most famous character, Bond, in arch fashion, with elements of broad humor and one-liners. Some fans thus think that Roger Moore cheapened Ian Fleming's vision of a manly superhero by not maintaining a more rigid macho pose like Sean Connery or (later) Daniel Craig. However, many, many more fans loved Roger Moore's ironic portrayal of the British super spy and revere him as a British icon.

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Roger Moore as Shawn Fynn

For James Bond fans who grew up in the '70s, and even many who came later, the names "James Bond" and "Roger Moore" are practically interchangeable - in the popular media, Roger himself could be confronting some criminals, someone would shout "It's Roger Moore," and the hoodlums would scatter. He had presence and authority, and didn't need to swagger about proving it with every gesture. No James Bond actor can be all things to all people, and you certainly don't have to agree that Roger Moore was the best James Bond - all the James Bond actors were top grade. However, as proven by various polls, most fans do rank Roger Moore above all others, even above Sean Connery. This has led to some unique compliments that no amount of money could buy: Amy Winehouse, for instance, chose Sir Roger, out of everyone, to reference in her classic song "You Know I'm No Good" with the line:
By the time I'm out the door
You tear men down like Roger Moore

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Roger Moore with Barbara Bach in "The Spy Who Loved Me"

Perhaps, even if you are not a Roger Moore fan, you will at least be willing to admit that Roger Moore deserves all the credit in the world for shepherding the James Bond series through a chaotic decade. Suave and stealthy was out, and the James Bond series very easily could have died after any of the films. The previous Bond, George Lazenby, only lasted for one film and reportedly left the series because he (or his agent) didn't think that it would survive. Roger Moore the actor may not actually have saved the world himself, but he saved the James Bond film franchise, and that's no exaggeration.

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Young Roger Moore

Roger Moore's Youth

Roger was born on October 27, 1927 in London, England. His policeman father, George Alfred Moore, and mother, Lillian "Lily" Moore, sent Roger to Battersea Grammar School. He joined the general evacuation of children from London during the Blitz, then went on to take classes, without graduating, at the University of Durham. Shortly after World War II, when most men were being mustered out of the service, Roger was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps as a second Lieutenant. He served in West Germany, perhaps mingling with real spies. He rose to the rank of Captain before joining the entertainment branch as an actor.
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Roger Moore in the Army, already showing his genial charm

Having studied acting before his army service at the Cambridge Arts Theatre Company during 1944, which period included some bit parts, Roger Moore continued that career after mustering out of the service. This period included some modelling, Roger being a handsome young man who could have had a career in that field as well. Roger Moore instead chose to become one of the early television actors during the "Golden Age," first appearing on the small screen in 1950. Based on early success on the small screen, he managed to secure a coveted film contract with MGM. Television, however, turned out to be his particular route to stardom. Returning to it, Moore's early series included "Ivanhoe," "The Alaskans," and the very successful "Maverick" with James Garner.

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A young Roger Moore in "The Alaskans"

The real breakthrough for Roger Moore came in 1962, when he became an overnight success after a hard dozen years of work. Promoter Lew Grade noticed Roger's international success on television and cast him as the lead in "The Saint." The hero, Simon Templar, was a character surprisingly similar to James Bond, and coincidentally (perhaps) the series premiered around the same time as the first James Bond film, "Dr. No." Developed from the novels by Leslie Charteris, "The Saint" followed a suave spy who tossed off light-hearted comments as he battled evildoers. Also directing several episodes, Roger Moore became a true international superstar during the long run of the series (118 episodes over six years).

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Along with "The Avengers," "The Saint" is probably the best-remembered 1960s British television series abroad (Patrick McGoohan's "Secret Agent," while much beloved in England, never achieved quite the same level of renown in America as "The Saint"). Roger Moore was exemplary in the role of Simon Templar, and it made his later career possible. He did regret not having the ability also to play in higher-quality films during this period. "I'd have loved to have been as talented as Peter O'Toole," he would later say in typical self-deprecating fashion. Roger Moore indeed would have demonstrated his range in prestigious films such as "Lawrence of Arabia," but fate had other plans in store for the immensely popular small-screen actor.

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Roger Moore in 1965

After "The Saint" ended, Roger Moore made a few forgettable films, and there was no question that he was typecast as a spy. Then, looking to raise his visibility once again and perhaps missing his fame as a television spy, Moore made another deal with Lew Grade. With nothing guaranteeing any return on his investment but a handshake and a grin, Roger created on his own dime 24 episodes of "The Persuaders." It was another spy series, again with Moore as the insouciant lead character. His co-star was American film star Tony Curtis, who reportedly acted like a big star and did as little work as possible on the series. Roger persevered and, having completed the episodes, finally went back to Lew Grade. The British tycoon honored his casual commitment to Moore and arranged distribution of the short-lived series. "The Persuaders" helped make Roger a rich man despite its lacklustre reception abroad. It never developed a huge following, but it hasn't been completely forgotten, either, and that's a credit to Moore and his vision.

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Roger Moore as Simon Templar

James Bond 007 Calls

Meanwhile, the Ian Fleming-derived James Bond franchise had become a huge hit during Roger's stint on "The Saint," with Sean Connery returning one last time for "Diamonds are Forever" in 1971. It was clear to many that Roger was ideal for the part. However, Roger Moore's commitment to "The Saint" and "The Persuaders," along with the casting of other actors in the James Bond role, made it look increasingly unlikely that he ever would be able to use his preparation of playing super spies to portray the biggest superspy of them all. He was, after all, several years older than Connery, who was rapidly growing out of the role himself. By 1972, though, the James Bond role was vacant for good, and the time finally was right. Roger Moore was a natural successor to Sean Connery, being already the most famous English actor of his generation. Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who along with Henry Saltzman owned the rights to the James Bond franchise, offered Roger Moore the Bond role. Roger, delighted, quickly signed up for and filmed "Live and Let Die" (1973).

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Roger Moore in "Live and Let Die"

The film was a success, with a sterling title tune by Paul McCartney and Wings adding to its popularity. Most fans loved Roger as James Bond, and the producers wanted him back. Not everything was perfect, however. There was a general feeling among some that Roger Moore wasn't tough enough for the role. Broccoli, therefore,  pointedly threw in some fight scenes for Moore in the subsequent films such as "The Man with the Golden Gun" and "The Spy Who Loved Me," and that quieted the criticisms.

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Roger Moore as James Bond fighting Jaws (Richard Kiel)

Each of the films was successful at the box office, and the franchise found a new global audience. Roger's comfort in the role led to a total of seven appearances as James Bond. Rather than swaggering about in the manner of Sean Connery, to whom any James Bond actor must face comparison, Roger Moore carved out his own niche as an almost elegant figure who defeated his rivals with a trick and a joke, showing true British aplomb while inevitably saving the world and the British Empire. Rather than punch his foes, Moore's Bond would usually outwit them. It was a clever take on the character, well-suited to Moore's physical qualities and maximizing his particular acting skills. It is not out of line to say that Roger Moore was the finest actor, in a technical sense, ever to tackle the role.

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Roger Moore taking a break between scenes. It looks awfully hot there.

Roger's James Bond typically would defeat his foes by using their own devices against them. Doing everything with a wink and a shrug, it was almost as if the character didn't care what happened or how he won, which suited the cynical post-Watergate times. James Bond, though, always triumphed anyway. Roger Moore proved that he could mix it up very well when the situation demanded, but a mere gladiator was not what audiences of the '70s were seeking. He gave the people the sort of knowing hero that they wanted, and the films "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974), "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), "Moonraker" (1979), "For Your Eyes Only" (1981), "Octopussy" (1983) and "A View to a Kill" (1985) turned the James Bond films into one of the most successful franchises of all time. All fans of James Bond owe Roger Moore a debt of gratitude, whether they realize and acknowledge it or not.

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Roger Moore filming "Moonraker"

Post-Bond Work

While Roger Moore occasionally worked in other films during his James Bond period, they were nowhere near as memorable. After finally cutting the ties to Ian Fleming's spy in 1985, Roger Moore did some more low-key film and television work before calling it quits in the 1990s. After all those years of playing a spy, it was clear that Roger Moore still was typecast, but in a good way. He became the butt of some jokes on British comedy television series, which he took good-naturedly, but the spoofs were not always kind. Perhaps the most notorious of them was a skit in which Roger's head was portrayed as a block of wood which, when called upon to express extreme emotion, raised its eyebrow slightly. Roger's many loyal fans became incensed, and reportedly there were death threats.
You do not mess with Roger Moore.
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Roger Moore mixing it up in "The Spy Who Loved Me"

It turned out that many veteran viewers of Roger Moore's 25 years playing a spy had developed sentimental feelings towards him that were offended easily, not least because he always cast a noble light upon his homeland. Many remembered, for example, his parachuting down while proudly unfurling a huge Union Jack as a parachute at the beginning of "The Spy Who Loved Me." The jokes and parodies soon ended. Roger himself, though, has shown he is a good sport about the ribbing by himself participating in light-hearted parodies of his James Bond character, such as in the 2010 film "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore." There are no airs about Roger Moore, he is of the common people and he never will forget it.

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Roger Moore promoting UNICEF with wife Christina Thoistrup

It would have been easy at this point for Roger Moore to find a remote tropical island and while away the rest of his life playing golf. Nothing wrong with that. Roger, though, had seen things during his travels playing James Bond that opened his eyes about the world's less fortunate. In 1991, Roger Moore became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He has continued his efforts on behalf of that charity ever since, much more so than is necessary simply to maintain appearances. Roger Moore also has supported PETA, with some real successes in that field directly attributable to his personal renown and the worldwide and genuine respect that he has earned. It was Sir Roger Moore's charity work, not his acting, that led to the knighthood of this ordinary policeman's son in 2003.

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Sir Roger Moore


2013

1 comment:

  1. Roger Moore is perhaps the best actor to portray James Bond. Although I'm too young to remember the earliest movies, like "Live and Let Die", "The Man with the Golden Gun". or "The Spy Who Loved Me", when they first premiered, but I do remember movies like "Octopussy", and "A View to a Kill". Instead of criticizing Roger Moore for not being like his predecessor, Sean Connery, they should praise him for bringing something new to the James Bond franchise.

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