Sunday, December 23, 2012

Diana Rigg - Leather Girl Becomes James Bond's Wife

Diana Rigg at Her Best as Emma Peel in "The Avengers" and James Bond's Wife in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"

Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg.

Diana Rigg is still going strong as an actress as this is being written, but she remains best known for her role as the Bond girl who became James Bond's wife (albeit quite briefly) in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). "OHMSS" (as it is known) was quite a good film, despite it being considered somewhat of a "black sheep" among among James Bond films among fans. Praise for OHMSS usually notes the bravura performance by Diana Rigg.

Diana Rigg Emma Peel
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel.

She played Tray Di Vicenzo, a lovelorn mafia princess. Rigg created the entire James Bond series' most heartfelt and serious female character. There were many pretty Bond girls before and after, but Diana Rigg crafted a character of substance. That role of James Bond's wife, though, wasn't why she was best known to American audiences during that period.

Diana Rigg
Gambling in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969).

Before "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Diana Rigg starred for 51 episodes in the cult British 1960s television series "The Avengers" (1965–67). She played the playful secret agent Mrs Emma Peel, perfect foil and sparring partner for Patrick Macnee's John Steed.

Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg replaced Elizabeth Shepherd at very short notice when Shepherd was dropped from the role after filming two episodes. Claiming that she only auditioned for the role of Emma Peel on a whim, without ever having seen the show, Diana Rigg filled the role nicely.

Diana Rigg in sheer dress promo for The Avengers
Promo shot for "The Avengers."

Although Diana Rigg became very popular because of "The Avengers," she grew to dislike the show both creatively and personally. The episodes became sillier and less realistic during her tenure, featuring cats that killed their owners and time travel and disembodied brains kept alive in boxes and similar jokey nonsense.

Diana Rigg Emma Peel
Diana Rigg somewhat flat-footed in a typical leather-girl pose from "The Avengers."

Diana Rigg also did not like the way that she was treated by the Associated British Corporation (ABC), producers of the show, which tried to be too cheap with her.

Diana Rigg
Diana had a lot of fun as the  "Queen of  Sin."

After filming a dozen episodes, she was shocked (she claims) to discover that she was being paid less than some of the show's staff. For her second season she held out for a raise from £150 a week to £450. Even with the extra money, after that season she had had enough (she claims).

Diana Rigg
Diana with sword at the ready in "The Avengers."

Few on the set liked Diana for some reason, as she later acknowledged. This is curious in light of her later attitude about George Lazenby in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," a relationship which apparently was fraught with dislike, at least on Rigg's part. Perhaps two divas on any particular set is one too many? Patrick Macnee later said that Diana Rigg had told him that she considered him (Macnee) and her driver to be her only friends on "The Avengers." Clearly, Diana was picky about her friends.

Diana Rigg black catsuit in "The Avengers"
Diana Rigg in her catsuit from "The Avengers."

"The leather catsuit I wore in "The Avengers" (1961) was a total nightmare; it took a good 45 minutes to get unzipped to go to the loo. It was like struggling in and out of a wet-suit. Once I got into the jersey catsuits, they were very easy to wear but you had to watch for baggy knees; there is nothing worse. I got a lot of very odd fan mail while I was in that show, but my mum used to enjoy replying to it. Some of the men who wrote to me must have been a bit startled because she would offer really motherly advice. I would get a letter from a teenage boy, say, who was overexcited and my mother would write back saying: 'My daughter is far too old for you and what you really need is a good run around the block.'"

Diana Rigg on horseback in OHMSS 1969
As Tracy di Vicenzo in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

On the big screen, Diana Rigg became a Bond girl in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969), playing Tracy Bond, James Bond's only wife. Diana Rigg said she took the role with the hope that she would become well known in America, which did happen, but did not lead to overwhelming success there.

Diana Rigg Emma Peel
Emma Peel could show steely resolve when the situation demanded it.

Throughout the filming of OHMSS, there were rumours that the experience was not a happy one, owing to her personality clash with James Bond actor George Lazenby.The tabloids made the most of it, and to this day, rumors of what actually happened swirl about the pair.

Diana Rigg In On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969
Diana showing how to steal a scene from James Bond.

The rumors may have arisen from a reporter witnessing Diana Rigg jokingly saying "I'm having garlic for lunch George, I hope you are!" before a love scene between the two. Diana Rigg gave an angry interview in 2011, posted and quoted verbatim below, in which she basically confirmed the worst of the rumors while claiming in damning fashion that she actually was denying them.

Diana Rigg Emma Peel
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel.

Her anger may also partly stem from a set rumor that she was dating George Lazenby at the time, but caught him in flagrante delicto, as they say, with a girl working with the crew. You may draw your own conclusions from watching the delightfully nasty interview below:
"[George Lazenby] was really difficult, it's not for nothing that they didn't offer him any sequels. I mean, he was just difficult because, I think, he needed help - not only acting, he was really quite good, wasn't he, and attractive and sexy and all those things, but just difficult off stage. He kind of thought he was a film star immediately and started throwing his weight around, and then, of course, it was, you know, accused me of eating garlic before love scenes. It was so petty and ridiculous. Of course, I didn't.... I mean, I think I had some chicken liver paté for lunch which had garlic in it. Silly me, I should have thought of, but I didn't, and I could have easily sprayed or whatever. Poor old George, I don't know what he's doing now, but he definitely was the architect of his own demise as a film star." 

Diana Rigg

"Quite why the feminists are up in arms about ["On Her Majesty's Secret Service"] I don't know, because the character that I played had a central role and was not just a piece of fluff." 

Autographed card by Diana Rigg from OHMSS 1969
A playfully signed promo card - dressed as Tracy Bond in OHMSS.

"I didn't like my Bond Girl outfits. The designer was a friend of the directors and I thought they were too boring and middle-aged for my character. The right costumes are essential for getting into a part; I've witnessed many costume parades with grumpy or even weeping actors because they've been put into the wrong thing."
Diana Rigg

"Society was so much more prudish in the 1960s. In one episode of "The Avengers" (1961), I played a belly dancer and I had to stick a jewel in my navel because the Americans wouldn't tolerate them. In those days, you didn't flash the boobs at all. What you did do to look glamorous was jack the boobs up and probably wear something quite low-cut."

Rigg with costars On Her Majesty's Secret Service 1969
Diana with George Lazenby and Gabriele Ferzetti ("Draco"). She is quite trim!

"In those days, trousers were appallingly cut for women so I used to go to a gentlemen's tailor to have them made. Nowadays you can look at some quite highly priced clothes and be astonished at how badly they are finished. But then, people don't look for that any more, it's only old bags like me that do. When I need to look smart, I go for Armani because he's just absolutely brilliant at tailoring. I always dress for myself, not men or other women. I'm well aware of them though - you get the sweep of the eye up and down and I think, 'You poor thing, are you so competitive that you have to measure yourself against everyone else?' It's so pathetic."

DIana Rigg The Queen of Sin
As "The Queen of the Damned."

Diana's obsession about clothes came naturally. "The Avengers" put Diana into all sorts of marvelous, kinky outfits that still look good after 40+ years. Remember, this was the a time when there were only 3 US networks and almost all new programming came from them.

Diana Rigg Emma Peel
Emma Peel always had a whimsical look when in a tough situation.

Most of the competing shows of that time were set in places like Shady Junction or were silly family comedies. A young lady prancing about in black leather, spikes and shiny boots was quite unusual - and quite enticing for some viewers.
Diana Rigg leather
Signed promo photo from "The Avengers."

Diana Rigg was the first major actor (along with co-star Keith Michell) to appear nude on stage in the 1970 London production of "Abelard and Héloïse," based on the tale of star-crossed Medieval lovers. For those who know the story, it is somewhat amusing that the statue with which she poses is neutered. The tale was later made into a 1988 film, "Stealing Heaven," starring Derek de Lint as Peter Abelard and Kim Thomson as  Héloïse. Diana Rigg was not in it.

Abelard and Heloise promo picture with Diana Rigg
Promo shot for "Abelard and Heloise."

Diana was quite the wild child, so calling George Lazenby out for being "difficult" and claiming that she was all about "gravitas" sort of skims over her own moments of frivolity around that time. Not that there's anything wrong with that, particularly in hindsight.

Diana Rigg

"You can't get a much better actress than Dame Maggie Smith or Dame Diana Rigg. They're the tops, aren't they?" - Patrick Macnee.

Diana Rigg looking relaxed outside
Looking relaxed on set

She is more properly known as Dame Diana Rigg, the female equivalent of the title "Sir" when knighted. In June 1994, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her long contributions to theater and film.

Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg perched on a couch

Below is the theatrical trailer for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." As the narrator says, Diana Rigg is "The different Bond woman. This one's got class and style." Below that, a short promotional film from Rigg second season on "The Avengers," showing her charm.

Diana Rigg


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