Monday, April 29, 2013

Jill St. John - Most Successful Bond Girl

Jill St. John Has Had The Most Fascinating Life of them All

Jill St. John
Jill St. John, bright, young, and perky in the 1950s.
"Diamonds are Forever" (1971) is the James Bond film that separates the men from the boys. That is, Sean Connery was looking quite manly by this time, as opposed to his boyish good looks in "Dr. No" and the following films. Some fans, with justification, feel that it is a very weak Bond film, with a bad guy who simply isn't that scary and a rather odd set of henchmen. Be that as it may, most would agree that the Bond girls in "Diamonds are Forever," Jill St. John and Lana Wood, are as luscious as any in the entire series.

Jill St. John
Jill St. John and Doug McClure in "The King's Pirate" (1967).

Early Life

Jill was born Jill Arlyn Oppenheim in Los Angeles on August 19, 1940, to Betty and Edward Oppenheim. She was a Hollywood kid groomed for stardom from the start, studying ballet and acting at prestigious local schools. Her early classmates included Natalie Wood and Stephanie Powers, both of whom would be linked to her throughout much of their lives.

Jill St. John "The King's Pirate" (1967).
Jill St. John, the prototypical '50s starlet.
Betty Oppenheim was a classic stage mother, going so far as to change her daughter's stage name at an early age to the more viable "St. John" in order to win parts. By age six, Jill was voicing characters on the radio, and she was on television by age nine. After appearing in some television shows in the early '50s, Jill won a contract with Universal pictures. A rising starlet at a time when that meant something, Jill appeared in a sequence of forgettable films such as "Holiday for Lovers" and "The Lost World."

Jill St. John Adam West Batman
Jill St. John as "Molly" in "Batman," with Adam West.
The most remarkable aspect of these years, though, was her personal life. Obviously an attractive teenager, Jill married first the heir to a linen fortune, then an heir to the Woolworth fortune. Neither marriage lasted more than a few years, but Jill was showing early on that she was a player in the Hollywood power scene.

Jill St. John
Jill St. John was very free-spirited, combining sex appeal with womanly grace.
Affairs with some of the heavyweights of Hollywood, such as Jack Nicholson and Frank Sinatra, followed. Throughout this period, she continued acting in low-profile films and television appearances, with the occasional higher-profile project with a major star such as "Tony Rome" with Sinatra. Jill St. John also was widely noticed as the Riddler's girlfriend "Molly" in the popular "Batman" television series.

Jill St. John
Jill certainly never was a shy girl.

James Bond Calls

By 1971, the James Bond team was getting worried that the franchise was running out of steam. It was the time of counterculture and hippies, so a tuxedo-clad British superspy seemed a bit out of place. What better way to liven things up for the young Baby Boomers than to cast some exquisitely delightful young lovelies opposite the experienced Sean Connery as James Bond?

Jill St. John
Jill St. John as Tiffany Case in "Diamonds Are Forever."
There were several high-profile young starlets from which to choose, including Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda, and Faye Dunaway. Jill, at 31, was a bit older than some of the other girls, but this actually worked to her advantage for a role opposite the aging Sean Connery. She came in and blew everyone away with her audition. She was offered the part of Plenty O'Toole, with Lana Wood slotted in as the lead Bond girl of Tiffany Case. Jill, however, somehow worked her wiles on director Guy Hamilton, and in the end, the roles were reversed, with Jill getting the plum Bond girl role of Tiffany Case. This made her the very first American Bond girl, all of the previous ones having been European and Asian.

Jill St. John Sean Connery
Jill St. John and Sean Connery.
Jill did a wonderful turn as Tiffany Case, playing the character as a toxic combination of flippant and worldly. She prances about for the climactic scenes in a bikini that is used to great effect in advancing the plot. Perhaps her greatest moment is when she uses a machine gun to protect Bond as he is busy wreaking destruction on arch-villain Blofeld, comically mishandling the gun while fortuitously taking care of the approaching bad guys. The film ends with the usual Bond seduction of her character, though interrupted by sinister villains who are quickly dispatched.

Jill St. John
Jill saves the day in "Diamonds Are Forever."


Having significantly raised her profile in "Diamonds are Forever," Jill acted steadily throughout the '70s, primarily in television. Probably her highest profile role during this period was as a lead in "Emerald Point N.A.S.," a short-lived television series.

Jill St. John Leonid Brezhnev Richard Nixon
Jill doing her best to start an international incident with Leonid Brezhnev. This picture made front pages across the country.
As usual with Jill, however, her real action was taking place off the screen. The actress has been linked to Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery and baseball player Sandy Koufax. She had worked with Robert Wagner ("RJ") during the '60s, and after the death of RJ's wife Natalie Wood, she and RJ got married. This made former co-star Lana Wood her erstwhile sister-in-law, sort of, showing what a small world it is. Around this time, RJ was starring in a popular television series, "Hart to Hart," with Jill's childhood classmate Stephanie Powers. Small world indeed, Hollywood.

Jill St. John

While continuing to take the occasional part thereafter, Jill retired from acting as the '80s ended. Her proud mother, Betty, lived to see virtually all of her successful daughter's career, passing away in 1998. By all accounts, she and RJ enjoy a very happy and loving marriage. As Jill has said, "I believe that personal happiness is still greater than any career," and she certainly appears to have lived by that dictum.

Jill St. John Robert Wagner
Jill St. John and husband Robert Wagner.
A loving husband, an iconic career which she was able to leave behind at a time of her choosing, the ability to show her devoted mom her success - all that adds up to tremendous success for Jill St. John. Best wishes to Jill St. John and Robert Wagner, a true Hollywood fairy tale ending!

Below is Jill showing that she still had the bod while filming "The Love Boat" a decade after filming "Diamonds Are Forever."


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