Sunday, September 14, 2014

Who is Monica van der Zyl? You've Heard Her All Your Life.

Nikki van der Zyl
Sean Connery and Jill Eaton in "Goldfinger."

Monica van der Zyl.

Unless you are a real film pro, you've never heard of her. Who is Monica van der Zyl, anyway?

But you have heard her voice repeatedly through the years, without knowing it.

The 50th anniversary of "Goldfinger" was 17 September 2014, and that date brought back a lot of memories about perhaps the most enduring film in the entire canon. Miss van der Zyl was 79 at the time, and was a key player in that film. You could call her an "unsung heroine." Van der Zyl is one of the most rehired James Bond actors in the entire series, up there with Lois Maxwell and ahead of any of the actors who actually played James Bond himself.

Nikki van der Zyl
Monica van der Zyl, pretty enough to be a Bond girl herself.

German actress Monica van der Zyl (stage name Nikki van der Zyl) has been one of the top voice actresses in the business. While prominent behind the scenes, she is an obscure voice actress even in a profession with extremely few household names like Mel Blanc.

She dubbed the voices of over 13 of James Bond's conquests in ten movies throughout the sixties and seventies.

Her voiced included:
  • Goldfinger's Bonita, played by Nadja Regin
  • Goldfinger's Shirley Eaton, who played Jill Masterson.
  • Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench in 1963's From Russia with Love)
  • Claudine Auger (Domino Derval in 1965's Thunderball)
  • Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki in 1967's You Only Live Twice)
  • Francoise Therry (Chew Mee in 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun).
Nikki van der Zyl
Nikki on 15 July 2010 with "Antiques Roadshow" host Fiona Bruce.

Miss van der Zyl was known as "One-take Nikki" and was highly respected by everyone. She did dubbing for dozens of other films, too, including "The Battle of Britain" - with a rare instance of actually getting credited in that film.

I'm a big believer that the "little people" who do so much in the world behind the scenes should get credit for their contributions. That is not to belittle Miss van der Zyl, but to acknowledge that she never once was mentioned by the production staff to the media, never once appeared in any credits, never once spoke up about herself to the media about what she was doing at the time - but she was a fixture behind the scenes on just about every Bond film from "Dr. No" in 1962 through "Moonraker" in 1979.

Nikki van der Zyl
Sean Connery may have been looking at Shirley Eaton, but he was talking to Monica van der Zyl. 

Yes, she got paid (a whopping £150 for "Dr. No")  and that was her reward, and she was entitled contractually to nothing further. And that is precisely what she received: nothing further. However, voice talent should be recognized, just like it is with all the other actresses and actors and producers and the Key Grips and even the Best Boy. All too often, voice actors fall through the cracks. Like what happened to Miss van der Zyl.

Nowadays, a ballerina who fills in for an actress in one movie will go blabbing all over the media about what a big fake and phony the star is in order to get her 15 minutes. Times have changed. I think we can excuse a 79-year-old lady who was part of ten James Bond films for wanting just a smidgen of recognition after all these years. I also think it is terrific that both Sean and Miss van der Zyl are still around to bask in the light of the work they did together - and, as you will see below, they actually were great friends off-screen. The Bond film productions always have a kind of party atmosphere off-screen, kind of a roving band of friends who remain involved and part of what is happening when the cameras are off even when they are not actually in the film under production.

There is a recounting by Miss van der Zyl herself here in an article by Sandy Rashty from early 2013. In case that link gets taken down, here is the relevant part:
"People know my voice, they just don’t know me.When people see Ursula Andress in Dr No, or Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger, they don’t know that I revoiced them, and a lot of other Bond girls too. 
I was asked to revoice Ursula because the Bond movie producers thought she had a very strong Swiss-German accent that an American audience wouldn’t understand. When you see her coming out of the sea singing — that’s me. Shirley Eaton had a cockney accent, which was unsuitable and very unsexy, so I was asked to revoice her.
In Dr No, I also revoiced the character Sylvia Trench, played by Eunice Gayson. The scene at the gambling table at the Le Cercle Club in London is the first time you hear a female voice addressing 007. You hear me say: “I admire your luck, Mr…?”. He responds with the famous line: “Bond… James Bond." 
I had a natural talent and became known in the industry for my revoicing skills. I would stand in the sound studio, with the sound director and sometimes the director of the film, and try out different accents for different characters. It depended on what I liked and didn’t like — I’m the artist. The voice has got to be part of the acting. I was there to do a job and took pride in my work, using breathing techniques, singing and acting. 
I wanted to be an actress from a very young age. I trained as a stage actress and changed my name from Monica to Nikki because I thought it sounded nicer. I was not curvaceous and didn’t have much on top — if I had a big bosom I might have got a lead role. I was once offered a “casting couch” role, but rejected it. I wasn’t going to take any role unless I got it for my acting skills. 
While I was working on Dr No, I went up to Terence Young, the director, and asked for an on-screen part as well as revoicing. He just said: “No, you wouldn’t stop traffic, Nikki”. Someone in the corner heard us and said: “I’d stop traffic for you any day of the week”. I looked round and it was Sean Connery
From then on, if I ever had any problems I would go to Sean. I knew Sean well. He was very straightforward. I liked him and between filming scenes, he taught me to play golf. 
When they started shooting Goldfinger, I was asked to be dialogue coach to Gert Fröbe, who played the villain Auric Goldfinger, as we were both from Germany and I spoke German. Of course, half of my family had been killed in the Holocaust and the other half had had to leave, so I wanted to know what he and his family did during the war before I agreed. Gert told me that they helped hide a Jewish family, at great risk. After that, I thought, fair enough, and agreed to coach him for three months on the set. 
Goldfinger’s my favourite Bond film. In the famous scene where Bond is tied to the table with a laser about to cut him in two, Bond says: Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger replies: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.” Gert delivered the line fairly dramatically at first, but I told him it would be more effective if he said it in a throwaway manner, which he does in the film. 
Sometimes we would speak in English and other times in German. Gert was a very quick learner but they ended up revoicing him. In my opinion, he didn’t need it.
He was absolutely hilarious and good friends with Sean. The three of us would often go to lunch in the restaurant at Pinewood Studios and Gert always made us laugh — he could have been a comedian. One of the nicest memories I have was when they were filming the final scene in Goldfinger, when Gert and Sean were fighting on the plane.
I was taking photos and the director suddenly yelled: “Cut! Nikki’s taking photos of you”. So Sean said: “Let’s take a nice photo”, and they stopped in the middle of the scene and posed for me. 
Frankly, I was one of the major contributors to the James Bond films and that has never been acknowledged. I got paid but was never invited to the film premieres or parties. I’ve certainly never understood why they never credited me. 
I haven’t seen Skyfall in the cinema but might see it when it comes out on TV. The way I’ve been treated doesn’t make me want to spend any money on the films.
I have no regrets apart from being sorry they never gave me a better part after I became known for my revoicing skills. I was going to be a very good actress. But I don’t look back, I look forward."

Nikki van der Zyl was born in Berlin and fled to the UK with her family in 1939. She lost many family members in the Holocaust. After leaving show business following "Moonraker," she became a barrister and a research assistant in the House of Commons. Her autobiography, "For Your Ears Only," is published by Indepenpress, at £12.99.

Monica van der zyl


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Richard "Jaws" Kiel was the Man

Richard Kiel
Richard Kiel in his signature role as "Jaws" in the Bond films

Actor Richard Kiel, who played "Jaws" in the James Bond films "Moonraker" and "The Spy Who Loved Me," passed away on 10 September 2014. He will be missed. I wrote up an entry on him a long time ago, he was a major part of the Bond franchise and always will be.

Richard Kiel

Kiel was scheduled to attend an autograph convention in early September 2014, but reports were that he had to cancel because he had broken his leg. I actually heard about that circuitously through the grapevine long before it became news around the world, because Lana Wood replaced him at the convention. That sounded a bit like a standard celebrity excuse for not attending an event they weren't feeling up to, and perhaps it was - in a very sad way. Apparently Kiel actually did break his leg, though whether that was related to his passing is uncertain and, now, kind of pointless to find out.

Richard Kiel
The fight scene on the funicular in "Moonraker" remains a classic. Kiel and Roger Moore actually were great friends.

He had a long career in show business. As he sometimes pointed out himself in wry fashion, he had been a working actor for 17 years when he became an "overnight star" in his first Bond film - which I always have said is my choice for best in the entire series, and remains so today. He reprised the role in "Moonraker," and came close to appearing in the next film as well until the producers decided at the last minute to go in another direction.

Richard Kiel
Yes, that is Richard Kiel with the bulbous head. Patty: [SPOILER] Mr. Chambers! Don't get on that ship! The rest of the book, "To Serve Man", it's - it's a cookbook!

While audiences tend to remember Kiel best from his appearances in the Bond films, his best role may have been in "The Twilight Zone." Everybody who is a fan of that show, or just likes classic old tv series, remembers the famous episode, "To Serve Man," in which an alien ship visits earth and promises all sorts of wonderful things if humans will travel to their home planet. Scenes of Kiel raising his head and laughing from that episode were heavily used in promotions for "The Twilight Zone" both during its initial run and later, when it went into heavy syndication during the 1970s and 1980s (I watched it on WPIX-11 in the NYC area, it was on every night when I was a kid it seemed). Well, wouldn't you know it - Richard Kiel played the aliens, including the principal Kanamit. His character had one famous line that has stood the test of time: "Please, Mr. Chambers, eat. We wouldn't want you to lose weight."

Richard Kiel
The end of Jaws in "Moonraker"

Reports from fans who saw Kiel at conventions always seemed to be positive. He was just a good, happy guy who understood how lucky he was to have played some of the iconic roles in television and film history - even if he constantly got confused with the characters he played. But that is a happy problem to have.

Richard Kiel

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Kiel had various physical difficulties during his later years, including a car accident. He wrote a biography in 2002, "Making it Big in the Movies, in which he revealed that his tall stature of 7’2” tall was due to acromegaly. He also had memorable roles in "Happy Gilmore" and "Tangled."

Richard Kiel
Kiel said that putting the metal teeth in was like swallowing a car bumper.

Kiel was happily married to Diane Rogers for forty years at the time of his passing and the father of four children.

Richard Kiel

In any event, we will always remember one of the great villains, one that current Bond producers are furiously trying to equal in terms of enduring impact. Fat chance, good luck with that. Richard Kiel was one of a kind and a credit to the franchise.

Richard Kiel

So long, Richard.