Was Roger Moore Really Ian Fleming’s First Choice to Play James Bond?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Roger Moore was Ian Fleming’s first choice for James Bond.

One of the most debated subjects in all of Hollywood (and beyond) is which actor should play James Bond in the film adaptations of Ian Fleming’s classic spy novels. Every time a new actor is needed for the role, the level of scrutiny and outrage is more similar to the selection of a new President of the United States, not the next actor to play a famous film character. While the selection process is still quite controversial (many die hard Bond enthusiasts still can’t wrap their heads around the idea of Daniel Craig playing the role, even as his latest Bond film, Skyfall, just passed a billion dollars in box office receipts worldwide), the level of controversy was even greater when the first James Bond, Sean Connery

was replaced for 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with actor George Lazenby.

Lazenby was not accepted by fans and Connery returned for the next Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. However, in 1973, Connery was finally successfully replaced by actor Roger Moore, who ended up doing seven films as James Bond.

After the disaster of Lazenby, there was obviously much trepidation over whether the public would accept any actor as Bond other than Connery. However, in a revelation that would hopefully serve to put minds at ease, it was said that Ian Fleming’s first choice to play James Bond was actor Roger Moore, who Fleming liked in the TV series The Saint.

Is that true? Was Roger Moore almost the first actor to play James Bond? The truth is quite complicated, as you’ll soon find out…

The first part of the well-told story that is plainly false is that Moore’s success on The Saint could not have been the reason that Fleming was interested in the actor, which Andrew Lycett states in his biography on Fleming, stating that the author was interested in, “Roger Moore, who was enjoying some success as The Saint on television” as The Saint did not debut until literally the day before the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released (The Saint first aired on October 4, 1962 and Dr. No was released in the UK the next day).

That’s typically been used to debunk the story, that Fleming could not have been interested in Moore since the role that would have most clearly made Moore a good fit for Bond had not debuted yet (and indeed, when Moore eventually was chosen, his performance as Simon Templar on The Saint likely did make fans less wary of Moore’s chances at succeeding at playing Bond). However, that is not necessarily so. Fleming was actually quite plugged into the movie “scene” in the days before James Bond was first cast and he did quite a bit of personal research into deciding who he thought would be the best choice for the role.

However, this research by Fleming makes it fairly unlikely that Moore was ever his first pick. You see, Fleming, like most any author looking for an actor to play his most famous character, tended to look towards the most famous actors in the business. The odds are that Fleming likely considered nearly every major movie star of the time as a good choice to play his character. In his excellent book, The Battle For Bond, Robert Sellers uncovered a letter from Fleming where he notes, “Richard Burton would be by far the best James Bond!” There is a reason why so many different actors, like Richard Todd and Cary Grant, have been labeled as “Ian Fleming’s first choice to play James Bond,” as it seems like Fleming liked pretty much any major movie star! Fleming was also very fond of David Niven for the role (Niven famously/infamously played Bond in the “non-canon” James Bond film Casino Royale).

So right there, we have our answer to the main legend, “Was Roger Moore Ian Fleming’s first choice for James Bond?” Almost certainly No.

However, a far trickier question was whether Roger Moore was in the running to play Bond right from the start. Here, it seems like it is a lot more likely that Moore was a serious candidate for the role. When asked about Fleming’s interest in him for the role, Moore told Entertainment Weekly, “”That’s what they told me, at least. They also said I was Ian Fleming’s first choice. But Ian Fleming didn’t know me from s**t. He wanted Cary Grant or David Niven.” Moore has always been quite humble when speaking about his career, but even then, it seems pretty clear that he knew that Fleming was not looking toward a “no-name” when it came to casting Bond. He wanted a “star.”

The producers, however, obviously were looking for what they felt were the best fit. After all, Sean Connery certainly was not a major star when he eventually got the role of Bond for Dr. No. So did Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman‎ (the producers on eight of the first nine James Bond films) consider Moore for the role back in 1962? There seems to be some strong evidence that they did. Moore was friends with both Broccoli and Saltzman going back into the 1950s, and even lived nearby Saltzman. So when Moore says in his auto-biography that, “I was, apparently, on the shortlist of would-be 007 actors back in 1962, when they were casting for Dr No. I certainly wasn’t aware of that, nor was I approached,” I believe him.

As he notes, of course, the fact that he was never approached suggests that he was never the leading candidate for the role, but still, just the fact that Moore was a candidate for the role in 1962 is interesting, considering how things eventually turned out.

The legend is…

STATUS: False (with just a tad bit of truth behind it)

Thanks to the good folks of The Alternative 007 for their great research skills.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

6 Responses to “Was Roger Moore Really Ian Fleming’s First Choice to Play James Bond?”

  1. Lazenby wasn’t a disaster, the producers botched the movie badly making him look bad in the process. The director liked him and he was trying his darndest to ake the role his own but the producers refused to let him or the director do anything but what they wanted.

    As is usually the case, the producer interference hurt the movie.

  2. Lazenby, at the end of filming, announced that “OHMSS” was going to be his only Bond film. That put the producers of the film in a bind because they usually marketed the Bond films around the star of the film (up to that point Connery) but with Lazenby pulling a one-and-done, they couldn’t really do that. I remember the teaser poster for the film had a “?” over Bond’s face and it wasn’t until much later that the finalized showed Lazenby, but also put Diana Rigg up there front and center with him.

    Even Lazenby has admitted in later years that it was HIS choice to do only one Bond film. that it was a HUGE mistake on his part, and I have never read anything where Saltzman and Broccoli spoke badly about Lazenby or his performance in the film.

    I will agree with the fact that “OHMSS” wasn’t a disaster. It actually did quite well in its initial run and, wit age, has actually become one of the better Bond films in the series.

  3. I was working on a reply post about Lazenby but George pretty much got it bang on. Interesting to note that once Lazenby walked, the next contracted Bond was AN AMERICAN (shudder!!) John Gavin. Only when United Artists offered a king’s ransom did Connery come back for Diamonds. So ‘Flemings Choice’ was the Fourth actor to be contracted to the role.

    I was always under the impression that OHMSS style of back-to-the-books-basics was the choice of Director Peter Hunt ALONG with the producers since the high gloss and gadgets would struggle alongside such a powerful and downbeat ending.

    OHMSS is not disaster it’s a great film. It’s just lacking in perceived star power.

  4. Whereas I’m in the camp that never thought Lazenby worked. He’s not a horrible actor (nor a particularly great one), but he’s not even close to a good Bond.
    There’s another problem, which is that the book came before You Only Live Twice and the movie after. So in the book it’s plausible Bond could waltz into Blofeld’s HQ unrecognized but it makes no sense in the film.

  5. [...] I decided to pick the 1967 spoof version instead.  With David Niven as an older version of James Bond along-side Peter Sellers the final battle takes place within a casino where we see the roulette [...]

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