The humblest 007 may also have been the most important.
1 year ago
In a 2015 interview with Fox, Sir Roger Moore, at that point long since retired from his signature role as Ian Fleming’s elegant superspy James Bond 007 and promoting his then-new autobiography "One Lucky Bastard," was asked where he'd rank himself among the other actors who've temporarily taken stewardship of the legendary part. "I think a little bit behind George Lazenby I suppose," he offered, referring to the actor who infamously appeared in only one film before bolting.
The comment was less a dig at Lazenby than it was another example of Moore's trademark, very English humility. Despite the fact that he had been a hugely-successful TV star long before becoming 007, despite the fact that he held the honor of being the face of the longest-running franchise in Hollywood history for longer than any other actor in its history, he was simply, stubbornly incapable of ever letting such fame go to his head.
And while the actor’s passing today at the age of 89 following a brief battle with cancer will no doubt prompt all manner of fond remembrances, I have no doubt the actor himself would feel humbled and probably a little embarrassed by all the acknowledgements that are already issuing forth. As he himself said once, “Some are blessed with musical ability, others with good looks. Myself, I was blessed with modesty."
Of course, with his model-handsome looks, it's not hard to see how Moore was able to quickly get a leg-up in the industry, and after breaking in in the '50s, he quickly found steady work on television, first headlining the British series "Ivanhoe" in 1958, and later taking over as James Garner’s English cousin Beau on ABC's "Maverick" in 1960. While both of those jobs (as well as "The Alaskans" in 1959) proved short-lived, Moore's next job would prove far more impactful.
In 1962, just as Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, producers of the then-nascent James Bond film franchise, were gearing up to begin that series, Moore took on the title role of "The Saint," based on the literary adventure hero created by Leslie Charteris, for a show that aired until 1969. Not only was it one of the most successful productions ever made for British television, it launched Moore onto the global stage and perfectly teed him up for his career's next act.
Although Moore was on the Bond producers' radar when they were first casting the role for 1962's "Dr. No," the actor's TV commitments took precedence, and his friend Sean Connery took the part, setting the bar impossibly high in the process for anyone attempting to take it over. By the early '70s, Connery had vacated, as had one-timer Lazenby, and the producers were in desperate need of a star who had international appeal and the ability to take things in a different direction tonally.
Moore satisfied both of those requirements, and he happily took on the role, humbly acknowledging all the while that he could never hope to best Connery's game. And while he arguably never did that, Moore's steady, drama-free presence in the part for seven movies from from 1973 to 1985, more than any other Bond star, is arguably one of the key factors that kept the films humming right along and made it as indispensable a part of the pop culture landscape as it's become.
Indeed, while Moore had the misfortune of appearing in two of the least loved Bond films (1974's "The Man With the Golden Gun" and 1985's "A View to A Kill"), he also appeared in some of the series' very best, such as 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me," which remains a highlight for the franchise even now, forty years after its release, thanks to its memorable set pieces (the villain's undersea fortress, designed by Ken Adam), super cool gadgets (Bond's submersible Lotus Esprit), gorgeous love interest (Barbara Bach as Soviet Agent Triple-X), and, of course, Bond being Bond. By then fully, comfortably subsumed in Moore’s wink-and-nudge take on the character.
On a personal level, 1979’s "Moonraker" (which was put into production to quickly cash-in on the sci-fi craze sweeping cinemas in the wake of Star Wars’ record-smashing run), was my very first exposure to the franchise. And while the film remains a deeply polarizing entry among the die-hards who either adore it for all the space-based antics with laser guns and astronauts or detest it for those same reasons, it remains remarkable how steadily Moore holds the proceedings together, his very presence enough to assure audiences that it’s okay, we’re just having some fun.
Of course, the end of his Bond tenure ("I left the role when I realized that my female co-stars had mothers who were younger than I was,” he’d later say) hardly marked the end of his presence on the world stage. Quite the contrary, in fact. While he gradually receded from acting work (though he never stopped appearing onscreen right up until the end of his life), he nonetheless leveraged his global profile in service of humanitarian efforts for UNICEF and countless other organizations striving to reduce human suffering all around the world, knowing that a former 007 could garner far more interest in these problems than many others likely could.
Above and beyond his sheer longevity in one of the most iconic roles of all time, it tells you something about the mark he left that audiences were reluctant to accept his immediate successor, Timothy Dalton, despite the fact that Dalton's more serious take hewed closer to the Ian Fleming texts from whence the character initially sprang. For all of Moore's protestations that he could never top Connery, it was his glib take on the character, adventurous but not scary, humorous without being too comical, that audiences responded to and embraced.
He was dependably dashing, quintessentially cool, and unmistakably Roger Moore.
Zaki Hasan is a film critic for The Huffington Post and Fandor; co-host of The MovieFilm Podcast, Nostalgia Theater, and Diffused Congruence: The American Muslim Experience; and co-author of Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture. Originally from Chicago, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is a professor of communication and media studies.
We invite you to share condolences for Roger Moore in our Guest Book.