I never met Sean Connery. Like everyone in his legion of fans, I wish I had.
His work is a thread that has been weaved into my life since I first encountered him on screen.
Well, maybe not the first time. That would have been his appearance in the Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). I can recall my dad taking me to see it.
I remember Sean Connery’s character Michael McBride and I remember the frightening banshee character that made me quite terrified of the dark for quite a long time afterward.
I never really shared that with anyone.
My next encounter with Sir Sean was in 1964. The movie was Goldfinger. A movie that I was technically too young to see.
But as it turned out, a musician friend of mine and I went to a Saturday matinee of The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) at the Penn Theater in Butler, Pennsylvania. It was a supercharged rock movie (now a classic) that we thoroughly enjoyed.
After it ended, the lights went up and we saw some teenage ushers walking around the theater weeding out all the kids. We asked what was going on and were told that there was a spy movie—an adult movie—about to start but that we looked old enough to stay and watch it if we wanted to.
Moments later, we were on the pay phone to our parents telling them that we liked the rock and roll move so much that we wanted to stay and watch it again. They agreed to pick us up two hours later.
What followed was pure magic.
Hands down, the most incredible movie I had ever seen. It was big and bold. It was loud and brash.
It had brutal violence and some incredibly gorgeous women, one in particular who was practically naked, covered in thick gold paint. As a kid, I loved going to the movies. This movie took it to a whole other level. It changed my life.
I was a James Bond fan. I was a Sean Connery fan.
I was in way over my head, awaiting each new release that was announced at the end of the final credits.
It always read “James Bond will return in … (whatever the next title was). For me, the excitement and anticipation began from that moment.
Luckily, producer Cubby Broccoli had a plan to turn all of the Ian Fleming James Bond novels into movies and box office gold.
I used to wonder where the cast and crew might be on the next globe hopping adventure and what incredible gadgets, gorgeous women and eye-popping action sequences were in the works.
People often commented that the Bond formula was “girls, guns and gadgets.” I couldn’t argue with that.
As a teenage male growing up in the Sixties, that pretty much summed up the 007 movies.
They could be dismissed as mere escapist entertainment. But consistently, they represented exceptional, big-budget escapist entertainment.
They set the bar high. The Bond wannabes like James Coburn’s Derek Flint or Dean Martin’s Matt Helm never stood a chance.
Years later, when I enrolled in the doctoral program at Temple University in the Communications Department, I took a graduate seminar titled American Cinema in the Sixties.
I already knew what I wanted to write about. Fate had smiled upon me.
The term paper was titled “James Bond and America in the Sixties: An Investigation of the Formula Film in Popular Culture.” My professor liked it so much he suggested I submit it for publication.
It subsequently appeared in Summer 1976 edition of the Journal of the University Film Association. It has been quoted many times since.
It pointed out the fact that the James Bond films adhered to a strict set of story guidelines that were repeated again and again. Each movie was practically a carbon copy of the previous one in terms of story structure and characters.
It raised the question of why audiences would go back again and again, despite the predictability. Of course, the familiarity is precisely what audiences craved, as well as the assurances that all the things they loved about the Bond movies would be served up all over again.
It became the most successful movie franchise of all time.
It’s still going strong over five decades later with five different actors donning tuxedos with Walther PPK shoulder holsters.
Even with Daniel Craig’s departure following his final appearance in No Time To Die (2021), the series will go on.
Back in 1992, I was working in television advertising in a local TV station. The legendary local feature reporter knew about my interest in the Bond movies and asked me to do a story about the 30th anniversary of the series.
It was a great opportunity to haul out my collection of James Bond memorabilia and talk about my favorite Bond moments.
They all centered on Sean Connery’s Bond.
In my estimation, he was not only the original 007, he was the best (despite the thick Scottish accent that irritated so many early critics).
The segment ended with a respectable recreation of the gun barrel opening title scene at the beginning of almost all the Bond films. I wore the tuxedo.
I turned to the camera with my plastic PPK replica, and for a few fleeting moments I felt like Sean Connery. Even though it was just for fun.
A Sean Connery autographed Thunderball poster hangs in my office here at home.
It is one of my prized possessions.
It says “Look up! Look Down! Look Out!” The three illustrations show Connery with his jet pack, Connery with his diving gear and Connery surrounded by a small group of attractive women.
Politically incorrect by today’s standards. But a slice of popular culture from the Sixties that was built around one of the most popular and enduring movie heroes of his time.
Of course, Sean Connery managed to escape the typecasting that he feared would destroy his career as an actor.
We all know that he rose above all that leaving us with dozens of roles that we will treasure forever.
But for many of us who grew up in the Sixties, he was the epitome of style, charm, wit, toughness and coolness.
Connery’s Bond fought the good fight. He could laugh in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds.
And he always managed to win.
Photos courtesy EPK.TV