George Robert Lazenby’s fame as 007 was fleeting – he starred in only one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before Sean Connery returned – but the story of how this ‘Aussie’ landed the most coveted action role in cinema is legend.
Lazenby’s childhood was spent skiing and stock car racing, both of which he excelled at. After school he worked as a mechanic and used car salesman before serving in the Australian Special Forces as a sergeant and martial arts instructor in several black belt disciplines.
In 1964 Lazenby left Sydney for a new life in swinging London, by 1968, he was one of the highest paid male fashion models in the world and quite the society figure thanks to his role as Europe’s Marlboro Man.
A chance encounter with Bond producer, Albert Broccoli, set a chain reaction. Inspired, Lazenby launched an incredible campaign to win the vacant role, despite his only acting being in a 1965 Italian spy spoof.
Scraping together every penny, Lazenby bought a Rolex knock-off and talked a tailor into selling him a suit specially cut for Sean Connery. He even rocked up to audition in an Aston Martin he’d rebuilt himself from scratch.
With arrogance, natural acting – and breaking a stuntman’s nose in a fight scene – won Lazenby the role ahead of 414 others including Burt Reynolds and a 22-year-old called Timothy Dalton.
Bond II faced a global press shocked that a non-actor (and non-Brit!) was to strap on the holster of the world’s most famous secret agent. What are you most looking forward to about playing Bond? Lazenby: “The broads and the bread”.
Lazenby later said: “I had a lot of fun playing Bond because it was an extension of my real life. I was getting Hollywood starlets, booze and drugs passed to me left, right and center… I liked all the things Bond liked: casinos, beautiful women, the good life. I was cocksure, confident and I knew how to survive. In a way I became James Bond.”
Not enough for the studio. After the shoot wrapped, Lazenby flouted the strict edicts on dress code and public conduct. He turned up at the premiere with a beard and an earring on a motorbike, having quit a seven-film deal so as to not be “typecast”.
Lazenby’s star never rose again. In 1973 he was set to sign a lucrative contract for a martial arts series, only for co-star Bruce Lee to die. With it went all hope. The only high note came when he came home to Sydney for 1975’s The Man from Hong Kong. Even a plan for him to play Jesus in Monty Python’s Life of Brian fell over.
In August 2008 his name was attached to the nightmare headline ‘George Lazenby Punched Pregnant Ex-wife and Broke Her Nose while Son Was Dying of Cancer’ – part of a bitter custody battle with ex-tennis star Pam Shriver for their three kids.
Today, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is regularly hailed as one of the best Bond films ever and Lazenby “the best 007 that never was”.