Vintage German postcard. Photo: P.A. Reuter. Publicity still for Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965).
Scottish superstar Sean Connery (1930) won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and also a BAFTA Award. He is best known as the original secret agent 007, starring in seven James Bond films between 1962 and 1983. His film career also includes such notable films as Marnie (1964), The Name of the Rose (1986), The Untouchables (1987), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
Thomas Sean Connery was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, in 1930. He was the son of Euphemia 'Effie' née Maclean, a cleaning woman, and Joseph Connery, a factory worker and truck driver. He has a younger brother, Neil. At 13, he left school and worked as a milkman in Edinburgh with St. Cuthbert's Co-operative Society. In 1947 he joined the Royal Navy, but after three years he was discharged on medical grounds because of severe stomach ulcers. First, he returned to the co-op, then worked as a lorry driver, an artist's model for the Edinburgh College of Art, and a coffin polisher. Looking to pick up some extra money, he helped out backstage at the King's Theatre around Christmas of 1951. He became interested in the proceedings, and got a job as a singing and dancing sailor in the chorus of South Pacific. More bit parts followed. He also took up bodybuilding as a hobby. His official website claims he was third in the 1950 Mr. Universe contest, other sources place him in the 1953 competition. He made his film debut as an extra in the musical Lilacs in the Spring (1955, Herbert Wilcox) with Anna Neagle and Errol Flynn. No Road Back (1957, Montgomery Tully) was Sean's first major film role, and it was followed by such films as Hell Drivers (1957, Cy Endfield) starring Stanley Baker, Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959, Robert Stevenson), and The Frightened City (1961, John Lemont) with Herbert Lom. Another early film part was in Another Time, Another Place (1958, Lewis Allen) as Lana Turner's romantic interest. During filming, Turner's possessive gangster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, believed she was having an affair with Connery. He stormed onto the set and pointed a gun at Connery, only to have Connery disarm Stompanato and knock him flat on his back. Shortly thereafter, Stompanato met his end at the hands of the teenage daughter of Lana Turner, Cheryl Crane. The film was released four months ahead of schedule to capitalize on the murder. Meanwhile Connery also appeared regularly on television. He played the leads in a ITV Teleplay of Anna Christie (1957) with his later wife Diane Cilento, and in a Canadian tv adaptation of Macbeth (1961, Paul Almond). He also had a prominent role in a BBC production of Anna Karenina (1961, Rudolph Cartier), in which he co-starred with Claire Bloom.
Sean Connery's big breakthrough came in the role of the suave and sophisticared secret agent James Bond. He played the character in seven Bond films: Dr. No (1962, Terence Young), From Russia with Love (1963, Terence Young), Goldfinger (1964, Guy Hamilton), Thunderball (1965, Terence Young), You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert), Diamonds Are Forever (1971 Guy Hamilton), and Never Say Never Again (1983, Irvin Kershner). All seven films were big box-office hits, if not critically acclaimed as well. Among his many Bond girls were Ursula Andress, Daniela Bianchi, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Claudine Auger, Karin Dor, Lana Wood, Jill St. John, Barbara Carrera and Kim Basinger. At first, James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, doubted the casting, saying, "He's not what I envisioned of James Bond looks" and "I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man," adding that the muscular Connery was unrefined. However, Fleming's girlfriend told him Connery had the requisite sexual charisma. Fleming changed his mind after the successful Dr. No premiere; he was so impressed, he created a half-Scottish, half-Swiss heritage for the literary James Bond in the later novels. Connery's portrayal of Bond owes much to stylistic tutelage from director Terence Young, polishing the actor while using his physical grace and presence for the action. While making the Bond films, Connery also starred in other acclaimed films such as The Longest Day (1962, Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki), the romantic melodrama Woman of Straw (1964, Basil Dearden) with Gina Lollobrigida, Marnie (1964, Alfred Hitchcock), the excellent war film The Hill (1965, Sidney Lumet), and the western Shalako (1968, Edward Dmytryk) with Brigitte Bardot. Two of his most moving films were The Offence (1972, Sidney Lumet) and in the wise and romantic version of the Robin Hood legend, Robin and Marian (1976, Richard Lester) with Audrey Hepburn. Apart from these films and The Man Who Would Be King (1975, John Huston) with Michael Caine, and The Wind and the Lion (1975, John Milius) most of Connery's successes in the seventies were as part of ensemble casts in films such as the Agatha Christie mystery Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Sidney Lumet) and the war epic A Bridge Too Far (1977, Richard Attenborough). Four years later, Sean Connery appeared in the Sci-Fi comedy Time Bandits (1981, Terry Gilliam) as King Agamemnon. The casting choice derives from a joke Michael Palin included in the script, in which he describes the character as being "Sean Connery — or someone of equal but cheaper stature". However, when shown the script, Connery was happy to play the supporting role.
After his experience with Never Say Never Again in 1983 (difficulties with the production staff made it a nightmarish experience for him) and the following court case, Sean Connery became unhappy with the major studios and for two years did not make any films. He returned to the screen in the successful European production Der Name der Rose/The Name of the Rose (1986, Jean-Jacques Annaud), for which he won a BAFTA award. That same year, a supporting role in Highlander (1986, Russell Mulcahy) with Christopher Lambert also showcased his ability to play older mentors to younger leads, which would become a recurring role in many of his later films. The following year, his acclaimed performance as a hard-nosed veteran cop in The Untouchables (1987, Brian de Palma) earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, his sole nomination throughout his career. Subsequent box-office hits included Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Steven Spielberg), The Hunt for Red October (1990, John McTiernan), where he was reportedly called in at two weeks' notice, The Rock (1996, Michael Bay), and Entrapment (1999, Jon Amiel) with Catherine Zeta-Jones. The latter two he also produced. Both Last Crusade and The Rock alluded to his James Bond days. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas wanted "the father of Indiana Jones" to be Connery since Bond directly inspired the Indiana Jones series, while his character in The Rock, John Patrick Mason, was a British secret service agent imprisoned since the 1960's. In recent years, Connery's filmography has included several box office and critical disappointments such as First Knight (1995, Jerry Zucker), The Avengers (1998, Jeremiah S. Chechik), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003, Stephen Norrington), but he also received positive reviews, including his performance in Finding Forrester (2000, Gus Van Sant). In 2008, on his 78th birthday, Connery unveiled his autobiography Being a Scot, co-written with Murray Grigor. Sean Connery was married to actress Diane Cilento from 1962 to 1973. They had a son, actor Jason Connery. Since 1975 he has been married to French painter Micheline Roquebrune. Connery was knighted in 2000.
Sources: Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), Brian McFarlane (Encyclopedia of British Cinema), SeanConnery.com, Wikipedia and IMDb.