Farewell to the Man With Moore, Much Moore, Roger Moore…
Today Roger Moore, iconic actor, passed away aged 89.
It’s not often that I get moved by the death of a celebrity, but I have to admit that the news of Roger Moore’s passing away hit me like a freight train. From an early age, he was an icon and role model to me, and brought to life the two fictional characters who have had the most influence on my life – Simon Templar, and James Bond.
Some people at some points in life – possibly needing LASIK, I’ll admit – have said that I bore a little bit of a resemblance to Roger Moore, and since there weren’t many other cool people I looked like, I clung onto that fervantly growing up. I aped his style, and his mannerisms, and even conquored by moments of social anxiety by thinking how James Bond or Simon Templar (as played by Moore, of course) might handle themselves – and just trying to copy that.
Moore was more (no pun intended) than just an actor, though. His work for UNICEF was incredible, and by all accounts he was just a charming and wonderful human being. As a friend of mine who actually knew and worked with him remarked this morning: “The world is significantly poorer for his passing.”
Well, with that in mind – who was Roger Moore? So many of us know him from his roles on television and in movies, but who was the man behind the raised eyebrow?
Roger George Moore was born in Stockwell in 1927. Contrary to popular belief – and in contrast to most of the roles he played in movies and on TV – he had a very humble upbringing in south London. His father was a policeman, and he attended a grammar school in Battersea. You wouldn’t have known it to listen to him, though. Although his peers had thick south London (“sarf landahn”) accents, Moore’s parents insisted he speak with a received pronunciation accent (what people refer to as “the Queen’s English”). His mother had been raised in India, and his father was successful in amateur dramatics, so they both felt that speaking ‘properly’ was very important.
Bright and intelligent – hence his grammar school eduction – Roger briefly attended the all-boys College of the Venerable Bede (which later became part of the University of Durham.) He dropped out, however, to pursue a career in acting, in the same vein as his father. Moore attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts under the sponsorship of acclaimed film director Brian Desmond Hurst, who later would use Moore as an extra in his 1949 musical Trottie True.
While the RADA helped make some important connections for Moore – including future Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, and his first wife, ice-skater Doorn Van Steyn – he dropped out before graduating to pursue paid acting work. Thanks to his matinee-idol good looks and the beautiful accent his parents had drummed into him, he was somewhat successful in this – with his first role being that of an extra in the 1945 movie Caeser and Cleopatra, giving him screen time with his idol, Stewart Granger.
As was customary in England at the time, Moore was required to do National Service at the age of 18, and joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant (that’s “left-tennant” to all you Americans.) Stationed in Germany, he attained the rack of Captain before his period of service was through.
Following national service, the handsome young man attempted to carve out a living as a paid actor and model – earning himself the nickname “the Big Knit” for his stint modelling men’s knitwear. He also got some roles in commercials, and a few spots on television – but nothing major.
Yet his good looks, charm and talent were undeniable – and in 1954 the folks from MGM saw Moore’s potential and signed him for a seven-year contract that whisked him and his second wife, Welsh singer Dorothy Squires, off to the bright lights of Hollywood.
I wish I could say that Moore’s stint with MGM was triumphant – but it wasn’t. Despite taking roles opposite the likes of Lana Turner, David Niven and George Sanders (who, interestingly enough, had played The Saint on the big screen during the 1940s) none of the movies made him a household name, and Moore quips that his “time at MGM was NBG (no bloody good.)”
He had more success after signing a contract with Warner Brothers, but it was winning the title role in the 1958 TV show Ivanhoe that catapulted Moore to fame. A perfect match for the suave, handsome Moore, the role of Ivanhoe saw him sword-fighting, galloping about on horses, and foiling the machinations of the evil Prince John.
After 39-episodes, ABC and Warner Brothers were convinced enough of Roger’s talents to cast him in his next lead role, as Silky Harris in The Alaskans. The frontier style clearly resonated with audiences, and Moore followed up that run by joining the cast of the iconic western TV series Maverick – playing the inexplicably English-accented cousin Beau.
But it was Moore’s next role that really catapulted him into the limelight – that of the iconic Simon Templar, “The Saint“, from Leslie Charteris’ world-famous series of crime adventure novels.
By 1962, when the series started, The Saint was already a household name. Millions of copies of Leslie Charteris’ books had been sold worldwide (I own dozens of them. They’re fantastic.) In addition, a slew of movies had been made, plus successful radio shows.
But despite all of that, many would agree that Moore instantly made the role of Simon Templar his own. He exuded a mixture of charm, sophistication and danger that totally captured the spirit of The Saint; and Moore would become world-famous in the six years he spent in the role. He was truly magnificent – and it’s interesting to see how his iconic performance influenced a whole generation of films and television that followed; not least of which being the way Ian Fleming’s James Bond was portrayed onscreen.
Following the end of The Saint, Roger Moore threw himself back into the film business – landing leading roles in Crossplot and The Man Who Haunted Himself. In 1971, though, TV producer Lew Grade threw an unbelievable amount of money at him, to tempt Roger back to television, and he took the role of Lord Brett Sinclair in the iconic TV show The Persuaders.
Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. Despite being picked up by ABC, the show was a flop in America, despite Moore appearing opposite the equally awesome Tony Curtis. Yet The Persauders was a massive success in Europe and when I go and visit my parents in the Poitou Charantes you’ll still find the French-dubbed version (“Amicalement Vôtre”) being replayed there on Sunday mornings.
It’s fair to say that Moore had already enjoyed the break of a lifetime by winning the role of Simon Templar, but in 1973 that magic was repeated when Moore was asked to fill Sean Connery’s shoes as the infamous secret agent James Bond. Following the disasterous casting of George Lazenby in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (ironically the best of the Bond movies) the folks from EON productions decided that they needed an established name to replace the aging Sean Connery; and ironically chose Roger Moore, who was actually three years older than the guy they were trying to replace.
The result was Live and Let Die, which was barely a Bond movie, but was an utterly fantastic film. Steeped in the contemporary brilliance of Blaxploitation movies, it managed to combine the best of Ian Fleming’s second novel with a fast-paced, action-packed script and some fabulous music courtesy of Paul McCartney and Wings.
Forty years later, a lot of people argue that Live and Let Die is racist – but I argue that it’s the most diverse Bond movie of all time – and Moore is fantastic in it, even as he plays the least Bond-like Bond of all time. In an effort to distance himself from Sean Connery, he even trades his signature vodka martinis for Bourbon.
Moore proved an instant hit in the role of James Bond, and continued in the role for an unprecedented seven movies. The scripts got better as time went on – but Moore also got older. By the time 1985’s A View to a Kill came out, James Bond looked the same age as his supposedly senior boss, M, and his love affair with Stacy Sutton comes across as kind of creepy given their 28-year age difference.
Nevertheless, the next movie in the series – The Living Daylights – was originally scripted to have Moore in the leading role, and it was quite the surprise when Welsh actor Timothy Dalton took the role instead (Pierce Brosnan was unavailable – but he’d turn up ten years later in Goldeneye.)
After hanging up the Walther PPK, Roger Moore wouldn’t appear onscreen for another five years – and when he did, it was in random roles that generally pastiched his past – such as the feisty feline Lazenby in Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, or a predatory gay man in 2002’s The Boat opposite Cuba Gooding Jnr.
That’s not to say he wasn’t busy, though. In fact, as Moore’s film career declined, he found a new calling as an ambassador for UNICEF. He also lent support to animal rights, helping get foie gras removed from the shelves of British store Selfridges, and advocating against foxhunting in Britain.
Ill health caused him major issues as he grew older, and Moore retreated from public life in recent years. Perhaps his last role was a cameo in the ill-fated reboot of The Saint, which sadly hasn’t seen the light of day. However, it’s a fitting end to a career that spanned seven decades, and made two iconic roles his own.
There’s much more to Roger Moore, of course. His personal life was incredibly colorful (his second wife, during their seperation, sued him for loss of ‘conjugal rights’ for example.) Stories about him are also plentiful, with his charm and humor ever-present. Upon speaking about a pub-crawl with contempories Michael Caine and Sean Connery, an interview asked him: “Pussy Galore?” To which he responded: “Well, we don’t go out looking for it.”
He was truly a unique and inspirational man – somebody who has given the world a lot of joy through his movie and television career, and done a lot of good through his work with UNICEF. He had a ‘good innings’ as we Brits might call it, but he’ll still be sorely missed.