Lazenby on landing Bond role, then walking away from it all
HE'S been called all kinds of things over the years, including 'The Forgotten Bond, but for George Lazenby, life has turned out exactly as he wanted it to.
What he did to pull off the role of James Bond 007 in 1968 has become the stuff of legend.
Here was a bloke from Goulburn, New South Wales, with no acting experience, beating out hundreds of others to take over the role of the super spy from Sean Connery.
Incredibly, when filming On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS) wrapped, he was offered a multi-picture deal to continue in the role, along with a bonus in cash of one million pounds. Fame, wealth and super stardom was there for the taking.
The country kid from down under then turned it all down, and the world asked 'why?' to this very day.
Now in his 80s, Lazenby is heading back home to meet his fans, as a headlining guest for Supanova on the Gold Coast this weekend. Fans of the most successful film series in history couldn't be more excited to hear about what most diehard Bond fans regard as one of the best Bond films ever made.
In a poll by readers of 007 Magazine in 2012, OHMSS finished top of list as the 'Best Bond Film', beating Goldfinger in second and From Russia With Love in third.
Born in 1939, the young George Lazenby was always going to be different, and from a young age wanted to live life to the full, especially after his parents were told not to expect him to live past 12.
"There was no way to replace a kidney in 1942, and I was in the men's ward for a year and a half at a hospital in Sydney. I saw men come back from WWII, and it was a rough upbringing, but I didn't know any different. The kids teased me at school singing, 'you're the guy that's gonna die'.
"So at six, I started playing Rugby. There was this voice in my head that said if I am going to die, then I need to make the most of what time I have and have a good time doing it."
To say that George had a good time is an understatement. He left school as soon as he could, and got a job as an apprentice mechanic. Seeing all the money the car salesmen were making, he made the switch into sales, eventually managing Hunts Garage in Canberra.
Then life changed. George fell in love with a girl, and with her disapproving family sending her to London to get away from the sales manager, he noticed that the letters were slowing down.
"I thought I had the best job in the world," George said. "I was working at the garage, and making 700 pounds a night with my band. Then I fell in love, she went to London and the letters started to slow down. So I packed my bags and went to London to find her.
"That was my only plan, to find her. I was running out of money and one day I found her in a pub with a bunch of cricketers. I punched out her boyfriend, took her outside, put her in the car then she jumped out. I had to get out of there fast.
"Then she contacted me, and we eventually got back together."
George was invited to do some modelling, and it took off, as he was flown across Europe to do magazine shoots. He scored a role as Big Fry in an ad for Fry's Chocolate, a huge brand at the time.
He then met an agent through a mutual friend, who convinced him to try out for the role of James Bond.
"I didn't realise fully at the time what I'd pulled off," George said. "There were 800 actors who went for the role, and 300 tested for it. Initially the whole thing started with the producers yelling 'get him out of here!"
George used his head. He found out where Sean Connery got his haircut, and asked for the same. He then found where Connery bought his suits, and managed to get one that was waiting to be picked up.
He tried again, and this time they noticed him.
"One of the producers thought I was hysterical, and wanted to test me at (producer) Harry Saltzman's place. This went on for months because I had an Aussie accent, plus I walked with a swagger. They changed my walk, my accent, then I went at the job. I felt at the time they were wanting to turn me into Sean Connery, especially after the film and I wasn't allowed to go anywhere.
"It was the late sixties, everyone was growing hair, beards, but I wasn't allowed. People thought I was a waiter when I went out. James Bond was out of fashion, and that's one of the reasons I turned it down, I didn't think it would go on so leaving it wouldn't be such a big deal."
The movie was released and topped the box office around the world, but then it all went pear shaped.
"No, people still don't understand why I turned it down. Harry put a million pounds cash in front of me, on his desk, and said 'sign the contract'. I walked out. He thought I'd jump at it.
"That's when I thought I'd get other movies, but any time I'd get in to do another movie, producers were told that I was under contract for Bond, so they'd let me go. So I went sailing for 18 months!"
Turning up to the world premiere of OHMSS with a beard and long hair didn't go down well with the producers either.
"I saw Harry and (producer) Cubby Broccoli afterwards, I think Harry kind of admired me. That relationship wasn't completely dead, but the fact is they wanted me to do Bond and nothing else!
"So when I turned up with a beard and long hair at the premiere they got pissed off with me for a while but I still could've gone back until Sean Connery needed the money for this education fund he wanted to start.
"That's when they stopped talking to me about coming back to 007."
George made his fortune from real estate in the USA, and has more stories than you can poke a stick at.
"Did you know I was supposed to have lunch with Bruce Lee, on the very day he died?
"You know I'm thinking of writing my autobiography, but I'm not sure what my kids will think of it.
"I take things as they come, and if I agree to things, I do it. I try to get home at least once a year, and I'm looking forward to it."
George Lazenby is appearing at Supanova Comic Con at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre March 13 and 14.