By Seth Kushner
“Are we watching a Roger Moore?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said.
“C’mon, not a Connery.”
“Not a Connery.”
“Lazenby. George Lazenby.”
I was nine years old and dumbfounded as Cousin Dave removed his laserdisc of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service from the wall unit.
“Just trust me,” he said.
I am more than a little ashamed to admit this, but as a kid my favorite James Bond was Roger Moore. What can I say, he was the guy playing said British spy when I was coming of age, so my taste was a victim of circumstance. I used to argue about it with my Cousin Dave. Dave was technically my mothers cousin, and my second cousin, but to me, he was always Cousin Dave, though he is eighteen years my senior. My older cousin would always tell me that Moore was “light fare” and Connery was the top Bond. He was right, of course, but I was a kid, so what did I know?
Cousin Dave is the biggest 007 fan I know. He was just the right age when Dr. No was released for James Bond to be his Star Wars, as he explained to me. James Bond was his hero, as Luke Skywalker was mine. People often try to at least somewhat emulate their heroes, I’ve noticed. If Cousin Dave was doing that with Bond, it was not at all apparent.
007 drinks Martinis, shaken, not stirred. Cousin Dave drinks Diet Coke, on the rocks.
007 gets his gadgets from Q Branch. Cousin Dave gets his from Amazon.com.
007 looks dapper in a tux. Cousin Dave looks ‘big and tall’ in sweats and a tuxedo t-shirt.
007 has a license to kill, and uses it often. Cousin Dave has a driver’s license, but uses it never.
007 jets off to exotic locations. Cousin Dave subways to work in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
007 works for the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Cousin Dave works for a carpet cleaning company.
007 sleeps with exotic women. Cousin Dave has relationships with women online.
One warm summer day, when I was around nine years old, my parents left me to be watched at the home of my Aunt Mary, Uncle Moritz, and Cousin Dave, who was still living at home, though he was nearly thirty. He had a massive audio/visual set-up in the family living room, which he had turned into his own personal theater. All of the wall units full of equipment used to remind me of Q Branch, and I’m now almost certain that was the intended effect. I must have looked bored because Cousin Dave sat me down on the plastic covered couch, the backs of my shorts-clad legs sticking to it, and said he was going to put on a Bond movie.
I haven’t seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in years, but I remember my reaction to it on that day. Lazenby seemed to me to be a fair compromise between Connery and Moore, both physically and tonally. His quips weren’t as “light” as Moore’s, and not quite as strong as Connery’s.
The film itself was classic Bond. There was an awesome ski chase, a wannabe world-conquering villain in Blofeld, played here by Kojak’s Telly Savalas as a man with no earlobes (what were “earlobes?” I wondered) and finally, an event which set it apart from all other Bonds – he married one of the Bond Girls! I was dumbfounded. Bond couldn’t get married! Of course, Tracy Bond, as played by Dianna Rigg was killed in the very next scene, making me feel both relieved and saddened.
“Cousin Dave, who is George Lazenby?” I asked.
Dave went into lecture mode, as if he were speaking to a graduate class on Bond-
“By late 1966, with the release of You Only Live Twice, it was common knowledge that Sean Connery was bored with the role, unhappy with Cubby Broccoli and Harry R. Saltzman’s financial arrangements, and eager to branch out and do other things. When casting the role for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby, an Aussie with commercial credits to his resume, was plucked out of the air as the producers wanted an unknown.”
Cousin Dave had given me a great afternoon and shared Lazenby’s Bond with me. What a guy! As I grew older, my relationship with Cousin Dave became more like one between brothers, separated by an age gap, but connected by common interests, like a bond over Bond.
My relationship with 007 continued throughout my youth and into my adulthood. The longest running series in movie history has had its ups and downs, for sure, much like life. Roger Moore continued in the role through my junior high years, him looking longer in the tooth with each entry, until he hung up his Walther PPK with A View To A Kill. Timothy Dalton took over when I was in high school, and I quite liked his first outing, The Living Daylights. Pierce Brosnan took over the tux when I was in college and I very much enjoyed his first and fourth films, Goldeneye and Die Another Day. Through all of these films, Cousin Dave and I discussed, debated, and argued their finer points.
In recent years, Daniel Craig has brought the series back to great heights with a sense of realism and intensity, and Casino Royal and Quantum of Solace have me very excited about Bond again. But, my feelings are bittersweet, because while my relationship with Bond has never been stronger, my bond with my cousin has been strained. In fact, we hardly speak.
Today’s 007 is cold and hard, fitting with the times. Today’s Cousin Dave is depressed, miserable and solitary. He has gone though what might be described as a breakdown, and refuses to see anyone, even me. Over the past few years, I have made repeated attempts to help him, to engage him, but he always refutes them. He doesn’t answer his phone or return a message, and answers emails with only a line or two of self-deprecation. I don’t even know if he’s seen the recent Bond films. To me, he’s like George Lazenby – faded into near obscurity.
It saddens me greatly that Cousin Dave, who just a few years ago was best man at my wedding, is in so bad a place in his life and so absent from mine.
As for George Lazneby, after leaving the Bond series, he’s worked steadily, though not in high profile roles. During the early 1970s, he worked in Hong Kong, and was on the verge of a comeback, and about to star in a film with Bruce Lee but, Lee’s untimely death put the kibosh on the deal and Lazenby faded further into obscurity.
Later, Lazenby played Jor-El in the Adventures of Superboy TV series, did voiceover work on such animated shows at Batman Beyond and appeared in the Emmanuelle film series for cable TV.
Lazenby was recently divorced from his second wife, former tennis pro Pam Shriver, with whom he has three children. Lazenby’s autobiography, The Other Fella, is scheduled to be released in time for Bond’s 50th anniversary in film.
George Lazenby may not be in the spotlight as he was during his brief time playing James Bond, but he’s remembered fondly by my Cousin Dave, who in turn introduced me to him, so therefore he holds a place in my DVD collection as well.
Recently, I decided I couldn’t just give up on Cousin Dave. How else could I approach him? What could get him talking?
I emailed him a Bond question. A Lazenby one, to be exact.
”Cousin Dave, How do you think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been different if Connery had starred, and do you think the Brocoli’s should have kept Lazenby on for further films?”
Within a couple of hours, he responded –
“I have always harbored a fondness for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I thought the soundtrack was one of the best in the series, and I thought Lazenby was excellent, as were the lovely Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas – sans lollypop. I actually don’t think Connery would have added much to that film. Lazenby was perfect. I absolutely believe Lazenby should have been retained for future films but the public, still smarting from not having Connery in the role, was in no mood for imitators. Their outcry, combined with the rather unfair critical attacks on Lazenby, was simply too much. Selecting Moore made sense as he was a known quantity, a ‘pretty boy’ and far more agreeable to the public than the unknown Lazenby was. I always thought the Moore films were the dark period of the franchise. Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig all were better.”
Maybe there was hope for Cousin Dave after all.
Please note: This essay was originally written in 2010, so therefore there is no mention of Skyfall. I considered updating, but recent events involving my Cousin David would necessitate a near complete re-wright, so I decided to allow the narrative to remain in the past.