My association with notably polished English actor Roger Moore dates back to my boyhood. My father was an enthusiastic watcher of the 1962-1969 ITV-TV mystery/spy series The Saint, which starred Moore as Simon Templar, a Robin Hood-like criminal/adventurer developed in a succession of books by Leslie Charteris. In fact, my dad’s purchase in the mid-’60s of a Volvo P1800 was almost certainly inspired on the fact that Templar wheeled about on the small screen in that very same model of sports car (though his was bone white, while my father’s was fire-engine red). Moore appeared as well in another program my father favored: the 1957-1962 ABC Western series Maverick, in which he portrayed Beau Maverick, the cross-Atlantic cousin to a pair of gambling brothers played by James Garner and Jack Kelly. (I eventually caught up with both series in Saturday reruns.)
So when I heard this morning that the London-born, four-times-married Moore had died in Switzerland at age 89, “after a short battle with cancer,” I found myself glancing over at the photograph of my father and brother that sits atop my writing desk. My father succumbed to cancer himself 14 years ago, but if he were still around, I’m sure he would have been as saddened as I was by today’s news.
(Left) Jane Seymour and Roger Moore in the movie Live and Let Die.
Of course, there are many people who don’t associate Roger Moore with Maverick or The Saint, or even with his 1971-1972 UK series, The Persuaders!, in which he and Tony Curtis played globe-trotting, crime-solving millionaire playboys. (You can see the opening from that last series here.) For them, Moore will instead, and always, be the face of randy British superspy James Bond, the role he held onto for 12 years, through seven highly publicized feature films based on Ian Fleming’s espionage fiction. As The Spy Command recalls,
[Moore] was the third film Bond, following Sean Connery and George Lazenby.Moore would go on to serve as Agent 007 through The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View to a Kill (1985). He’d be accompanied in those cinematic outings by a variety of stunning “Bond Girls,” ranging from Jane Seymour and Britt Eklund to Barbara Bach and Carole Bouquet. “His Bond was more of a charmer than a fighter,” explains The Hollywood Reporter, “more of a stirrer than was the shaker embodied by the first Bond, Scotsman Sean Connery. Moore took on the role with a grain of salt, not to mention cigars—as part of his contract, he reportedly was given unlimited Montecristos during production.” Moore was the oldest person to play Fleming’s protagonist on screen, retiring from the part at age 58. “Many [James Bond] fans felt Moore … [had] stayed for one 007 adventure too many …,” remarks The Spy Command. “Fans who never warmed to Moore—and there are some who’ve spent decades decrying the actor—felt vindicated. For those who enjoyed Moore’s performances, it felt like the end of an era.” (The part of Bond went next to Timothy Dalton, who starred in only two films before being replaced by Pierce Brosnan, in 1995’s GoldenEye.)
During his tenure, from 1973 to 1985, the Bond films took a more lighthearted tone. But his films established, once and for all, the series could survive—and more—without Connery, the original film 007.
Moore’s first Bond film, 1973’s Live and Let Die [opening title sequence shown here], was an international hit. Its worldwide box office totaled $161.8 million, the first Bond movie to exceed Thunderball’s $141.2 million. The U.S. box office was more modest, $35.4 million. That didn’t match the U.S. take for Connery’s Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever ($43.8 million).
Regardless, both Eon Productions and its feuding producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman along with studio United Artists were satisfied. Moore would continue.
Let us not forget, though, that this performer’s big-screen credits extended well beyond the Bond pictures. He co-starred with Lee Marvin in the 1976 East Africa-set war adventure film, Shout at the Devil, was featured alongside Gregory Peck and David Niven in 1980’s The Sea Wolves, and worked on the 1990 British comedy Bullseye! together with Michael Caine and Sally Kirkland. In addition, Moore was cast as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s renowned “consulting detective” in the 1976 TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York (with Patrick Macnee playing Dr. John H. Watson), and won the part of a novelist turned “hack reporter” in the 1995 mystery teleflick The Man Who Wouldn’t Die.
Moore published two memoirs during his long life—My Word Is My Bond (2009) and Last Man Standing (2014)—and as The Bookseller mentioned earlier today, he had “sent in the manuscript for his last, as-yet-untitled book just two weeks before his death.” There’s no news yet on a release date for that last work.
As The Guardian notes, in his later years Moore took on the duties of goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, the international humanitarian organization. It adds: “In 1999, Moore was awarded a CBE which then became a knighthood in 2003, given to him for his charity work.”
All of that represented quite a climb from his days on the black-and-white TV series The Saint and Maverick. But Moore seemed to take things in stride. “During my early acting years I was told that to succeed you needed personality, talent, and luck in equal measure,” Moore said to The Guardian back in 2014. “I contest that. For me it’s been 99 percent luck. It’s no good being talented and not being in the right place at the right time.”
We should be grateful to have been around when that right time arrived for Roger George Moore.
READ MORE: “Sir Roger Moore, James Bond Actor, Dies of Cancer Aged 89,” by Leon Watson and Charlotte Krol (The Telegraph); “Obituary: Roger Moore” (BBC News); “Remembering Roger Moore, the Man Who Saved James Bond,” by Isaac Chotiner (Slate); “Sir Roger Moore—An Appreciation,” by Edward Biddulph (James Bond Memes); “Remembering Roger Moore,” by Matthew Bradford (Double O Section); “Roger Moore, 1927-2017,” by Steve Powell (The Venetian Vase); Roger Moore Dies at 89: Here Are All His James Bond Roles in Pictures Between 1973 and 1985” (Vintage Everyday).