Friday, October 28, 2011

Sean Connery

Scottish actor and producer Sean Connery is perhaps best known for portraying the character James Bond, starring in seven films between 1962 and '83. As a boy, Connery drove a milk cart. At 18, he joined the Royal Navy. He was later picked during a modeling gig for his first acting endeavor. His career has included the films The Hunt for Red October, Murder on the Orient Express and Dragonheart.

Childhood in Scotland
Actor. Born Thomas Sean Connery on August 15, 1930 in Fountainbridge, Scotland. The son of Joe, a truck driver, and Euphamia, a 20-year-old housewife, Connery had a modest upbringing in a neighborhood known as "the street of a thousand smells" for the stench of the local rubber mill and several breweries that always filled the air. His home was a two-room flat in "tenement land," where the infant slept in a bureau drawer because his parents couldn't afford a crib. "We were very poor," Connery has commented, "but I never knew how poor because that's how everyone was there." Joe brought home only a few shillings a week, and those were often spent on whiskey or gambling.

Known during his youth as "Tommy", Connery grew up on the streets along with the rest of the Fountainbridge youth, playing tag or soccer and causing rips in his short trousers that his mother was always patching. The local gangs dubbed him "Big Tam" because of his size and his ability to pummel most of his playmates. He attended Tollcross elementary school and amazed his teachers with a lightening-quick mathematical aptitude. From the day he could read, he devoured every comic book he could get his hands on and dreamed up his own imaginative tales of Martians and madmen. Even then, he had a fascination with film: "I would play hooky and go to Blue Halls, the local movie house, to watch the pictures," he recalled.

When Connery was 8 years old, his parents had a second child: Neil. Young Tom delighted in the role of big brother and, as they grew up, the Connery boys were inseparable. They fished in nearby Union Canal (using their mother's stockings for line) and skipped school to fit in more amusing extracurricular activities—including running with "the wrong element." Connery claims to have had sexual encounters with local ladies at the age of 8 (although he can't recall many of the details) and to have helped with his father's gambling rounds at the local pubs.

Young Drifter
At age 13, Connery quit school to work full time at the dairy. Three years later, he joined the Royal Navy. Like all good sailors, he got two tattoos on his arm, which he still bears today: MUM AND DAD and SCOTLAND FOREVER. Unfortunately, the artwork lasted longer than his naval career. Though he signed up for a seven-year stint, he was released from service after three years due to stomach ulcers.

Back home, Connery took assorted jobs shoveling coal, laying bricks, polishing coffins, and posing nude as a model at the Edinburgh Art School. For months, he skimped and saved every shilling to become a member of the Dunedin Weightlifting Club. "It was not so much to be fit but to look good for the girls," he once admitted. The local ladies were impressed—but so were his fellow gym mates, who nominated him for the Mr. Universe contest. So, in 1953, Connery traveled the nine hours to London, where the competitions were held. He boldly introduced himself to the contest judges as "Mr. Scotland," pointedly flexing the ample muscles on his 6-foot 2-inch frame. He was chosen third in the tall men's division and given a medal—but that wasn't all. A local casting director in attendance liked the hammy Scottish kid and asked him to join the chorus of a new musical, South Pacific, playing on Drury Lane, in London's theater district. "I didn't have a voice, couldn't dance," Connery admitted. "But I could look good standing there."

Acting Career
One rehearsal was all it took: "I decided then and there to make acting my career." He chose the stage name "Sean Connery" because Sean, besides being his middle name, reminded him of his favorite movie hero, Shane. "It seemed to go more with my image than Tom or Tommy," he recalled. "Sean Connery" was listed as a chorus member in the South Pacific program.

Over the next few years, Connery was cast in numerous films and television programs, including a much-acclaimed BBC staging of Requiem for a Heavyweight. But his lack of education worried him. "I decided I didn't want people to think of me as some lout," he confessed. So began reading the classics, including Proust, Tolstoy, and Joyce—"all the books I skipped when I was in school." The book-learning, however, did not soften his street instincts. In 1957, while filming Another Time, Another Place with Lana Turner, Connery was involved in a brawl on the set. The Hollywood tabloids reported that he and Turner were having an affair, and her boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, stormed onto the set waving a gun. Connery responded with a quick right hook.

Big Break as James Bond
Connery liked the reputation of being a rugged ladies' man. But that changed in August 1957 when, while filming a TV show for Britain's ATV Playhouse, he met a beautiful blond Australian actress named Diane Cilento. She was married at the time, but Connery's attraction to her was undeniable. Smart and sexy, she taught him "the most amazing acting techniques" in the privacy of her dressing room.

At first Cilento felt nothing for her castmate except friendship: "He seemed like a man with a tremendous chip on his shoulder," she remarked. In 1959, just as Connery's career was taking off, Cilento contracted tuberculosis, and the actor realized how devastated he would be if he lost her. He turned down a big break in the Charlton Heston film El Cid to be close to her while she recovered. The decision didn't hurt his career; in fact, Twentieth-Century Fox studios came calling with a contract, and Connery made several films in Hollywood. When the contract was up, he had another stroke of luck. Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli cast him as the lead in a spy movie based on one of a series of Ian Fleming novels, Dr. No — and Bond, James Bond, was born. The film was hugely successful and had immediate sequels: From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964). Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967) followed.

Sly, sexy, and confident, Connery as Bond was the embodiment of the British secret agent (even if he did have to wear a toupee to cover his prematurely balding head). "We all knew this guy had something," Saltzman would recall. "We signed him without a screen test. We all agreed, he was 007." A notable non-Bond role was in Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller Marnie (1964). He declared his last role as Bond would be in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever.
Personal Challenges
His acting career now cemented, Connery decided it was time to settle his personal affairs as well. Diane was now divorced, and the pair wed secretly at the Rock of Gibraltar in November 1962 while Connery was filming his second Bond film, From Russia With Love. They honeymooned briefly in Spain before the actor returned to the States for a flood of publicity. Connery thrived on the attention and adoration: "Now, I can kill any s.o.b. in the world and get away with it," he bragged to The Saturday Evening Post. "I eat and drink nothing but the very best, and I also get the loveliest ladies in the world."

But Connery had a tendency to go too far in interviews. For example, he told a London newspaper his opinion on hitting women: "An open-handed slap is justified. So is putting your hand over her mouth." He later told Playboy, "I don't think there's anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman ... if all other alternatives fail and there's plenty of warning."

The comments came back to haunt him when, in 1973, 10 years after his son Jason was born, he and Cilento divorced amidst a flurry of tabloid rumors that he had abused her. Connery denied them all, and married French-Moroccan artist Micheline Roquebrune in 1975—again at Gibraltar. The pair met in a golf tournament in Morocco (golf was a shared passion). He won the men's award; she, the women's.

Being 007
By this time, Connery had made a total of six Bond pictures, and fans were in a frenzy. Once, he looked up from a urinal to find a photographer snapping a photo. The man who once reveled in notoriety now shrunk from the spotlight. He retreated from Hollywood, moving his wife and her three children from her first marriage into mansions in England and Marbella, Spain. It would be more than a decade before he reluctantly agreed to reprise his Bond role one last time, in 1983's Never Say Never Again. For this, he was paid salary of several million dollars—a far cry from the original $16,000 he earned for Dr. No.

Despite the money, Connery was bitter and criticized Broccoli and Saltzman for stifling his talent. "This Bond image is a problem in a way, and a bit of a bore," he said of his last performance. He donated a large portion of his earnings to the Scottish International Education Trust to help students from poor backgrounds like his own. But his critics wondered if he was motivated by generosity or politics: Connery fervently supports Scotland's independence from the United Kingdom, and has also given a great deal of his own money to the secessionist Scottish National Party. Since 1974, he has lived in Marbella on "tax exile" from England, refusing to be "squeezed till I'm dry in the 98 percent bracket."

Recent Work
After Bond, Sean Connery continued to work regularly—The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Robin and Marian (1976), The Great Train Robbery (1979), Time Bandits (1981), and The Name of the Rose (1986)—and finally won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a Chicago cop on the trail of Al Capone in 1987's The Untouchables. His career continued forward with no signs of slowing down. He played the father of the title character in Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and, in 1990, Connery played a defecting Russian submarine captain Marko Ramius in The Hunt for Red October. Other films include Medicine Man (1992); his prison action-adventure, The Rock (1996) with Nicolas Cage; as well as The Avengers (1998) with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991); First Knight (1995); and Dragonheart (1996). He played a cat burglar in the love story-thriller Entrapment (1999) with Catherine Zeta-Jones. In 2000, he starred in the film Finding Forrester and in 2003, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

He's been called "the rogue with the brogue", and at almost 60 years of age in 1989, was named People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." But while his professional work is applauded, his personal choices have often come under fire. "I'm not shy about voicing what I believe to be true," he said in 1998 when he was denied a British knighthood due to his active support for the Scottish National Party. (He was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.) In 1999, Connery also received a Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Achievement.

After decades in the spotlight, Connery remains a street-smart, self-made man who never apologizes, and time doesn't seem to have mellowed him. Sir Sean Connery, with his charm, sex appeal, and trademark braggadocio, credits none other than himself for his success and longevity. But he acknowledges a debt to his fans as well. "Everything I've done has had to be accomplished in my own cycle, my own time, on my own behalf, and with my own sweat," he has said. "But if people hadn't liked what I was doing, I'd probably be delivering milk today—and I never forget that.

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