In the mid-forties, Roger Moore’s father, who was a police officer, led the investigation of a robbery at the home of Irish director Brian Desmond Hurst: Roger Moore did not miss the opportunity and asked his father to be introduced to Hurst.
Moore’s father was himself an enthusiastic amateur actor and saw an opportunity to fulfill for his son the dream he could never fulfill for himself: To become a professional actor. With Hurst’s support, Moore landed his first small role in the historical film Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), starring Vivien Leigh and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst in some scenes. Hurst saw potential in the young Roger Moore: the Irish director arranged a place for Moore at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and took over the financing of his studies.
Roger Moore was trained together with Lois Maxwell, who later played the role of Miss Moneypenny alongside him in the James Bond films. In addition to Lois Maxwell, the young Moore also met Christopher Lee, who later portrayed Bond antagonist Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
Moore’s film career began with numerous minor roles, for which he was not mentioned in the credits of the respective films. In the course of his education, Roger Moore gained experience in various plays and films: he acquired his casual manner and typical transatlantic accent at an early age. The transatlantic accent refers to a mixture of British and American dialect, which was particularly popular in show business to appeal to British and American audiences at the same time.
Hierarchy in Hollywood
In March 1954, Roger Moore signed a seven-year contract with MGM Studios: At the time, it was common for young, aspiring actors to sign such contracts with the studios. His first role in an MGM film was a supporting role in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954): Working alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Roger Moore gained his first experience as an actor at a high-profile Hollywood studio.
In his memoirs, Roger Moore described the hierarchy that prevailed in Hollywood at the time: there were A, B and C actors. A-actors were the screen stars, B-actors were contract actors, and C-actors were occasional actors. As a contract actor, Roger Moore found himself in the B-actor category in the mid-fifties: although this hierarchy said nothing about an actor’s acting talent, the hierarchy determined whether the studio cast an actor in a leading or supporting role.
First major success on television
In his first years at MGM, Moore mainly played supporting roles: The big breakthrough initially failed to materialize. Later, Moore was happy to first gain acting experience before he found himself in the big spotlight. MGM dropped Roger Moore at the end of the fifties. This did not stop Moore from continuing to pursue his acting career.
Moore had his first big success not on the big screen, but on the television screen: In the television series Ivanhoe (1958-1959), Moore portrayed the main character Sir Wilfried of Ivanhoe. In the course of the series, Christopher Lee and Robert Brown also appeared, who later also starred in James Bond.
Return to the big screen
In 1959, Roger Moore received an offer from Warner Brothers for another long-term contract: after an interlude in television, Moore returned to the big screen. In 1959, Moore landed his first major starring role in a Hollywood adaptation: in The Miracle, a film adaptation of Karl Vollmöller’s play of the same name, Moore was cast in the role of Michael.
In the sixties Roger Moore played mainly in television series: From 1959 to 1960, Roger Moore starred in 37 episodes of the western series The Alaskans.
Roger Moore became an international star with the crime series The Saint (1962-1969): the series is based on the crime novel series The Saint by British writer Leslie Charteris. Simon Templar is known as The Saint because his initials S.T. are short for The Saint. Templar travels the world as a gentleman and adventurer, leading a luxurious lifestyle.
By 1967 at the latest, Roger Moore was an international star: the series already featured many of the stylistic elements of his acting style, which he carried over into the James Bond series.
First contact with James Bond
He starred alongside Tony Curtis in the television series The Persuaders (1971-1972). The music for The Persuaders was composed by John Barry, who is also known for his music for the James Bond films. Roger Moore became especially famous in Germany with the television series The Persuaders.
In 1966, Sean Connery declared that he would no longer star in any James Bond films. At that time, Moore realized that he could be a serious competitor for the role of James Bond. However, in the mid-sixties he was still attached to The Saint: Thus George Lazenby took over the role of James Bond for the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
James Bond – in his own way
When it became clear after Diamonds Are Forever (1971) that Sean Connery would ultimately not star in any more James Bond films, the role of James Bond once again became an issue for Roger Moore.
After James Bond producer Albert Broccoli offered Roger Moore the role of James Bond, Moore made his debut as James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973). Roger Moore starred in seven James Bond films within 12 years. Unlike his predecessors, Roger Moore filled the role of James Bond with humor and slightly distanced himself from the image of the cold-blooded agent. In the seventies, the figure of James Bond was thus adapted to the spirit of the times – the audience wanted to see not only cold-blooded killers, the humorous component couldn’t be missing either.
Fusion with James Bond
Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond corresponded at least to some extent to Ian Fleming’s conception: This changed with Roger Moore. In order for the franchise to be successful in the seventies and eighties, an actor had to be found who could play a James Bond who reflected the spirit of the times. Thanks to his numerous roles in crime series, Roger Moore was predestined for the role.
During his commitment to the James Bond series, Roger Moore starred in several other films. However, none of these films could surpass the success of the James Bond films: Roger Moore merged with the role of James Bond to such a high extent in the seventies and eighties that the audience could hardly identify him with any other role.
Farewell to the big screen
After A View to a Kill (1985), Roger Moore said goodbye to the role of James Bond: although he appeared in a few more films, he had passed the zenith of his career. Moore immortalized himself in the memory of numerous viewers with his portrayal of James Bond.
Roger Moore died in Switzerland in May 2013: during his life he became known to a broad audience through numerous television roles, and his fame as a James Bond actor continues to this day. He took the Bond franchise in a new direction and merged with the character of James Bond.
Simon von Ludwig
Main source: Moore, Roger: My Word is My Bond, 2008 HarperCollins (Roger Moore’s autobiography)
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig