“Bond. James Bond.” These are Sir Sean Connery’s first lines in 1962’s Dr. No as he brought Ian Fleming’s spy of mystique to life on the silver screen. Ironically, Fleming didn’t want the working-class, bodybuilding Scotsman to portray his suave and dapper British super-spy. However, Connery went on to play the role a total of seven times, and each time was met with critical acclaim. In 1964, Fleming even wrote Connery’s heritage into the Bond character, saying that his father was from Glencoe in Scotland. On August 25, 2020, the veteran actor celebrated his 90th birthday. What many people don’t know about him is that before he played Commander James Bond, Connery was a sailor himself.
“Bond. James Bond.” (United Artists)
In 1946, at the age of 16, Connery enlisted in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. He received training at the naval gunnery school in Portsmouth and was assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery crew. His first and only ship assignment was the Illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Formidable. After three years of naval service, Connery was medically discharged due to a duodenal ulcer.
After leaving the Navy, Connery went into bodybuilding and football (the European sort). Though he was offered a contract with Manchester United, the short-lived career of a footballer deterred him. “I realized that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23,” Connery recalled. “I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”
Connery started his acting career onstage in the 1953 production of South Pacific. Back in uniform, albeit a costume, Connery played a Seabee chorus boy before he was given the part of Marine Cpl. Hamilton Steeves. The next year, the production returned out of popular demand and Connery was promoted to the featured role of Lt. Buzz Adams.When Connery made the transition to motion pictures, it wasn’t long before he was portraying military men again. Less than two weeks after Dr. No was released in the UK, The Longest Day hit theaters with Connery playing the role of Pte. Flanagan. After six Bond films, Connery traded his onscreen Naval rank for an Army one. The 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express featured Connery as British Indian Army Officer Colonel John Arbuthnot. Three years later, Connery took on one of his most iconic military roles in 1977’s A Bridge Too Far, portraying Major General Roy Urquhart and his command of the British 1st Airborne Division as they attempted to hold a bridge in Arnhem during the ill-fated Operation Market Garden.
Connery wearing the iconic paratrooper’s red beret (United Artists)
The 1980s would see Connery reprise the role of Commander James Bond one last time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again. The Scotsman also donned an American uniform, playing Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell in the 1988 film The Presidio. Serving as the Post Provost Marshal, Caldwell clashes with maverick SFPD detective and former Army MP Jay Austin, played by Mark Harmon.Exploring the uniforms of other nations, Connery then went behind the Iron Curtain as Soviet Submarine Captain Marko Ramius in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October. If I have to explain this one, your weekend assignment is to watch it.
“One ping only” (Paramount Pictures)
1996 saw Connery play the role of a military man one last time in The Rock. As former British SAS Captain John Mason, Connery starred alongside Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris in this action thriller directed by Michael Bay and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the production duo that brought us Top Gun.Connery was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh on July 5, 2000. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute when he announced his retirement from acting on June 8, 2006. When asked if he would return to acting to appear in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Connery announced that he would not, saying, “Retirement is just too much damned fun.”