Thursday 22 February 2018

Roger Moore obituary: Debonair 007 star a master of quips and a tireless worker for charity

Cinema world in mourning as former Bond actor Moore dies at 89 after battle with cancer

British actor Roger Moore on location in England in 1972 for his first Bond role. Photo: AP
British actor Roger Moore on location in England in 1972 for his first Bond role. Photo: AP
Roger Moore during his time in ‘The Persuaders’ in 1972
Roger Moore pictured in 1968. Photo: AP
Roger Moore in London in 1983 with women promoting ‘Octopussy’
Roger Moore with his fourth wife Kristina

ROGER MOORE, the film actor who has died aged 89, won international celebrity in the 1960s as the immaculately clad Simon Templar in ‘The Saint’, a television role that led to his being cast as James Bond, the secret agent with a licence to kill, in a hugely successful series of films.

Playing the debonair Templar with something of the cool sophistication of George Sanders, Moore brought to the role the unctuous charm of a male escort coupled with the abiding image of a man of action whose death-defying feats left his immaculate good looks (not to mention his halo) totally unruffled.

But critics invariably derided his limited range; Moore himself, describing actors as “hunks of meat in front of a camera”, admitted to using “only two expressions when acting”. One of these, the quizzically raised eyebrow, loomed large in his portrayal of James Bond, a role which he took over from Sean Connery.

Lacking both Connery’s sex appeal and aura of menace, Moore was once asked what he thought he could bring to the part. He replied: “White teeth.”

But Moore had little in common with the fearless heroes he portrayed on screen. The actor described himself as a “devout coward” and recalled that during the filming of violent scenes he was made nervous by the presence of prop firearms. “I hate loud bangs,” he said. “Every time I had to fire a gun during filming I blinked. They always had to go through the film and edit out the frame where I closed my eyes.”

Moore’s relationships with women bore little resemblance to 007’s indiscri-minate conquests. After two ineffective essays at matrimony, including a notably unsuccessful marriage to the singer Dorothy Squires, Moore described himself as “a one woman man”.

He met actress Luisa Matioli in 1962 and remained with her for nearly 30 years. He was married for a fourth and final time to Kristina Tholstrup when he was well into his seventies.

Nor did he ever pretend to be a great actor. In fact he claimed to have stopped acting in 1958 when he appeared in the television series of knightly derring-do ‘Ivanhoe’. “On television they don’t want acting performances,” he recalled, “they want personality performances. They want their heroes to behave predictably.”

Sir Roger Moore's most memorable lines from each of his seven Bond films 

In this Moore was supremely successful. During a career spanning four decades he remained, almost to the last, the romantic leading man. Even at the age of 56, after 13 years as Bond, Moore continued to allow himself to be persuaded, perhaps against his better judgment, to participate in love scenes with girls 35 years his junior – behaviour which, off screen, could only have gained him the reputation of a rogue.

Roger George Moore was born on October 14, 1927, in Stockwell, south London, the son of a policeman whose job was to draw plans of crime scenes to be produced in court cases; his mother was a cashier in a restaurant in the Strand.

Overweight as a child, he nearly died from double pneumonia, attended Hackford Road primary school and went on to

a scholarship at Battersea Grammar, leaving before his 16th birthday to start work as a paint and trace artist and tea boy at a film company.

Fellow Bonds Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, and Sean Connery lead tributes to Roger Moore 

A friend suggested he make some money as an extra at Denham Studios, then filming ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’. After only three days as an extra, Moore was approached by the co-director of the film Brian Hurst. Hurst offered to pay his drama school fees, and with his help Moore applied for a place at Rada.

Moore had a greater interest in finding paid employment than in studying acting. He spent only three terms at Rada, before leaving to join a repertory company based in Cambridge.

In December 1946, during his National Service, Moore was married for the first time to a blonde figure-skater, Doorn van Steyn (born Lucy Woodard in London). When he left the Army in 1947 the couple lived in a bedsit in Streatham.

Unable to find any other paid employment, he took jobs as a male model advertising Brylcreem and Colgate toothpaste.

In 1952 he was modelling cardigans when he met the singer Dorothy Squires during a party at her house. Moore stayed the night and began a passionate affair with the singer (10 years his senior) which culminated in his divorce from Doorn and marriage to Squires in 1953.

Squires was instrumental in establishing Moore as a new talent in the United States. In 1953 the couple visited Hollywood to publicise her cabaret act and to promote Moore’s acting career. He was offered various film roles, including parts in ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ (1954), which starred Elizabeth Taylor, and ‘Interrupted Melody’ (1955) starring Glenn Ford.

As Moore began to establish himself as an actor, his television work increased. During the 1950s he starred in the historical romance series ‘Ivanhoe’, the comedy-adventure ‘The Alaskan’ and the popular Western comedy ‘Maverick’. As acting commitments kept him in Hollywood, he saw less and less of Squires and their marriage began to falter.

In 1961 Moore returned to Europe and accepted a part in an Italian potboiler, ‘The Rape of the Sabines’. His co-star was the Italian actress Luisa Matioli, who was at that time preparing to step into Sophia Loren’s shoes as Italy’s top female star. “It sounds awful,” Moore remembered, “but I fell in love with Luisa at first sight.”

Luisa could not speak English, and Moore remembered communicating with drawings. While the couple were living in Italy, Lew Grade of ATV offered him the part of Simon Templar in television adventure series ‘The Saint’. He starred in ‘The Saint’ for seven years and it became one of the longest-running adventure series on television. Shown on ITV between 1962 and 1970, ‘The Saint’ ran for 118 episodes and made Moore a star not just in Britain but in the 80 or so countries around the world.

When the series went into colour in 1966, Moore became co-producer, bought a share of the rights and with them a cut of the show’s global sales, estimated at some £370m, making him financially secure for life.

Matioli became pregnant some months after the couple began living together and changed her name by deed poll. They had another child two years later.

After he had made his last appearance in ‘The Saint’ in 1970, he accepted a role, as Brett Sinclair, in ‘The Persuaders!’ opposite Tony Curtis. In 1972, when Sean Connery no longer wanted to play James Bond, Moore was offered the role in ‘Live and Let Die’. Critics felt that his first attempt at James Bond was “flat and lifeless”: nevertheless the film, made for $7m, grossed $126m at the box office. In his second Bond film, ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ (1974), Moore began to settle into playing the role for laughs. By his third film, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977), he was firmly established as “the amusing Bond”.

He continued to play James Bond in four more films, ‘Moonraker’ (1979), ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981), ‘Octopussy’ (1983) and ‘A View to Kill’ (1985). As the plots and locations grew increasingly outlandish and gimmick-laden, Moore took the “less is more” theory of acting to its limits.

Later films featured a high proportion of shots in which he stood completely still looking quizzically at the action. “When I was in ‘The Saint’,” he remembered, “I had two ‘looks’. In the Bond films I progressed to four.”

During those years he also turned up in adventure films such as ‘Gold’ (1974), ‘Shout at the Devil’ (1976) and ‘The Wild Geese’ (1978) and he contributed a drolly self-mocking cameo to ‘The Cannonball Run’ (1981).

In 1985 he finally accepted that he should stop playing a character 30 years younger than himself and the role went to Timothy Dalton.

In 1991 Moore turned his energies to charitable endeavours on behalf of Unicef, visiting underprivileged children in Latin America and Brazil, becoming an official representative in 1992 and later an ambassador, visiting many countries on Unicef’s behalf.

After the collapse of his marriage to Matioli, Moore married Kristina Tholstrup in 2002.

Created a CBE in 1999, Moore was knighted four years later for the charity work which for more than a decade had dominated his public life.

In 2007 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work on television and in film, appropriately located at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.

Roger Moore is survived by his fourth wife and his three children.

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