Tuesday 25 June 2019

Obituary: Eunice Gayson

Elegant actress who played the first Bond girl in 'Dr No'

LADY IN RED: First Bond girl Eunice Gayson in 1962’s ‘Dr No’
LADY IN RED: First Bond girl Eunice Gayson in 1962’s ‘Dr No’

Eunice Gayson, the actress, who has died aged 90, was the first Bond girl when she appeared as Sylvia Trench alongside Sean Connery's 007 in Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963); she also played Frau Schrader in the West End production of The Sound of Music, which ran for 2,385 performances between 1961 and 1967. Her opening line in Dr No, "I admire your luck, Mr...?", was delivered when losing at cards, although it was spoken by Nikkie van der Zyl, who voiced many of the Bond girls.

The producers, however, should perhaps have been more concerned about Connery. "Sean was very nervous," Eunice Gayson recalled of how her leading man was shaken and stirred. "It was 'The name's Sean Bond - cut - James Connery - cut." Eventually the director Terence Young called an early lunch and she was charged with calming Connery down with a stiff drink. Back on set he finally uttered the immortal words: "Bond, James Bond." Later Bond found her in his apartment, playing golf and wearing only his shirt.

Eunice Gayson's character was intended to have been Bond's regular girlfriend, but was dropped after From Russia With Love. "The gag was meant to be that he was always getting called away just as they are getting down to it," she recalled in 2012. "They were supposed to get married in the sixth film."

Such niceties did not obstruct a passionate on-screen smooch. "I never thought of him in a romantic way," she said of Connery. "After the kiss, however, I thought, 'Oh! Not bad!'"

She was born Eunice Elizabeth Sargaison at Croydon on March 17, 1928 (though would often say 1931) and as a teenager took lessons in singing and dancing. She trained in opera before getting into acting, making one of her earliest film appearances in the wartime romance My Brother Jonathan (1948).

In 1952 she appeared in the revue Ring in the New at the New Lindsey Theatre, Notting Hill, and six years later was in the Hammer horror film The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) with Peter Cushing.

Eunice Gayson had originally been due to play Miss Moneypenny in the Bond franchise, but her New York audition for The Sound of Music clashed with Miss Moneypenny's filming dates. She first appeared on the set of Dr No wearing a brown and gold dress, but Young insisted that it would be lost against the background. The only alternative was a bright red gown that was several sizes too big and had to be held in place with clothes pegs.

She appeared on television in The Avengers and Danger Man and in 1990 took part in a stage production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods.

But life also had its vicissitudes: in 1965 she was arrested after failing to answer a summons for a minor driving offence; nine years later she received a conditional discharge after admitting shoplifting; and in 1999 she won damages in the High Court after tripping over an electric cable and injuring her knee at Goodwood.

Her memoir, The First Lady of Bond, appeared in 2012, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Dr No. It had an introduction by another Bond, Roger Moore, with whom she also appeared on television in The Saint.

In July 1953 Eunice Gayson married Donald Hunter (the writer Leigh Vance) in New York. It was part of a sponsored television programme called Bride and Groom in which all their expenses were met by sponsors. They were divorced in 1959, and four years later she married the photographer Brian Jackson.

That was also dissolved. Eunice Grayson, who died on June 8, is survived by the daughter of her second marriage Kate, who appeared in GoldenEye (1995).

© Telegraph


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