So it was upon catching Skyfall that I thought it the appropriate time to share this true Hollywood tale of lust. My best pal Robert and I treated some of our still-growing children to an opening day showing what MGM originally titled Bond #23. On the way home afterwards, we fell into the usual post-Bond movie stars discussion of rating the men who’d inhabited the role of 007.
Now as a Bond fan since first discovering my old man’s Ian Fleming collection at age 13, I’ve heard all the arguments. My list rates George Lazenby the Please-Forget-Me Bond. Roger Moore as the I-Need-a-Stunt-Double Bond. Timothy Dalton was the Humorless-Dullard-in-a-Tuxedo Bond. And Pierce Brosnan played the Two-Hundred-Dollar-Beverly-Hills-Haircut Bond. As for Daniel Craig, he’s spectacular as England’s greatest secret agent, playing the part as a mash-up of menace and melancholy. Then, of course, there’s the one and only Sir Sean Connery. But before you click off thinking this is just another “Who’s the Best Bond” blog, I ‘ll bet you one Pussy Galore and two Holly Goodheads that you’ve no idea where I’m going with this.
Back to Sean Connery. The mere utterance of his name sparked a bitter debate amongst my pair of kids as to whether my thirteen-year-old daughter could pick the original 007 out of a police line-up.
“Wanna hear a cool story?” asked Robert.
“Yeah,” I added. “And it involves both your moms.”
Here’s the scene. I’m seated with Robert and our wives at the rear of a packed Wilshire Ebell Theatre near downtown Los Angeles. Nearly thirteen hundred people crushed into the historic building. I recall it was a Saturday night. And we were all there to see the Los Angeles debut of Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.
You don’t know Billy? If you’re American you’ve seen or heard him as a character player in countless films, most recently as the voice of the fatherly Fergus in Brave. If you live anywhere else in the English-speaking universe, you know him as the most famous comic on the planet. He’s been known to jam arenas from Liverpool to Sydney. Across the pond and down under, Billy is a veritable rock star.
Now, apart from co-coaching Billy on the two-fisted-shooting of a pair of semi-automatic nine millimeters for the movie The Boondock Saints, I’ve never actually worked with the fellow. We have though been known to share an afternoon cigar or two at our favorite San Fernando Valley smoke shop and lounge, The Big Easy. That’s where we’d meet, hang with a couple other fellow reprobates, and spend a long lunch hour trading silly tales of life before each of us had to creep back out into the real world and return to work or, in Billy’s and my cases, pick up our kids from school.
So that’s how Billy came to invite his smoke-shop crew to catch his act at the Wilshire Ebell.
Celebrities were everywhere. And most of the crowd appeared either British or Irish born. Expats nearly all, sunning away their careers in Southern Cal.
Then he entered the room. And no. I’m not talking about Billy Connolly. The lights were only moments from dimming when a tall, thin gent in a white, extra-long Aran cardigan eased down the left center aisle. He carried himself with a majestic gate. And what little hair he had left flowed in white waves over his shoulders.
Yes. It was him. The original James Bond. Sean Connery.
A buzz rippled through the room the moment he crossed the threshold. It formed in a wake as he ambled past each row. Then, as he was sliding toward his sixth row center seat, applause broke out. A spontaneous tumult of clapping that built into a tsunami. By the time Sean was ready to park himself, the entire theater burst into a standing ovation.
Mind you. Sean Connery had done nothing more than stroll into the theater and take his assigned seat. Nonetheless, there we were with the rest of the admiring throng, on our feet and feverishly clapping until our palms stung.
“Wow,” I recall saying. “All the man has to do is show up and this is what happens?”
Granted. I’m jaded as hell. Living in L.A. I’ve seen miles of celebrities. I’m not generally impressed. And while I’m following suit with the rest of the throng by standing and applauding the man, I’m also thinking back to a longtime caddy pal complaining that the original James Bond was a cheap bastard who barely tipped after a round of golf. Nonetheless, here I was with the rest of the British exiles honoring Sir Sean Connery for merely gracing them with his existence. Well good on him.
Sir Sean rose again, gamely acknowledged the ovation, then sat in time for the lights to come down. Moments later, Billy Connolly hit the stage with this opening flourish:
“So I know what you’re thinkin’,” began Billy, “If I’ve never played Los Angeles before, why start now? Well, I wanted to prove to my boys at the cigar shop that I actually have a real job.”
The audience howled. And while those of us who shared smoke with Billy were appropriately touched, Billy went about his job of slaying the audience. The gifted comic cut heads for two-and-a-half hours, leaving us breathless with our diaphragms aching. It was sheer genius. Stories we’d heard in the smoky haze of the cigar shop took on new flavors, forcing us to laugh at them even harder. It was a master-class performance that left us in slack-jawed awe.
Once the show was over, we stood around in the empty theater and wondered if we should meet Billy backstage amongst the clamor or wait to laud him at a less competitive moment. Before we could decide, Billy crept out from the wings.
“I’ve been lookin’ for you!” he shouted. “Want you to come up and meet my friends.”
So backstage we climbed. On the second floor of the theater was a small reception room. Stuffed inside were celebrities and British luminaries. Sting and Trudie Styler were chatting up Billy. Monty Python’s Eric Idle and John Cleese held court in another corner. And not far from where we chose to apply ourselves as wallpaper, Dwight Yoakum and Bridget Fonda were playing their own game of wallflower.
While Robert jostled his way to the bar to fill our cocktail requests, Billy joined our little circle, asking if we’d appreciated the little shout-out he’d used to kick off the show. Before we could answer, the man himself, Sean Connery, slid up next to Billy to bid his thanks and goodnight. Billy, in turn, decided to take the moment to introduce the original James Bond to his cigar-smoking brethren. We all shook 007’s surprisingly delicate hand. He uttered little more than a polite hello and pleased to meet you. Yet, that trademark Scottish dulcet tone was unmistakable.
Now this is how Robert tells it. As he was returning with our drink order, he first noted the face of his wife, Michelle. It was up-tilted and rapt at Sir Sean. The same went for my own wife, Karen, aka The War Department. He could see that she was equally charmed by the aging star. Robert passed out the cocktails and was the very last to shake Sean’s hand before the Scot quietly vanished down the stairwell.
And that was pretty much it.
At least until the next morning. For awhile, part of our Sunday ritual was for Robert and his youngest boy to come over to my house in the morning. We would share some coffee and cigars, and our kids would get in some swing-set time. On that particular morn, we were still rapping about the previous evening. Both of us continued to marvel at Billy’s performance. It’s rare when headlining comics perform more than an hour or so. But serving up two-and-a-half hours or gut-crunching laughs? We were gobsmacked at the feat.
This is the part when our wives appeared from the kitchen, steaming lattes in hand. Each was still goosey and giggling like love-struck schoolgirls after their briefest of encounters with Sean Connery. Seriously? Could they still be in full swoon?
“But he’s gotta be like seventy-two years old,” I argued.
“I don’t care,” said Michelle. “He’s still got it.”
“He’s like forty years older than you!” said Robert.
“So?” said Michelle. “I guess when you got it, you don’t lose it.”
The War Department agreed.
“Lemme get this straight,” I said. “Last night we watched Billy do the near impossible. Stand-up comedy for two-and-a-half hours. Leaving the entire room sore from laughter. And all you can still talk about is that Sean Connery is still hot?”
“Yup,” said the War Department. “What can I say? He impressed.”
“Sure,” I said. “He’s James Bond and all that. If anyone should be impressed it’s me. But c’mon.”
“You’re not a woman,” said Michelle. “You won’t understand.”
“That kind of attraction?” confirmed Robert.
With that, our wives looked at each other and nodded. As if they shared a secret none but 007 could divine.
“Damn!” I said, cursing the earthbound mortal in me.
I’ve been asked what makes a movie star. Some surmise it’s something behind the eyes that only a camera can capture. Others have defined it as an indescribable “it” factor. Still more believe what makes a star is the innate ability to reflect the wants and desires of the masses. I can’t argue with any of those theories. But allow me to add this one:
If the people stand and applaud you just for showing up, you’re 007.
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