“For years Rusten House has lain forlorn and largely forgotten, its empty corridors and darkened rooms echoing with a history filled with equal parts heartache and happiness,” writes NICHOLE OVERALL
HIS name is a byword for the glamorous art of spying – and if you think it’s Connery or Moore who are the most famous for inhabiting the tux of the most famous secret agent in the world, you’d be wrong.
It’s Lazenby. George Lazenby. Of Queanbeyan.
To prove it, May 20 will see the release of a new comedic documentary telling the sensational, “totally true” tale of the former Queanbeyan wild boy who went on to become the martini-drinking, Aston Martin-driving, poker-playing, womanising, MI6 operative, James Bond – but just the once, mind you.
Written and directed by Josh Greenbaum, himself a relative unknown, “Becoming Bond” looks at why George’s singular appearance in the sixth film in the juggernaut that is the 007 franchise, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), has achieved cult status.
With almost as much laid bare as some scenes in those very films, it sets forth the reasons why George became almost more feted for refusing not just a shot at the next title role, but five more after that.
As one Queanbeyan “devotee” to another, I was tickled to conduct an interview with George in 2014 about his memories of his former hometown, at which time he explained his bewildering choice.
“I was under the influence of my manager. I didn’t know the business and I thought this fella launched all the English pop groups, the Stones, the Beatles etcetera, I should listen to him,” he said.
“Sounds dumb now, but I was offered any film that United Artists owned to do in between Bond movies and a million dollars if I would come back and do another. We thought that James Bond was becoming passé.”
Certainly George’s path to literally knocking down producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’s door – or at least knocking down an actual stuntman as the story goes – to secure the role and then finding himself able to reject it outright is almost as spectacularly unbelievable as some situations from which Bond manages to extricate himself.
A bit of a lad round the Queanbeyan ‘hood (and fine, I’d let it go through to the keeper but I know there’ll be letters so, yes, he was born in Goulburn), young George was known for car racing, romance-chasing and a bit of trouble making.
“Queanbeyan was where I grew up,” he said from his home of 35 years in the LA hills.
“I found it a bit restricting – I wanted more freedom than a close-knit society can provide – but then it had the warmth from the people as we all knew each other’s business.”
Hip and swinging ’60s London called and with that chiselled Aussie jaw the one-time car salesman quickly became, almost as improbably, the highest paid male model in the world.
“Modelling was my biggest hurdle to get over when I went for JB [James Bond]; it was only that the director insisted on testing me that I moved past the casting as they didn’t want the stigma of a male model being Bond.”
Overcome it he did and, with no acting experience, beat 400 other hopefuls and so remains the youngest, tallest and only Australian to become “the man other men want to be and women want to be with”.
The latest instalment on this titillating rise – and fall – is a mix of archival footage and re-enactment starring another Australian who’s probably more widely known here at home than the man he’s playing: Josh Lawson, complete with his own suitably chiselled jawline and fresh from recreating another local-made-good, Hoges.
Helping the new work along and flying in the face of the rather harsh critics of the time (one even suggested that rather than Diana Rigg’s character, who dies in the end, “they should have killed him and kept her”), “OHMSS” was not only one of the most popular for 1969, but has since become a darling of the fans.
So then, with all of that, is George Lazenby, predicted the least likely 007 to succeed, set to become even more of a Bond icon with this weaving of his life writ large?
“All I know is that I did the best I could at the time. I have no regrets. I have had an interesting life.”
Or, in the words of Bond villain #4, Goldfinger: “Shocking. Positively shocking.”
Nichole Overall is a Queanbeyan-based journalist and social historian