Sean Connery - Biography
For young Tam, not only was this a much-needed break from work but the solitude allowed his imagination to run riot. There was a different kind of life here - pigs, chickens and wide open spaces. There was granddad Neil Maclean, too, a big, strong, whiskey-loving bear of a man with a real lust for life. His exuberance would leave a profound mark on his grand-son. Another influence would be the cinema, then in boom-time. Though Tam was not as rabid a fan as his dad, he still spent many an hour before the flickering screen in Fountainbridge's Blue Halls, known to the locals as "the gaff". Adventures were Tam's thing, the seat-edge sci-fi of Flash Gordon and, particularly, the romance and machismo of westerns.
Anyway, Tam preferred to be playing soccer or fishing in the Grand Union Canal, using his mum's old nylon stockings.
Name: Sean Connery
25 August 1930 (Age: 83)
Where: Edinburgh, Scotland
Height: 6' 2"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 2 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes
It's amazing how age has failed to wither Sean Connery. Not only has he been a major star for over 40 years, but he's somehow held onto the status of action-hero and sex symbol, even into his seventies. No actor of comparable age and fame - Eastwood, Redford, Newman - commands such pay-packets, or is held in such esteem by Hollywood producers. This alone would mark Connery out as something special. Yet when we consider that he rose from the poorest of backgrounds to the Beatle-style mania surrounding James Bond, then fought a long and successful battle to escape 007 typecasting and be taken seriously as a character actor, we must accept that his is one of the most extraordinary tales in cinema history.
He was born Thomas Connery in Fountainbridge, in the south-west of Edinburgh, on the 25th of August, 1930. Though the city's inhabitants are famed for their soft, cultured tones and Brit-Scot traditions, Connery, whose great-grandfather had been an Irish Catholic tinker from Wexford, was from the other side of the tracks, Fountainbridge being an industrial area of squeezed tenements, soot-blackened chimneys and the McEwan's Brewery. His father, Joe Connery, the son of a Glasgow bookie's runner, had come here in the twenties, seeking work in that bleak time of pay cuts and redundancies, and finding it at the North British Rubber Works at '2 a week.
It was a tough, tough time. Joe and his young wife Euphemia Maclean (known as Effie) lived in a 2-room, top-floor flat, with one bedroom, a kitchen/living room and an outside toilet. When Thomas was born he slept in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe, and would only get a proper (sofa) bed when his brother Neil arrived 8 years later. Outside the air was thick with fumes from the brewery, the rubber factory and the confectioners. In fact, the reek was so pungent that outsiders had been known to faint clean away.
The Connerys, though, were made of sterner stuff, particularly young Thomas, who thrived in this dirty, crowded place. As a kid he was impulsive, and always ambitious, with a real flair for sports, especially football. On the pitch he was the Roy Keane of Fountainbridge, savage and ultra-competitive. Even more intimidating, he quickly grew to be huge, earning the nickname Big Tam. But he was bright too, in a streetwise way. Mental arithmetic was no problem for a kid with a family history of bookmaking, and comic books led him to be a keen reader. Attending Bruntsfield Primary School, he was often frustrated at being held back by the slow progress of kids less bright than himself (a trait he would carry into his cinema career). Naturally, this would lead to trouble.
. When Neil was born in 1938, the family were under real financial pressure. And it says everything about Tam's ambition and industry, his sense of independence and responsibility and his amazing bravado that, at age 9 and with no prompting, he got a job at Kennedy's Dairy Stables, before the school day began working on a delivery dray. It wasn't simply toil - he loved horses. Soon, he'd also be working in the evenings as a butcher's assistant. Even before WW2 he was taking home '3 a week, all of which he gave to his mum, who saved what she could for him.
As the war kicked off, for a time the local schools were requisitioned by the authorities, with the kids being tutored in the houses of the seriously wealthy. The situation didn't last for long, but it left a lasting impression on Tam, who realised that, though the rich liked to have their milk delivered, they weren't so keen on having the deliverers in their homes. The boy would now equate money with power, and his dreams of escape and freedom would be coupled with a hard-nosed business sense that would later make him one of cinema's toughest negotiators. Indeed, were it not for other people's lack of vision, it might have made him a bona fide Goldwyn-style mogul.
During the war, Joe Connery would work at Rolls-Royce in Glasgow, returning home at weekends. Sean, meanwhile, graduated from Bruntsfield at 11 and began his two compulsory years of secondary education. Toffs would go to Boroughmuir to learn languages and economics, preparing them for the professions. Tam and his rough herbert buddies could look forward only to semi-skilled industrial labour, and were thus sent to Darroch to learn science, metalwork and the like. Throughout, he'd continue to work at his milk round, and deliver newspapers, too.
The war gave a big lift to business in Fountainbridge and at last there was money in people's pockets. The bars were buzzing and the streets filled with chancers and tricksters. Tam revelled in the boisterous activity. His physique was now well-developed and, though usually a reasonable guy, he'd bash anyone who messed with him. He was a strange sort, affable and physical, but also sensitive, even melodramatic. Perhaps due to his beloved comic books, he had a heightened sense of adventure and was a natural risk-taker. Once, daring some vertiginous slope, he rode a sledge into a tree, badly cracking his head, and spending 5 days in hospital and 10 more in convalescence. Needless to say he was back on his sled at the earliest opportunity. And there was always football. Once he purposely failed a grammar school entrance exam because he knew they played rugby instead.
Throughout the forties, holidays would be spent at his mum's parents' place, a country cottage just north of Kirkcaldy, across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
. At 14, Tam left school and began to deliver milk full-time, quickly rising to run his own cart. The extra money would come in helpful as Joe would break his wrist and nose in an industrial accident, and Effie would have to go out charring. The family would usually eat just porridge and potato stew, taking their baths at the public pool. Even so, once Tam had managed to squirrel away '75 he was keen to possess some material symbol of his efforts. His dream of a motorbike summarily quashed by his father, instead he spent '56 on an upright piano.
Still his greatest wish was for escape, to see the world and take life by the throat. Yet his first real attempt was not successful. Signing up for 7 years in the Royal Navy (plus another 5 in the Volunteer Service), he trained near Lochinver, then was moved down to Portsmouth where he'd serve in a gunnery school, in an anti-aircraft crew, then be assigned as Able Seaman to HMS Formidable. This wasn't really seeing the world. In fact, though he enjoyed his stint in the navy's boxing team, it was a pretty poor show all round. So it was painful but pleasing when, after two years, at age 19, he was diagnosed with peptic ulcers and discharged with a disability pension of 6s 8d a week. He was glad to be out, though in times of stress the ulcers would plague him for the rest of his life.
Back in Fountainbridge, life seemed all the more dull. He was a big hit in the local dancehalls, using his money to score glamorous girlfriends, but it wasn't enough. To build his escape fund, he toiled in the steel mills and on the roads, delivered coal and worked as an odd-job man. Eventually, getting a grant from the British Legion who, in the wake of the war were keen to aid the young disabled, he took a course in French polishing, in the summer of 1951 being taken on at a cabinet works. Here he worked on sideboards, wardrobes, even coffins, and this might have been his career had his curiosity and frugality not combined to push him in a new direction. When John Hogg, an experienced cabinet maker, mentioned there was extra money to be made that Christmas by helping out backstage at the Kings Theatre, Tam showed an interest. So Hogg took him down there and procured him a job working on the sets and costumes.
He loved it - there was a freedom of lifestyle and expression here that he'd not experienced before. And there was money.
. Meanwhile he was still excelling on the football pitch. There were even rumours that Celtic were interested - the perfect side for a proud Scot with an Irish Catholic background. But Tam now had other things on his mind. To further impress the ladies, he took up body-building, training three nights a week at the Dunedin Amateur Weightlifting Club under the former Mr Scotland Jimmy Laurie. His improved physique would wow the girls when, in spring of 1952, he left his job to become lifeguard at the Portobello Pool. To make extra cash, he also posed in a thong for students at the Edinburgh College of Art, making another tidy sum per hour. Monetarily at least, life was looking good.
Now matters began to pick up pace. In late 1952 a touring production of The Glorious Years, starring Anna Neagle, was to play the Empire for 5 weeks. Tam got in as a spear carrier, once more revelling in stage life. There was a new extra-glamorous girlfriend in the pop singer Maxine Daniels, daughter of Kenny Lynch. And at last, having swapped his pension for a lump sum of '90, there was a motorbike, which he'd drive down to Manchester at weekends to pose for arty photo mags. During the week he'd work in the print room at the Edinburgh Evening News, and occasionally served as a dancehall bouncer.
After three years training, he was certainly big enough for the latter occupation. And his buff body would now, in a roundabout way, lead him to the big-time he craved. Along with Jimmy Laurie, he went down to London to compete in the Mr Universe competition at the Scala (Arnold wasn't the first, then). Disappointingly, he came only third in the Junior class but, as luck would have it, one of his rivals mentioned some auditions being held for South Pacific at the Theatre Royal. Tam went down there, bluffed about his experience, and scored a job touring the country at '12 a week.
Though he was initially cast just as one of the musclemen in the routine for There's Nothing Like A Dame, Tam, as ever, applied himself rigorously to self-improvement. Boarding with actor Robert Henderson, he was encouraged to read and began to fill his head with Ibsen, Joyce, Shaw, Proust and Tolstoy. He was seldom seen without a book in his hand and a portable tape recorder he'd use to practise speeches. Soon he was understudying several of the acting roles and was working under a new name - Sean.And yet it still might have gone differently. While playing for the show's football team, Sean was spotted by Matt Busby's scouts and offered a trial with Manchester United (how close Roy Keane came to following in his footsteps!). But Connery, by now convinced by Henderson that he could make it as a movie star, kept on his chosen course, rising through the ranks to the role of Lt Buzz Adams (originally played in the West End by Larry Hagman), starring alongside Henderson and Millicent Martin.
But it wasn't all good. Half way through the show's two-year run, Carol Sopel joined as the love interest (she'd perform Happy Talk) and Connery fell for her big-time. Sadly, her Jewish parents would not permit a marriage and it ended with Sean badly bruised. Soon, though, he'd take up with Julie Hamilton, a photographer and step-daughter of politician Michael Foot. She'd support and encourage him as he made his initial breakthroughs.
With the tour over he took a flat off London's Kings Road, took elocution lessons and looked desperately for work. Nothing doing. Finally Henderson gave him a break by hiring him as a court usher in a production of A Witness For The Prosecution he was directing at the Q Theatre in Richmond. Madly keen to make an impression, Connery swept onto the stage in a big black cloak - a cloak that was taken from him before the second performance. He'd stay on at the Q for Point Of Departure and A Witch In Time, there was nothing else going on.
1956 proved a better year. In Oxford he won parts in The Bacchae and Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna Christie. He'd also score several minor TV roles that led to him being taken on by an agent early in 1957. Now things would begin to move. First he would make his screen debut playing Alfie Bass's stooge in the gangland thriller No Road Back. Then would come the big one, Requiem For A Heavyweight. Written by Rod Serling, this had been a big live TV hit in the US and the BBC hoped to replicate its success in the UK. Then, 10 days before it was due to run, star Jack Palance pulled out. Desperate auditions took place to find a new Mountain McClintock, the boxer who risks blindness to help his manager pay off his debts. Connery stepped up but no one was keen to risk him in a live performance, he was too rough. But the producer's wife, set to play the love interest, saw something in the young man, a kind of "animal power" and suggested that he'd be a big hit with the female audience. Connery was in, with Warren Mitchell playing his trainer. The show was a hit and the reviews glowing. It also marked Connery's first meeting with his great friend Michael Caine.
Now the studios were after him, but, ever the canny one, Connery took his time. He appeared alongside Sid James in Hell Drivers, directed by Cy Endfield (soon to direct Zulu, Caine's breakthrough), and then Time Lock, where a kid is trapped in a bank vault (this was produced by the Thomas/Rogers team that would soon embark on the Carry On series). Before these were released, in late 1957, Sean would sign a long term deal with 20th Century Fox, worth '120 a week.
It was a good deal, but it brought no work. Connery's accent was a problem, as was his powerful physique. He nearly won the lead opposite Ingrid Bergman in The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness but instead had to make do with a small part as a sailor involved in the smuggling of political prisoners in Terence Young's Action Of The Tiger. This was a poor film, but it would stand him in better stead than many of his great movies, as a guilty Young felt he owed Connery a favour. He'd pay it back in spades.
Unable to offer him anything, Fox now loaned Connery out for Another Time, Another Place, which brought him his first taste of real Hollywood glamour. This was a vehicle for the fast-fading sex goddess Lana Turner, who here played a newspaperwoman seduced by Sean's war correspondent in London during the Blitz. During the shoot, Turner's then-boyfriend, the gangster-type Johnny Stompanato, arrived on the set and pulled a gun on Connery, demanding he leave Turner alone (the pair were reportedly dating). Connery decked him and Turner had him deported. A year later, in one of Hollywood's most infamous trials, Turner's young daughter would admit to stabbing Stompanato to death. Many felt it was a cover-up to save Turner from the electric chair.
Sadly, the movie was another failure, and Connery returned to TV for a production of Anna Christie. Here the lead was taken by film star Diane Cilento, known as the "high IQ sex kitten", a cosmopolitan woman and a product of RADA, married with a child but on the verge of splitting from her husband. Connery suggested extra rehearsals and she agreed, becoming something of a mentor to him. The pair would enrol together at Yat Malgrem's Movement School, with Cilento pushing him to read Stanislavsky, Flaubert and the classics. He was growing fast.
1958 saw Connery at last win a major lead with Disney's Darby O'Gill And The Little People. This took him to Hollywood where his initially enjoyable time became increasingly fraught. Stompanato's ex boss, Mickey Cohen, it seemed, did not buy the murder story and was after revenge. Connery would move out of Hollywood for the final stages of production and take off home as soon as he could, turning down contracts with the TV series Maverick and Wyatt Earp and hoping instead for a movie hit with Darby. It didn't come. Though the film brought him a debut record in Pretty Irish Girl, the reviews were rough and the film a relative stiff.
Now rising ahead of such new Brit stars as Caine, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, Connery won a major part in Tarzan's Greatest Adventure. Unfortunately, it was his last role for a couple of years as Cilento went down with TB and Sean decided to put his movie career on hold to be close to her. Turning down the lead in El Cid, he returned to Edinburgh to perform The Seagull with Sybill Thorndike, did The Crucible on TV with Susannah York, then Naked with Cilento onstage at Oxford. 1960 saw him back in Oxford for another go at The Bacchae and Anna Christie, then he played Harry Hotspur opposite Robert Hardy in Henry IV.
His stage career was burgeoning but his eye always on the big prize. Turning down a chance to play a lead in Joan Littlewood's Macbeth, set to tour Russia, he instead returned to the screen in The Frightened City, billed as the "toughest crime move ever made", and the Brit comedy On The Fiddle. With nothing else on the horizon, he played in Macbeth on TV, and Anna Karenina, acting as Vronsky to Claire Bloom's titular heroine. He also caused a sensation by appearing in a loincloth in Anouilh's Judith, a naughty forerunner to The Blue Room and The Graduate.
Despite the furore, Judith was not a hit. But it did bring Connery back to the attention of Terence Young. Young was at the time in discussions with two producers hoping to bring Ian Fleming's hit James Bond novels to the screen. Rex Harrison was one possibility to play 007, as were David Niven and Cary Grant. None were interested. Auditions were held, Sean (who'd just had a small role in The Longest Day) being seen on the strength of good reviews for Anna Karenina. As with Requiem For A Heavyweight, it took a woman to see the obvious, producer Albert Broccoli's wife noting Connery's charisma. He was offered the role and accepted. Test scenes were shot and sent to United Artists who, reacting in much the same way as Decca did to The Beatles around the same time, sent back a telegram saying "See if you can do better". Forty years later, people would STILL be trying to do better.
In November, 1961, Connery signed up as James Bond in a deal that would hold him for six years. For his first outing, Dr No, he would receive an upfront fee of '5000. His friends were amazed - they'd always seen him as more of a Beatnik type. But Terence Young saw something else and, repaying his earlier debt, gave Connery a crash course in cultured behaviour. Filming would begin in January, 1962, with Ursula Andress co-starring as Honey Rider (Julie Christie and many others having failed Broccoli's infamous "tit test"). In real-life romance, Connery, on several occasions jilted by Cilento, would be connected with actresses Sue Lloyd and Shelley Winters, as well as model Joyce Webber. Cilento, though, would always return. Now in the throes of divorce, by the autumn she was pregnant with Sean's child. After the premiere of Dr No, Connery would propose and the couple would marry on Gibraltar.