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The obsession with money that haunts Sean Connery

11-Aug-2008 • Actor News

'Autographs? I don't get paid for them - so I don't sign them'... The obsession with money that haunts Sean Connery - writes Paul Scott in The Daily Mail, his second hit piece on Connery this week.

This month, Sean Connery releases his autobiography charting his rise from a poor Scottish bodybuilder to one of Hollywood's most charismatic leading men. But insiders suggest the book will be highly sanitised - glossing over the darker side of this complex, brooding man. In part two of a major series, the Mail reveals how his hardnosed attitude to money struck fear into the film moguls who made him a star...

The premiere of Goldfinger in London's Leicester Square produced a stampede of 5,000 women fans who smashed through the plate-glass entrance of the Odeon cinema in a frenzy of flailing handbags and hormones.

The object of their affection, the film's star Sean Connery, had not even bothered to turn up. Undaunted, his deranged followers stole life-size cut-outs of their idol from the foyer and made off with the movie's posters.

As Bondmania reached its peak in the mid-1960s, Connery went to ground. Already sick of being stereotyped as the suave upper-class 007, he was desperate to be recognised as a serious actor.

But something far closer to his heart than his actorly craft was bothering him.

Despite being rich by any normal understanding of the word, Connery was convinced he was being ripped off by the producers of the blockbuster film series.

Connery was always hugely driven by money. As soon as he landed the role of Bond, he immediately became fixated on the thought that he must accumulate a nest-egg of £1million in his bank account.

His reasoning was that as soon as he was a millionaire he could at least feel secure enough not to worry that he might lose it all and end up back where he started in the slums of Edinburgh.

And, simply put, Connery did not feel he was getting his fair cut of the massive takings being produced by the movies that had already become the biggest grossing series of all time.

Now, in early 1965, the star's bank balance had well passed the £1million mark, but Connery's unease over money had far from dissipated.

In a pointed reference to the amply proportioned Bond producer Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli - who was de facto his boss - the heart-throb declared: 'What I'm really tired of is a lot of fat slob producers living off the back of lean actors.'

Not that he was by any means poorly paid. Goldfinger, the third 007 film, would go on to earn £14 million, a phenomenal sum of money at the time. Connery was on 5 per cent of the net profit as well as a fat signing-on fee.

Even so the frugal Scotsman could not bring himself to spend the huge riches he had so quickly acquired.

While on screen as Bond he wore handmade Savile Row suits and drove an Aston Martin, in real life Connery refused to spend his cash on anything but scruffy trousers and durable shirts he bought in discount shops.

To date, his biggest extravagance had been a Volkswagen camper van, complete with a washbasin and portable toilet (hardly the kind of gadgetry that would have left Bond's technical wizard Q shaken or stirred).

Although he was eventually to push the boat out with the purchase of a second-hand Jaguar, Connery's tastes were quite resolutely not showbizzy.

With his earnings from Bond, he bought a dilapidated house in the unfashionable West London suburb of Acton and began doing it up himself to save money on builders. Evenings were spent at home rather than flashing his cash with nights on the town.

At the same time Connery, who had been plucked from obscurity when he was hired to play the role of 007 for the first time in 1962's Dr No, had taken to describing himself bitterly as a 'money-making machine'.

Given the risk that had been taken on him by Bond studio executives, it was a classic case of biting the hand that fed him.

Nonetheless, his anger about supposedly being short- changed would eventually lead to him suing Broccoli, whom he hated with a vengeance, and the studio that financed the films, United Artists (one of many court actions he has brought over the vexed subject of money).

For this, Connery is entirely unapologetic. 'Money is important, very important,' he says. 'It is part of a combination of things that makes it possible for you to do things you want to do, in the very way you want to do them.'

Even today, after he has accumulated a reputed £85 million fortune, it remains his abiding passion.

It has led him to accept roles in a string of well-paid but critically mauled films (the most notable being his embarrassing return to the role of James Bond at the age of 53 in the awful Never Say Never Again).

But for Connery it has always been the payday that counted most.

A friend tells a recent story which illustrates the point. After watching as Sir Sean rebuffed yet another autograph hunter in the street with a typical four-letter rebuke, the friend asked Connery why he was so reluctant to sign his name for his fans.

'I'm not getting paid for it,' barked back Connery. 'These b******s sell my signature on the internet for hundreds of dollars. They're making a killing off my back.'

For a man who has more cash than he could possibly ever dream of spending, it was a strange comment indeed. But to truly understand Connery, one must grasp the sheer intensity of his determination to be paid his due - and then to hold on to what he's earned.

Just last month, his first wife Diane Cilento claimed that Connery has refused to guarantee his only son, actor-turned-director Jason, a penny in his will.

It is an accusation Sir Sean bitterly denies. But whatever the truth, this is a man who has astutely - and some would say ruthlessly - made himself one of the most bankable movie stars of all time based on what even his greatest admirers must admit is a somewhat narrow acting range.

So how has he done it? An unshakeable belief in himself and a little luck have both played their part. Because, in truth, Connery's career was going nowhere in particular when he landed the role that was to change his life.

His first real success was as a down-on-his-luck boxer in a 1957 BBC play, Requiem For A Heavyweight. Connery was eminently believable as a punchdrunk slugger, but some viewers were confused by his heavy Scottish brogue and assumed he was Polish.

Nonetheless, it was to land him the offer of a seven-year contract with American film studio 20th Century Fox and the chance to make movies.

In reality, the relationship with Fox bore little but frustration for Connery and four years into the deal executives at the company had still not offered him a decent leading role, preferring to loan him out to other studios for a string of forgettable appearances.

By the time Bond came around Connery was 31, already written off as a nearly man by some in the business and facing a distinctly uncertain future.

The rights to Ian Fleming's hugely successful novels about the British secret agent had been acquired by the American Broccoli and his partner, Canadian producer Harry Saltzman.

Their first choice for the role of Bond, James Mason, was unable to commit to more than two films. Another sophisticated star, David Niven, had also had to turn down the offer of the part.

The British director Terence Young, who had been hired to make the film, remembered working with Connery in a B-movie called Action Of The Tiger four years earlier, and recommended the still unknown Scot.

Young impressed on Connery just how important the chance of the role was and warned him in advance not to demand too much money.

He also suggested that as he was up for the part of a dashing and elegant old Etonian, he might consider putting on a decent suit for his meeting with the producers.

The contrary Connery arrived for his interview at Broccoli's office in South Audley Street, Mayfair, in scruffy slacks and a lumber jacket. It would have been hard to look less like the fictional Bond.

Broccoli later told how he sat amazed as Connery began pounding the desk with his fist as he made his financial demands and laid down his vision of how the part should be played.

When the producers asked him if he would be willing to do a screen test along with the other actors they were considering, Connery dismissed the idea out of hand.

Neither producer was impressed. Fleming, who had been invited to sit in, was horrified. 'I was looking for Commander Bond, not an overgrown stuntman,' he exploded.

Connery, with his thick and uncultured Edinburgh accent and his uncouth manners, was the polar opposite of the smooth Bond.

But Broccoli's wife Dana was convinced Connery had what the screen secret agent needed - sex appeal. 'Women - and men - will love him,' she said.

Beckoning her husband and Saltzman over to the window to watch Connery as he crossed the street outside, she told them: 'He moves like a panther.'

In spite of the serious reservations of executives at United Artists, Connery had got the part.

As well as buying him a new wardrobe of clothes suitable for the role, the first job of the producers was to have their new leading man fitted with a toupee to cover his already thinning hair.

To begin with, Sean was in his element travelling around the world and sharing the sets with a carousel of beautiful Bond girls.

But the more successful he and the movies became, the more he felt he was being left behind, while Broccoli and Saltzman - who had sunk their own money into the project from the very outset - made massive dividends.

Twice he quit - before 1967's You Only Live Twice and 1971's Diamonds Are Forever - and changed his mind, but eventually he relinquished the role of Bond to Roger Moore in 1971.

Convinced he had been taken for a mug during his years as 007, he determined that from now on he would get tough.

So it came about that in 1977 Connery took the almost unprecedented decision to sue the film studio Allied Artists, for whom he had starred in The Man Who Would Be King with Michael Caine.

The fee Connery was disputing was the relatively small amount (by Hollywood standards, at least) of £63,000.

Even so, the expensive court case sent Allied Artists under. 'I bankrupted them, I'm thrilled to say,' Connery crowed later.

In the early 1980s he also sued his former financial adviser Kenneth Richards, winning £2.8 million in damages and bankrupting Richards, too, in the process.

After the case, he told one reporter: 'I know I have won the case for damages, but I would have been far happier if I could have kicked him all over the place.'

Connery was certainly not a man to be crossed when it came to the subject of money.

By the end of the decade, he was launching an average of three legal actions a year, the largest of which was the $225 million lawsuit against Broccoli and United Artists for what he claimed was more than 20 years' unpaid royalties (the case was eventually settled out of court).

In the background throughout has been the diminutive but formidable figure of Micheline, Connery's wife since 1975.

She took over the handling of his finances the moment they married and insisted on examining Connery's books, thereby exposing Richards' bad investments.

Since then no contract has been signed, no agreement entered into without the approval of the evervigilant Lady Connery.

Writer Meg Henderson, who got to know the Connerys when she was approached by Sir Sean to write his life story, says: 'Micheline tells Sean what to think and what to say. He won't make a move unless she approves it.

'She is very much the power behind the throne. And she has always been as interested in the cash as Sean.'

But why such an obsession with money? As we shall see tomorrow, it can be traced back to Connery's straitened upbringing amid the gloom of Edinburgh's slums and his deep-seated fear of returning to his poverty-stricken childhood.

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