Felix Leiter (David Hedison)
By MI6 Staff
Pleased To Meet You
Although Leiter is much less of a field agent than 007, his knowledge and expertise have often arrived for Bond just in the nick of time. In “Live And Let Die”, Bond catches up with his CIA buddy in Harlem, New York, at first via ‘a genuine Felix Lighter’. On the “Licence To Kill” mission, 007 attends his old friend’s marriage in Key West, Florida, before his sadistic run-in with Franz Sanchez.
"Where's your sense of adventure James? This is New Orleans. Relax."
007's American counterpart, Felix Leiter has often assisted Bond in his overseas operations. Leiter is probably the closest thing that Bond has had to a friend, as shown by 007's extreme reaction to Leiter's injuries in 'Licence To Kill'.
Live And Let Die – James Bond flies into JFK, hot on the tail of Kanagna, the UN ambassador to the island nation of San Monique with suspected connections to the New York gangster Mr Big. Leiter catches up with Bond after he has a close call up in Harlem and comes face to face with Mr. Big at one of the of city’s Filet of Soul restaurants. The pair investigates the chain of eateries run by Mr. Big and when Leiter steps out to take a call, Bond drops below to meet with the gangster again. Later, Felix is left to clean up the mess when 007 causes a crisis on the bayou and runs into the colorful Sheriff J.W. Pepper.
Licence To Kill – Having shifted jobs to the DEA, Felix delays his own wedding to assist the capture of drug baron Franz Sanchez, Bond, as best man, comes along strictly as an observer, but proves and intricate part in hijacking the villains escape route. The pair rejoice after collaring Sanchez and making it to the church on time, but the honeymoon is stopped short by the sadistic Dario, who kidnaps Felix and rapes and murders Della.
"Killing me won't stop anything, Sanchez!"
In a dingy Key West marine biology lab, Leiter is dangled as shark meat whilst Franz Sanchez, Ed Killifer and Dario watch. In the chaos, Leiter looses a leg below the knee. Bond is maddened to find Leiter left for dead with the note, “he disagreed with something that ate him,” and seeks equally sadistic revenge on Sanchez and anyone connected to him. At the end of the mission, it is revealed that Leiter is recovering in hospital and is starting to return to his normal cheery self.
Born Albert David Hedison in Rhode Island, Hedison attended Brown University in his home town of Providence. He moved to New York in order to further his education and career, where he worked with a series of minor playhouses and several off-Broadway productions, making a name for himself and honing his art.
His early theatre work saw him win roles in “A Phoenix Too Frequent”, “Clash By Night” and he even won a prestigious Theatre World Award for his role in “Much Ado About Nothing”. For these productions, Hedison was credited as ‘Al Hedison’, as well as for early work on stage and screen. He toured with a highly regarded production of “Chapter Two” which he played opposite Broadway star Anita Gillette. After his successes on stage Hedison was quickly picked up on contract with cinema company: 20th Century Fox.
Hedison made his television debut in the mid 1950s and soon was offered work in feature films such as “The Son of Robin Hood” and “The Fly”, both hitting the screen in 1958. In 1959 Hedison was under contract with Fox, which saw him take a regular role as double agent Victor Sebastian in “Five Fingers”. Here he played opposite the lovely Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi who made her name in the UK as the femme fatale Fiona Volpe in “Thunderball”.
In 1964, also with the backing of 20th Century Fox, Hedison became a household name as his memorable character Captain Crane in Television’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”. Hedison played in all 110 episodes, which was created by TV legend Irwin Allen. He was originally offered the role in the 1961 feature film version of the aquatic adventure by was unavailable due to his working on another Allen production: “The Lost World”.
Hedison worked with Roger Moore on a number of occasions. First on 1962’s TV adventure, “The Saint”, and then on Moore’s first Bond film, “Live and Let Die”. He went on to work with Moore in 1979’s “North Sea Hijack” and “The Naked Face” (1984). He recalled the casual casting process: "I was having dinner with the screenwriter, Tom Mankiewicz, and he asked if I'd be interested in playing Felix Leiter in "Live and Let Die." I read the script and thought it would be great fun to work on a James Bond film with Sean Connery who was supposed to do it. The next thing I knew, Sean stepped out – and Roger Moore stepped in. I couldn't have been happier since Roger and I were good friends."
In the 1970s and ‘80s Hedison made regular roles on various sitcoms and long-running television dramas including “Fantasy Island” and “Love Boat” as well as various cameos, including memorable roles in “Knight Rider” and “Murder She Wrote”.
Hedison became the first actor to ever return to the Bond series as the memorable CIA man, Felix Leiter in 1989’s “Licence to Kill”. He won the role for the second time after bumping into Cubby and Dana Broccoli at dinner in LA. A couple of weeks later the call came in inviting him to appear in the 16th Bond film.
This film gave additional screen time to some of 007’s longest standing allies, including M, Felix Leiter and Q. In the sequence where Hedison and Dalton must gracefully parachute to Leiter’s wedding, the actor suffered a nasty fall when director John Glen requested that the crane (suspending the actors for their fall) drop Hedison a tad faster. In the next take Felix plummeted to the ground and left Hedison limping for the rest of the shoot.
After Bond, Hedison slowed his career. He appeared in a mere scattering of films throughout the 1990s and it was not until 2004 that he came back to regular TV, this time as Arthur Hendricks in “The Young and the Restless”.
In 1968 he married his wife Bridget and the pair remained together until her death in 2016. He is the father of two daughters, Alexandra and Serena.