MI6 looks back at the seven actors who have each portrayed James Bond's deadliest villain - Ernst Stavro Blofeld...

The Actors Who Played Blofeld
31st July 2005

From the beginning, there are certain elements that have made the world of James Bond fascinating, and have brought fans back time and again: fast cars, sexy girls, cool gadgets, plenty of martinis (shaken, not stirred), and, of course, insanely over-the-top villains!

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s one megalomaniac dominated the underworld of the James Bond universe – Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Seen first as the head of the evil organization known as SPECTRE (The SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion), and then apparently striking out on his own, Blofeld or his minions faced off against James Bond more times than any other villain.

Now MI6 looks back at the actors who shaped the Blofeld legacy...


Although Dr. No introduced filmgoers to SPECTRE in 1962, it was a year later before fans met “Number One” (Blofeld). In From Russia With Love, the role of Blofeld was portrayed by two actors. Anthony Dawson was shown on camera stroking a white Angora cat, but it was Eric Pohlman who provided the chilling voice of the character.

Anthony Dawson was born 18 October 1916 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He began acting in the 1940s, and was often cast as sadistic characters. Bond fans first saw Anthony Dawson as Professor Dent in Dr. No, but since Dawson’s face was not shown during From Russia With Love, he was able to fool audiences, and the credit even listed “Ernst Blofeld” as being played by “?” in an attempt to make the character that much more mysterious. Dawson would again reprise his role as the figure of Blofeld two years later in Thunderball, but again it was not his voice that audiences heard.


Beyond Bond: After Bond, Dawson’s career never fully flourished. He did several Italian films, including a 1967 film called OK Connery (a.k.a. Operation Double 007 or Operation Kid Brother), which, coincidentally, starred Sean Connery’s younger brother, Neil, along with several other actors who appeared in Bond films, including Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Bernard Lee, and Lois Maxwell. Dawson continued acting all his life, last appearing in the miniseries “Selling Hitler” in 1991. Dawson finally died of cancer in Sussex, England on 8 January 1992.

Eric Pohlmann, who provided the voice for Blofeld in From Russia With Love and Thunderball, was born 18 July 1913 in Vienna, Austria. Pohlmann studied at Max Reinhard School before becoming a stage entertainer in the 1930s. He met his wife, Liselotte Goettinger, on stage, and they were married after escaping to London in 1939. Pohlmann appeared often on stage and in television throughout his career, and began doing films in the late 1940s. He also guest starred in a few episodes of “The Saint” (starring Roger Moore), and one episode of “The Avengers” (which among other Bond-related names, starred Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg).

Beyond Bond: Pohlmann’s love appeared to be for the stage, and he returned to Germany and Austria for several stage performances throughout the years after 1965. Sadly, his wife, Liselotte, died of a heart attack in September 1968. Pohlmann continued doing stage, TV, and film appearances, though, and most notably landed roles in Inspector Clouseau (1968) and The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). Then, like his wife, Eric Pohlmann suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 July 1979, during final rehearsals for his 2nd appearance at the Salzburg Festival in Bavaria, Germany.

Leading up to the release of You Only Live Twice, Bond producers announced that audiences would finally get to see the face of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But the face fans saw in the film was not the face originally cast for the role. Czech actor Jan Werich was originally cast as Blofeld.

Some sources claim that Werich became ill at the time of shooting, and had to retire from the picture because of this illness. Other sources – including director Lewis Gilbert – claim that the filmmakers simply realized that Werich was not right for the part. Regardless of the reason, Werich shot scenes as Blofeld for only five days before he was replaced by Donald Pleasence.


Donald Pleasence was born 5 October 1919 in Worksop, England. Pleasence took public speaking classes as a child, and began his acting career in a 1939 production of Wuthering Heights. He took a break from acting, however, when he joined the Royal Air Force during WWII. His plane was shot down, and he spent a year in a German POW camp. After the war, Pleasance returned to acting, and became one of Britain’s most popular actors, doing numerous stage and television performances, and acting in 145 films over the span of his career.


Beyond Bond: Donald Pleasance was married four times and had five daughters (two by his first wife, two by his second wife, one by his third wife, and no children by his fourth wife).

Besides his appearance as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, Donald Pleasance is most recognized for his recurring role as Dr. Sam Loomis in the famed Halloween series.

Pleasance died on 2 February 1995 in St. Paul de Vence, France, after complications from heart-valve replacement surgery.

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, producers wanted to have a more active Blofeld, so they cast American actor Telly Savalas in the role. Telly Savalas was born on 21 January 1924 in Garden City, New York. His birth name was Aristotelis Savalas. Savalas studied psychology at Columbia University before he dropped out to serve in WWII. He was injured in the line of duty, and received a Purple Heart upon discharge. In the 1950s, Savalas hosted his own talk show for ABC Radio before finally turning to acting at the age of 35.

Beyond Bond: Savalas played several villainous characters over the years, but besides his role as Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Telly Savalas is perhaps best known as Lt. Theo Kojak, appearing in the TV movie, The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973).

This movie launched the TV series “Kojak”, which ran from 1973 to 1978, and spawned seven more Kojak TV movies. Unfortunately, Savalas contracted bladder cancer in the ‘90s, and he died in Universal City, California on 22 January 1994, just one day after his 70th birthday.


In 1971, Blofeld got a makeover when he was portrayed by Charles Gray in Diamonds Are Forever. Charles Gray had been previously introduced to Bond fans as Dikko Henderson, one of Bond’s allies who had been killed by one of Blofeld’s men in You Only Live Twice. This makes Gray one of the few actors who have played both an ally and a villain in the James Bond universe. Although Gray’s Blofeld bore little physical resemblance to previous Blofeld incarnations, Bond instantly recognized the villain with the white Angora cat, and Blofeld’s evil plot was just as devious as ever.


Beyond Bond: Charles Gray was born 29 August 1928 in Bournemouth, Dorset, England. His birth name was Donald Marshall Gray, but when he left his job as a clerk for a real-estate agent to become a Shakespearean stage actor at the age of 24, Gray had a difficult time making a name for himself. There was already a well-known British actor named Donald Gray, so he performed briefly under the name “Oliver Gray”, and was sometimes credited as “Charles D. Gray” (to avoid confusion with American actor Charles H. Gray) before settling on “Charles Gray”.

Over the years, Charles Gray found his niche, though, often playing authority figures and villains. Besides Blodeld, Gray was best known for his roles as Mycroft Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1978) and as the criminologist/narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Gray continued acting, and was last seen in the made-for-TV movie, Longitude (2000). Charles Gray died of cancer on 7 March 2000 in London, England.

After Diamonds Are Forever, legal issues between Eon Productions and Kevin McClory, who worked on the original script for Thunderball with Ian Fleming in the 1950s, forced Blofeld to retire from the official series. Blofeld made an unofficial return to the Eon series ten years later, though, in the opening sequences of For Your Eyes Only in 1981, when John Hollis portrayed a faceless, wheelchair-bound, bald man with a white Angora cat. It is clear that this character was intended to be Blofeld – the technique of hiding the character’s face evokes memories of Blofeld’s early appearances, and the wheelchair is an allusion to the events of OHMSS – but for legal reasons, his name was never mentioned in the film, nor was it listed in the film’s credits.

Beyond Bond: John Hollis was born in 1935 in London, England. Not much is known about his personal life, but in addition to James Bond, Hollis has also made appearances in the Superman and Star Wars franchises, and also made an uncredited appearance in 1967’s unofficial Bond film, Casino Royale.

Using his rights to Thunderball, Kevin McClory made the unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery, in 1983. McClory’s version of Ernst Stavro Blofeld was played by Swedish legend, Max von Sydow. Again, the white cat was present, but this time, Blofeld’s appearance is reminiscent of the version first intended with Jan Werich, with grey hair and a goatee.



Max von Sydow was born 29 April 1929 in Lund, Sweden. As a teenager, von Sydow and some of his friends founded an amateur theatre company, and later he attended The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.

In 1955, he moved to Malmö, where he met and began working with Ingmar Bergman, and his career really began to take off as he starred in Oscar-winning films produced by Bergman.

Von Sydow went on to since star in such classics as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and The Exorcist (1973), and more recently in blockbusters like Judge Dredd (1995) and Minority Report (2002).

Beyond Bond: Bond producers originally asked Max von Sydow to play Dr. No, but he declined that offer. But besides portraying Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Never Say Never Again, Max von Sydow also has the distinction of having worked alongside at least two previous Blofeld actors. First, he played alongside John Hollis in Flash Gordon (1980), and then he worked with Telly Savalas in the made-for-TV movie, Kojak: The Belarus File (1985)

Year Portrayed Blofeld
Anthony Dawson –1963, 1965
Eric Pohlman – 1963, 1965
Donald Pleasence – 1967
Telly Savalas – 1969
Charles Gray – 1971
John Hollis – 1981
Max von Sydow – 1983
  Age Portrayed Blofeld
Anthony Dawson – 47, 49
Eric Pohlman – 50, 52
Donald Pleasence – 48
Telly Savalas – 45
Charles Gray – 43
John Hollis – 50
Max von Sydow – 54

Did You Know?
Ian Fleming shares his birthday with his creation Ernst Stavro Blofeld - 28th May 1908.

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