he was actually cast as Bond; but that was a comedy, and it wasn't until 1972 that he was formally offered and accepted the role, and the rest is history –
Well, actually there was history before Bond as well, lots of it, for Roger Moore was far from being an unknown before becoming the world's most famous secret agent. There was Ivanhoe and The Alaskans, and then there was his turn as Beau Maverick, another of the stand-ins for James Garner, and whether or not you accepted him as the British Cousin, his charm was a perfect fit for the show.
Ah, and then there was The Saint, such a magnificent proving ground for playing 007, and I'm not just talking about wearing a tux. (Although he did look great in one, didn't he?) I've listened to Vincent Price's radio version of Simon Templar, and I've seen other actors attempt the role, and I've read some of the books - but there was never any doubt that Roger Moore was Simon Templar, period. He played The Saint as an interesting mixture of suave playboy and not-quite-retired cat burglar, with a hint of the ruthless killer that could appear as needed.* It was that edge, lurking just under the surface, that made his Templar so watchable. The bad guys never seemed to get the drop on him, the femme fatales never seemed to fool him, and even after he'd beaten the heavy to a pulp (an even fight until Simon eventually decided he'd had enough), he'd take a moment to smooth his hair and straighten his coat and tie before moving on.
*As the always-reliable Wikipedia reminds us, "The Saint has a dark side, as he is willing to ruin the lives of the 'ungodly', and even kill them, if he feels that more innocent lives can be saved. In the early books, Templar refers to this as murder, although he considers his actions justified and righteous, a view usually shared by partners and colleagues."
And then, just before Bond, there was The Persuaders!, a comedy-adventure series which he shared with Tony Curtis. It's said that the two of them didn't get along, but you'd never have known it from what you saw on the screen. That easy charm again, don't you know.
I mentioned Live and Let Die earlier, and was there ever a Bond theme that more perfectly described Bond, and the actor playing him? When Paul McCartney wrote, "What does it matter to you/When you got a job to do/You gotta do it well,/You gotta give the other fellow Hell" - well, that was Roger Moore's James Bond right there. When the snake comes after him, he turns an aerosol can into a blowtorch. When the voodoo witch doctor rises from the ground, he shoots him. He literally blows up Yaphet Koto, and when Koto's one-armed henchman tries to kill him, he "disarms" him as only James Bond can. All this, and he gets Jane Seymour too. What a guy.
Not every Bond film that Roger Moore made was a classic, but that easy charm pulled him through, even when the scripts threatened to cross the line into camp. Personally, I think he stayed one film too long, but if we don't begrudge the hall-of-fame ballplayer that last season, why should we with Moore?
Moore didn't work all that much after retiring as Bond, but really he didn't have to. He would, after all, always be James Bond just as he would always be Simon Templar. Actors have built great careers out of less. And speaking of which, he was always self-effacing about his acting ability; in this TV Guide from 1967, in referring to Hollywood, he said, "My luck held out, too, until the studios found out I couldn't act very well." I wrote that "His humility about his talent extends even to being humble about being humble; while a friend says he truly lacks vanity, he says it's more a case of lacking confidence." It's that refusal to take it all seriously, I concluded, that played a big part in his rise to stardom.
He was married four times and divorced three times, and that kind of thing doesn't happen without leaving hard feelings and bruised lives, according to the tabloids. But, as this story demonstrates, he always had time for his fans, and the impressions he left were uniformly warm ones, and that counts for something. There was, indeed, something about Roger Moore that made you feel the man you saw on the screen and the man you met in real life were one and the same, and that's a very rare talent, one that few actors possess.
Perhaps that's why there was such an outpouring of affection when he died this week, at the surprising age of 89. ("I thought he was maybe 79," you heard more than once this week.) Even though I'll always think of him as The Saint, it will probably be as Bond that most will remember him, and there's nothing wrong with that. He's the first James Bond to die, after all, and whether he was the best Bond or not, you can't deny that this truly is the end of an era. Ah, but what an era it was.