Flashback: No. 1

George Lazenby’s $6 million secret

By Bob Cameron

This article appeared in the Australian New Idea 10/11/1979

The former 007 star tells for the first time about the illness that nearly killed him

Some of the world’s top actors were more than a little miffed when the brash, rangy car salesman-cum-male model landed the role of James Bond, super spy.

And producer Cubby Broccoli was also more than a little edgy about gambling $6m on this untried unknown. So imagine his expression when he was let into what has become one of the movie industry’s best-kept secrets about George Lazenby.

“I told them that I only had half a kidney left. The other one and a half had been removed when I was a child, but I honestly hadn’t given much thought about it until the Bond thing came up.” wryly explained George as we relaxed in the boathouse below his new, half built home overlooking Sydney Harbour.

“Anyway, they made me spend two days in a private clinic and I was subjected to a barrage of tests. They were a lot more sophisticated than the doctors who checked me when I joined the army, although one of that mob hit me over my precious half-kidney with a hammer.

“Well, the clinic pronounced me fit and well but the films backers were not going to take any chances. They had my half kidney insured for $6m, the budget for the film, so they wouldn’t lose their money if something happened to me before shooting finished.

“I hate to think what the premiums were…”

George has never talked publicly about his childhood illness before – it was a harrowing time and he nearly died.

“It was in 1942 and I was only 3. A growth was causing a blockage and I had tubes coming out all over the place. The pain was very bad and I must have had a hundred operations. I’ll never forget the ether, or those scalpels.

“I remember one day in particular. They thought I was dying and my uncle left me his gold watch to play with. When they left the room, I got a hammer out of this tool kit I played with and smashed the watch.”

It was probably the first sign of that strong streak of Lazenby defiance that was to help him weather more than one storm ahead. At that time, his father, a railway worker in Goulburn, NSW, couldn’t afford a specialist to save George’s life – but the uncle whose watch had gone under the hammer turned up with the money.

George said: “I gather it was a pretty rare operation. It had only been performed once before and the baby died. But as you can see, this patient survived.”

After that, his parents tried to protect him from injury by making him wear a sort of protective corset.

“It had stays and was very uncomfortable. I used to take it off on the way to school and stash it behind a bush, then pick it up on the way home.

“You know how it is with kids – I didn’t want to be regarded as some sort of weakling. I wanted to play football.”

We were talking just two days before George’s 40th birthday: a time most people pause to reflect on the past and the lessons it should hold for the next 20 years at least.

So we wound the reel back to his 24th, the year most of his troubles began.

He was manager of three used car yards in Canberra and was seriously contemplating marriage. But his fiancee decided to go to England. He followed her and found she had met another men. He planned to stay in England for three months but was still there 10 years later.

George began his new life by selling used cars in an outer London suburb for 10 pounds a week. Then he was earning 30 pounds and, finally three or four times that figure selling Mercedes in Park Lane.

That was when a photographer spotted him. Most male models in London at that time were cast in the pretty-boy mould and this photographer was looking for someone rugged and aggressive.

George filled the bill. One cigarette company even paid him not to model – they were looking for a theme to suit him and didn’t want to lose him to rivals.

He bought an Aston Martin, made up the rules as he went along and thought that life was great. Then in walked James Bond with a martini, shaken not stirred in one hand and the inevitable beautiful girl in the other.

Cubby Broccoli had first seen George in an advertisement. There followed some fast talking by the boy from Goulburn.

George says those years were truly mad. He was offered $100,000 a day to appear in television advertisements but knocked it back. He left suitcases full of unworn clothes in hotel rooms as he headed for airports and his next slice of paradise.

He had a mania for buying wristwatches. Just about everyone wanted to know him, although tempers were flaring behind the scenes on the set.

And, of course, there were plenty of girls. Five of them were staying in his London house when Chrissie, the daughter of a three-times-married American socialite, came to dinner one night. She stayed, too, and unlike the others, she stayed when Bond walked out.

At that time, George was still being offered $300,000 to appear in Italian-made westerns. “But I was still on the Bond thing. I said no, what was $300,000 to me? Ironic, isn’t it – I ended up making Kung Fu movies in Hong Kong for less.”

Suddenly, the money was nearly all gone. He sank the last of his savings into a catamaran and he and Chrissie then went roving in the Mediterranean.

But George’s luck was still running out. He fell gravely ill with hepatitis and Chrissie nursed him back to health. “She’s the only real friend I’ve got,” said George.

Then Chrissie became pregnant despite the fact that doctors had told her she could never have a baby. They married and that little bundle of impossibility, Melanie, is now 5. Her brother Zachary is 4.

It’s 10 years since George and Chrissie met and they’re still very much living happily ever after.

During that time, George has been ‘broke’ twice and sunk some hard-earned money into lessons at a famous acting school in Los Angeles.

“The guy’s name is Charles Conrads. He’s terrific. The first thing he said to me was: ‘George you’re so boring I can’t stand it. If you’re going to keep on giving me those James Bond type looks, you’ll have to go.’

“I felt like punching him., of course, but he was only telling the truth. He took my ego apart and helped put me back together again.

“It’s hard to explain, but he shows you how to reach into your soul and really let go. And, when I finally did let myself go, it was terrific. All the kids in the class cheered. I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

George is now based in Sydney and, while he’s waiting for his second big break, he commutes to Hong Kong or America where he picks up some very handsome fees for cigarette or car advertisements.

Does he sometimes get the feeling that he’s come full circle?

“No, I feel I’ve got all that old rubbish out of my system. I’m trained now, not making up the rules as I go along, and I’m looking for something completely different. I want to do a George Segal or Cary Grant type comedy. Charles Conrads says I’ve got it in me.

“You know, I went to see this psychic once. I met her the day before it was announced I would be the next James Bond. It was a big secret. No one, least of all she, knew about it.

“But she predicted something very big would happen to me, then I would lose it all. She said I also would be very sick; and believe me, I was. She said lots of other things that have come about too. She said I’d have a second big break, and I believe her…”

It was time to close the interview. I asked for directions to the nearest bus stop. George looked bewildered, then appalled. “You’re not going to get the bus are you? I haven’t been on a bus since I first went to London.”

Bearing in mind his first profession, selling cars, I gently explained that I had never bothered learning to drive. He didn’t exactly go pale under his Californian tan, but said: “C’mon, I’ll drive you back to civilisation.”

No, there wasn’t a trace of an ejector seat.

The ‘Flashback’ articles on Permission To Kill are re-printed from original newspaper and magazine articles, and are presented as a piece of history. The article has been posted in good faith, and the original author, publication and date have been listed (if known). If you are the original author or publisher, and would like the this article removed from this site, please feel free to contact me.

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