Sean Connery: A Biographyby Bob McCabe
Bob McCabe brilliantly captures the life and times of this talented and much respected actor in the book Sean Connery: A Biography. This first photographic tribute biography contains stunning pictures and the examination of the complex and compelling appeal of the world's greatest masculine actor. Voted the sexiest man alive and recently knighted on New Year's
Bob McCabe brilliantly captures the life and times of this talented and much respected actor in the book Sean Connery: A Biography. This first photographic tribute biography contains stunning pictures and the examination of the complex and compelling appeal of the world's greatest masculine actor. Voted the sexiest man alive and recently knighted on New Year's Eve, 1999 by Queen Elizabeth, the Oscar Award winning actor continues to entertain us. With the recent release of Finding Forrester and talks of him starring in Indiana Jones 4 in the summer of 2003, Connery remains one of Hollywood's leading men. This biography is a celebration of Connery's achievements both on and off the big screen, a revealing look at the man behind this former James Bond star.
- Da Capo Press
- Publication date:
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- 9.31(w) x 9.22(h) x 0.52(d)
Read an Excerpt
Thomas of Fountainbridge
'It has recently come to light that I have bankability in all places in the world. Some Americans are enormous in the United States, but can't even get arrested elsewhere. It's the bankability which has given me more movies than I've ever had before and the satisfaction is enormous.' Thus spoke Sean Connery in the early 1990s, the beginning of his fifth decade in cinema, one which was to prove just about his most successful and prolific to date.
A few years earlier, when casting him as father figure to 1930s-set hero Indiana Jones surely a cinematic successor to James Bond if ever there was one director Steven Spielberg had opined, 'There are seven genuine movie stars in the world today and Sean is one of them.' Now, more than a decade on from both of these comments, as Connery enters his sixth decade as a screen actor and struggles with the burden of having recently been named Sexiest Man of the Last Century, it's hard to imagine one other actor let alone Spielberg's unnamed half-dozen sharing the spotlight with Connery.
Age has not withered him: neither has lack of hair, nor his continued insistence on playing everything from a Russian submarine commander to a fourteenth-century monk, from a Prohibition-era Irish-American street cop to the world's most famous Eton-educated spy, all complete with a thick Edinburgh accent.
Instead, Sean Connery has grown in stature, both as an actor and as that most ephemeral of beings, a movie star.
But not for himthe resting on his considerable laurels and an elder statesman stares based solely on the fact that, as he turns seventy, he's still among us. And still active.
Connery has instead crafted a career based on a subtle redefining of image, that has allowed him to move from sex symbol lo character actor, from reborn hero to respected father figure, from adventurer in his youth, to adventurer in his middle age and beyond.
No other movie star in the history of cinema has so successfully crossed gender lines women want him men want to be him for so protracted a period of time. From the age of thirty-two, when he first assumed the mantle of 007, to his seventieth year, Connery's magnetism has never wavered, as his acting prowess has continued to grow.
In Short, Sean Connery is a star like no other, before or since.
This unique individuality, however, was by no means reflected in the birthplace and early life of one Thomas Connery, delivered unto parents Joe and Effie on the morning of 25 August 1930.
The name Fountainbridge conjures all manner of mystical thoughts, but in reality the street which gave its name to the surrounding area in Connery's native Edinburgh was a dark, functional place. Tenement buildings, including the Connerys' at 176 Fountainbridge, housed dozens of families of all sizes in cramped two-roomed conditions. The grandeur of Edinburgh Castle may have been viewable in the distance, but closer to home was the permanent smell of hops fermenting at the McEwan's brewery at one end of the street, and the seemingly endless black smoke from the North British Rubber Company factory bordering the other end. A hundred yards away lay the Grand Union Canal, once a hive of commercial activity, now little more than a place for the local kids to fish in. The locals referred to their area as Auld Reekie Old Smoke.
In later years, of course, the impoverished beginnings of the man who would be movie star attained an inevitable rose-tinted quality, but in reality Fountainbridge was a financially deprived stretch of slum housing. It remained bound together only by its strong sense of community, borne in part out of both a shared poverty and shared bathroom facilities.
Joe Connery's father was an Irish tinker from County, Wexford, but Joe considered himself a Scotsman first and foremost. During the Depression, he took whatever work he could find, be it occasional labour at the local rubber company, or long-distance lorry driving. He considered moving south, looking for better employment, but Effie liked the community feel of Fountainbridge, the inter-mingling lives of those on 'the stair' as the locals called it.
Their first son, Thomas later Sean arrived that August and spent his early months sharing his parents' room, sleeping in the bottom drawer of their wardrobe. He later graduated to a fold-out bed put up every night in the kitchen, a room he continued to occupy on frequent visits back home long after he had moved away. He was keen on football, less so on academic work and was joined first in the bottom drawer, later on another put-up bed in the kitchen by a brother, Neil, in 1938.
The arrival of a sibling awakened in young Thomas two notions that were firmly to remain with him throughout his life a sense of responsibility, and an abiding interest and understanding of all matters fiscal. Joe Connery brought home £6 a week not a bad sum for those on the stair. Effie cleaned for a further fifteen shillings, but now there was an extra mouth to feed, so young Tommy decided it was time he pulled his weight.
'My family was poor,' he later rationalized. 'My father was a long-distance lorry driver, and my mother a char. I started working from the time I was nine, delivering milk seven days a week, as well as going to school.'
He landed a job at the local St Cuthbert's Dairy Stables, just around the corner from his home, in Grove Street. The job entailed lugging crates of milk up numerous flights of stairs every morning, and his wages were always willingly handed over to his mother. In addition Tommy earned pocket money from a local paper round and part-time work for the local butcher.
'I never thought of myself as underprivileged,' he later remarked. 'I started to work when I was nine. It was probably good training, because when I finally left home, I was already formed in terms of taking care of myself. My folks were not too concerned about how I was going to do it.'
Joe Connery went to work for Rolls-Royce in Glasgow, which meant better money, but also being away from his family during the week, only making the forty-mile journey back at weekends. Tommy, about to start secondary school, naturally thought of himself as the man of the house on weekdays.
There were two schools available to the local children of Fountainbridge in the early 1940s World War II permitting. If a child showed particular aptitude at primary school, they went on to Boroughmuir; if they didn't, the choice was Darroch. Tommy Connery went to Darroch. This was fine by Connery, who showed much more interest in both football and paid work.
Some weekends offered escape from the grim Edinburgh environs. Trips to maternal grandparents Neil and Helen McLean out in the countryside of Dunfermline became a highlight for both the Connery boys, what with fresh spring water, eggs from the local farm and plenty of wide open spaces in which to kick a ball about.
Other moments of escape from tenement living came via the local cinema, the Blue Hills. Young Tommy especially favoured the Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe and American westerns. Working part-time at the dairy was earning Tommy fifteen shillings a week. With a war on, he knew it wasn't enough. 'In 1941 and 1942 the educational system in Scotland became very erratic,' he has said. Schools were closed. We were taught in people's houses when we could be taught. You see, children were being evacuated to Australia, or wherever else there was safety from the bombing. My birthday, which is 25 August, was near the end of school summer holidays. So, in 1943, the year I was thirteen, when school closed for the summer vacation, I never went back. Instead, I got a job driving a horse, delivering milk, because all the men were in the services.'
Thomas Connery became a milkman full-time. The rise in his fortunes was instant and profound his salary leapt to £2 14s, once again faithfully handed over to his mother, Connery keeping the additional five shillings he earned from his paper round for himself.
Full-time employment came with the added attraction of his own horse, Tich, which Connery lovingly groomed and cared for.
Joe Connery was injured at work in Glasgow and was unable to find work for many months afterwards, leaving the family even more dependent on Tommy's earnings. By the age of fourteen, the youngster was doing three jobs a day, dawn to dusk.
Still, there was always the occasional game of football. A love of the game, and an impressive physique, borne in part out of years of carrying milk crates and hard labour, gave young Connery a reputation as a strong, athletic youngster. His height rapidly approaching six foot two merely added to his impressive physical countenance, and he was soon known by the nickname of 'Big Tam'. At weekends, he played soccer for Grove Vale Juvenile, later moving on to Oxgangs Rovers. 'I started as a halfback, then I ended up as a forward, because although I was big, I was quick.' He later turned professional and played for the Scottish team, Bonnyrig Rose Athletic, where he was scouted by East Fife who offered him a £25 signing fee, which Connery rejected.
Big Tam was surprised one day to find that his mother, despite their impoverished means, had been putting money aside in a post office account for her son. Tommy added to these savings and by the age of sixteen, the account had grown to a substantial £75. Finally, after years of hard work, here was something that Tommy could indulge himself with. His first desire was to buy a motorbike, but this decision led to an argument with his father. The young Connery passed on the bike, but returned home one day with £56-worth of piano a status symbol on the stair undoubtedly, but not one that any member of his immediate family could play.
There was the daily slog, some money in his pocket, parading down the local palais and, due to his striking good looks, a growing reputation among the young women of Edinburgh. But it wasn't enough. Tommy Connery wanted to see the world, but, seemingly trapped in post-war Scotland, he had no idea how to do it. So, having joined the sea cadets at school, Connery decided lo go one step further and joined the navy.
'Today, it would be considered foolish by many. I know,' he once recalled. 'Coming from my own particular background though, I felt I was getting rather a good deal by going into the navy. Employment, clothes, food, all that. I couldn't wait to go to sea.'
Connery travelled across the Firth to the naval shore-base of HMS Lochinvar and signed up for seven years active service and five in the reserves. He thought he was off to see the world; instead he was off to see Portsmouth. And more than his share of navy doctors. Having been trained as an armourer, Connery was posted to HMS Formidable at Portsmouth. He decided that he would mark the occasion in the traditional manner; by acquiring two tattoos on his arms one reading 'Mum & Dad', the other 'Scotland Forever'.
His time onboard ship, though, was not a pleasant one. After several years as a fiercely independent young man, he found the regulation of navy life intensely restrictive, to the point where he developed increasingly problematic stomach pains. Three years after signing on, Able Seaman Connery was placed in the naval hospital for two months, suffering from duodenal ulcers brought on by stress. He was, upon recovery, invalided out on a pension of six shillings and eight pence a week, less than half what he'd earned from his first job as a part-time milkman.
Once again Tommy Connery, now nineteen, found himself back sleeping in his parents' kitchen at Fountainbridge, wondering what to do with his life. This was a restless period for Connery. His first job back in Civvy Street was as a coalman; he quit after three weeks, deciding this was not the life for him. A steel-working job lasted two months, a stint as a road worker was equally short-lived.
The obvious answer was to train or apprentice at one of the, admittedly limited, local trades available, via a scheme funded by the local British Legion. Big Tam opted for french polishing and landed a job with a local cabinet maker's firm, where he inadvertently got his first experience in the theatre a fellow worker alerted him to the fact that the nearby King's Theatre hired in strong young lads for backstage work, especially during the prestigious Edinburgh Festival. Connery signed on for a few extra pounds a week and a glimpse of another life.
The day job, meanwhile, left him polishing coffins for a local undertaker.
In weighing up what he had available to him, Connery became aware of one major asset. And how to exploit it. From years of manual labour, Connery had developed a strong and impressive physique. He wasn't called Big Tam for nothing!
So he doffed workclothes and donned a G-string to become a model at Edinburgh University life-drawing classes.
The awareness that his physical appearance could earn him money coincided with Connery reading about a man named Jimmy Laurie, a Scottish physical fitness trainer and body-builder. Connery decided to track Laurie down and, under his guidance, became a member of the Dunedin Amateur Weight Lifting Club. Here he spent many hours, toning his muscles and stature.
He continued to model for the university classes, and in addition travelled south to Manchester, on his newly purchased motorbike, to do photographic work for Vince Studios, appearing in a series of magazine fashion adverts in the early 1950s.
He also worked briefly as a bouncer at the local dance hall before landing his first job on stage. Replying to an advert in the local paper requiring men over six feet tall, Connery was hired as an extra in a touring production of The Glorious Years, starring Anna Neagle. 'I stood around on that stage for five weeks dressed as a guards officer,' he once recalled. 'I only got the job because they wanted someone tall.' He did not fall in love with the theatre, he was merely grateful for what seemed to be easy money.
During the summer, Connery worked as a lifeguard at the Portobello pool, a large open-air salt-water pool, where the six-foot-two muscular Connery proved a definite hit with the ladies. Not that sex seemed to be an issue for the sex symbol to be, who Later claimed to have been introduced to the subject from a very early age. 'I was eight years old and it was a lurid introduction to sex, but pretty basic. Although I can't remember a particular moment when I lost my virginity, it was a gradual acceptance that I no longer had it. I was never successful with ladies early on despite my knowledge. I was very shy.'
With lifeguard work restricted to the summer time, Connery took yet another day job cleaning presses at the Edinburgh Evening News.
Back at the Dunedin Amateur Weight Lifting Club, however, Jimmy Laurie was formulating a plan that was to prove one of the major turning points of Tommy Connery's life. The Mr Universe contest was being held in London that year and both he and his friend Connery were going to enter and represent Scotland.
Connery, already aware of how to hold and present his body courtesy of his experience as a life model, studiously practised the required poses, before making his first trip to London.
The contest was held at the Scala Theatre and Connery was placed third in his class, winning a bronze medal. 'I looked like Ronnie Corbett next to the fella that won,' he joked. 'The Americans were mountainous. Their arms were like my legs.'
However, it was only the size of the American winners that impressed the Scot. 'It was quite a disillusionment for me to meet them,' he recalled in 1974, 'because at the club I went to in Edinburgh, we were all very health and strength-conscious. But the Americans and the London fellas seemed to be solely intent on acquiring inches and bulk. I was absolutely shattered to discover that somebody wouldn't run for a bus because he might lose some of his bulk. But just to be a bulky physique would be boring to me not to run, not to play football, not to swim: a cul-de-sac.'
Connery may have been disappointed with his close-up view of the world of professional bodybuilding, but had he never entered the contest in the first place, his life would have taken a very different course. 'Several of the entrants in the Mr Universe contest were in the South Pacific company, which was then in the last three months of its run at Drury Lane. After that they were going on tour, and some cast replacements were coming up. So they told me about this and I went to audition. I practised for two days, sang a sailor's shanty and got a part.'
Connery walked on the stage and firmly answered 'Yes' when asked if he was an actor and whether he could sing and dance or not. He then dropped the pages he was supposed to be reading from. 'Hurry up. We haven't got all day,' came a distant voice, from the darkened stalls.
'Neither have I,' replied the annoyed Scot, before storming off.
Intrigued, the producer called him back and had him read. Noting the impressive span of his shoulders, Connery landed a part in the chorus. Still standing on the stage, and ever mindful of the money involved, the Scot then asked what his wage would be.
'It doesn't concern me,' answered the producer, used to having an underling deal with such matters.
'Well, it concerns me,' Connery replied, and soon learned that he would be picking up a not inconsiderable £12 a week.
He returned to Edinburgh with a bronze medal and the news that he was to spend the next year of his life touring the country as part of the cast of South Pacific.
Although Connery was impressed as were those back in Fountainbridge by the glamour of his new job, he still didn't view it as a career. The notion of becoming an actor seemed far less important to him at first than the opportunity finally to see at least a small part of the world. 'All it meant to me was a chance to tour Britain, get twice as much money as I'd ever earned before and only work for a couple of hours a night.'
In later years, of course, Connery looked back on winning that job in the chorus as the most significant event of his career. 'It altered the course of my life', he stated simply in 1995.
For most of his life, and despite the close support of his family, Tommy Connery had never fitted in. Yes, he played football with the other kids and yes, he was part of the extended family of those on the stair, but always he looked for something more than that. He worked out of necessity, but, bar his horse Tich, the work was always purely functional, rarely enjoyable. In essence, he began his adult life with an attempt to get away from his youth, by joining the navy, instinctively knowing there was something out there, something more than a wage packet at the end of the week and Saturday night in the pub. 'My father's family was part tinker, so perhaps there's something about that which prompts me to feel that I should always be going somewhere, moving somewhere, rather than staying where I am.'
In the theatre, Connery finally found what he was looking for, although during his first weeks on tour Connery did not mix easily with his fellow cast members. Then he realized why. 'It all came out later,' he once recalled. 'The queer looks I was getting were because of my Scots accent. They thought I was Polish. They couldn't understand a word I said.'
Nonetheless, Connery was up there on stage, dressed as an American marine, singing along with 'There Is Nothin' Like a Dame' every night.
Two significant events happened during the run of South Pacific. First, Thomas changed his name to Sean, long believed to be in reference to his local nickname of Shane, named after the Alan Ladd western. The second event was Sean Connery meeting Robert Henderson. An older, American actor in the show, more than anyone else up to that time, Henderson saw the potential in Connery.
'I said, "Acting? What do I know about acting?" I told him, "I can sing 'Nothin' Like a Dame', I can do handsprings on the stage." Frankly, I was happy just to get my £12 a week and drive around.'
Life on the road was fun and fine, but, with Henderson's encouragement, Connery began to realize that becoming an actor, a real actor, was not only a possibility but a genuine desire for him. 'It wasn't until I decided to become an actor that I really began to do something with my life.'
Henderson began his unofficial mentoring of the Scot by providing him with a list of books that any actor worth his salt should have read. They included such titles as Tolstoy's War and Peace, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
Connery made straight for the local libraries in whichever town the company found themselves in and began to devour Henderson's list, which was rapidly growing, throwing in the plays of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw and Wilde for good measure. 'I was like a mole digging my way through the world's literature,' Connery affectionately recalled. 'To be an actor, you need to able to look like a miner, and to have read Proust.'
Whatever Connery was going to do, he was going to do well, so he spent his afternoons visiting the local repertory theatre of whatever town they were playing, watching the shows and observing and learning from the actors he saw. 'I was very impressed initially with their brilliance. As they went on, I came to realize that this was absolute nonsense. I had imbued them with talents they didn't have.'
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