Many years ago when Roger Moore accepted a Golden Globe as "World Film Favorite," the English actor then starring as James Bond smiled and said, "I'd like to apologize for not being present tonight."
The self-deprecating wit he displayed when being honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press makes his memoir, "My Word Is My Bond," a delight to read. Moore's ability to laugh at himself served him well during his lengthy tenure as 007. Although he played the famous superspy in seven films (one more than Sean Connery in the official series; 1983's "Never Say Never Again," like 1967's "Casino Royale," doesn't count), the unfavorable comparisons to Connery's rougher, more ruthless portrayal never stopped. Now that we've had six Bonds, including the perpetually grim Daniel Craig, it's easier to appreciate Moore's lighter, more humane approach to the role.
"My Bond was a lover and a giggler," he writes, but when his directors sought to toughen up his 007, as in "For Your Eyes Only," Moore showed he could be as ruthless as the best of them.
Moore nonetheless remained a gentleman off-screen, and when reminiscing about his career, he never engages in backbiting or settling scores. "I've always said if you've nothing nice to say about someone, then you should say nothing," he writes, but he lets us know enough about Grace Jones (from his Bond swan song, "A View to a Kill") and Jean-Claude Van Damme (co-star and director of one of Moore's less memorable later films) to make it clear why he doesn't want to say even more.
But he writes amusingly of other show biz veterans he's encountered. The contrast between himself and Tony Curtis, his American co-star in the early '70s series, "The Persuaders," was as marked off-screen as it was on, and Moore relates how Curtis, then a very public anti-smoking zealot, thought nothing of toking away on marijuana throughout the production. Moore is always the diplomat, graciously accepting second billing to Curtis because he's "all for an easy life," and hanging on to his dinner plate in a restaurant after tyrannical Bond producer Harry Saltzman berates a waiter and demands that his meal, and those of his fellow diners, be returned. "Mine's fine, Harry!" Moore said, then expresses the worry that the peeved waiter might decide to take revenge by spitting in the food.
Of course, after his knighthood in 2003, it's "Sir" Roger Moore, but though he always seemed to possess a royal bearing, Moore's early life was anything but posh. He summarizes his childhood and the many illnesses he suffered, but the bulk of the book focuses on his career, from the early stage and television work, including his roles on "Maverick" and "The Saint," to his big-screen breakthrough as James Bond, a role producer Lew Grade warned would ruin his career.
Since relinquishing 007's license to kill following 1985's "A View to a Kill," Moore's film appearances have been infrequent. but his work as a UNICEF Special Representative gave him the opportunity to be even more heroic than any screen character could be. He writes movingly of visiting children whose limbs were lost to weapons of war, and of how he "felt as if I'd performed some sort of miracle" when he turned on the first tap that brought fresh, clean water to a village in Guatemala.
But whether he's playing a dapper, worldly secret agent on screen, or making good use of his celebrity as an ambassador of good will and compassion in the real world, Moore remains the man who "always prided myself on being an unspoilt, down-to-earth individual. I like the finer things in life, sure, but I've never forgotten my roots and how lucky I have been."
Those who've enjoyed Moore's work through the years have been lucky themselves, as are those who treat themselves to his fine memoir.
Brian W. Fairbanks