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WHEN SEAN CONNERY BROKE LOOSE FROM HIS BONDAGE

 

 

 

 

 

It was 1969, and Sean Connery--the one and only perfect James Bond--made it clear to me when I interviewed him for The New York Times that Agent 007 was not a suitable subject for discussion. I found Connery intimidating and borderline grouchy, a far different person from the winningly modest icon-for-all-seasons I interviewed many years later for Newsday. I just wish we'd see more of him on film, even if he's not playing James Bond. --GUY FLATLEY

 

So what’s a nice boy like Sean Connery doing in a godforsaken town like Eckley, Pennsylvania? A town with a population of 87, where the coal mines have been shut down for years and the people – mostly senior citizens – live in shabby frame houses that were thrown together a long, long time ago. He’s starring in a big-budget movie, of course, a movie which also stars Richard Harris and Samantha Eggar and is being directed by Martin Ritt. It is called “The Molly Maguires,” and it is a true story about a bunch of Irish immigrants who formed a secret union in the 1870’s to fight back against the brutal exploitation of coal miners in Pennsylvania.

And what is Sean Connery not doing in Eckley, Pennsylvania? He is not answering to the name James Bond, as one fuming fan recently discovered. From out of nowhere she came zeroing in, sporting dark glasses and a confident grin. “Oh, Mr. James Bond,” she purred, linking her arm in his, “pose for a picture with me.”

“I’m not James Bond,” he snarled, forcing himself free from her grip.

“Poor sport!” she lashed back, but the balding, 37-year-old actor, husky and handsome in his soot-covered costume, was already striding down the dirt road, toward his next big emotion-charged scene.

Perhaps the lady has a point. It does seem unsportsmanlike to thumb your nose at a role that has – in five short years and five absurdly profitable films – established you as a universal sex symbol and made you a multimillionaire in the bargain. Yet if James Bond is alive and well and living anywhere, it is most emphatically not in Eckley, Pennsylvania. Connery refuses to discuss his James Bond phase. Try pushing your luck by asking him if he isn’t just a tiny bit interested in the frantic search now underway for a new Agent 007, and his reply is a final, fist-clenching, watch-your-step “No!”

But on all other subjects, he is a model movie star – ready, willing, and weary. Slumping into his canvas chair, like a miner at the end of a back-breaking day, he submits to that necessary evil, the interview. He looks down at his huge hands through half-closed eyes, and in a drowsy Scottish burr, speaks about “The Molly Maguires” and his role of a militant miner who uses radical means to achieve social justice.

“In the movie, a priest warns the miners that ‘He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword,’” Connery says, tugging absently at his thick moustache. “Well, the answer to that is unless you give a man something, aside from malnutrition, you’re going to get retaliation, terrorism. I know what it’s like. Members of my family worked in the mines in Scotland.”

Yet Connery feels there are protests and there are protests. “The sad fact of the rebellion among the young today is that there is a great loss of individuality. The hippies make such an effort to be hippies that they end up wearing a uniform. I mean, it looks nice – all that long hair and the beads – but there is an irresponsibility about their rebellion. When they get hungry, they go home to mamma. I don’t call that independence,” he says, shrugging a broad shoulder. “So many kids get piles sitting on the pavements in London.

“You must have order,” Connery continues, settling back into his chair. “Discipline. Take the family. Parents must assume authority. I see a lot of permissiveness here in America. Too much. To see a father argue with a 3-year-old is staggering.” Connery is himself the father of a 5-year-old boy named Jason, and his wife, actress Diane Cilento, has a 10-year-old daughter, Giovanna, by a previous marriage.

Speaking of permissiveness, how does Connery feel about the celebration of sex and violence in current movies? (One delicately avoids mention of the Bond epics in this context.) “Filmmakers will try to get away with as much as they can,” says the actor who has loved – and left – more sexpots in more violent surroundings than any other Lothario in screen history. “But films don’t create the appetite. It’s there already in the people."

What about the nudity that is so rampant on today's screens? "Nudity? The African dancers dance with nothing on from the waist up and nobody thinks anything of it. So it all depends on what’s in your mind in the first place, doesn’t it?”

Connery pushes himself up from his chair, stretches his burly body, and extends a hand covered with good, honest, artificial coal dust. Watching this humble, blunt-spoken family man head purposefully toward the mine, one can almost believe that for him the world of souped-up cars and stripped-down spies is truly a thing of the past.