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Sean Connery, Hollywood's 1st James Bond, Dies At 90

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hollywood's first James Bond, Sean Connery, has died at the age of 90. He was suave, he was sexy, and he was a Scotsman to his core. The Oscar winner played many other roles, including Harrison Ford's father in an "Indiana Jones" movie. And NPR film critic Bob Mondello is here to tell us more about Sir Sean Connery.

Bob, thanks so much for joining us.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hi. It's sad to be here. But, boy, do I remember him.

MARTIN: Well, I think we all do.

MONDELLO: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean, so he's best known for his role with the tuxedos and the martini - shaken, not stirred. Was that the world he was born into?

MONDELLO: (Laughter) Oh, gosh, no. No, he was born into real poverty. You know, he lived initially in a flat that shared a toilet with someone else, no hot water. His crib was supposed to be a drawer pulled out from a bureau. He grew up in - seriously not in that world. He left school at 13. He drove trucks. He lifeguarded for a bit.

When he became interested in acting, he got a job in the chorus of "South Pacific." That was one of the first things he did. He tried out for Mr. Universe because he lifted weights a lot. That was not the way you'd start. And in fact, I guess, you know, James Bond didn't seem to be on the horizon.

MARTIN: So how did he get that role? I understand that - this is part of the lore - he wasn't the first choice for Bond.

MONDELLO: No, he wasn't at all. And in fact, when he went in to audition, Ian Fleming didn't like him in it. He said basically something on the order of, I'm looking for someone suave and sophisticated, a commander. And what he was sort of getting was a truck driver sort. But when he saw him in the role, when he saw him playing it, he changed his mind and actually rewrote in the books to give him a sort of a Scottish background as sort of a backstory. So he really flipped over him.

MARTIN: I've seen a lot of pieces written about him as we've just learned this news that he's - that he has died. And many people say that he was the first and the best.

MONDELLO: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you think that's true? Do you share that assessment?

MONDELLO: Oh, yes, absolutely. I - well, Daniel Craig is changing my mind or working on changing my mind. But Sean Connery is the one I've always really loved. I - he's the one I saw as Bond first. I stood in a long line to see "Goldfinger." It stretched around the block when I was a teenager. You know, I - yes, he's my James Bond. Absolutely.

MARTIN: And why is that?

MONDELLO: Well, there was a roughness and yet a sort of subdued ferocity that went along with the suave. He was classy, but he wasn't - you know how later, Roger Moore did it all with an arched eyebrow? Sean Connery did the arched eyebrow but was also an athlete, was also a rough-and-tumble guy. He was a very masculine, very sexy, very strong James Bond.

MARTIN: You know, I think obviously these films are considered classic, and people still enjoy them. But there's a - there is an aspect of them that doesn't wear particularly well, which is the way that women are depicted.

MONDELLO: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I just wondered if he ever had any thoughts about that or expressed any thoughts about that...

MONDELLO: Well, the...

MARTIN: ...Or spoke about that.

MONDELLO: Yeah. The thoughts he expressed were really kind of grim. He said at some point that women sometimes needed a good slap. I think he said that to Playboy. And then he reiterated it to Barbara Walters after that. It is something that gets in the way of seeing him. And his attitude on that changed over time. But it was disconcerting, certainly.

MARTIN: That is NPR film critic Bob Mondello with his memories of Sean Connery, who has died at the age of 90.

Bob Mondello, thank you so much for joining us.

MONDELLO: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JOHN BARRY SEVEN AND ORCHESTRA'S "THE JAMES BOND THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.