The troubled lives of the Bond girls
Given the way that ‘Bond girl’ has slipped into the national lexicon, it’s only fair to examine the role of women in Bond’s world. Studying the man without studying his women would be a bit like eating strawberries without cream.
His ideal companion is described by our hero in Diamonds Are Forever (the novel): ‘Gold hair. Grey eyes. A sinful mouth. Perfect figure.’ So far, so Peter Stringfellow. But then Mr Bond gets a little more sophisticated. ‘And of course, she’s got to be witty and poised and know how to dress and play cards and so forth. The usual things.’
The trouble is, being witty and playing cards is about as far as he wants it to go. ‘Women were for recreation,’ goes Bond’s thinking in Casino Royale. “On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt and feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.” In this line of thinking he was only echoing his boss, M, who in From Russia with Love advises 007 to steer clear of those with two X chromosomes: “Doesn’t do to get mixed up with neurotic women in this business. They hang on to your gun arm, if you know what I mean.”
This jaundiced view of women — or at least of relationships with them — was, like so much else in Bond’s world, a mirror of the life of Ian Fleming himself. He always ended flings by giving the girl a copy of Toi et Moi, a set of French poems about an affair that ends with the man and woman arguing on the doorstep of his flat as the rain pelts down. They say goodbye, but she doesn’t have an umbrella, so comes back into the flat to wait for the weather to improve. The two of them sit there, disillusioned and unhappy. Talk about giving someone a hint.
Although Bond is famous for the extent of his sexual shenanigans, in the novels he rarely practises infidelity.
A counter-intuitive fact to slip into conversation (people like counter-intuition — it’s almost as good as counterespionage) is that there are only two books, Goldfinger and Thunderball, where 007 sleeps with more than one woman.
You could call him the original serial monogamist. Some people have put forward the theory that the inspiration for all the Bond girls was a woman called Muriel Wright. She was a woman Ian Fleming met in 1935, when she was 26. ‘Exceptionally beautiful’, she was a talented horse-rider, polo player and skier, independently wealthy and a model. Not surprisingly, Fleming took a shine to her, a shine that she reflected straight back at him. Madly in love with him, she stayed devoted even though he did what 007 doesn’t do: namely played the field (aren’t the euphemisms men come up with for infidelity wonderful?). Tragedy struck in 1944, when Wright was killed in an air raid. Fleming was devastated, and called her ‘too good to be true’. Could it be, then, that she made her way into his fiction?
Either way, you should be armed with her story. And you should also memorise the following facts about Bond’s on-screen partners. Bond loves his women — and we all love a bit of trivia about his women.
In Dr No, she looked great as Honey Ryder, emerging from the sea in her white bikini, but looking great was the limit of her contribution.
Her Swiss accent was so strong that every line she delivers was dubbed by an actress called Nikki van der Zyl, who in true Bond-style has an alias; she’s often referred to as ‘Monica’.
Despite the fact that she herself was German, van der Zyl’s impeccable voice skills got her the job of revoicing not just Andress but every other female character in the film other than Miss Moneypenny and a Chinese girl. Not content with that (and despite the fact that her fee was a paltry £150), van der Zyl went on to overdub various female voices in every Bond film up to The Man with the Golden Gun, including Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and some of Jane Seymour’s lines in Live and Let Die. She even worked as dialogue coach to Gert Fröbe, who played the eponymous villain in Goldfinger. The German actor’s English was so limited that he learned some of his lines phonetically, delivering them without knowing their meaning. Finally — and this really proves the woman’s mettle — Nikki van der Zyl overdubbed Raquel Welch’s grunting in One Million Years BC. Be careful how you deploy this information though; there are some men who might go all glassy-eyed at the mere thought of it.
Your real killer fact about Ursula Andress herself, meanwhile, is that she was once the girlfriend of James Dean. Their relationship was turbulent; at one point it was reported that Dean was learning German so that the two could ‘argue in another language’.
Were it not for a chance decision, we might have been denied that legendary sight of the white-bikini-clad Ursula walking out of the waves: on the day James Dean fatally crashed his Porsche, he’d asked Andress to go with him, but she declined the offer.
Eunice Gayson played Sylvia Trench in the first two Bond films, Dr No and From Russia with Love. Trench was going to be a recurring character in all the films, but the producers, in a very Bond-like moment, got bored and dropped her.
The Gayson genes live on in the 007 canon though; her daughter Kate was an extra in 1995’s GoldenEye. And Eunice will always be sure of a place in every Bond fan’s heart; it is she who sets up perhaps the most famous line in any of the films. Seated at a casino table in Dr No, she says, ‘I admire your luck, Mr…?’ To which Sean Connery replies: ‘Bond, James Bond.’
Her appearance as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger gives her the distinction of being the oldest ‘Bond girl’ at 39. Older, indeed, than Bond (Sean Connery was 34 at the time of the film’s release). The only other occasion this happened was in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Diana Rigg was 31, George Lazenby 30).
Pussy Galore ticks any number of male fantasies. She is, after all, a practising lesbian — until Bond gets hold of her.
In the novel, he says: ‘They told me you only liked women.’
Her reply: ‘I never met a man before.’
But don’t go calling Blackman a Bond girl to her face.
“I hate that term,” she has said. “They can call other people Bond girls, but I don’t like it, for the simple reason that that character would have been a good character in any film, not just a Bond film. I consider Bond girls to be those ladies who took one look at Bond and fell on their backs — whereas Pussy Galore was quite a character.”
As Jill Masterson, the other Bond girl in Goldfinger, she meets her death by being painted gold. An urban myth arose that Eaton had actually died during filming of the scene. What is true is that in Diamonds Are Forever, Lana Wood nearly died when filming the scene where her character, Plenty O’Toole, drowns by being tied to a concrete block in a swimming pool (the block slipped down the pool’s sloping floor). In a cruel twist of fate, her sister, the actress Natalie Wood, really did die by drowning.
Auger played Domino in Thunderball. She and Bond meet underwater, wearing scuba gear, and hide behind some rocks. The next shot was going to be from above the water, where we see Domino’s bikini floating on the surface, but this was thought to be too suggestive, so it was cut. Not even Bond works that fast.
This actress, who played Teresa ‘Tracy’ di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, enjoyed the unique privilege of becoming Bond’s only wife (for a couple of hours).
Spoiler alert: she cops it in the final scene.
There were rumours that Rigg didn’t have the most cordial of relationships with new Bond George Lazenby, which seemed to be confirmed when a visiting reporter overheard her shouting across the set before a love scene: ‘I’m having garlic for lunch, George. I hope you are!’
Played Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice, though you wouldn’t know it, as for some reason the character’s name is never actually mentioned.
Interesting bluffing fact: she was the only Bond girl to bear our hero’s child (in the novel).
Jill St John
Achieved fame as Tiffany Case, the first American Bond girl, in Diamonds Are Forever.
Around that time, she had a relationship with Frank Sinatra. Bizarrely, her future husband, Robert Wagner, was in a relationship with Sinatra’s daughter Tina.
The character’s name is explained in the novel. Her father, so angry that she wasn’t a boy, gave her mother a thousand dollars and a compact from Tiffany’s before walking out. That’s that cleared up then. (Makes you wonder what the story behind ‘Pussy Galore’ might be…)
Chosen to bring Solitaire to life in Live and Let Die. It isn’t a coincidence that Seymour shares a name with one of Henry VIII’s wives; that was precisely the reason the actress chose her stage name. Her real moniker is Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg. You’re never going to be a Bond girl if they can’t fit your name on the poster.
Ekland played Bond’s assistant, Mary Goodnight, in The Man with the Golden Gun. In real life, she hit all the right buttons with her quote: “I said I don’t sleep with married men, but what I meant to say was I don’t sleep with happily married men.”
Her appearance as Jinx in Die Another Day made Berry the only Bond girl with an Oscar for Best Actress (achieved in Monster’s Ball). Kim Basinger, however, who was Domino Petachi in Never Say Never Again, got an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (in LA Confidential).
Played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. In the shower scene, she was originally meant to be wearing only her underwear, but Daniel Craig pointed out that she would not have paused to take her clothes off, so she kept them on. Yes, gentlemen, you have Craig himself to blame for that one.
Dame Judi Dench
Arguably the most important ‘Bond girl’ of the lot, not least because she has been his steely-eyed, no-nonsense boss from GoldenEye (1995) to Skyfall (2012).
If 007 were ever to struggle with the idea of serving a female M, all he had to do was remind himself that in real life, Dench is a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. That would be enough to whip even the bolshiest of licensed assassins into shape.
For more information about 007’s lady friends, read The Bluffer’s Guide to Bond.®