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REMEMBERING SEAN CONNERY

Sean Connery is dead at age 90. Life goes on, but stars like him don’t come along very often. I’ll never forget watching From Russia With Love when it was new—the coolest movie I’d ever seen. After that, it was difficult for me to accept anyone else as agent 007. Over the span of years he finally shed that alter ego and gave life to many other memorable characters.

I only spoke to the actor a few times, but each meeting was memorable. The encounter I will never forget came when I was assigned to cover his hand-and-footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1999 to promote the movie Entrapment, which costarred newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones.

As we stood in the famous forecourt of Grauman’s, I asked what this honor meant to him. He gestured over his shoulder at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and told me that he’d stayed there on his first trip to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. Now, decades later, he was here to perpetuate a tradition that went back even farther than his career.

He had vivid memories of his first trip to Movieland. “My expenses were a hundred bucks a week. I was staying in this hotel and found out that it was like sixteen bucks a day and I had nothing left for food, drink, or a car, so I walked from here to Fox. I got stopped once en route by the police saying, ‘Where are you going, buddy?’ I said, ‘I’m walking.’ He said, ‘Smartass, stay where you are.’ ” Once the problem was unraveled, Fox eventually agreed to give him a car and be more flexible with his per diem.

Like every actor from the United Kingdom I’ve ever spoken to, he was overwhelmed by the food available to him on movie sets and locations. Making Darby O’Gill and the Little People for Walt Disney, “I could never get over these fantastic breakfasts out on the ranch, with the bacon and the eggs and the tomatoes and the toast and everything.” Having endured rationing for so many years, “I used to eat hundreds and sandwiches and hamburgers, hot dogs,” Connery recalled.

He also hearkened back to a time when he tried to suppress his natural Scottish accent. “From the way I normally spoke I wouldn’t have got a job in the theater when I started. For myself its’ a mistake to step into being Ronald Colman English, because then I’d lose the tune of what I’m saying.” 

“When we had the premiere of the film in Ireland, we went to the racetrack and I wanted to do a bit of betting, and everybody that was shoving into queue, most of them were priests. It was a bit of an eye-opener for him. I found him very amusing…funny, witty, [with] great curiosity.”

The last time I spoke with him he was promoting his latest movie, and as the interview wound down I asked, “Do you still enjoy what you do? Do you still enjoy acting?”

“Oh, absolutely,” he responded without a moment’s hesitation. “As long as one retains the appetite. I find it stimulating and interesting and as long as you do, then you can get better.”

“You’re still interested in getting better?” I asked.

“Yes, I think that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? I mean, why is one doing it? It’s comfortable, yes. You’re well paid for it, but if it was just a case of being well-paid then one would make different choices.

“You take your work seriously,” I said in response to this.

“Yes, but then, life is a serious business,” he concluded.

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Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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