Roger Moore, ex-Bond, UNICEF ambassador: 1927-2017

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I was very young the first time my parents let me know that I wasn’t the only fellow with the name “Roger Moore.” My Dad called me into the living room, pointed at an actor on a TV re-run and said, “That’s where you got your first name.” Something like that.

The show was “Maverick,” and it was the first big exposure in the U.S. for British model-turned-actor Roger Moore. He played Maverick’s English cousin, “Beau” Maverick to James Garner’s “Brett.” And he was funny.

I told this story to Sir Roger Moore some years back when he came to Orlando to an amusement park companies convention, a trade show where theme park rides and technology were peddled, and Moore — long-serving  UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador — was to speak, with his honorarium going to UNICEF.

On hearing that namesake tale, Moore, droll even as he was pushing 80, peered over his glasses and quipped, “You’re a VERY lucky young man.” Pause. Beat. Then, leaning in, “You might have been named BEAU-regard.”

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Sir Roger, light comedian (“The Saint/The Persuaders”), long-serving/much-ridiculed James Bond, and recruited to UNICEF by Aubrey Hepburn herself, died today. He was 89.

He was in a couple of seminal Bond films, the best of the “lighter” Bonds (“The Spy Who Loved Me”), better still in “ffolkes,” was active in films and on TV from the 1950s through the 90s. Not as good as Connery or Brosnan, on a par with the others. Funnier.

I always thought of him as the Jimmy Carter of James Bonds — filling the years after his heights with good works, still-abused by his critics, but never letting it bother him.

He was self-effacing and dry to the end, with that ramrod-straight posture and ever-arched eyebrow his trademarks. In later years, he was constantly getting trapped/cornered by the British press into saying something impolitic about “the latest James Bond” or James Bond rumors (Idris Elba stands out). But he kept his dignity in spite of it all.

As a kid, I thrilled to see the first James Bond film I went to with my peers, back-slaps and teasing as my name/his name rolled on screen in 20 foot high letters in “Live and Let Die.” That was a real tone-setter among his Bond films, and feels like something of a classic today. Dark, sinister, plausible and also hilarious.

He did game shows back in the ’60s and ’70s, quipping away. He was the only funny thing about Burt Reynolds’ “Cannonball Run.”

Over the years, having the same name as Sir Roger was always a great conversation ender in interviewing his acting/singing peers, ALL of whom seemed to call him “friend.” Michael Caine never tired of laughing upon hearing my name — every phone interview we did — and always had a “Roger story.” Great chums. James Garner? “Damned funny Brit.” But Dame Shirley Bassey, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Robert Goulet and others all had this or that Monaco or St. Moritz stories about hanging with Roger Moore.

Goulet, for instance, related the story of the two of them, both over over 70, sitting in beach chairs and having two nubile young things come up to flirt. “I started to get up,” Goulet related. “So did Roger. But he didn’t. So I didn’t.”

“The young ladies walked away, and Roger, trying one last time to uncross his legs, whispers ‘NOTHING works.'”

Steve Coogan WORSHIPS Sir Roger, made Moore the running gag in the British TV show that made him famous (“I’m Alan Partridge”) and  goes on and on — every interview we’ve had — about how “under-rated” Moore was. Coogan’s dream was to remake “The Persuaders” with Ben Stiller in the Tony Curtis role. Never happened, but a lad can dream.

The only fellow who wasn’t amused by the namesake thing was Pierce Brosnan, still stinging from losing the Bond gig, irked that this fellow interviewing him about “The Matador” at the Toronto Film Festival was a reminder of the paydays he’d lost and the oblivion he feared (unjustly) was his acting future. Irked. Rude. Made for a damned awkward interview but a damned funny profile story when I wrote about it.

A PR wag was handling the amusement park vendors convention, saw my byline in the newspaper, and could not resist calling me up to come have a chat. Too good a joke to pass up. I’ll treasure that impulse. We wandered the hall, stopped as Sir Roger signed autographs, and he went to make his speech.

Moore and I later swapped emails a few times over the years, usually after I’d written an obituary on one of his peers who had passed away — Peter Ustinov, a fellow UNICEF ambassador, comes to mind.

Moore told one joke to that convention audience that day that sticks with me, a joke that kind of summed him up. He came up as an actor with his pal Michael Caine, who changed his name from Maurice Micklewhite, but didn’t lose his cockney accent. “I kept my name, and changed my accent,” the plummy-toned Moore cracked. “HE has Academy Awards and more work than he can handle…and I…stand before you here, today.”

Funny man.

 

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