From Cary Grant to Rod Taylor, we have heard of many actors that were considered to play Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
And one came closer than others: John Gavin.
John Gavin, who passed away Feb. 9, 2018, is not an actor as well-known as Grant or Sean Connery, but he was a handsome leading man throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He retired from acting in the 1980s and went on to become the United States Ambassador to Mexico during the Reagan administration. Today, Gavin is best known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Lana Turner’s love interest in “Imitation of Life” (1959).
Gavin was considered for the role of James Bond after George Lazenby refused to continue playing the character after the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).
In an interview at the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, Lazenby said he got bad advice and was told to quit the role, because Bond films were going to lose popularity with changing times.
“I had advice that James Bond was over anyway,” Lazenby said in a 2017 Guardian article.
Producer Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were now without a Bond for the next film “Diamonds are Forever” (1971). Producers briefly thought the spy character should be American, so actor John Gavin signed a contract to play James Bond, according to The Music of James Bond by Jon Burlingame.
On paper, John Gavin was James Bond. It was also announced to the news. From January to June of 1971, newspaper briefs noted that he would be filming at Las Brisas and that Dick Kallman would replace Gavin in Pheasant Run Playhouse’s “Tunnel of Love” due to the film.
But by December 1971, Gavin was out. John Gavin was paid $100,000 to “heal the hurt,” according to a Dec. 26, 1971, news brief “The James Bond 007 Switch That Didn’t Come Off.”
Sean Connery returned to play James Bond in exchange for a $1.25 million donation for his charity, the Scottish International Education Trust. John Gavin’s contract was paid in full, according to Burlingame’s book.
“It was a business agreement—with our consent of course. So we accepted that fact that Sean is Bond—but not that John is not. I think John Gavin will be eligible for the James Bond role when it comes up again,” producer Broccoli is quoted in the book Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films by Matthew Field.
Broccoli again considered Gavin for the role of Bond in “Live and Let Die” (1973), but Roger Moore was cast instead.
While Gavin isn’t a well-known mainstream actor today, you have to wonder if he would be discussed more if he had gotten the role of James Bond.
I honestly think he would have been a decent Bond, assuming he had kept his own accent and not put on an English one (his eastern European accent in Romanoff and Juliet isn’t great). Actors like Cary Grant had too much of an on-screen persona and image to be successful as James Bond. But John Gavin had the looks and was unassuming enough that he would have been convincing.