As part of his contract when taking over the role of James Bond from Sean Connery (and George Lazenby), Roger Moore was asked to keep a diary of the experience filming his first Bond picture, Live and Let Die. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming, the story finds Bond trying to take down a ruthless heroin smuggler named Mr. Big, played by Yaphet Kotto. Jane Seymour is the love interest, Solitaire, and the movie has a number of stunts that rank it among the best in the series by many fans (including me). Starting with the first day of rehearsals, Moore takes us through the trials and triumphs of each day and introduces the reader to all of the cast, crew, and “glamour” of shooting a big globe-trotting movie in 1972. He really doesn’t hold anything back and is a witty, charming, and likable guide.
If you are a fan of the James Bond movies you know that everyone has a favorite Bond and it’s usually based on how they first came to the character. Roger Moore is my Bond. I was first introduced to Bond through Moore’s more lighthearted take on the character and as such became a fan of Roger Moore in his other work as well. For the record, For Your Eyes Only is my favorite Roger Moore outing, but The Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die are both quite high on my list. Even Moonraker has some great stuff prior to the silly Star Wars-like finale battle.
This brings me back to The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die (previously released with the title Roger Moore as James Bond 007). This book was re-issued with a new forward by David Hedison, who plays CIA agent Felix Leiter in LaLD and was also a life-long friend of Moore, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 89 from cancer. Moore wrote a few books during his life, mostly about his experiences as Bond, and always comes across as a supremely likable, yet mischievous rogue. There is a forward note in the book that warns the reader it contains anachronistic language and viewpoints of the era that would not fly today. I appreciated that they did not try to clean it up because it is very evocative of the time. Don’t worry, Moore was not racist and there are no slurs or epithets. However, it can be best summed up as men are men and women are women and the feminine and masculine roles are well defined. Women are to be protected and looked after by the men. I wouldn’t call it misogynistic, more like unenlightened. It is as anachronistic and of-its-time as the novel on which the movie production is derived.
On his co-stars, Moore is endlessly effusive with praise, especially for Yaphet Kotto as Mr. Big. He also got along well with Gloria Hendry (Rosie Carver) the first black Bond girl and shamed some racist members of the public who objected to leaked shots of Bond and Carver together. Jane Seymour was married at the time to Moore’s friend Michael Attenborough (son of Richard) so they were already friends and got on well. The best thing about the book is how candid it is. No one would release a book like this now, it doesn’t appear to have been reviewed by anyone in a PR capacity. One thing that stands out is how unsafe these movie sets were. On the first day of rehearsal, Moore was injured in a boat crash breaking his teeth and spraining his leg. Later a crew member had to be rushed to the hospital and nearly lost an eye when a cable snapped. Jane Seymour twisted her ankle, and Moore describes fearing for his life during a bath scene that was surrounded by electrical cabling and lights with water splashing on the floor. Not to mention the live crocodiles that play a big part in the movie and were barely kept under control. To escape death in the movie Bond runs across swimming crocodiles to safety. This is what filming it really looked like with the owner, and trainer, of the Crocodile farm Ross Kananga performing the stunt:
It’s a good reminder that in a time when computer images didn’t exist actors were put into a lot more perilous situations than they are now during various stunts. Audiences expected to see the actors (or their stunt people) doing these crazy stunts and each Bond movie tends to up the spectacle from the last one. Even now the attitude prevails. Daniel Craig has been injured on four of the five Bond movies he made.
From New Orleans to Jamaica, to England, and Harlem the LaLD production jumps all over the world. Along the way, Moore gives the reader an all-access pass into the world of Bond, and it reads as genuine and honest. He complains about days where they do nothing but get jostled on a set pretending to be on the water, he pokes fun at director Guy Hamilton and Bond producers Harry Salzman and Cubby Broccoli and for the most part, enjoys himself. He also lived in rarefied circles with a typical evening consisting of dinner with Michael Caine and his wife before heading to Harry Bellafonte’s house for a cocktail party with Sydney Poitier and Kirk Douglas. At the time Moore was cast as Bond he was already a star, which help insulate him against the trappings of the media frenzy around the role. That frenzy sounded completely exhausting to be honest with Moore accosted by reporters at all times asking the same questions over and over and over again (in multiple languages) “How will your Bond be different than Sean Connery?” and an endless parade of photoshoots.
In the end, they got the movie made, no one died and Live and Let Die went on to make almost $800M worldwide (2020 adjusted). It was a smash and Roger Moore’s 7 movie run, still, the longest of any actor to play James Bond began in style. Any fan of this movie, James Bond, Roger Moore, or celebrity tell-alls would likely enjoy this book. I plan to read more by Roger Moore and hope his wit and self-deprecation carry forward. The 007 Diaries: Filming Live and Let Die is not a particularly long book but Moore’s candor and honesty, coupled with its time-capsule quality, makes it highly recommended.