Sean Connery – a man of many contradictions

“Seanorry” is the affectionate nickname his family call Sean Connery, according to brother Neil, a sly reference to the Connery industry that follows in the wake of Scotland’s tough guy movie star. ‘King of Scotland’ is another given by supporters and adversaries alike of our most high profile fan of self-governance.

I took it to be a sobriquet for all the babble and flummery, the unwanted attention that flies around celebrities at the height of their fame, such is stardom. At one time he and his then wife, Diana Cilento, were bigger news than Burton and Taylor. Life must have been bitter sweet, feted one day, hounded the next.

I was born same place as Connery, Fountainbridge, Edinburgh. The pleasure of knowing a local lad make good was tangible, the talk of neighbours, the chat in pubs, a lad who once drove a milk cart and horse who was now cinematic gold. Big Tam Connery was a local hero, and better still, an international celebrity, but above all, a real man.

There’s a large blown up photograph in a local pub of what appears to be Connery as a barrel maker among friends enjoying themselves – it’s his father, Joe – two peas in a pod.

The man behind the public image

There is a saying that it is best not to meet one’s heroes because invariably their public persona is totally different from their private personality. Connery is such a man.

Sometimes you have to set aside a man’s private life in order to appreciate his public achievements. So it proved with my experience of knowing and working with Connery.

Greeted by a pack of tail wagging black Labrador, there was no surprises when I met Connery properly, at his Marbella home, before he moved to the Bahamas and retirement. I had written a story-line for a screenplay about a famous Scot and he liked it enough to ask that I develop it for him.

“Avoid hokum stuff”, he advised on my ability to return with a good script, that from a man who played in films packed with sentimentality.

I had assessed his character pretty well, it was up there on the screen and in interview but it didn’t stop him being a whopping disappointment as a man. In time, after a few more meetings, I found him to be overly-cautious, slow-witted, distressingly paranoid, and ultimately unreliable. And he left me with serious debts. But he did have a pauky sense of humour. (Cue ironic laughter.)

On being street smart

He may be uneducated but he’s street smart. No one dare cheat or cross him. They will live to regret it. I did all I could to protect his integrity, his reputation, and his privacy, but it was not enough. I’ll come back to that characteristic later with an anecdote.

Why and when do stars reach the point where they shun the public? It happens suddenly and comprehensively. The drawbridge gets pulled up, walls built, moat deepened, and old friends dumped. Agents and lawyers warn them to keep people at bay. Adulation can corrupt, and some members of the public are best avoided, but dump friends and colleagues whom have known you for years and want nothing but your friendship?

Suspicion of flattery soon possesses a movie star’s attitude to newcomers. It takes a special kind of person to handle fame in anything approaching a rational manner. Dodging the negative side of international publicity, getting recognised and mobbed wherever you go, paparazzi following your every movement, short-changed by fat, cigar chomping producers, your character traduced by the celebrity press day in, day out, all that is bound to make a man shy of people, quick to judge and dismiss them.

That aside, constant media attention increases your commercial viability. “They will pay me ma value,” he emphasised to me, proving loss of privacy when world famous has its compensations.


The Connery we fell in love with

The dark side

Connery is certainly curmudgeonly. I don’t mean grumpy, I mean bad tempered. There’s a bully there. No matter what he is engaged in doing he seems perpetually wishing he was on a golf course. Stories are legion of him coming off a course still in golfing gear to speak his lines before camera, and exit back to the golf club.

A sad misogynist lurks just under the surface. “Whenever I see a pretty girl it’s always sexual,” he let slip on a documentary. Like the fawning idiot he was, the interviewer never followed up on that Freudian slip. Connery is on YouTube interviewed by the American newscaster Barbara Walters stating, “Some women need a slap. You give them the last word and they come back for another last word. So you give them that and they come back again … sometimes a slap is the answer.”

He slapped around a few as James Bond, and uttered many a cringe-worthy patronising line. “This is man talk, honey. Run along.” (Slaps girl on butt as he hustles her off, screen right.) Bond’s attitude to women was a product of the times and of author Ian Fleming’s sexual fantasies. Nevertheless, movie stars take on roles that mirror a strong aspect of their personality. They feel comfortable when they think the role fits like a glove.

The real man is on the screen

A Fine Madness, one of Connery’s earliest films, almost forgotten, has Connery badly miscast as a “mad genius” of a boozy New York rhymer, a beat poet, Samson, who has a habit of beating up on his wife, played by the estimable Joanne Woodward, wife of Paul Newman. Connery trying to spout poetry is risible. The wife abuse scenes are realistic. Like he says, now and again a woman ‘needs a shlap.’

Connery’s first wife, the beautiful, talented Diana Cilento, said, “slap be damned.” It was a “clenched fist.” Co-star next to Paul Newman in the revisionist western Hud, she wrote a few excellent novels after she and Connery divorced, kept faith with Jason their only child, married a successful playwright, and retired to Australia to run a theatre company.

Connery went on to support Scotland’s self-governance. That we can applaud. Most entertainers avoid talking politics. Not Sean. He gave confidence to those that follow after him – if the Big Man can do it, so can we. Severely uneducated, but a quick learner, he had William McIlvanney and other novelists write his speeches.

Paranoid stars

Being a super star doesn’t protect you from fraud or poor happenstance.

I mentioned Connery’s capacity to exact retribution if crossed. His second wife, the diminutive French Moroccan, Michelle, having an eye for sound arithmetic, spotted his accountant cooking the books. Objects appeared twice. Connery ran the accountant to ground ensuring he never practiced his trade again, the right thing to do, in my opinion. But Connery never got his money back.

On another occasion the house in Marbella, built like Fort Knox with high walls and electric gate, didn’t stop the public seeing how a movie star lives.

Connery discovered his security guard was taking people on guided tours around his house for a fee while he worked abroad. Though treated by Marbella elite for the celebrity he was, the city council still cost him distress when they altered a harbour area of beach-line that shifted the coastline at Connery’s house. He had to get large boulders craned in and placed along the beach side of his house to tame the waves.


Connery, King of Scotland, and a Saltire

Cheated by the studios 

His contract for the Hitchcock movie, Marnie, included a clause for $2,000 dollars a day, each day of over-run. It ran over schedule three days. He never got paid that excess. He complained to his agent. “Leave it, Sean. It’s your tip to the studio.” I can hear Connery, a man who probably still has his first dollar, demanding  full payment: I did the extra days. I want paid or I’ll sue. And I can hear his agent reply: No one sues Jack Warner. Forget it, or you won’t eat in this town again. Connery refused to forget it.

I asked Connery what became of his money.

“They sent me a cheque … but it bounced.”

That’s how Hollywood lets a star know how far down the pecking order they really sit.

“If yer going to Hollywood, go for fun, and get a goddamn lawyer,” was Connery’s advice to me. “They all steal from you,” he added. And he was right.

You have to admire a person for demanding to be paid. He worked for it. It was in his contract. And to those who complain he is a tax exile, I say, as a USA Green Card holder paid by studios who gather the money first, he gets taxed at source.

After paying the tax man, movie stars pay an entertainment lawyer, a copyright lawyer, manager, publicity agent, accountant, and usually a bevy of house staff, ad infinitum.

This is the man his enemies forget placed all of his $5 million fee from Diamonds Are Forever in an education trust for Scotland. I secured £2,000 from it to help a talented student begin her studies at Cambridge University. For that I am grateful.

Helping those below get on

There is an odd omission from Connery’s career most will not notice. It is difficult to point to an actor given their break or helped to stardom by Connery. The belligerent republican John Wayne, whom Connery is most like in character and acting range, had a host of actors and technicians who came with him in each film he made.

Sir Alec Guinness was famous for putting young talent in front of directors. (I should know; a few years before Guinness’s death I was one such ‘talent.’) Allegedly Connery ‘dissuaded’ his brother, Neil, from continuing with a starring role in an Italian action movie. Neil returned to plastering as a trade and a life’s role in the shadow of his famous brother, no doubt telling the curious, “Yes, I am Sean Connery’s brother”.

I cannot find any trace of him helping his son, Jason, to gain roles. The Jason I met was great company, a clever, personable, articulate young man with distinct ability for light comedy, but constantly deployed as an action man, son of Sean, a mini-Bond. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t Connery’s son.” He didn’t need to say that. I could guess.

A mean machine

A strange thing about Connery’s office, it was impersonal. Not a single film poster, award, inscribed book, or memorabilia from any of his films. You’d never know who lived there. Only an old high-back chair with stuffing coming out of it indicated its owner’s age. “Don’t sit there. It’s for my back”, his spine damaged in a fight sequence.

After sampling a fifteen year-old malt I brought him as a gift, I asked Connery why he never bought the Aston Martin DB5 driven in Goldfinger.

“Ah kept hittin’ mah head aff the roof.” Ah yes, why had I not thought of that? He is over six feet by two inches, after all. And he is not a car man, no flash sports cars. He drives a very large boxy Toyota SUV, or did when I knew him. It has a high ceiling.


Golf before anything else, handicap 12, membership of Royal and Ancient, tick

Turning down the best projects

In later career Connery made some stupid missteps: not taking part in Braveheart was one. All those press releases and appearances on behalf of Scotland’s self-determination and never in a Scottish movie. Highlander does not count. Alas, Braveheart came too late for his attractive charismatic youth – he could have made a sure-fire perfect Wallace, complete with full beard and physical height!

I am told he refused the shark hunter role in Jaws – Robert Shaw played it memorably – and he said no to the professor in Jurassic Park, a role taken by Richard Attenborough, with a poor Scottish accent. But he did accept and play to perfection Indian Jones’s dad. I still enjoy watching reruns on television.

An advert too far

Advertising Japan’s Suntory whisky while not promoting Scottish whisky is an insult to his homeland. We can only guess the fee was lucrative.

There was talk of Connery helping to establish a dry wall film studio outside Edinburgh that Connery was slow to deny. He also fronted the campaign to turn the old Royal High School at Regent’s Terrace, into a national photographic museum. Scotland had, after all, seen her sons pioneers in the craft. But for various reasons, not Connery’s fault, it came to nought.

More recently, not one but two of Connery’s biographers walked from the commission because, “He’s not the man I thought he was.” Connery is tight-lipped and secretive about his private life – his choice. So why agree to a biography in the first place?

Biography nixed, a coffee table book emerged entitled, “Being a Scot,” a cut and paste celebration of Connery’s Scotland. More, expensive tourist guide than personal insight, it failed to win the public’s enthusiasm, soon disappearing from bookshops.

A personal view

At this point I must register my shared judgement he made the best James Bond – ever. His physique, his grace in movement, his skill at expressing ruthlessness, and the fact that he really was acting – he had to be taught how to walk in a Saville Row suit – attest to his suitability, and his manliness. He could act, mostly authority figures. He’d done his stint at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Unlike the jokey Roger Moore, Connery never recoiled or blinked when he fired a gun. And when he wore swimming trunks you could shoot film from his toes up. Moore had to have his close ups shot from the chest up, the bottom half wasn’t so good.

Ian Fleming disliked Connery as the choice for his alter-ego. Fleming was an arch snob. He preferred the debonair David Niven, an actor who liked to say he was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland, but was actually born in London. Producer Cubby Broccoli signed Connery up against the studio’s advice. Once Connery strode out of the Jamaican undergrowth to greet Honey Rider on the sea’s edge he was Bond ever after.

Connery played a cold killer of a spy that could sleep with a woman and then throw her to the wolves. Pierce Brosnan, the other Celtic player, looked as if he could work the gadgets, but not squash a bug. Connery never looked as if he could switch on a light, but hell, it didn’t matter, he was extremely plausible as a spy with a licence to kill. He carried real authority.


Life is hard being an icon in Scotland, sorry, the Bahamas

The man who would be king

As an actor he was one of the few Scots fit to play kingly roles. In Hunt For Red October he was positively magisterial. The Hamilton-born actor, Nicol Williamson, got closest to Connery’s strength but had a wider emotional range, in fact, was paired with Connery in Robin and Marian, but he lacked Connery’s immense sexual charisma, and that hundred Watt smile. Connery was always right when in uniform, best of all playing detective types, from Bond, via a medieval monk, to an expert in Japanese culture.

“Ah’m useless at accents,” he admitted to me. Who cares? Humphrey Bogart, Michael Caine, Jimmy Stewart, all the best movie stars had a distinctive speech pattern that was all their own. Today almost everybody can do a Connery accent. He acquired the sibilant “s” late in his career, after heavy smoking, pipe and cigar, left nodules on his larynx.

When a young actor the contradiction between Connery’s warm brown eyes and savage clefts in his cheeks must have been an unconscious attraction for woman – and a lot of men, even heterosexual ones like me. In his later years he came clean about his bald head and a paunch, a great favour to actors sporting toupees, or comb-overs, and hiding a ballooning stomach beneath a big loose shirt.

I saw him recently, standing alone yards from me at Edinburgh Airport on an empty footpath. I saw an old man, colour leached from his eyes. I did not speak to him.

The end of an era

My experience of what he considers friendship was ultimately unpleasant. I can attest to his way of raising projects and then dashing hopes. Better than me were let down at the finishing line, ask Tom Stoppard. There are others. He’s mean. No getting away from it.

His reputation in Hollywood was indifferent. “His integrity thing is all fake. The only important thing to him is the money!” said one top studio executive, who nevertheless was keen to finance the project.

The project concerned Gorbals born street fighter and famed detective, Allan Pinkerton. The screenplay was approved and financed. Then came the big let down. To my shame I allowed a daughter to witness my flood of despair. Two years unpaid work wasted.

A man’s a man for a’ that

For all that, Connery remains a guiding example of what can be achieved by an ambitious Scot so long as people can make money out of you.

Nowadays the big screen is full of fine Scots actors. Connery was not the first Scot to conquer Hollywood, nor will he be the last, but he dominated the second-half of the twentieth century, a movie star who brought tremendous kudos to his country.

For supporting Scotland’s liberty, you can excuse Seaonorry anything ….. almost!

Sean Connery died, aged 90, in November 2020.



In 2020, Scotland’s governing party, the SNP, provided the cash to establish a dry wall film studio in Leith, Edinburgh. One of the two managers is Jason Connery, Sean’s son. I must ask him why his dad opted out of the project he asked me to produce and which I delivered to him in great shape, fully financed. Jason was there. He knows the reason.

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16 Responses to Seanorry

  1. Jerry Watt says:

    This post is really good to read. Excellent!!
    Thank you very much for sharing, I would like to post it on my blog to share to my friends?

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    You’re welcome to repost any essay – there’s more where that came from!

    If you find any on Scotland’s aspirations for real democratic powers informative please spread the word, Jerry.

  3. jimnarlene says:

    Never meet your heroes, right enough. A great read.
    My favourite, Connery, films are The Hill and The Man Who Would Be King.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Two of his very best performances.

  5. Alan says:

    Mr Grouse Beater, a very candid and searingly honest personal appraisal of a great actor but not so great person… But then, we are all let downs in some way, never able to live up to our billing. I suppose the pressures on seanorry were immense which mitigates some of his irascibility. Loved the post, well written and considered. I shall come back and read more…

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    “a very candid and searingly honest personal appraisal”

    Thank you. It is my second attempt; for understandable reasons the first held back honest feelings and bitter disappointment.

  7. kailyard rules says:

    I believe the movie with Dianne Cilento was ” Hombre ” (Paul Newman).The actress Patricia Neal was in ” Hud ” (also Paul Newman).Sorry if that’s pedantic.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    Cilento was in ‘Hombre.’ But I don’t mention that film. Nor do I mention Patricia Neal. And it certainly is Joanne Woodward in ‘A Fine Madness,’ one of Connery’s earliest films in which he took star billing.

  9. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    Maybe you should have gone with Nicol Williamson for Pinkerton, if I have interpreted your connection with him?

    Heroes are like sausages, maybe best not to know what goes on inside them.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Heroes are like sausages…”

    🙂 I enjoyed that epigram, Panda.

  11. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    Are you aware of this?

    Note the productiomn company.

  12. Grouse Beater says:

    I am, but only recently, The Murdoch Mysteries.’ Or, how to get finance by flattering a financier who has a television company. It might be produced by his daughter, because he bought his daughter’s company. Hoo haar!

    Incidentally, Panda, My own short script, “Hit Man” has been picked up by the director, Scott McCullough. He’s looking for locations in Los Angeles just about where Harrison’s plane came down. Fingers crossed – no idea how much he will alter it. I’m not there to advise.

  13. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    Good luck in L A

  14. donald says:

    Growing up around showbiz I was neither fazed or particularly impressed by anything other than any beautiful women I happened to meet . In later years however I came to realize a less obvious fact . The close ties between the intelligence community and the biz. Its the perfect fit . People trained to appear as anything other than . My own father paid the price for his association when his conscience clashed with the agenda . He shared Connery’s features and charm and wore the suit . Most people only fit it. He had the physique ,the chiseled features and charm by the bucket load . He was also a decent kind soul . There is still amongst my family a largely untold story and I wonder if it will ever see the light of day . Its easy to loose the essence of a ‘person’ behind the mask of nationality ,sexuality ,personality and all the other garbage that separates our authentic self . I was to young to see my father fully before he was terminated with prejudice .Only now do the little demonstrations of love and wisdom make sense .
    Sadly but truly when the trap is set ,sometimes the only course a brave man has is to spring it and hope the sacrifice is remembered for what it truly was. That in springing the trap ,the true agenda is exposed .
    Rest in peace father .

  15. D’ahhhh… What a greetin’-face you are, Grouse dude. What an exercise in character assassination, what a doing you gave the true Scottish hero – no-need to hammer the old guy so.

    You can never know the sheer pressure of being an international celeb and who gives a jot what the famous Scot is like in real life? Christ, it’s so true, we Scots like to bludgeon those ‘local lad’ types among us who take the step up.

    I recall a similar character assassination upon Louis Armstrong, that this endlessly gifted trumpeter’s career was one of Tomming. I always felt that to be grossly unfair. Armstrong lived during a time when Blacks weren’t even classed as second-class citizens, and to escape that Hell – and be paid handsomely for it – must’ve been so cherished that many Negros were very prepared to be what was required of them.

    I could never disparage Armstrong for his personal life decisions, and, I happen to enjoy his work immensely. Similarly, we’ll never know what caused Tom Connery to be so protective of his unexpected wealth, or why he felt his privacy should be equally well-protected – maybe he lived among folk who were used to being put-down and kept in their place? So he didn’t exactly jump out of a cake during interview? So what? Efff…

    “..he had to be taught how to walk in a Saville Row suit” The way I read it, the role of Bond was still being cast, and part reason why Connery got the role was because he was spotted leaving his car and crossing the road for the casting interview (or whatever you call it), and, along-the-lines; “He was naturally elegant and manly and the only person who could carry the role as Bond”.. That suggests his gait more or less sealed it for him.

    Och, away-ye-go, Grouse dude!

  16. Grouse Beater says:

    About 80% of the essay draws attention to his finer qualities and achievements, 10% to some missteps and omissions in his career, and 10% to his bad side, and most of the latter well recorded and in the public domain. The title says “Warts and All”. It’s not my fault you worship the ground he walks on.

    The trick – if it is a trick – is to dismiss from your mind the hype and studio manufactured publicity that surround movie stars, often controlled by the stars themselves, and look at the person as a human being.

    And by the way, I left out a fair degree of his dark side, and what a piece of crap is his revenger’s tragedy, the remake of ‘Thunderball’, in which he blamed the producer for its sad quality. And he doesn’t owe you over £18,000.

    So that’s your gas in a peep, Mr Paraffin Lamp.

    (PS: I ask contributors for a genuine e-mail address. You have only a number – troll.)

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