For fans of Sean Connery, his lasting legacy will always be the seven James Bond movies that starred the legendary actor as the iconic badass secret agent. But while becoming 007 was certainly his breakthrough, his string of minor supporting roles and being an extra in Hollywood films ended when he landed his first leading part in BBC's Alvin Rakoff directed Requiem for a Heavyweight as Mountain McLintock, a once-successful boxer who is no longer in demand. But had it not been for Rakoff's late first wife Jacqueline Hill, Connery would have never gotten the role.
In the early 1950s, Sean Connery was a struggling actor who only managed to grab unnoticeable side roles in films. But then came along Alvin Rakoff, himself a young budding producer/director for BBC at the time, who spotted the late actor. Connery had been "an extra several times" in Rakoff's films, including a BBC "television play" in 1956-- the drama The Condemned - and if you check out the credits, his role was so small in the film that he is listed at the very end of the BBC's credits.
In 1957, BBC decided to remake the Peabody award-winning Requiem for a Heavyweight. It was originally written for U.S. Television by Rod Sterling who narrated the story of Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, whose days as a successful boxer were long gone and all he was left with was brain damage, as well as the sad end of his once glorious career. BBC commissioned Rakoff to produce and direct the remake as a part of their majorly loved and highly popular Sunday Night Theatre anthology series.
Everything was pre-decided, with Rakoff helming the project, Jack Parlance who played McClintock in the U.S. version was set to reprise his role for the BBC remake. But at the last moment, his agent announced that the actor was too busy at the time and thus he wouldn't be able to star in the film.
With the scheduled production due to begin soon, Rakoff was left battling the major dilemma of finding an actor who would be able to fit into the leading role. That's when his late first wife Jacqueline Hill suggested the ultimate solution: Sean Connery.
"That was Friday and we were about to start rehearsals on the Monday, so I began looking around desperately. Then my wife rang while I was auditioning like crazy and said, what about Sean? I said, it can't be Sean, he mumbles, he's never done it before."
Her response was what generations have already accepted as the gospel.
"The ladies would like it."
Heeding his wife's advice, Rakoff proposed the same to Connery and as we know "the rest is history." While the film did give the actor the exposure his career badly needed, it wasn't the one that established the actor in Hollywood as his performance was still in its improving phase. In fact, when BBC drama head Michael Barry attended the rehearsals, he wasn't impressed with Connery and told the filmmaker to "find a new leading man." But Rakoff managed to convince him that Connery's "acting ability was good enough" at the time.
"He matured, I'm very happy to say, as the years went by, into a much better actor."
But Requiem for a Heavyweight featured another future Hollywood star, Michael Caine, 23 at the time, who played a minor supporting role as another boxer. The duo reunited for John Huston's acclaimed project The Man Who Would Be King, but the 1975 film was promoted for featuring the star's "together for the first time". Alvin Rakoff explains.
"But it wasn't the first time! They both appeared on a TV show and said, yes, we did appear together before, but had been told to keep quiet. The film company had obviously spent millions promoting the film as them being together for the first time, so I said to Sean, 'together for the second time doesn't sound quite as good'."
So, legions of Sean Connery's fans should, in fact, be thankful that Alvin Rakoff's late wife recognized the then-soon-to-be legendary actor's potential and gave the world its forever star. This comes to us via Hollywood Reporter.