Gilbert on the set of the 1977 James Bond blockbuster The Spy Who Loved Me with production designer Ken Adam and producer Albert R. Broccoli at Pinewood Studios, London.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Cinema Retro mourns the news of director/producer Lewis Gilbert's death in London at age 97. Gilbert was a good friend to our magazine and gave what is probably his last interview to our correspondent Matthew Field several years ago. It ran in three consecutive issues of Cinema Retro (#'s18, 19 and 20).
Gilbert had a remarkable career that began early in life as a music hall performer and an actor in small roles in British films. During WWII he served in the RAF, producing and directing documentaries for the military. His first feature film as director was "The Little Ballerina", released in 1947. Gilbert toiled through directing low-budget, often undistinguished films, honing his craft along the way. He earned praise for his 1958 WWII-themed espionage film "Carve Her Name with Pride" and had a major hit in the WWII genre with the release of the 1960 film "Sink the Bismarck!" As Gilbert's clout in the industry rose, so, too did his production budgets. He directed the 1962 adventure film "Damn the Defiant!" (UK title: "H.M.S. Defiant") starring Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde followed by the 1964 Cold War thriller "The 7th Dawn" starring William Holden. He rose to even greater prominence by producing and directing the 1966 anti-Establshment comedy "Alfie", a major early hit for Michael Caine that was accorded great critical praise and numerous Oscar and BAFTA nominations. Gilbert proved to be eclectic in his abilities to move between genres. He was a seemingly unlikely choice to direct the 1967 James Bond epic "You Only Live Twice" starring Sean Connery, which was set in Japan, but the film was an enormous boxoffice success. Ten years later Gilbert returned to the Bond genre to direct Roger Moore in two back-to-back 007 films, "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". Both films were major international hits. Gilbert had also directed the 1970 big-budget screen adaptation of Harold Robbins' bestseller "The Adventurers", but it was a troubled production that flopped with critics and the public. In 1971 he directed a popular, small-budget teenage love story, "Friends" which featured original songs by Elton John early in his career. Four years later he directed the film's sequel, "Paul and Michelle". In 1980 he directed the sophisticated comedy "Educating Rita" which won Oscar nominations for Michael Caine and Julie Walters, followed by "Shirley Valentine" in 1989.
John Gavin, a long-time Hollywood star who gravitated into a career in politics, has died at age 86 following some bouts with ill health. Gavin, a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, entered the acting profession in the mid-1950s, an era in which Hollywood studios were looking for beefcake type leading men. Gavin fit the bill with his handsome looks and impressive physique. It wasn't long before he was scoring prominent roles in major films such as "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" and "Imitation of Life". Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the heroic leading man in his 1960 "Psycho" and he was seen on screen the same year playing Julius Caesar in "Spartacus". Despite his good looks and competent acting skills, however, the major roles began to dry up. Gavin would still score some prominent parts in major productions like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" but most of his leading roles were increasingly found in "B" movies and low-budget European films. Gavin seemed to land a major break when producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman signed him to play James Bond following George Lazenby's departure from the series after only one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969. The plan was for Gavin to star in the next two 007 films, "Diamonds are Forever" and "Live and Let Die". However, United Artists head of production David Picker had second thoughts about the deal and against all odds convinced Sean Connery to return to the role for "Diamonds are Forever". When Connery made it clear he had no interest in continuing in the role beyond the one film, the producers bypassed Gavin again and offered Roger Moore the role of Bond in "Live and Let Die".
Despite his near-miss with the Bond franchise, Gavin had a fascinating second career in the offing. He was partially of Mexican heritage and had followed U.S-Mexican political and trade relations closely. When Ronald Reagan took the office as President in 1981, he was impressed by Gavin's background and the fact that he had served for two years as president of the Screen Actors Guild, a union that Reagan once served as president of. He appointed Gavin as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The move was met with derision in Mexico and America, with concerns being cited that Gavin's background as an actor meant he would simply be attractive window dressing instead of a legitimate diplomat. It mirrored concerns Reagan had to endure from critics who felt his career in Hollywood would make him a lightweight President. In his role as ambassador, Gavin was criticized by the Mexican government for his frequent absences from the country. He also caused stirs by calling on the government to crack down on the drug trade, corruption and the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. He was championed in conservative circles in America for doing so. He received high marks for some of his economic policies with Mexico even though he was still often a lightning rod for controversy. Gavin left politics in 1986 to enter private business, where he enjoyed considerable success. He is survived by his wife, actress Constance Towers, and children, stepchildren and grandchildren. For more click here.