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Roger Moore: The best James Bond?

Daniel Craig and Sean Connery get all the respect, but Roger Moore’s winking humor charmed a tongue-in-cheek generation. And he’s perfectly fine with that

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”Can I get you a drink, Mr. Moore?”

The waiter stands there, secretly hoping that he’ll say those five words known from the beaches of Rio to the bazaars of Cairo to the ski slopes of Gstaad: Vodka martini — shaken, not stirred.

”I’ll have a…Bloody Mary.”

Roger Moore is sitting in the posh dining room of New York City’s St. Regis hotel. He is wearing a crisp white shirt (French cuffs, naturally), a blue-and-red-striped tie (Savile Row, of course), and a blue blazer with a tiny florette pinned to the lapel signifying that the erstwhile international man of mystery is a Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Seated next to him is his fourth wife, Kristina, a lovely blonde with a vaguely European accent.

Every eye in the room is on him. Middle-aged men and their wives crane their necks just to hear his voice. This is what it is to be in the elite fraternity of actors who have played James Bond. When Moore’s drink arrives, he swishes it around in his mouth like a fine bordeaux and announces ”This is the best goddamned Bloody Mary I’ve ever had!”

Adjectives almost fail to do justice to Moore’s speaking voice. It’s a purr coated in honey and caramel and molasses. He is 81 and has a leathery tan. If you squint just a little, he doesn’t look all that different from when we last saw him — in a steamy shower, canoodling with Tanya Roberts in the closing scene of 1985’s A View to a Kill (”Oh, James!”) — the last of his seven debonair, sardonic turns as 007.

I was 8 years old when I saw my first James Bond film. It was the summer of 1977. I consider myself blessed by the timing. The Spy Who Loved Me was not only the best Bond movie Moore ever made (an opinion he shares, by the way), it was also — thanks to the luscious Barbara Bach and the steel-toothed giant Jaws — one of the best films in the series.

Moore was the first Bond I knew. Like anyone who grew up in the ’70s, I’d later catch up with the older Sean Connery films on TV. But they didn’t compare. They just seemed like smudgy Xeroxes of the Bond I’d first seen in the theater. And where was the fun? Sure, Connery was more dangerous, rougher around the edges, deadlier with a Walther PPK. But Moore was lethal from 10 paces, armed with nothing more than a cocked eyebrow and a saucy bon mot. And if there was some sort of sexual double entendre in that bon mot, well, all the better for an 8-year-old.

NEXT PAGE: ”To be associated with success is absolutely wonderful. If my first one, Live and Let Die, had not been a hit, people might have said, ‘Oh, he was the poor fellow who only made one.”’