Forty years ago, the producers of the James Bond film franchise had a doozy of a dilemma on their hands : Who would replace the indelible Sean Connery as 007 in their next chapter, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Connery had already appeared in five Bond films and it wasn’t exactly news to anyone that the Scottish star was chafing at the restrictions of the role and his contract. So when he walked, the producers scrambled to find their replacement. It was no easy feat, to say the least.
The Bond brain trust screen-tested a bunch of suave, ’60s British leading men to play the super-spy. And Life magazine photographer Loomis Dean was on hand during the process, capturing it all on film. Now, 40 years after the fact, Life.com has opened its vaults from that session, providing a rare glimpse at The Men Who Would Be Bond — the five finalists to star in 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Among them were John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Robert Campbell, Hans de Vries (whose name, honestly, sounds more like a Bond villain), and, of course, the man who got the part, George Lazenby (pictured, bottom-right).
While Lazenby and his one Bond outing tend to get a bum rap in some circles, we happen to think that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the most underrated — and flat-out best — films in the series. Not just because of Telly Savalas’ turn as uber-villain Ernst Blofeld, the presence of the easy-on-the-eyes Diana Rigg as Bond’s true love, and the skiing scenes at Piz Gloria, but also because the film has a depth of character and emotional richness that so many of the Connery and Roger Moore films never bothered to explore because they were so busy with gadgets and cheeky one-liners.
If you’re a fan of the film, 007, or just film history, check out two additional images below, and then be sure to head over to Life.com to flip through their entire gallery.
(TOP PHOTO: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service director Peter R. Hunt with John Richardson and an unnamed actress; BOTTOM PHOTO: Lazenby with potential Bond girl Marie-France Boye)
Photo Credit: Loomis Dean