As a Hollywood scene, it fairly sizzled. Out of the Caribbean Sea and on to a Jamaican beach stepped Ursula Andress. She wore a white bikini with a fishing knife strapped to her hip. She was fit, blonde and gorgeous. It was 1962, and a new star had just been born.
The Andress scene in the first ever James Bond film, Dr No, not only launched the Swiss beauty as a phenomenon of nature, it was the arrival of the “Bond girls”, an illustrious bevy which numbers bombshells such as Barbara Bach, Honor Blackman, Jane Seymour, Britt Ekland and Halle Berry.
Many critics argue the first was also the best, and that no one ever bettered the sex appeal of the shell-diving Honey Ryder character portrayed in Dr No by Andress, who today celebrates her 80th birthday.
The odd thing is that Andress never auditioned for the part of Honey Ryder. It was only a quirk of fate that delivered her the role that would make her world famous.
It was nearing the end of the casting process that Dr No producer Harry Saltzman happened to see a picture of actor John Derek’s wife in a wet t-shirt in Greece. The lady in question was Andress. Saltzman immediately sent her the script, and friends including actor Kirk Douglas convinced the young actress to do it. It would be fun and easy, they told her. She grabbed her chance.
The famous scene in Dr No was filmed on Crab Key Beach near the Laughing Waters villa owned by Minnie Simpson, a neighbour of James Bond creator and author Ian Fleming.
While it’s tempting to think of Andress achieving her tan by cavorting in the Caribbean with 007 co-star Sean Connery, the colour was actually head to toe makeup applied on set before shooting began.
Also supplied was Honey Ryder’s voice. Andress’ strong European accent was dubbed. Everything else was strictly Andress.
She was born in Switzerland to an Italian-Swiss mother and a German father, and began her career as a model. She moved to Italy, and when she appeared in a run of European B-graders, Hollywood trained its telescope on this hot emerging talent.
Arriving in the US in her late teens, Andress spoke no English. But she quickly realised she was being groomed as the next Dietrich or Garbo. She told an interviewer she was given a “great fright” by the implied expectation of the Hollywood studio system, where she was made to hunker down and watch re-runs of movies starring those glamour screen goddesses of the past.
Nervous, she hoped to get her Hollywood start in “a tiny film somewhere and nobody will hear about it, and this film was Dr No”, Andress said.
Her Bond girl debut caused a sensation and triggered a flood of job offers. It also earned her the 1964 Golden Globe for Most Promising Female Newcomer. Her co-winners of that award were Elke Sommer and Tippi Hedren.
Andress’s next film credit was Fun In Acapulco, 1963, with none other than Elvis Presley. The same year she filmed 4 For Texas with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. She has made many films and worked with Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Peter O’Toole, James Mason and Marcello Mastroianni.
Andress has been associated with some of the world’s sexiest leading men. She was dating James Dean at the time of his death in 1955. She was in a long relationship with movie star Jean-Paul Belmondo. A friendship with Connery began during the filming of Dr No and continues to this day. Connery is “down to earth, simple and real”, Andress said.
Andress met actor Harry Hamlin during the filming of Clash Of The Titans, and their son Dimitri was born when Andress was 44. Hamlin was 15 years her junior.
“Love affairs and husbands can end, but a child is forever. Dimitri is my love now”, she said.
Andress split from Hamlin in 1983.
While she thought of Dr No as a “fun” movie, Andress has not hidden her distaste for more recent Bond films.
“I hate special effects,” Andress said. “I like the real movies — on islands, an adventure story with some action, but not action every second.”
As for that famous white bikini from her first scene in Dr No, the actress sold it through Christie’s in London in 2001. It went for £41,000 ($AU77,500) to Robert Earl, owner of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain.
Andress readily acknowledged the big part the small bathing suit had played in her career.
“This bikini made me into a success,” she said.