Website last updated: 27-6-2017

Event with Richard "Jaws" Kiel at Misty Moon Gallery

By: Rob Coppinger
Published:
2013-12-06
"A big man with an even bigger heart", FSWL contributor Rob Coppinger reports from London.

Richard Kiel Misty Moon Gallery London
James Bond stunt coordinator Bob Simmons is responsible for Jaws not dying in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), despite a death scene being filmed, but it was a TV show starring William Shatner that got the tall assassin, played by Richard Kiel, into the 007 franchise in the first place.

“It was Barbary coast that got me into the Bond films. It only lasted for 13 weeks, 13 episodes, despite William Shatner being in it,” Kiel told the audience at the Misty Moon Gallery’s The Return of Richard Kiel event, held on 28 November in London.

Kiel had already been in a great many US television shows and had appeared in, The Monkees, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Gilligan's Island, The Wild Wild West, Laramie and Klondike. In 1960 he became a cast member of Klondike and Kiel was paid $100 a day, at a time when an average wage was $50 a week.

But it was 15-years later and the failed television show Barbary Coast that led to a meeting with Bond producer, Cubby Broccoli. “The BBC were famous for buying these short lived TV series they could get really cheap and they bought it and June Randall, the [The Spy Who Loved Me] director Lewis Gilbert, his script girl and continuity lady saw the Barbary Coast and said to Cubby Broccoli he should interview me when he was back home in LA [Los Angeles] and he did,” Kiel explained.

As Kiel explains in his autobiography, Making it BIG in the Movies, he had to push to even be seen by Barbary Coast’s producers before he was ultimately selected for the part that saw him spotted by Randall.

“I had a very hard time getting an interview for Barbary coast. I had to send a certified letter to the producer and director because the casting people were keeping me out. At the end they loved my letter and called my agent the day they got it and said, ‘Hey, send him right over right now,’ and I read for the part and got it.”

Richard Kiel Making it BIG in the movies
The difficulties in getting into acting, for anyone let alone someone 7 foot 2-inches tall like Kiel, was a question he was asked by journalists often. It is the reason why he wrote his autobiography.

“I have had many obstacles. That is why I wrote the book [Making it BIG in the Movies] because the most common question by an interviewer is, ‘how did you break in?’”. He added, “I’d say, ‘I just broke right in’, and I realised that wasn’t really fair. There aren’t that many people that break in through luck.”

Of his two Bond movies, Kiel enjoyed making Moonraker (1979) (1979) more than TSWLM. In an answer to an audience question, the very diplomatic Kiel said: “The Spy Who Loved Me was made at Pinewood [Studios] and that was a great experience and we got to go to Sardinia, but in Moonraker, I [Jaws] got a girlfriend, a love interest, we filmed in Rio [de Janeiro], Paris, so they were both quite nice.” When pushed on which he ultimately preferred he added, “Well, you know, Rio’s not bad.”

Richard Kiel Misty Moon Gallery London
The girlfriend Jaws got in Moonraker was almost someone very different to the French actress Blanche Ravalec who played the love interest.

“When I got to Paris to start filming Moonraker I hadn’t seen a script, I hadn’t signed a contract and I looked up my buddy Bob Simmons, and said could I look at the script and he gave me the script and Jaws’ girlfriend was a six foot statuesque lady,” Kiel recalls, but in his view it got worse.

“When I arrived at the studio office the next day they said, ‘Richard, we have surprise for you’, and I wondered what this could be, ‘we found this woman who is 7 foot 7-inches,’ and it’s not really funny, it’s sad, I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine a 7 foot 7-inch woman.”

In Kiel’s view the motivation for Jaws turning into a good guy is to save his girlfriend, who wears glasses and doesn’t fit into Drax’s perfect society. Jaws then realises Drax is evil and as Kiel puts it, “a 7 foot 7-inch women doesn’t need anyone to help her”. He told the Bond staff, “Guys, it doesn’t work for me, sorry.”

According to Kiel, the production manager said, “Well, you signed the contract you must do whatever they tell you what to do”, and then Kiel pointed out that he hadn’t signed the contract. Kiel was also in a strong position because Moonraker’s pre-title credit sequence, the sky diving scene in which Jaws fights with Bond in mid-air, had already been filmed.

The girlfriend issue was a difficult one, as Kiel explained: “They were very, very miffed, everybody wasangry at me because I wouldn’t do this thing with a 7 foot 7-inch woman,” but the anger didn’t last long.

The role of Jaws’ girlfriend eventually went to Ravalec and the first scene between her and Kiel convinced the franchise’s management their tall actor had been right. “Cubby Broccoli was with a journalist and we all walked out of the screening room and I could hear him say very loudly, ‘Richard and I had a falling out about that scene you just saw, but I must say Richard was absolutely right’. That’s the kind of guy Cubby Broccoli was.”

Jaws would not have had a girlfriend at all if Bob Simmons had not intervened during the production of TSWLM and suggested the big assassin did not die.

“There is quite a story [behind why Jaws did not die]. The English are very, very different to how they make movies than the Americans. They have a weekly production meeting to give the department heads a chance to contribute,’ Kiel explained. “Every week Cubby Broccoli was very open to suggestions and Bob Simmons, the stunt coordinator, said, ‘Cubby, have you thought about maybe not killing Jaws off’, and Cubby said, ‘we always kill the villain. Jaws gets thrown in a tank with a shark, what do you suggest?’ and Bob said, ‘He kills the shark’.”

Simmons suggested that an alternate ending for Jaws be filmed, one where he lives. Because of this Kiel had to stay until the whole movie was done, because of the completion bond, to do this added alternate scene.

Kiel would finally find out whether Jaws lived or died sometime later. “I didn’t know if I would live or die and one day I got a phone call from the Bond people and they said, ‘Richard, we would like you to come out to MGM and see the movie. We’re going to have a regular premier with all the red carpets and all that, but we’d like you to see it ahead of time, but not a screening with producers and directors and writers, but a screening with just real people’.”

The preview screening audience consisted of the studio’s security, prop, and lumberyard people and their wives and children. Kiel was sneaked into the back of the screening room late into the film. What happened has stayed with Kiel ever since. “I went to see TSWLM, wondering whether I live or die. The scene at the very end of the movie where the underwater thing is all blowing up and Anya and Bond are trying to escape went on and on and on, and I thought, ‘well, surely I’m dead by now’, and they’re finally escaping and suddenly they show the surface of the ocean and Jaws pops out of the ocean and starts swimming to shore and the audience screamed and applauded and clapped and I was shocked. And all throughout the movie Roger’s ad libs and my acting, the audience loved it, so that was a great moment in my life, to know I had finally made it big as an actor.”

At the end of Moonraker, Jaws, and his short girlfriend, are returning to Earth in a chunk of Drax’s space station and the audience is left believing, again, that the assassin turned good guy lives on. In real life, Kiel would work again with American actress Barbara Bach (from TSWLM) and French actress Corinne Clery (from Moonraker) in the Italian film The Humanoid.

36 years after TSWLM and 34 years after Moonraker, Kiel also has another good reason to remember his Bond movies fondly, his then toddler son made an appearance in TSWLM, as the child who first spots 007’s Lotus emerging from the water.

Editor's note:
For other posts featuring Richard Kiel featured on From Sweden with Love, click here.

Richard Kiel's official website can be found at www.richardkiel.com

Written by Rob Coppinger. Copyright© From Sweden with Love.

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