Website last updated: 16-6-2017

AUGUST 2016
PUTTER SMITH ON DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (2:2)

By: Mark Cerulli
Published:
2016-08-18
The second and final part of our exclusive interview with Putter Smith who brilliantly portrayed Mr. Kidd in the 007th James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), directed by Guy Hamilton who returned for his second 007 adventure after the hugely successful 1964 film Goldfinger (1964).
(Part I of this interview was published in December 2015.)


Born in Los Angeles, bassist Putter Smith is a musical product of the vast diversity that defines Los Angeles Metropolitan area. The jazz legend has performed with many of the greatest musicians in the business including Duke Ellington Orchestra, Ray Charles, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Bacharach, Don Cherry and Natalie Cole to name a few.

He has performed in concert halls and jazz clubs in the USA, Europe and Asia.

The piece below is written by Mark Cerulli, one of the men behind The Airport Minute Podcast.

As a long time fan of 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever I celebrated Big Sean’s return with the rest of the world, but I had always been curious about the movie’s enigma – “Mr. Kidd”, the quietly menacing hitman played by a jazz musician who seemed to come out of nowhere. His more nuanced partner, “Mr. Wint”, was played by veteran actor Bruce Glover who had put in some hard years on the NY actor circuit and had already appeared in a string of films including Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster (1965) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). But Putter Smith? Who was he?

A few months ago, I found out when I got the chance to interview him for FSWL. In person he is shy, but genial and he and his lovely wife VR (an actress and jazz singer) share a cozy old-style apartment in a leafy LA suburb. To quickly recap, Putter made his name as an in-demand bass player in the world of jazz. Luckily for him and Bond cinema, legendary director Guy Hamilton was a serious jazz fan and their paths crossed at a Thelonious Monk concert in Los Angeles – Putter was performing, Guy was listening. Three months later, a very surprised Putter Smith found himself auditioning for a role in the next James Bond film. He had the offbeat look Guy was seeking and landed the part. (To make it even sweeter, Putter was a Bond fan himself!)

“I think about Guy Hamilton the way I do about Harry Truman, who I’m a big fan of…” Putter says, when asked about the director. “There was NO b.s. about him, obviously he had a tremendous sense of humor, crew loved him, they all called him ‘Guv’ or ‘Governor.’” The famously tough director had no issues with Putter’s work. “He told me to stand up straight,” Putter recalls when he ducked too low under a helicopter’s spinning rotor blades. (No doubt during the “Dr. Tynan” sequence.)

One fond memory occurred when Guy Hamilton took Putter and his wife to another Pinewood Studios soundstage where the iconic Alfred Hitchcock was shooting 1972’s Frenzy. Putter was impressed that the director sat in his chair while the AD (Assistant Director) issued all the orders! The equally take charge AD on Diamonds was longtime filmmaker Derek Cracknell who worked on British cinema classics like A Clockwork Orange and 2001 – as well as Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). (Cracknell would famously run afoul of then-newbie director James Cameron during the making of Aliens in 1985 and have to leave the film.)

Putter had a good impression of both Bond producers – “Cubby Broccoli was a normal person and Harry Saltzman couldn’t seem to be without a phone and these were the days way before mobile phones. I don’t know how he did it, every time I saw him he was on the phone!”

The musician also remembers Jill St. John as being “A groovy chick, a musician’s chick.” When asked about that, Putter smiled and said, “She’s hip, she gets it.” They had some good conversations during the down time onset and when Putter went to do the big fire stunt at the film’s climax, St. John piped up asking, “Is he getting hazard pay? He should be getting hazard pay.” From the dead silence that ensued, her concerns were NOT appreciated by the budget conscious filmmakers! However potentially dangerous the fire stunt was, Putter said, “I had made up my mind, whatever Guy asked me to do I would do it.”

Burning Down The House

“They actually put me on fire there…” Putter says when asked about the film’s action-packed finale. (Which also gets Bond out of having to answer an inconvenient wedding proposal!) What you see on screen – Mr. Kidd literally going up in flames was exactly what happened. “They wrapped me in Asbestos sleeves and gloves, they were wired up and they put airplane model glue on and that’s what ignited.” He still remembers his instructions to this day: “When we say ‘CUT’, drop whatever you have and put your arms straight out!” Then two crewmen with fire extinguishers sprang into action. Putter broke down the action even further – “My arms were fully ignited – that’s me, then they show Jill’s face and when they cut back, that’s a stunt guy leaping over the side.” That guy was kitted out with Asbestos sleeves, gloves, facemask (with copper screens over the eyes) and a wig. He did what they call a “Full Body Burn”, a highly dangerous maneuver even under the best of circumstances. Putter noted that during the stunt the asbestos gloves broke and the stuntman received serious burns to both wrists!

The only thing Putter regrets is not having any interaction with Bond composer John Barry. “I didn’t meet him, but I wish I had,” he recalls. Perhaps to make up for that, he saw a number of stars while dining in Pinewood’s luxurious cafeteria including Bette Davis and Michael Caine. Caine was also a jazz fan that Putter had met when he was performing gigs at LA’s famed Troubadour Club.

Our interview coming to a close, I had to ask what Putter thought the first time he saw the film on screen with an audience. “Man, it was a mind-blower!” he says, still sounding amazed. “We saw it four days after it opened and of course my ego was really stoked…” Filmmaking glamor aside, Putter admits he had a hard time with the kind of fame being in a hugely popular franchise brings. “Nobody knew my name but everybody knew my face.”

“Everywhere I went, a crowd would form and I wasn’t prepared for that at all,” he recalled. It bothered him so much he began denying he was the Bond villain when people would stop him in public; but that only worked SOME of the time! “We were down on Huntington Beach and I was about fifty yards out from the shore and some kid comes by and yells, ‘You’re the guy from Diamonds Are Forever!’ I said, ‘No, no, that’s not me,’ and the kid says, ‘Well who are you then?’” Putter can laugh about it now. His adversity to fame continued until he was driving to Beverly Hills to play a jazz show and noticed actor Dick Van Patten in the car next to him. He said to himself, “Man, that’s Dick Van Patten!” Suddenly it clicked – he understood how people felt when they spotted him. “And from then on I could relax and enjoy the moment with them.”

A few years later, Putter landed an agent and did find acting work on TV and in commercials, but he wasn’t taken with the endless audition process. “Music is my calling,” he admits, “and it keeps getting better and better.” Still, he muses about the kind of money actors make. His Diamonds Are Forever paycheck? 600 USD a week. Putter is quick to point out that EON paid for his family to travel to London and put them up in a nice house during the shoot with a per diem. Residual money still comes in each year. “It’s free money AND I was in a James Bond movie!” Putter exclaims. Royalty payments or not, being in Diamonds did have an affect on his musical career in that his bookings went down for almost a decade after the film! When he’d ask people he previously worked with why they weren’t calling he’d get, “Oh man, you’re a big movie star now.” NOT what this passionate musical artist wanted to hear. “I had ten years of poor earnings. I’m not a movie star, I’m a musician who made one film!” Thankfully things have picked up and Putter and his wife perform frequently in the LA area. “The music I play (Jazz Improvisation) isn’t about making a lot of money. It’s about the art.”

Today, he seems to have mixed feelings about his on screen performance. While grateful he got to share the screen with the legendary Sean Connery, he felt he “didn’t bring anything” to the part. I beg to differ. His lack of experience lent an air of authenticity to his performance that stood in nice contrast to Bruce Glover’s intense and uber menacing portrayal of his deadly partner, “Mr. Wint”. Putter’s complete lack of layering and acting “style” made him more believable. Like the popular horror character “Michael Myers”, Putter was a blank canvas onto which you could project your fears.

Mixed feelings or not, Putter is very proud of his work on the film. “I figured it’ll be around as long as I’m alive and another hundred years beyond that.” As we parted, I asked what he thought of the newer Bond films and he was complimentary about Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. “So who’s your favorite Bond?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Putter smiled and said, “Sean Connery, I mean come on!” Then he laughed and he sounded just like “Mr. Kidd”.

Editor's note:
For more interviews on From Sweden with Love, From Sweden with Love, click here.

Photo above:
Putter Smith with Guy Hamilton on the set of Diamonds Are Forever. Photo by George Whitear. © 1971 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.

Visit the official website of Putter Smith to read more about his career in jazz:
www.puttersmith.net

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