Website last updated: 17-7-2024

Dining with Sean: John Cork remembers the Great Scot - Part I

By: John Cork
John Cork Sean Connery Never Say Never Again
American FSWL friend and supporter John Cork, co-author of three official books about the James Bond franchise and producer of multiple documentaries for the DVD/Blu-ray editions of the films, shares his memories of dining in the presence of Sean Connery exclusively for our readers. Part I: Never Say Underneath the Mango Tree Again. (Part II of this exclusive.)

I only truly met Sean Connery once, although I did have dinner with him twice, and as they say, twice is the only way to live.

In October 1983, Never Say Never Again was having one of its premieres at the Mann National Theater in Westwood, Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times advertised the availability of tickets. I, a financially overburdened USC Cinema student enduring an incredibly stressful semester, chose to squander my meager college living expense account on said tickets rather than enter therapy. Thus, I splurged and purchased two tickets—one for myself and another for a fellow Bond fan who was visiting for the semester to help me with a hopeless film class project. In for a penny, I opted for the top-tier tickets, which included a catered dinner after the screening.

For me and oodles of Bond fans, the return of Sean Connery as 007 was an event on-par with The Beatles reuniting. With John Lennon’s murder in 1980, Sean Connery as Bond was the holy grail of re-living some mid-60s magic that I had been too young to fully experience.

Unable to afford renting tuxes, we dressed in barely passable sports jackets, moderately clean shirts, and our best blue-light-special ties. As it turned out, we had the chance to see the film at the Motion Picture Academy’s theater on Wilshire Blvd. two nights prior. Bluntly, we lied to the man checking the guest list and then hid in the darkest section of the theater hoping a small army of AMPAS goons would not show up to eject us. The film had been delayed from a summer release to an October slot, not because of a pandemic, but because it apparently needed work. Ah, they just want to get the thing exactly right, I thought. No more silly moments where Jaws rips loose his parachute cord and flaps his arms. No more vital clues provided by talking parrots. No more pennywhistles, or Margaret Thatcher impersonators, or gorilla suit disguises! The real James Bond was back, baby, and this was going to be like seeing the first screening of Goldfinger (1964)!

We’ve all seen Never Say Never Again, and we all have our opinions on it, but I will just say that at that age — 21, almost 22 — I was apparently not mature enough to fully accept how disappointing the film itself proved to be for me. At that moment, seeing a new Bond film was like the parents watching the children’s marching band form at the end of The Music Man (1962). We so desperately wanted each film to be great that we ignored obvious flaws like a politician’s spin-doctor after a disastrous debate performance. We hardcore Bond fans in 1983 were too often met by elders who would tell us they used to see those movies... back when Sean Connery was Bond before they became so silly. Never Say Never Again would be our redemption, our proof that our fandom was not misplaced, our declaration that 007 was not an out of date buffoon who donned clown make-up and had traded in his 21st century rocket belt for a 19th century hot air balloon. So, one viewing was not enough to convince me of the film’s egregious shortcomings. Besides, there was that one undeniably iconic Bondian moment where Sean Connery picks up an apple and casually tosses it only to catch it behind his back.

Regardless, we were heading to the premiere where we would be in the presence of Sean Connery himself.

John Cork wishes to issue a correction. As this photo proves, he did not, in fact, wear a tie to the Los Angeles premiere of Never Say Never Again. Copyright © 2020 John Cork. All rights reserved.

Entering the theater, I saw Richard Schenkman, the hard-working president of the James Bond 007 Fan Club and editor of Bondage magazine. Back then, no one did more to preserve and cultivate the 007 fan community in America. After The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Schenkman, in the pages of Bondage, had sympathetically covered Kevin McClory’s dream of bringing Connery back as Bond, which earned him a very cold shoulder from Eon Productions for years after. And yet that night, he had been allotted a solitary ticket for his free labors promoting McClory’s opus. Thus, when he saw my ill-dressed “punk-ass” (his apt words) saunter in to the lobby of the Mann National, he looked at me with confoundment, baffled that I, who had contributed nothing to the world of Bond, had scored a pair of coveted tickets. He was unaware that any jerk with a checkbook and the wherewithal to call the sponsoring charity could stroll right on in. Nonetheless, he could not have been more gracious. He introduced me to the legendary lawsuit-breeder, Kevin McClory, who shook my hand with all the enthusiasm of a man slipping into a coma.

For the star-studded after-party, Warner Bros. converted one level of a parking garage into an event space. What can I say? It was the 80s when parking garages still seemed chic. My visiting friend, Richard Schenkman, and I all sat at the same table. Schenkman positioned himself on one side of Kevin McClory's rather fetching daughter. I sat on her other side. Neither of us made too much progress with her, but Richard, who has more game than a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary, fared far better. I, being a teetotaler, was unaffected by the open bar. My visiting friend was not. He soon decided that Sean Connery should join the unremarkable live band to indulge the crowd with a rendition of “Underneath the Mango Tree.” This, I knew, was lunacy. The band, I told my friend, does not know of a song titled “Underneath the Mango Tree,” so they cannot play it. Sean is not likely to recall the lyrics, because he didn’t listen to the Dr. No (1962) original soundtrack album a few hundred times while doing Algebra homework in 8th grade. Emboldened by my negativity, my friend spoke to the band leader during some blessed break and was told that if Sean Connery would join them for a sing-song, by God they would fake it.

Soon, Sean was being asked to pose for photos with the charity bigwigs. My friend and I casually walked into the background, photo-bombing 1983-style, so that we could claim to have had our pictures taken with Sean Connery. Somewhere, Richard Schenkman still has some of those amusing images. After the photos, a few of the participants exchanged pleasantries with Connery as he crabbed back to his table. A few followed him to his seat, and he seemed to politely entertain those brave enough to venture up. A small scrum formed.

At this point, I think I had shifted on the subject of inviting Sean Connery to sing. I had gone from dread to unbridled masochism. Memory is fuzzy, but if I am honest with myself, I think at this point, I was downright goading my visiting friend to make his personal request of Sean Connery to belt out “mango, banana, and tangerine, sugar, ackee, and cocoa bean” with the band simply guessing at the next notes to follow. Whatever might happen when my friend, dressed in clothes that cost less than one of Sean’s cufflinks, uttered the request, would be…interesting. We joined the scrum, which formed into a line of sorts. Moments passed while Sean Connery tried to get a small bite here and there between brief conversations. With each additional interruption, one could see his smile becoming more brittle, his nostrils flaring just a bit more. Our chance arrived. My friend stepped up, opened his mouth. Before he could speak, Connery’s jaw flexed, he looked back at my friend over his left shoulder, barely turning his head. His eyes flicked in my friend’s direction only momentarily. He looked away. He lifted his left arm, tossed back his wrist like Spider-Man shooting out a web, and announced, “Please, please. We’re trying to eat.”

My visiting friend slunk back, not a sound having passed from his lips.

That was the closest I came to meeting Sean Connery that unforgettable night...

Stay tuned for Part II.



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