Website last updated: 21-3-2024

In Memoriam actor, producer and casting director Dyson Lovell (1936–2024)

By: Brian Smith
Dyson Lovell, George Lazenby, James Bond
Dyson Lovell was a prolific actor, producer and casting director whose career spanned five decades. He collaborated with directors including Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola and Guy Hamilton. As a casting director he put together all-star companies for five Agatha Christie big-screen adaptations. He cast Tom Cruise in his first film role and George Lazenby as James Bond.

Dyson Lovell was born on 28 August 1936 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). At school he enjoyed performing in school plays, but it was seeing John Gielgud in the Old Vic’s tour of Richard II in Rhodesia that sparked his desire to become a professional actor.

At the age of 17 he travelled to England where he successfully auditioned for RADA. John Gielgud became his mentor and life-long friend.

Lovell secured guest roles in television during the 1960s – the usual fare such as Dixon Of Dock Green, Maigret and The Saint. His reputation of being a well-connected young man within the industry resulted in a speculative telephone call from Franco Zeffirelli while Lovell was filming A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Station, a 1967 episode of The Avengers. The Italian film director requested help casting the lead roles for his adaptation of Romeo And Juliet (1968). Taking advice from his Avengers co-star and friend, Diana Rigg, Lovell went about auditioning literally hundreds of would-be star-crossed lovers, ultimately selecting Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Lovell also took a small part in the film.

Zeffirelli appreciated his work and the two became frequent collaborators when Lovell moved into producing. Lovell produced Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), Jesus Of Nazareth (1977), The Champ (1979), Endless Love (1981, for which he cast the 19-year-old Tom Cruise), Hamlet (1990, starring Mel Gibson) and a 1996 adaptation of Jane Eyre.

During the ‘70s and ‘80s he cast the Poirot films Murder On The Orient Express (1974, starring Sean Connery and his old mentor John Gielgud), Death On The Nile (1978), Evil Under The Sun (1982, directed by Guy Hamilton) and Michael Winner’s Appointment With Death (1988). He also cast Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple in Guy Hamilton’s The Mirror Crack’d (1980, an early film for Pierce Brosnan). Lansbury credited Lovell with making her ‘a very wealthy woman’ as her turn as Miss Marple directly led to her becoming Jessica Fletcher in the popular television series Murder, She Wrote.

In 1968, Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli enlisted Dyson Lovell in their search for a new James Bond.

The Times newspaper quoted Lovell from his unpublished memoir: ‘We offered it everywhere and nobody wanted to follow Connery,’ he said. Maggie Abbott told Lovell about a client of hers. ‘I’ve got someone in my office – he’s not an actor but I think you should see him. He looks very good to me.’ The client was George Lazenby and the referral to Lovell, who then introduced him to Harry Saltzman, led Lazenby to being cast as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Lovell also brought Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley on to the picture.

Dyson Lovell passed away on 11 January from cancer, aged 87.

Commenting on Lovell's passing, George Lazenby told From Sweden with Love:

“In a funny way Dyson helped me get the part of Bond. When I got to his office in London's Mayfair he was on the phone to Saltzman. He looked up to see me in the suit I got from Sean's tailor, my hair by Sean's barber and leaning in his office with a Rolex on my hand and I said, ‘I heard you’re looking for James Bond’. I heard Dyson say to Harry, ‘There’s a guy here who really looks the part’. Harry said, ‘Bring him over!’ As we walked over, I told Dyson a bunch of lies about my acting career - I'd never seen a movie camera in my life. When Harry asked me what I'd done, I told Dyson to repeat what I just told him. He did. And I got Bond. I'm sad to hear he's passed on. My condolences to his family.”

Yuri Borienko, George Lazenby, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Yuri Borienko and George Lazenby in a fight rehearsal for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Photo by Terry O'Neill.

Lovell also brought Jenny Hanley to the attention of the producers. She recalled: “Dear Dyson, such a gentle man, who loved our industry and enjoyed life to the fullest. It is he I have to thank for, having seen me in an ice cream advertisement in the cinema, suggesting that Harry Saltzman should sign me up. I enjoyed a few years under contract to Harry, and I also had Denis Selinger as my agent... plus Dyson as my friend. Rest now lovely man, and thank you. x”

Joanna Lumley also paid tribute. She said she was saddened to hear about the passing of the “wonderful Dyson Lovell”. Ms Lumley added that Lovell “will be remembered with such admiration, gratitude and affection, not least by this humble Bond girl.”

Joanna Lumley, George Lazenby, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Joanna Lumley and George Lazenby during the filming of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in Switzerland.

(Special thanks to FSWL reader Charles Delaney for alerting us about the news of Dyson Lovell's passing.)

Text and photos by Brian Smith. Copyright © 2024 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.



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