Films and sports have a close connection especially in the Hollywood. There have been several actors who were good sportsmen before they became actors. One example was Sean Connery who acted as the first James Bond. He was a bodybuilder and a football player before he became an immensely famous actor.
Connery was born in a family that was not very well off . So at an early age he dropped out of school to earn money for the family. His first job as a teenager was to deliver milk. After doing that for two years he joined the Royal Navy. He received training at the Naval Gunnery School as part of an anti-aircraft gun crew. He was then posted to the ship HMS Formidable. Unfortunately, he had to leave the Navy due to health issues.
But he was always interested in sports. One of the games that he loved was football. He played football for a team called Bonnyrigg Rose in Scotland. The club was based in the town of Bonnyrigg and was one of the oldest clubs in the region. It was formed in 1881.
While playing for this team, Connery’s skills caught the eye of some scouts. One of them was a scout employed by Sir Matt Busby the famous manager of Manchester United. Sir Matt Busby was well known for his penchant for recruiting promising young players and training them till they became extremely good. He had built Manchester United into one of the world’s best club teams at the time.
When Sir Matt Busby took a look at Connery’s game, he was impressed by his skills, height and physique. He felt that Connery would be a capable defender or a good goal scoring forward in the game of football. So Connery was offered a contract by Manchester United. Such an offer would be a dream for any aspiring footballer. Any other player would have snapped up the chance.
But Connery refused the offer. “I really wanted to accept because I loved football,” recalled Connery many years later in an interview. “But I realised that a top class football player could be over the hill by the age of 30. And at that time I was already 23. So I turned down the offer and focused more seriously on my acting career. It turned out to be one of the intelligent moves that I made in my life.”
He was a bodybuilder too
At the same time Connery was also an amateur bodybuilder and took part in several competitions. He had begun serious gym workouts during the time he had served in the Navy. And he took it up even more earnestly later. He began bodybuilding at the age of 18 and later he was trained by an instructor named Ellington who was a Gym instructor in the British army.
He became so good that he was able to compete in the Mr. Universe competition. In bodybuilding competitions he was known as Tom Connery (because his name was Thomas Connery before he became an actor). So all reports and photos during his bodybuilding career have given his name as Tom Connery.
But there is some confusion regarding the year in which he had competed in the Mr. Universe event. Connery himself claimed to have taken part in 1950. But in an issue of Health and Strength magazine it was stated that Tom Connery of Scotland had competed in the Amateurs Class One category in 1953 but failed to win any medal. The title was won by the legendary bodybuilder Bill Pearl.
However, his decision to take part in the worldwide competition was what enabled him to catch the eye of film makers. They felt that he had the right face and height and physique to become a hero in films. He was 6 feet 2 inches tall and well-built but not over muscular. Moreover he did not look odd like some bodybuilders do because of excessive muscles.
Although Connery never became successful at a professional level, bodybuilding provided him with a path to fame and fortune. It allowed him to gain the confidence to step onto a stage. Connery’s lifelong passion for physical culture and sport remained steadfast throughout his acting career. At a later stage he took up golf and became a good amateur golfer.
After a few years of training, he was good enough to compete in Pro-Am style tournaments and maintained the hobby for most of his life. In his autobiography Connery wrote, “Over the years golf has taught me much, and its implicit codes of conduct have provided me with the nearest I have ever come to religion.”
In one scene in the film Goldfinger, the character of James Bond is shown as being a skillful golfer. Connery had no trouble in playing the part in that scene.
It’s also worth noting that Connery had a similar love for tennis and enjoyed watching matches. He regularly attended the U.S. Open tennis championship. Being a Scotsman, it was natural that his favourite tennis player was Andy Murray, Grand Slam tournament winner and fellow Scotsman. As an actor he was not just successful as James Bond but also in several other roles in notable films.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.