Ten years ago, in the still nascent days of celebrity social media presence, there were no such things as verified accounts. There were no check-marks or official pages to verify who was actually a real person of note and who was trying to use someone’s name for their own vanity or self-promotion. Social media presences were something associated with younger talents, as baby boomers had not invaded Facebook as of yet. It was also a time of relative innocence regarding social media and people were more willing to let themselves be cat-fished be those pretending to be someone else. It was during this period that I accidentally, but not quite innocently become a perpetrator of such a cat-fish. This is the story of how I finally got my comeuppance a decade later. It all started as a joke.
As a long time James Bond aficionado and the writer/star of the greatest play of all time, Nobody Does it Better: The James Bond Musical, I consider myself to be a master of 007 trivia. It was because of my hubris that I became involved in a petty squabble with a dude from Britain about piece of minutiae regarding the oft-overlooked Bond entry On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The 1969 film, which starred then-unknown Australian model George Lazenby as the intrepid secret agent is the only time a James Bond actor in an official Bond film has played the part only once. Long regarded as the black sheep of the Bond canon, the film’s reputation has improved drastically as of late, with some hard-core Bond fans even considering it the best of the series. It’s certainly the entry truest to its literary inspiration and has a lean, hard-nosed quality that the series would not fully embrace again until the Daniel Craig era. Since the film is so good and yet such an aberration in the classic Bond canon, there is a bittersweet quality to the film that has haunted me for years. What if Lazenby hadn’t mucked up this opportunity? What if the producers had stayed with this badass interpretation of the character rather than delve into the over-the-top campiness that defined the next two decades of Bondom? As someone who has made stupid decisions and squandered chances to do some great things at key moments in my life, the legend of George Lazenby was a cautionary tale for me. It served as a hard reminder of roads not taken.
Anyway, back to the squabble. While perusing Facebook, I came across a trivia quiz about the film that claimed to be difficult. I scoffed and clicked on the quiz, confident that I would ace it. Indeed I got every question correct except for one, which asked for the hometown of side character Ruby Bartlett, with whom Lazenby’s Bond enjoys a brief dalliance midway through the film. An easy question, Ruby Bartlett is from Lancashire. Or so I thought. My answer was marked as incorrect, sullying an otherwise perfect score. I was blindsided and offended and decided to send a nasty message to the guy who created the quiz. In retrospect, I realize what a toxic dick I was being when I wrote:
“Ruby Bartlett is from Lancishire dumbnutz!!”
The response was stinging.
“She’s from MORECAMBE which is IN Lancashire (correct spelling). Now, what’s that Yank expression, oh yes…dumbass.”
So although technically correct, my response was not specific enough for this British (maybe Australian?) trivia wonk. He had me. I was bested. Again, I’m embarrassed by what an immature jerk I was at the time and now regret what I did next.
I created a Facebook account for George Lazenby. Not a fan page. An account. For the express purpose of being an asshole to this guy. These days such an account would get shut down immediately and certainly wouldn’t fool most people. But ten years ago it was uncharted territory. With everything setup, I sent a message from Mr. Lazenby with this subject line. Great Quiz!
I imagine how I would feel when I saw that message come in from George Lazenby. I would be elated, being recognized by the George Lazenby for my incredible quizmaking prowess. Of course it was a feint, a trick. The body of the message read as such:
Not. You are a supreme bag of douche. As someone who fucked both Ruby Bartlett AND your mom let me say: Suck my Octoballs Thunderpussy!
Now I imagine how I would feel after quickly realizing it was not from George Lazenby and was in fact a very mean-spirited prank. Again, as a more mature and professional person I am now very embarrassed about my behavior and if the guy who made that quiz is by some improbable chance reading this, I apologize. We’re both fans of James Bond and I should have been a good sport about you besting me with a trick question.
But at the time I had a good laugh and moved on with my life, forgetting I had created this fake page. But then something strange happened. At about this time I made a post about the experience with the title I am (Not) George Lazenby. Here’s an excerpt:
Out of the blue, people started friend requesting me…I mean George. So I accepted. I figured people realized this was a joke and wanted in on the fun. And then they started messaging me, telling me what an honor it was to be friends with the George Lazenby.
The fans poured their hearts out about what an impact George’s performance had on them, and how much they admired him. I responded to each message with a pleasant, but patronizing “Thanks, mate.” I was so freaked out by this outpouring of love for George Lazenby that it took me about two hours to compose that stupid message. I debated for a good forty-five minutes over whether the “mate” was too Australian or just Australian enough.
And then I had my first scare. One of my…er…George’s friends sent a message about coming to a book signing to meet me…er…George. I freaked out. What happens if this guy starts babbling about Facebook at the signing and George is like “I don’t have a Facebook account, mate!” and then Scotland Yard hunts me down and I get extradited to England and sent to the Tower of London for identity fraud? I’d be the black sheep of Bondage! No self-respecting Bond fan would even play a round of GoldenEye64 with me!
Then the guy messaged me to tell me that it was an honor to meet me…uh…George, and that he was sad we didn’t get a chance to talk. Phew. Talk about a close one. My Facebook fraud had brushed against reality and no one knew but me. And then I started thinking, do these people really think I’m George Lazenby?
Maybe my Facebook George was like Santa. Even though all signs point to bullshit, people still want to believe. Was I doing my fellow Bond fans a great service, or was I playing them for fools? I couldn’t decide. Every time George made a new friend, or someone sent him a heartwarming message, I considered shutting down my account. But I couldn’t bring myself to it. People wanted to shower George Lazenby with love and admiration, and who was I to stop them?
And then the real George was in the news. Divorce. A nasty one. The support came rushing in. People from all over the world were offering their kindest thoughts and messages of hope. Our friend from the book signing sent the longest and most thoughtful. He told of his own personal experience going through a divorce, and the wounds it had caused. He opened his heart and soul to George Lazenby. It was the most wonderful letter I’d ever received, and I felt like a sneaky little bastard reading it. I only wished that I could some how deliver it to George, and erase my memory of it. I’m sorry George. And my sincerest apologies to the loyal friend you don’t know you have.
For most of my early twenties this story was a regular hit at cocktail parties or during discussions with fellow Bond fans. Eventually I came to the decision that it was not ethical to maintain this account. I created an email account with a random name I’d never remember and associated the Facebook account with it. I created an extremely long automatically generated password I would also never remember and let go of it all. There was no way I’d every be able to get back into the account. I deleted the blog post excerpted above and never told the story again. Until what happened last night.
As part if its Throwback Thursdays programming the North Hollywood Laemmle was exhibited one-night only screenings of one 007 film for every one of the pre-Daniel Craig Bonds. Since Lazenby was only in OHMSS that was obviously the one they would screen. But there was an added perk. Lazenby would be there for a Q&A! I wrangled my entire family to go see the movie with me as sort of a pre-birthday celebration.
Living in New York and Los Angeles I’ve had a few conversations with public figures of about the same level of “celebrity” as Lazenby. I have a general set of rules for these encounters: Don’t act weird, never ask for an autograph and for heaven’s sake no selfies. There’s a strange relationship between the general public and public figures. We all have a personal relationship with them, but they don’t have a personal relationship with any of us. It’s a dynamic we should all respect. In terms of autographs, that has for better or for worse become an industry. Human leeches stalk celebrities, camp out at airports with stacks of 8x10s, get as many signatures as they can and then auction them off on eBay. Gross. Most celebrities know about this and unless they are at an event that is an official signing, they feel taken advantage of when people ask them for autographs because they are profiting off of them with no compensation.
In terms of Q&As, these are generally not signings or meet and greets. The celeb usually hangs out backstage with their handlers, comes out for the session and then exits through the back. I figured this was how George would roll. But just in case I had a chance to talk to him, I brought a couple pieces of memorabilia, including a copy of the Playboy magazine that Bond reads in the flick. It’s a fun gag in the movie because Bond stories have often been published in Playboy and Bond himself is a literal playboy. If I had a chance to get him to sign it I might ask, but mostly I just thought it would be fun to say “Hey remember this? Cool right?” Like I said before, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to meet him anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the lobby and saw George chatting with fans and taking pictures. He seemed pretty chill and open to talking to fans. When I got into the theater George sat down in the front row. I was still wary about talking to him. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But I figured what the heck, he seems pretty down-to-Earth. So I strolled up with the Playboy in hand and introduced myself. He politely said hello and shook my hand. I sensed things were cool so I showed him the magazine.
He starred at me flatly. “No.”
“Oh, thought you might like to take a look, it’s the one from the movie.”
“Yeah I know.” Was he fucking with me?
His friend sitting next to him seemed interested so I decided I pulled out a copy of the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and showed it to them. The friend said “Oh cool he’s got a copy of the book!”
And then I blurted it out. I asked George to sign it. And I immediately regretted it.
George Lazenby looked at me coldly. “No. I’m not signing anything.”
I said “Okay that’s fine. Nice to meet you!” and walked off.
I wasn’t sad that I didn’t get a signature. I didn’t feel attacked. He didn’t yell at me. I was just embarrassed. I grew up a weird nerd who was often bullied by the cool kids. Eventually I learned confidence and honestly a big part of that was fashioning my sense of style and wit on James Bond. And yet in that moment I was instantly transported back to grade school. I was just a fucking nerd. I had broke one of my celebrity sighting rules and it had blown up in my face. I was crestfallen.
As I walked back to my seat with my head down I suddenly remembered the whole affair with the trivia quiz, the George Lazenby Facebook account and my stupid, bullying behavior towards a fellow fan. This was my comeuppance. I deserved this. That’s what made it feel so bad. I wasn’t some poor downtrodden fan. I was an asshole getting bit in the ass by Karma.
I slumped in my seat. I was humiliated. I wanted to leave. My family reminded me about the whole “never meet your heroes” trope. That was even more embarrassing. George Lazenby isn’t my “hero.” If it had been Sean Connery, one of my actual heroes, I wouldn’t even have bothered talking to him. I’d respect his space and figure I’d get shot down if I tried. But Lazenby? He’s the guy that did one Bond movie that only nerds like me know about. He was just hanging out in North Hollywood talking to fans.
After a few minutes, the theater manager came up and announced there would be a trivia contest. I perked up. This was a chance to redeem myself. To make up for missing the question about Ruby Bartlett from ten years ago with Lazenby himself sitting right there in front of me. I knew every single answer of course, even winning a prize for answering a question about Telly Savalas’ reading habits. And one of the last questions was “What magazine does Bond read in the movie?”
This was my moment. I stood up in the audience and held the magazine in the air. The crowd went wild. They cheered me. I beamed with pride. I may be a nerd but I was king of the nerds. As I sat down my dad leaned forward. “Feel better Junior?” he asked. I nodded. I felt like a million bucks.
Eventually the Q&A began. As a bit of context, Lazenby has a reputation for a couple of things. He always brags about how many women he’s had sex with, complains about money and tells stories that probably aren’t true. I’ve seen him do this a couple times in interviews and documentaries. And sure enough as the questions began, he launched right into it. At first it was charming. What fun to hear a real James Bond talk about living the James Bond lifestyle. But eventually it started to outwear its welcome. He launched into a long rambling story about having sex with multiple women in a hotel room in China while his pregnant girlfriend was in his boat during the largest storm in history. We all started to feel wildly uncomfortable and grossed out. It was extra icky because I was sitting next to my mom, my sister and my wife. I looked over at them. They were disgusted. This wasn’t any fun. Lazenby capped off the story doing a racist Chinese accent and made a point to inform everyone he was not being paid for this appearance. Yeesh. Tacky. Eventually the theater manager thanked him and they rolled the picture.
Almost immediately after the movie began, I noticed George had left. I suddenly felt grateful that I had a chance to talk to him. If I had hesitated or waited, I would have missed my chance. When the picture finished and the lights came up I felt a feeling of catharsis. As I stated earlier, whenever I watch this flick I get that weird feeling of missed opportunity. I always feel bad for George and wished he hadn’t squandered his chance to be a great Bond. For the first time, I didn’t. George got his kicks and was kind of gross. He clearly didn’t embrace the character like Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan. He’s not a dick or a bad person and he wasn’t particularly rude to me. But for the first time, I don’t really care that he only did one James Bond flick. It actually made the movie even more special. An interesting transition between the Bond of the 60s and the Bond of the 70s. A fascinating footnote to the storied and sordid saga of cinematic Bond. But at the end of the day, the world had had enough of George Lazenby. And you know what? So have I.
See you ’round mate.