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Daily Mail (26/Aug/2006) - The day Connery's 007 career nearly went for a Burton

(c) The Daily Mail (26/Aug/2006)

The day Connery's 007 career nearly went for a Burton

Think of James Bond and, for millions of movie fans around the world, an image of Sean Connery immediately springs to mind.

But newly unearthed documents show that Britain's most famous spy nearly had a very different face - that of Richard Burton.

In 1959, three years before Connery made his debut in Dr No, 007 creator Ian Fleming decided he wanted Burton to play the part - in a movie to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

If the project had gone ahead, it would have had dramatic repercussions for cinematic history.

Burton would almost certainly have missed his role as Marc Antony in Cleopatra, during which he fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor; Hitchcock may never have directed Psycho; and Connery would have lost his opportunity for international stardom and the knighthood that came his way in 2000.

Burton was first choice

Fleming's initial determination to land Burton is revealed in previously unpublished correspondence to his friend Ivar Bryce, whose company Xanadu was planning to make the first Bond film.

Fleming wrote: "Both Dehn [a Hollywood screenwriter] and I think that Richard Burton would be by far the best James Bond!"

Fleming also decided to ask Hitchcock to direct.

He cabled a mutual friend, the crime novelist Eric Ambler, asking: "Would Hitchcock be interested in directing first Bond film? Plentiful finance available. Think we might have a winner particularly if you were interested in scripting."

The correspondence appears in a new book, called The Battle For Bond - The Genesis Of Cinema's Greatest Hero.

Its author, Robert Sellers, said: "Burton had the same brooding sexuality and sexual magnetism as Connery. But the Bond series we know and love would have been completely different."

The project did not get off the ground, says Mr Sellers, because "Hitchcock turned his back on big-budget movies for his next production, a small black-and-white film that changed cinema for ever, Psycho".

Fleming later sold the film rights to his novels to producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, who chose the then relatively unknown Connery to play 007.