The Living Daylights: Antony Hamilton

When a worldwide search began for the next James Bond in 1986, 007 history says that Roger Moore anointed Pierce Brosnan as his successor if his word meant anything. And try the producers did to secure Brosnan. But after failing to negotiate an agreement with NBC over Brosnan`s future, the role went to Timothy Dalton. But not so fast. Between Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton there was Pierce Brosnan. But between Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan there was Antony Hamilton. In fact, other than Brosnan, there was probably no other actor at that time that came so close to getting that coveted role of James Bond and ended up going home empty handed. But why? Who exactly was Antony Hamilton? How could he get so close and yet be denied?

Antony Hamilton was born in Liverpool, England 1952. He eventually became a professional ballet dancer with the Australian Ballet Company before making a move to Hollywood to pursue the life of an actor. He took small parts in television shows and movies, including the lead role of Samson in “Samson and Delilah”. But it was a fateful mistake by another actor that would put Hamilton in position to make a run for Bond.

Jon-Eric Hexum was a young, good looking Hollywood actor, mid 20`s, co-starring on the CBS-Television show “Cover Up” with Jennifer O`Neill. The show partnered O`Neill and Hexum as undercover agents busting spy rings and crooks. One day, while the cast was taking a break, Hexum picked up a prop gun from the set. While it didn`t have any bullets in it, it did have a blank cartridge. Hexum put the gun to his temple, playfully said words to the effect of `Let`s see if there is one in here for me` and pulled the trigger. The impact from the blast was immediate. It shoved a chunk of Hexum`s skull into his brain. He went into a week long coma and died.

Hamilton took over as O`Neill`s new partner, but the show didn`t go on much longer. It did however catch Cubby Broccoli`s attention.

Antony Hamilton confirmed to People Magazine in December of 1985 that Albert R. Broccoli had contacted him about possibly taking over the role of 007. The People Magazine article was a small one, with a picture of Hamilton and the caption: “A View To A Role?”. And depending upon whom you talk to, the story either goes that Antony was made a firm offer and then had it withdrawn, or that the talks were only preliminary and an offer was never made. What`s not in dispute is that after Cubby Broccoli began considering Hamilton, he discovered that Antony was homosexual, a definite lifestyle clash when compared to the role of James Bond as a womanizing heartbreaker.

Caught up in the mid 1980`s of Reagan-era conservativism, Hamilton never stood a chance. Whether it was withdrawn or merely not offered is probably pointless to debate. In the “old days”, an actors sexuality, even the hint of it not being “straight”, was kept quiet by the tabloids and other media outlets, who complicitly went along with the studio`s request to keep mum about it. But ever since the Rock Hudson debacle, it was apparent that any celebrity`s sexuality would become fair game. Cubby, nor the studio, could trust that Hamilton`s sexuality would not become an issue, nor could they guarantee that the press wouldn`t dig it up. After all, Broccoli and company were acutely aware of the firestorm that ensued when it was revealed that a former Bond Girl, Tula Cossey, was actually born a man.

Antony went on to small roles in a variety of films including “Jumping Jack Flash”, which starred future Bond villain Jonathan Pryce as the title character. Hamilton did end up getting to play a spy of sorts; he starred for 2 years on ABC`s revival of Mission:Impossible that ran from 1988 -1990. He then joined forces with former “Cover Up” producer Bob Shayne for the television show “P.S. I Luv U”. The show lasted one season.

Antony died of AIDS-related complications in Los Angeles March 29, 1995.

Below is an article on Antony Hamilton taken from the May 25th, 1985 edition of TV GUIDE. Already the foreshadowing, the parallels, to James Bond were beginning.

–Lack of acting experience hasn`t kept the one-time Australian
dancer from starring in a prime-time spy series–
By Bill Davidson

There was considerable tension that monday morning on the set of the CBS series Cover Up. For one thing, a pistol shot had to be fired by one of the stuntment as part of the run-and-chase action. Ordinarily, pistol shots are as common on TV action shows as bangles on Mr. T–but this time everyone remembered the shot that had closed down the series not quite three weeks before. Cover Up co-star Jon-Erik Hexum had killed himself by shattering his skull with a blank from a .44 Magnum he had been reloading for a routine scene. Says Antony Hamilton, Hexum`s replacement as the hero of the series, “That pistol shot on the first day of the resumption of filming was a psychological hurdle we all had to get over–especially me, because I was a friend of Jon-Erik`s.” (And especially co-star Jennifer O`Neill, some might have said, because, in 1982, O`Neill shot herself in the abdomen with a supposedly unloaded .38 caliber revolver she kept in the bedroom safe of her Bedford Hills, N.Y. home.)

The second cause of tension on the Cover Up set that day was the fact that Hamilton was making his debut as O`Neill`s new partner in espionage, Jack Striker (Hexum`s quite different character had been named Mac Harper). The cause of the anxiety was that the 6-foot-2, 30-year-old Hamilton had been a ballet dancer with the Australian Ballet Company, then a model for 10 years, and then an actor in only one previous TV production, an undistinguished ABC TV-movie called “Samson & Delilah.” “A ballet dancer?” groaned one unsophisticated electrician on the set. “Do you think he`ll be an alto or a soprano?” To his surprise, Hamilton came equipped with a rich baritone, the rangy build of a pro-football wide receiver, a noticeable Australian accent and an aura of James Bond-like masculinity. A further surprise was the inexperienced Hamilton`s acting–though in all truth, acting, in such derring-do drama, consists mostly of running, jumping and chasing the bad guys in autos and other wheeled or winged vehicles. In his few talking scenes he was more than adequate. (One, however, required nine takes before he got it right, but that can happen even to Laurence Olivier.) The natural simplicity of Hamilton`s acting did not surprise Richard Anderson, who plays his usual role of intelligence-agency official as he did in The Six Million Dollar Man. In a perceptive analysis of his craft, Anderson said, “Acting basically is selling. We have to sell a sometimes unbelieveable story. Tony is good at selling. For 10 years, as a model, he had become very good at selling the clothes on his back.”

Hamilton was born in England and adopted, at the age of 2 weeks, by an Australian hero of the RAF, Wing Commander Donald Smith, and his wife, Margaret, a nurse. Taken to Adelaide, Australia, at 3, young Tony grew up on a sheep farm and attended Scotch College (a Presbyterian-run middle and high school), where he was required to wear kilts as part of the school uniform. He also was required to play football, cricket, basketball and many other sports. “Australia is an enlightened country,” says Hamilton, “and we also took ballet, with a thought that it might be unmasculine. In fact, I thought of it not only as artistic but also as the most rugged of the physical activities. In fact, the dancers always beat the `footies,` the football players, in stamina tests. So it was completely natural to me as a chance to get out of Australia, a very complacent country, and see something of the world.”

The Australian Ballet went on tour to Russia and several East European countries, where it was a big hit with a classically based modern ballet called “Gemini.” In Moscow, a ballet photographer named Vladimir Bliocht took 200 extraordinary photos of Hamilton, both in costume and in street clothes, and presented them to the young Australian at the airport when he left. “I saw myself in decent photographs for the first time,” says Hamilton, “and since I was getting tired of the discipline of ballet anyway, I took the pictures to a modeling agent when we got to London.”

And so, the second phase of Hamilton`s career began. He modeled clothes all over Europe, appeared in magazines such as Vogue and GQ, became a favorite subject of such world-famous photographers as Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber, and appeared in TV commercials for products like Close-Up toothpase and Hanes panty hose: “I didn`t wear them. I gaped at women wearing them, and I even tap-danced for Hanes in a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers sequence.”

By 1977, Hamilton had tired of modeling and moved to New York. “I had to keep on modeling to pay the rent, but I took acting classes with a good drama coach, Mervyn Nelson. That`s where I first met Jon-Erik Hexum, who was a Nelson student at the same time. Strangely, Jack–as we called him–wanted to be a model, but with his bulky chest and 220 pounds, he was too big. That`s why I was amazed when we both tried out for the part in the ABC movie `Samson & Delilah,` and I got the role. Jack was built more massively, more like a Samson, than I was. I later was told that I was picked because of my Australian accent. I guess Biblical dramas sound silly if they`re spoken in plain American, and some sort of foreign accent makes them more acceptable. That`s the way of Hollywood.”

Late in the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 12, came that tragic accident when Hexum, preparing for a minor scene on 20th Century Fox`s Sound Stage 18, was sitting on a bed on a hotel-room set and reloading the .44 Magnum with blank cartridges. It still has not been explained why he, and not a propmaster, was doing the reloading, but the gun went off close to his head, and the sheer force of the exploding gunpowder drove a section of Hexum`s skull deep into his brain. He was rushed to a nearby hospital in a coma and died, without regaining consciousness, the following Thursday. Hamilton knew about the accident, of course, and was shocked and dismayed by it. He did not know about the cliffhanger drama that went on behind the scenes at 20th Century Fox before it finally involved him.

Terry Allan, one of Cover Up`s top executives, tells the story: “We immediately closed down the set after the accident, hoping that Jon-Erik would survive and return. But the following week, when we were told he was brain dead, we had to go into action to try to save the series. We knew that, unless we found a new male lead, we had two or three weeks at most before CBS would put us on hiatus. We looked everywhere–Los Angeles, New York, even Europe–and a lot of tests were made of possible replacements. CBS didn`t like any of them.

“Nearly three weeks after Jon-Erik`s death, we had a 5 P.M. Tuesday appointment with [programming chief] Harvey Shephard and other CBS brass to look at the screen test of the last 21 candidates. We now were about four days short of being dropped unless we came up with someone–and we didn`t have high hopes. That afternoon, I got the idea of calling Paul Darrow, an executive at Jon-Erik`s modeling agency in New York, to see if he had any ideas. I finally tracked Darrow down in Paris. He said he could think of only one guy who might fit the bill, name of Tony Hamilton. All he knew about him, aside from his modeling, was that he had done a TV-movie called `Samson & Delilah.` I never heard of the picture but I put my secretary to work tracking it down, and finally we found it at ABC. We asked them to send over tape of some of Hamilton`s scenes.

“I looked at the tape and saw this tall, powerful, handsome guy, with an Australian accent. I figured he might be right if we could make him an `outrider.` It would be totally different from the American character played by Jon-Erik. The problem was it was now 4 and the CBS brass were coming in at 5.”

Five came and went and all 21 candidates in the screen tests were turned down by CBS. The network people left. Then Allan called in executive producer Glen Larson and Harris Katleman, president of 20th Century Fox Television, and showed them the Hamilton tape. “Wow!” said Katleman. “Let`s bring him in to talk,” said Larson. Allan got on the phone to Hamilton`s agent. A small hitch. Hamilton was in rehearsal for an NBC TV-movie, “Mirrors,” in which he was playing a macho, woman-chasing male dancer. “Bring him in now,” said Allan.

Hamilton came in. Both Allan and Larson were impressed. He seemed brighter and more self-possessed than most young actors. Larson said to Allan, “Have Tony come here tomorrow to read with Jennifer. I`m going to write a special scene to see if their chemistry matches.” The next day, it was obvious that their chemistry matched. “Call Harvey Shephard at CBS,” said Larson, “and ask him to come over.”

Shephard listened to the reading for a few minutes and said, “Go.”

It may be one of the first times in TV history that a near-defunct series was brought to life again on the basis of nothing on film, nothing on tape–just two people reading a few pages of script in a producer`s office.

Hamilton was elated, but he still had 27 days of unbelievable ordeal ahead of him. “I had to continue in `Mirrors`,” he says, “and begin work in Cover Up the very next morning after the reading with Jennifer. I`d get up at 5 for `Mirrors,` be on that set all day, start work in Cover Up at 7 P.M., work until 2 A.M., and then start the whole cycle over again. A couple of times they had to fly me from one set to another by helicopter. At one point, I called my father in Australia to bitch about this backbreaking schedule. Dad said, “Let me tell you a war story. In the Battle of Britain, I fought the Luftwaffe every day from 3 A.M. until midnight. My valet had to get me up after two hours` sleep. He`d be court-martialed if he didn`t have my signature on his wake-up slip. And that went on for months. So don`t complain, son.` I stopped complaining.”

Today, Hamilton pretty much has settled into his part and Cover Up, once a marginal show, has picked up in the ratings. On the set, Hamilton is eager to learn from everyone–Anderson, O`Neill, the director, the technicians. “That, too, will change,” mused one wiser, older assistant cameraman. Tony is in constant motion while discussing scenes, stretching his legs like a ballet dancer warming up, whirling about, or isometrically expanding his pectoral muscles. In his trailer dressing room, he is different. He listens to classical music, reads Eugene O`Neill and Lillian Hellman plays, and speaks lovingly of his lady friend, Emily Davis, who is a movie/TV production assistant in New York. So exhausting has been Hamilton`s schedule that he has not had time to see her. He spends his weekends recuperating in his West Hollywood apartment. As a conversationalist, Hamilton is a fount of interesting, sometimes revolutionary, ideas. After a fight scene, he says disconsolately, “I always win. Wouldn`t it make me more intriguing as a hero if I were a little more vulnerable and got beat up by the bad guys once in a while?”

Concerning Method-type acting with all its analyzing, he says, “Jennifer does that and I use the simplest techniques possible–but somehow it works out between us. Perhaps I`m so simple in my acting because I`m inexperienced and don`t know any better. The only time I did any Method acting, it was involuntary and maybe the will of God, in Whom I`m beginning to believe more and more. In `Samson & Delilah,` which we shot in Mexico, I came down with Montezuma`s revenge–fever, vomiting, the whole bit. I was so weak when I had to push down the pillars of the temple that I must have looked just like Samson did after losing his hair had made him so weak. Everyone asked me how I managed to pull off that scene and figured I must have talked myself into it. It was the germs or the virus, but I kept my mouth shut and everyone complimented me on my realistic acting.”

Hamilton has made such an impression that Cubby Broccoli, the mogul of the James Bond movies, already has talked with him about becoming the fourth Bond. Anderson is so impressed with the young man that he`s sure it will happen. “And then,” reflects Anderson, “think of the wonderful question in future trivia games: `Which of the James Bonds–Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore or Antony Hamilton–began as a ballet dancer?`”

Only in Hollywood.

For more on Antony Hamilton`s life, be sure to check out the Antony Hamilton Uncovered website.

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