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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

James Davies Interviews Bond’s golden girl, Shirley Eaton

 Shirley and James 

“The girl’s dead! And she’s covered in paint, gold paint!”

Shirley Eaton played the part of Jill Masterson, and will forever be remembered as the ill-fated golden girl, covered head to toe in gold paint, in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.

Her memorable 24-carat-gold death scene became the eye-catching draw for the movie, with Shirley’s gilded visuals becoming the iconic image of not only the highly anticipated third instalment but the whole ‘007’ phenomena. Like Janet Leigh, who was famously murdered in the shower scene during Hitchcock’s film Psycho, Shirley will always find herself inextricably linked to the film best described as the quintessential, definitive Bond epic, and that short movie moment that has become embedded in cinematic history and Bond folklore.

However, there is a lot more to Shirley than Jill Masterson and a tin of gold paint. Shirley, a popular ‘60’s It Girl’, had not been an overnight success but a busy actress before her golden appearance. As an actress, she was highly sought after a decade before that famous scene for roles in British comedies, acting alongside stars such as, Bob Hope, Sir Roger Moore and Kenneth Williams.

Nevertheless, Ian Fleming’s story made Shirley a star.

Before the interview started the affable actress joked: “Do you expect me to talk?” referring to a snippet of dialogue that has attained an almost legendary status in the film, as Bond is on the verge of being emasculated by Goldfinger’s laser.

Despite the fact the paint used to cover her body was: “Very uncomfortable”, she explained: “It didn’t take long to get it on. About an hour I think. But getting it off was awful. I had to scrub it off with soap and water, then have several Turkish baths.” 

Shirley, whom I found to be incredibly warm and friendly, positively views her image as Goldfinger’s golden girl: “I knew by the time the third Bond film was being filmed, the Bond genre was something special. I really wanted the role, so I went to see Cubby and Harry, the producers, and they cast me.”

It has been rumoured the pair decided to use Shirley for the part after they had heard about the impact she had on the men at a party she had attended! “I’m not sure about that,” she laughed.

This was Sean Connery’s third 007 adventure, returning to the role that made him famous with the same easy elegance and wit displayed in the first two films. “Sean was the sexiest actor I've worked with.” Shirley said enthusiastically.
“We had wonderful chemistry together.”

In the film, Jill says to 007, “I’m beginning to like you Mr Bond”, but did she feel the same about Sean Connery the man: “He was terribly professional and very quiet on the set, but an absolute joy to work with. He was lovely.” 

Sir Sean, arguably Scotland’s most famous export, isn’t the only Bond actor Shirley has worked with. When it was decided The Saint would be made into a television series, it was Shirley who appeared alongside Roger Moore in the first episode, of the highly successful series: “Oh, he was just so much fun. He was one of those people who could just look at a page and remember it. A photographic memory. I always struggled to remember my dialogue. He was sweet and wonderful to work with and he became a close friend.”

Having worked with two of the finest actors to play the secret agent who did the screen’s most famous Bond girl think was the best? Without hesitation Shirley said: “Sean.” 

Although Shirley is now a grandmother, the 71-year-old actress still had that certain something, a twinkle in her eye that made her a star.The one time ‘Golden-Girl’ explains: “The reason why people are huge stars is nothing to do with acting. It’s the magic. It’s something you can’t actually explain. Charisma is a word that’s used too often, it’s something very special and it’s what makes stars. Very few have that extra quality. You’re born with it. It’s luck.” 

Shirley touchingly gave up fame and fortune, at the tender age of 32, to look after her two young children and spend more time with her husband, but the star expressed no regrets or ‘gilt’, if you’ll forgive the pun, in giving up show business, and the opportunity of becoming an American Ambassador. 
Shirley said: “A career is a career, but you’re a mother until you die. The most important thing for me was being a woman and having a family more than being a very famous glamorous actress.” 

Reflecting on Hollywood today, she continued: “I’m a very private person and it is so hard to be private in the entertainment business. I’m really glad that I was famous and successful at the time I was because it is bad enough being in a profession that tended to eat you up and never give you any free time. But I think that the youngsters today have a really bad time from every angle. In my day we had our good nights out and everything. My husband and I would go to Tramps, which was the place at the time, and there'd be lovely famous people like George Best there, and I would dance and flirt, because I loved dancing. But there were no photographers in there saying ‘Oh, Shirley's with so and so and her marriage is in trouble.’ We didn’t have any of that.” 

So what advice would Shirley give to anyone today who wishes to make it into show business? “It’s bloody difficult, and not easy, but I would say one of the main things is to keep your feet on the ground, because there are so many temptations to become a big head and to take drugs.” Although I have been lucky enough to interview many big names, Shirley is one that will stand out, alongside Ricky Hatton, Shane Warne and Sir Michael Parkinson, as the one of the nicest, readily signing a photo for me which she inscribed, rather charmingly, ‘Nobody Interviews Better!’


1 comment:

Martin said...

James, this was a very interesting interview, great reporting!