Mums matter to everyone, even to a potential James Bond! Many fine actors have played James Bond. My personal favorite was Roger Moore, who for me was the quintessential English spy that as a boy I always imagined Bond to be! Sean Connery came close, but for me never quite had the sense of irony that I felt Moore captured.
The author Ian Fleming originally created Bond as someone far more sinister than the charismatic character played by Moore, so maybe the role now played by Daniel Craig is closer to its originators vision? Craig is without doubt a very fine actor so makes a great Bond.
In my opinion there is another actor, now dead unfortunately, who would have certainly made a brilliant Bond had he been young enough at the time, and that was Cary Grant. Without doubt Grant had the looks, acting talent, and presence, to have made the role his own.
Originally from Bristol in the UK, Archibald Leach renamed himself Cary Grant and metamorphosed into the biggest movie star of his day. He appeared in many famous big budget movies, including North by North West, and To Catch A Thief. Today he would be right up there with Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio or George Clooney. It is said that women would faint when they met Grant in person such were his looks and charm.
The hugely successful and iconic actor visited Bristol from his California home whenever he could, but not for the reasons you might think! There is a side to Grants life which is tinged with great sadness. It is the story of his mother, Elsie Leach, who was committed to Bristol’s Lunatic Asylum in 1913.
Cary was only nine years old at the time. He was told that his mother had gone on a long holiday! As the years passed he assumed she had died. He was 31 and established in Hollywood, when he was informed his mother was still alive and incarcerated in an Asylum. He flew immediately to Heathrow and drove straight to Bristol in the Rolls Royce he kept in London.
Grants father, Elias, who was an alcoholic, had had her admitted to Bristol’s asylum later known as Glenside Hospital. It was a secure facility for the mentally ill. Today, you can still see the imposing pennant stone building, now housing students, as part of the history of the old Asylum. Elsie’s story is told in the patient’s chapel by Glenside Hospital Museum.
Grant met his mother, who was sane, but unstable, and somewhat institutionalised. He negotiated with the authorities for her immediate release, firstly taking her to a hotel, and then he found her a nursing home in Bristol where she lived out her remaining years in relative happiness knowing that her hugely famous son loved her and was covering all the bills. He visited her most years, travelling from his Los Angeles home to do so, which always got the staff and residents of the Care Home excited, as you might imagine. It would be like George Clooney turning up today at your local hospital to see his mum. It might cause a stir don’t you think?
In those days many people were admitted to mental asylums for things that a GP would deal with today. Some then found themselves in a system that they just couldn’t escape from and spent their entire lives in hospital. The understanding of mental illness was in its infancy and GPs keen to help would enforce electric shock treatments and lobotomies.
All of this is sinister enough to become a future Bond movie? Think ‘Norman Bates’ in the Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘Psycho’ but very definitely on steroids! Perhaps Bond could be incarcerated there by ‘Dr Fear’ when visiting his old mum? Just in case any producers are reading this I’m up for that part!
Seriously though it’s a shame that Cary Grant was too old to play the part of James Bond by the time Fleming created the character. Benedict Cumberbatch the current star of the TV series ‘Sherlock’ might be a good choice when Daniel Craig hangs up his gun?
If you’re a tourist (or perhaps a movie producer) doing some research a visit to Glenside Hospital Museum in Bristol would be worth it. It’s very easy to get there by train or car and makes an interesting couple of hours. I found it fascinating.
A walk around Bristol’s historic waterfront afterwards will remind many people of Boston. If you do visit Harbour side look out for the statue of Cary Grant in Millennium Square. One of Bristol’s most famous sons who became a world famous movie star who never forgot his Mum.
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