Everyone knows the Scottish actor Sir Sean Connery as the first person to play on film Ian Fleming’s fictional character James Bond, Agent 007. Connery set the bar high for those actors who followed in the role, creating the persona of a worldly, martini-drinking, tuxedo-wearing, jet-setting spy who enjoys playing high stakes baccarat and roulette.
But what many fans of the cinema may not realize is that Connery in real life is an accomplished gambler, too. In fact, in 1963, he played roulette at the Casino de la Vallee in Saint-Vincent, Italy, betting and winning on the number 17 for three consecutive spins at odds of 37-to-1. He reportedly left the scene $27,000 richer that day.
Nobody Does It Better
Born into a working-class section of Edinburgh in 1930, Thomas Sean Connery was the eldest of two boys and had to work hard at menial jobs to help support their family. “Tommy” dropped out of school to work fulltime and then joined the Royal Navy as soon as he reached the age of sixteen.
When a stomach ulcer terminated his naval career after three years of service, Connery devoted all of his energy to fitness and body-building. He went on to place third in the 1950 Mr. Universe competition. That near-success led to jobs modeling, making chorus appearances and taking bit theatrical parts. His movie career breakthrough came in 1958, when he was cast as a BBC reporter opposite Lana Turner in “Another Time, Another Place.”
From that time on, the actor’s star began rising. Connery got roles in numerous television series and made-for TV movies, including the lead in a Canadian version of “Macbeth.” He played in Disney’s big screen hit “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” and was cast as Pvt. Flannigan in “The Longest Day.” Then he won the part that would become his signature identity, as the British secret agent with a license to kill in 1962’s “Dr. No,” 1963’s “From Russia with Love” and 1964’s “Goldfinger.”
By the 1970s, “Sean Connery” would be familiar to cinema-goers the world over. The actor went on to win an Oscar in 1988 for his supporting role in “The Untouchables.” And in July of 2000 he received the highest honor of all, as he was selected to be knighted by the Queen of England as Sir Thomas Sean Connery.
The Greatest Living Scot
Connery remembers his earliest encounters with games of chance came at the tender age of eight. He used to accompany his father, Joe, to local pubs, where the old man made his gambling rounds. “We were very poor,” Connery has commented, “but I never knew how poor because that’s how everyone was there.” Joe brought home just a few shillings a week, which were often spent on whiskey or gambling.
No doubt the destined star encountered plenty of opportunities to try his own hand at winning wagers in the billiard halls of Edinburgh and the barracks of the Navy. But it was not until he got on the set of the inaugural James Bond film that Connery encountered his first real “high rollers”—producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli. Their penchant for betting was legend by 1962. They were regulars at a casino on Curzon Street in London—which coincidentally was where they would one day engage Connery’s 007 replacement, Roger Moore.
Keeping up with the high-rolling producers could not have been easy for Connery. The actor’s lucky outing at Casino de la Vallee was widely reported and helped to cement the his reputation as the “epitome of Bond” both on and off the set. But the role really didn’t suit Connery as much as he suited the role, which he openly stated was “confining.” After “Thunderball” (1965) and “You Only Live Twice” (1967), Sean Connery would retire his Walther PPK handgun and pursue a variety of other roles, while keeping his gambling activities more private.