The Connery Con

In the wake of Sean Connery’s death, there has been a lot of conversation about his attitudes toward women. Some believe he was a decent guy who never did anything wrong, some consider him ‘a product of his times’, or an inexcusable misogynist, and some declare him, with great confidence, to be an abuser of women.

I suspect that they’re all wrong.

My sympathies lie pretty universally with victims, so it is, honestly, unusual for me to take up the man’s “side” in debates about misogynistic abuse.  When a woman says she is being bullied and abused by a man, statistics and anecdote alike tell us over and over that she is almost certainly telling the truth.  But in this case, I find it more probable that the woman is not the abused, but the abuser.

The following is an examination of “the available evidence.”

It’s biased: its whole point is to demonstrate why I believe all four of the common positions are incorrect, and a fifth is more probable.  It’s not impartial reporting but an attempt to portray a specific point of view.

It speculates: it paints “here’s it may have happened” scenarios. Things may not have happened that way – just as they may not have happened the way that others are speculating they did. The speculation is consistent with the available information; since abusers generally rely on others not being able to prove when they are gaslighting, it’s unlikely any version will ever be ‘proven.” But the speculations presented here are designed to show how such an abuser would or could work.

In American culture, we frequently – typically, even – undermine and negate abuse victims by questioning them, effectively validating and amplifying the gaslighting they have received from their abuser. I’ll be offering some alternate characterizations of Ms. Cilento’s behavior  to draw a picture of why I think she is the abuser in the tale, so:

CW: If you’re someone who feels strongly and confidently that Mr. Connery is a “proven” abuser, and Ms. Cilento his victim, this is probably the point at which you want to stop reading.

Connery: A Violent, Disagreeable Man

Shooting “Diamonds are Forever” in Amsterdam, 31 July 1971
Source: Nationaal Archief, Nummer toegang 2.24.01.05 Bestanddeelnummer 924-7001

Sean Connery has a reputation for being disagreeable.  Except when he doesn’t.

In 1965, he told a Playboy interviewer, “When I work, I work my full stint, but I must insist that my private life remain my own. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”  He spoke similarly to Vanity Fair in 1993. He is broadly reported to be amiable and charismatic when approached in public spaces, and to issue gruff rejections when interrupted in spaces he considers private.

On film sets, he’s said to be very disagreeable – except by those who declare him to be wonderful and amusing.

“Sean can’t stand dopes! He’s impatient with inadequacy… He can smell a fake. He knows in a minute if a director or a cameraman doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s very bright, and he can’t stand people who don’t know their business as well as he knows his.” (Sidney Lumet, quoted in Vanity Fair)

“One aspect that not only Ford but the Indy III crew enjoyed was the lightness and good humor Connery brought to the set. He is one actor that believes in having fun while you work and spreading that enjoyment to others.”  (LucasArts fan magazine Issue #9 [1989], on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

British playwright Tom Stoppard, who notoriously feuded with Connery after the latter skipped out on a play for health reasons, was later quoted as saying “He is tough in getting what he wants. Very tough. But I think a lot of what you hear about the rough side of his tongue is really to do with him wanting to get things right and having high standards.” (Vanity Fair)

The Vanity Fair interviewer summarized:

Most of those who have worked with him tend to see Connery’s demanding nature as an inherent part of his professionalism. When he is irascible, they say, it is as an actor keen to get the best possible results, rather than as a diva eager for attention.

So… basically just as in public, people either love or hate working with the guy?  How do you assess that?  By getting some specific examples.  The filming of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen offers some insights.

LXG: On the Set of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

LXG was a notoriously tense and unhappy set. Filming kicked off with a natural disaster that destroyed their sets and forced cast and crew to evacuate the city. The director famously shut down the set for a day in a dispute over a prop. Connery constantly feuded with the director, and their shouting matches were legendary. What was happening on that set, anyway? Here’s what Benjamin Svetkey reported in Entertainment Weekly (Nov 2002):

In fact, the mood on set is so bleak that the cast and crew don’t even bother to lie to a visiting journalist about how swell it’s all going. ”I’ve never been on a set as tense as this,” offers a frazzled stagehand. ”Everybody just wants to go home.”

[W]ith a month of shooting still left on the schedule, the pace of filming has slowed to a crawl that would have had Stanley Kubrick tapping his wristwatch impatiently. “This director doesn’t know what he wants,” grouses another crew member. ”He shoots an enormous amount of film. He’ll do 10 setups when you usually only do two. Most of this movie is going to end up on the cutting-room floor — if it ever gets finished.”

While others were complaining about the terrible conditions, delays, and random changes of direction, one crew member did  have criticism for Connery:

”Some actors want to be directors, some want to be writers, some want to be producers. He’s the only one who wants to be an assistant director,” says an insider. ”All his problems are about scheduling. Why not just give the director a chance to make his movie?”

So…yeah.  A man who expects others around him to be professional – and when he feels they are behaving unprofessionally, he also behaves unprofessionally, yelling and berating them for, as he sees it, not doing their jobs.

On the one hand – there are a lot of folks who are impatient with fools, fakers, and folks who don’t pull their weight.  Many of them are disagreeable when they encounter that.  On the other hand – someone who yells when he doesn’t get his way, and expects others to march to his drum – well, that’s a personality we know aligns with abuse.  Indeed, it’s often how abuse begins – with unreasonable expectations that start with shouting and end with violence.

Accusations of Violence

I’ve been able to find four allegations of violence leveled at Connery – well, three, as two of them are separate versions of the same incident.

LXG: Coming to Blows with the Director?

First, on the set of LXG. He was rumored to have come to blows with Director Steven Norrington over that day-long shutdown. (Norrington refused to speak to journalists, on any subject, so nobody who wasn’t on set seems to know what he felt the problem was – just that the prop “didn’t look right.”) Here’s what EW had to say on the subject:

According to press accounts, Norrington got a little livid too. ”I’m sick of it! Come on, I want you to punch me in the face!” he was quoted as shouting. Sources shoot down reports, however, that the two actually traded punches. ”It was more like Stephen saying to Connery, ‘How mad are you? Are you mad enough to hit me in the face?”’ says an eyewitness on the crew. He adds that Connery ended the argument by turning his back and walking off the set.

So… shouting and screaming are one thing, but when invited and taunted to fight, he responded by turning around and leaving. Not classic abuser behavior, but still.. there are other reports of violence.

Zardoz: Attacking a cameraman?

A Zardoz cosplayer at NYCC 2016
Image via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Second, Zardoz. On the set of this 1973 film, he is said to have physically attacked a cameraman, according to an Interview Director John Boorman gave to Vulture in 2014.

[Boorman, asked about whether he had trouble getting Connery to wear the ridiculous costume] This is what you’ve got. This is what you’re going to wear. So he’d put it on and say,  “Okay.” There was never any argument.

He was a very explosive character. At the end of the film we shoot a scene where his characters ages rapidly, and with the makeup, that scene took a whole day. So we’d shoot a bit, take him out, put on more makeup, shoot a bit more, and so on. When we finished it, we sent the film to the lab, and the lab scratched it. So we had to do it all over again the following day. Sean hated makeup, hated anything touching his skin. He was very grumpy the whole day when we shot the scene. So when I told him that we had to do it again, he was absolutely enraged. Enraged!

At any rate, we did it all over again, all day long, the whole process. And the assistant camera-loader opened the camera and exposed the film. So we had to do the process again. Sean wouldn’t believe me; he thought I was teasing him. When I convinced him that we needed to do it for the third time, he went after this camera-loader and nearly killed him. It took three grips to restrain him. [Laughs.]

[Interviewer]: Was the camera-loader okay?

[Boorman]: What happened was … that was the last time I’d heard of him until years later. He’d changed his name. This had become such a famous story in the film business that this guy couldn’t get a job or anything. So he changed his name and is working as a commercial cameraman now.

This was pre-internet, so it’s entirely possible that “famous star physically attacks crewmember” could occur without making the news. I have no doubt that, being told he had to do the take a third time, Connery screamed, shouted, and sought to get in the poor camera guy’s face. I can easily picture nearby grips stepping in to impose some distance.  What I find harder to picture is that someone physically attacked a crew member with such ferocity that it took three people to physically drag him off – and then everyone had a cup of coffee and re-shot the scene.

I find it a lot more likely that Mr. Boorman was not describing a physical attack, or was exaggerating for effect when telling the story, four decades later, after Mr. Connery had retired from acting.  After all, it’s a much better story that way. Just like it’s a better story when you try to make it sound as though “the big fight with Connery” was so horrible that the poor man had to go into hiding. Read a bit more objectively, it seems likely that totally screwing up a basic part of the job, resulting in reshooting scenes with extensive (and expensive) make-up and effects ended the man’s career so surely that he had to change his name to even get related work in future.

That’s two “Hollywood hyperbole” results on two accusations, but it leaves the last – and most serious: his abuse of then-wife Diane Cilento. This appears to have been first reported in 2000 in Geoffrey Wansell’s Sean Connery: A Biography, then in Cilento’s Memoir in 2005.

The Big Accusation: Diane Cilento

For those unfamiliar with Wansell, he is a British true crime author and podcaster, whose books are primarily about notorious murders. His greatest fame is for a book about a serial killer.  He has written one other celebrity biography, Cary Grant: Dark Angel, in which he promised to show the dark side of the famous charmer. (I’ve read it.  The darkest it got was Grant’s concealed homosexuality and strained relationship with his hypercritical mother.) He bills himself as “one of Britain’s leading authorities on serial murders” and refers to Connery as the “Monster with the Midas Touch”.

In Wansell’s version, The Connerys return to their hotel room one evening, with Sean furious at Diane for being ‘too friendly’ with a waiter, whereupon Diane is beaten unconscious, Connery punching her in the face “until Cilento falls back onto their bed, her face a bloody mess.” The next morning, he says, “the face of one of the most beautiful actresses of her generation has ballooned out like a puffer fish. A blood clot, she said, formed in one eye for six weeks.”  (Wansell’s book was serialized in a British newspaper, but is not for sale in Britain. It’s not listed on his web site, nor available from UK Booksellers. Connery litigated, and British courts – which have a higher standard than American ones for celebrity privacy and press honesty – appear to have ruled in his favor. The book is for sale on Aamzon.in.)

Cilento, on other occasions, describes arriving at the hotel room alone, where Connery was waiting to attack her, then locking herself in the bathroom  and weeping all night. On another occasion she describes herself as coming in, alone, to the room where Sean was waiting, and being “a bit drunk” (being out for drinks while her husband was in the hotel room might lend support to Wansell’s jealousy assertion).  On a different occasion, she described that after a day of filming, he beat her until she locked herself in the bathroom and then “he went to sleep without mentioning it to me.”

Trauma victims often forget or confuse details, and don’t tell stories chronologically. That’s part of how trauma works. It’s…less common.. for them to have three totally different versions of the story with three different explanations of how the fight started (perceived flirting, filming stress, for no reason whatsoever), and three different endings/outcomes (beaten unconscious and left lying on the bed, cowering in the bath all night as he raged and threatened, hiding in terror only to discover he had gone to sleep and “not even mentioned it to [her]”).

Those injuries don’t appear in any photos of the time, nor does the movie she filmed a couple of months later show any change in her face from prior films. (You’d think being hit hard enough to do all that damage might have broken something or left scars, but not necessarily. You can do a lot of soft-tissue damage without breaking anything. And the “clot in her eye” could have been behind it, where it wouldn’t show.) Photos of the two taken in Almira don’t show any signs of injury, but could have been taken before the incident. (Connery was there to film a movie so any photos taken after the incident would have been within that six week window).

But really – you can’t dissect a story like this that way.  Abusers gaslight. Victims conceal injuries. People hush things up.

The reason I don’t believe Diane Cilento is that as believable as the incident is, her larger arc portrays, to me, an entirely different story.

Diane Cilento with Peter Finch. during the making of ‘Passage Home’
December 1954

Diane

Diane Cilento was the daughter of upper middle class parents, both physicians. Her father was knighted for his work in public health, and Diane seems to have felt that honor deeply. Indeed, her first husband, Andre Volpe, was a minor Italian noble.  (Like many abusers, Cilento seized on opportunities to paint herself as ‘better’ than her abused partner.) She gave several accounts of the breakdown in her relationship with Connery (all of them decades later, when interviewing for the release of her memoir. Neither of them seems to have commented at the time), but when interviewed by a paper she might expect Connery to see, she made a point of telling the reporter that she felt “class differences” were really at the heart of it. (Connery was notoriously sensitive to those who seemed to look down on him for his early poverty. Abusers seize opportunities to prod their victims weak spots.)

She met Connery in 1957, and that wasn’t the only significant event of that year for her. Her divorce from Volpe was final in 1957.  (Volpe had left her for someone else. Having filed on grounds of “abandonment”, this means he had no longer living with Cilento for at least 6-12 months [depending on venue] and was visibly in a relationship with someone else.) She described herself as “footloose and fancy-free, but pregnant by my Italian husband”.

That’s right – they were living apart, he was in a relationship with someone else, and they were in process of divorce, but she somehow fell pregnant with his child. There are lots of ways that could happen, to be sure. But consider the possibility that it was an intentional ploy to try to prevent her husband from leaving her.

On its own, it certainly seems like a stretch. Paired with the fact that Cilento and Connery were together for five years without Connery feeling the need to propose – but married in 1962, six weeks before their son Jason was born, it does seem possible that Ms. Cilento may have considered pregnancy a relationship tool. (Abusers manipulate and trap their victims to prevent them from leaving. Pregnancy is a common tool for this, used by both male and female abusers.)

Diane After Connery

In 1970 they separated, and divorced in 1973 (it was common for states to require a 1-2 year separation as a condition of divorce). Connery met Micheline Roquebrune during that time, and remained with her until his death almost 50 years later. Diane did not cite “Abandonment” as the cause of her divorce. She could have done – though Connery met Micheline while they were separated, they were still legally married, and doing so would likely have netted Diane better terms.  But Diane wasn’t the one who filed for divorce – her husband was. He merely cited irreconcilable differences.

There was, at the time, no great controversy, nor any hurled accusations. Just a quiet and unheralded parting of the ways. Indeed, it was almost thirty years before Cilento began making accusations.

She remarried in the mid-80s, attempted several times to kick-start her film career, then finally gave up and went to the stage, eventually building her own theater in a rural area in Australia. (Unable to get roles, she created a venue where she could guarantee she’d be the star.)

Her third husband left her a little over a decade later. Like Volpe, he left for another woman, becoming engaged to her before his divorce from Cilento. He died in 2001, a few days before the divorce was finalized. When Cilento died in Australia in 2011, her body was transported to London to be buried next to him. (While she was, indeed, technically and legally his widow, this action stands out not only as an abuser’s insistence on continuing to ‘own’ what she feels is rightfully hers, it also achieves the vengefully bitter goal of ensuring that the woman he did want to be with was denied the possibility of being laid to rest at his side.)

It is also in 2001, that she spoke to Geoffrey Wansell about Connery. It is at this time, bitter about being dumped by yet another husband, that she first begins to make accusations about Connery. Shortly thereafter, she conceived the idea of writing a book of her own. By 2005 her memoir had been released.

Diane’s Story

In addition to the multiple versions of the Almira Attack story, Diane put forward multiple versions of “the reason” she and Connery parted. During her book tour, she variously recounted, in addition to “class differences’, that:

“He changed, as did our relationship. It wasn’t all his fault. He was not protected by the Bond people. We both coped badly with his fame.”

“Cilento, 71, also claims Connery, 75, was resentful of her acting success. She adds, “I got an Oscar nomination for Tom Jones in 1963, but this didn’t please Sean.”

“Diane Cilento, who was married to Connery from 1962 to 1973, said he physically and mentally abused her in jealous rages. She describes his resentment at her own success and claims he “wasn’t able to cope” with the fame brought by the Bond films.”

One dig, at last, seems more like a response to her own history than anything else. Although it was Connery who had filed for divorce, the thrice-dumped Cilento couldn’t resist the opportunity to declare to the press that she had not been dumped by Connery.

“Sean was stunned that I had walked out, left Mrs. Bond and fame far behind…His main concern, though, was that the press should not think I’d left him, but that he had left me.”

Her book and interviews paint a picture of a woman who was shocked and resentful that, in the 1960s, her husband expected that when they married, six months before the birth of their child, she would leave her career and focus her efforts on being a wife and mother. (Remember that in the 60s, this expectation was so ‘basic’, it was not only legal but common to fire women when they advised an employer they were pregnant, on the assumption that they’d be leaving the workplace after the birth.)

She claimed he wanted her to be a complete housewife, taking care of everything in the home and cooking dinners and he wouldn’t spend any money for her to have any help around the home.

Her book claims Connery was jealous of her career, which was jetting along with the help of an Oscar nomination, and wanted her to be a housewife.

He forced her to turn down roles, and wouldn’t allow them to hire home help – she was to do all the housework herself.

Interestingly, Connery addressed two of those subjects – money and household servants – in his 1965 Playboy interview (yes, that interview.  We’ll get to that part later).

PLAYBOY: Despite this lofty income, you’re said to be rather tight with your money. True or false?

CONNERY: I’m not stingy, but I’m careful with it. I don’t throw my money around, because money gives you power and freedom to operate as you want. I have respect for its value, because I know how hard it is to earn and to keep. I come from a background where there was little money and we had to be content with what there was. One doesn’t forget a past like that.

PLAYBOY: How do you spend your new-found wealth?

CONNERY: Well, I bought a secondhand Jaguar, and I bought the house I now live in, with about an acre of land; but I don’t invest in land, and I don’t have a lot of servants … just a secretary and a nanny for the children. Old habits die hard. Even today, when I have a big meal in a restaurant, I’m still conscious that the money I’m spending is equal to my dad’s wages for a week.

Connery was apparently frugal by Hollywood standards – but nonetheless maintained homes in London and Marbella, and though he expected his wife to “keep house” when they were home, and go with him when he travelled for work (not uncommon or “unreasonable” expectations in the era), he recognized how challenging that would be and paid for a nanny to look after both kids?

As for Cilento, her entire case against Connery was one incident in Almira (or three or four, I suppose, depending on how you view her varying accounts if it) and the fact that the horrid, lower-class brute wouldn’t spend money on servants for her. She wasn’t dumped by all three of her husbands. Oh, no, she walked out on Connery. And if her career never recovered in thirty years of trying, well that’s totally on him too.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Cilento’s conversation with Wansell didn’t happen until after Connery was first considered for a knighthood.  Connery’s then 30- and 40-year-old interviews were revived at that time, and are usually cited as the reason that he was put off for a few years on the subject. Those accounts do overlook one element: Scotland’s First Minister, Donald Dewar, who was quoted in the press as saying that “it would be a PR gift to the Scottish National Party”.

It appears that at least part of the reason that the hype from those interviews was revived was that the First Minister didn’t want the crown to glorify someone who promoted Scottish independence from Britain. (In the second round of same, in 2006, Connery’s spokeswoman huffed in frustration: “The interviews referred to are 35 years old,” she told The Post. “He has also given interviews in which he said, ‘I would never hit a woman.’ But nobody ever quotes those.”)

Geoffrey Wansell capitalized on that furor to release his hasty Connery biography, and Cilento appears to have done the same.  Recently “widowed” and seeking both money and publicity, she had her first successful year in decades in 2005-6, with the release of her memoir.  But book publicity wanes quickly, and 18 months or so later, Cilento highlighted a different set of accusations against Connery to get her name back in the papers.

Micheline, Connery, and Jason, 28 August 2019, celebrating Connery’s 89th birthday.
vis Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Cilento got back in the public eye,  focusing on her claim that that Connery had disinherited his only son, and was verbally abusive and insulting, telling Jason that the only reason he had a career in film was his father’s name. She further claimed that Jason had responded by saying he’d change his name, then, and Connery had threatened to f****** kill him” if he did.

“Jason loves him but Sean has a problem about relationships, as everybody round him knows. Jason is a very devoted son. When Sean is sick he rushes there. They play golf together.” She told the Daily Mail

She went on to rail about the fact that Connery harshly refused to support his son’s acting ambitions, and was “fed up” with the boy’s “sponging off him”, telling him he would “never see a penny” of his father’s fortune.

Jason Connery – whose first movie role was in Connery’s “Robin and Marian” – spoke in interviews in the same time period of his father’s support for his then-current project, a golf movie, and how much help his father had been in fleshing the project out.  When his mother began highlighting these claims, he stated that he had a good relationship with both of his parents, but nonetheless told the Daily Mail:

“I feel compelled to respond to the article because it was so full of outrageous and hurtful lies and fabrications… He and I have never had a conversation where he said “you will never receive a penny” or anything to that effect. That is simply a lie.”

He added the only time he had borrowed money from his father was when buying a house after his divorce.

“He immediately said “yes” and when I said I wanted to pay him back he would not hear of it.”

And the Daily Record:

Jason Connery, an actor and director in his own right, insisted the 007 star was a generous man who has always supported him.

Jason said: “I am truly sick of reading about my father and our relationship, and of him being portrayed as some sort of monster or tyrant who rules my life by cutting me off from his wealth.

“This could not be further from the truth.”

Once again, Cilento is all about Connery’s money.  This time, even her son cries bullshit. But she’s got one more ace up her sleeve.  The woman who will insist on ‘taking her place’ in death, at the side of the man who was divorcing her, also refuses to quite give up the previous husband. While Connery was brushing off her comments by pointing out that they hadn’t spoken in 37 years, Cilento – like any abuser – was clear that wasn’t long enough to break the connection between them.

Miss Cilento gave an insight into her feelings for Sir Sean when she said in an interview: ‘I do feel there’s unfinished business between us. I loved the old Sean, I still do.

‘Sometimes when I see him today on some talk show, I catch a fleeting glimpse of my old love in the turn of his head or a well-remembered phrase, and it still makes my heart turn over.’

But.. Those Interviews!!

The interviews. Let’s take them chronologically – there are three:

  • The 1965 Playboy Interview
  • The 1987 Barbara Walters Interview
  • The 1993 Vanity Fair Interview
Connery at the Oscars, 1988
photo by Alan Light”
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Playboy: The Interview That Started It All

“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman… An openhanded slap is justified.”

Yes, he really said that. And more.  Let’s look beyond the sound bite.

The Playboy interviewer is discussing the James Bond role, highlighting that Bond, as a character, is painted as a bit of a sadist, constantly getting in physical altercations with his adversaries – including women. The interviewer asks Connery how he feels about having to fight with women, in the context of his Bond role.

PLAYBOY: How do you feel about roughing up a woman, as Bond sometimes has to do?

CONNERY: I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman … although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An open handed slap is justified … if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do … by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else.

So… Connery answers that:

I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman … although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An open handed slap is justified

If a woman is involved in the physical fight, he doesn’t see anything wrong with physically fighting with her – but only with an open hand. Even in a fight, punching a woman is not OK. This is the quote that is usually thrown about as a sound bite, and it actually does appear to have been taken very much out of context.

Connery’s next bit does him no credit, thought it does represent the common belief of the era.

if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.

For my part, I don’t personally vilify every Roman for believing that crucifixion was an effective way to silence political dissidents.  I would certainly hold one in high esteem for having the independence to think differently, and would feel differently about folks who actually did the crucifying – but the folks who just run along thinking that the things around them in their everyday life constitute “normal” aren’t the ones I focus on.

Lacking any believable inference that Connery has ever struck any woman, and in the face of his repeated assertions that he has never done so, the only thing this statement tells me is that, like most men of his era, he was a misogynistic git.

It does not tell me that he was an abusive one, or condoned anything he recognized as abuse, as he clearly stated on more than one occasion – for example, the Times of London: “My view is I don’t believe that any level of abuse against women is ever justified under any circumstances. Full stop.”

Or his own assertions in the same Playboy interview”

PLAYBOY: Do women find you more attractive since you started playing Bond?

CONNERY: I suppose they do, because they’re bound to mix up the man with the image… If I actually started to behave to any woman the way Bond does, she’d run like a jack rabbit… or send for the police.

He doesn’t seem to respect women, and while he doesn’t beat them himself, he doesn’t see a problem with a man slapping his wife if she’s ‘hysterical’ or “a bitch.” I don’t like him much, and wouldn’t want to hang out with him – but the only thing I can lay at his feet are thoughtcrimes. (p.s. while we’re at it – he’s also a right-wing nationalist who thinks we’re all a bunch of soft, spoiled brats.)

PLAYBOY: Would you have preferred it otherwise? [discussing his impoverished upbringing]

CONNERY: Absolutely not. This sort of motivation is the great thing that’s lacking in present-day society. In the days before the War, with high unemployment, many people simply put in an appearance every morning at the factory although they knew there was no chance of work. Sheeplike, they felt they just had to go. Today everything’s handed to them on a platter: they know they can get work and enough food, and socialized medicine has taken the worry out of being ill. If there is a malnutrition of any kind in this country… and I think there is… it’s self-inflicted.

He did, also, address his temper and whether he engaged in physical violence.

PLAYBOY: According to your critics, this spirit of competition, in your case, sometimes takes the form of verbal and physical conflict. They say you have a penchant for abusive arguments and even fistfights with those who take exception to your views.

CONNERY: Not really. I’m not a violent man, and I don’t go in for fighting.

PLAYBOY: Some publicity men claim that during the making of a film you tend to be short-tempered and highhanded.

CONNERY: Look, during my working day I’ll give my full pound of flesh–to the film. The interviews, publicity, exploitation and what have you, have to come second, because otherwise what really counts suffers.

In the middle of a big sequence of Goldfinger, the publicity man brought on a French magazine lady and left me with her. First of all, she asked what the film was called. I told her. Then what part was I playing. I told her. Then she asked who was starring opposite me. I said a very famous German actor, Gert Frobe. “Well, I’ve never heard of her,” she said, and with that I just walked off the set; so I suppose I’m considered very rude by that person. Well, I consider her disrespectful and incompetent, and both are definite sins.

Ponder that one, a moment. He believes his poor, hard-working youth was good for him, and would be good for others. He was willing to get a Nanny, because it was practical in terms of travel, school, schedules, etc. – but not a housekeeper because he felt his wife ought to do her ‘job’.

He was, by most accounts, both physically active and a voracious reader. he lifted weights and was a Mr. Universe contender as a young man, and recognized “fighting culture” as a healthy thing – an extension of the kind of “competition” that forged him into the man he became, even though he himself was not a fighter (he told one interviewer he had never studied martial arts – was able to mimic actions he was shown, well enough for film purposes).

And then look at the sum total of his comments above, which amount to:

  • If a woman chooses to join the brawl, she’s fair game – but go easy on her
  • I don’t have a problem with someone slapping a woman (though he repeatedly has told interviewers he has not and would not, and told the Playboy interviewer that he could never treat women the way Bond does)
  • If you find yourself in that situation, you have to be mindful of the physical difference – you’re a lot bigger, and can do more damage, so be one step ahead and don’t get in a position where you might accidentally cause her real harm

While I didn’t leave that one liking or respecting the guy, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the interview people often claim it was.

Sean Connery
23 november 1983
Dutch National Archive

Barbara Walters: Unrepentant

“I don’t think it’s good [to slap a woman],” he told Walters. “I don’t think it’s that bad. I think it depends entirely on the circumstances and if it merits it.”

“If you have tried everything else – and women are pretty good at this – they can’t leave it alone,” he explained. “They want to have the last word and you give them the last word, but they’re not happy with the last word. They want to say it again and get into a really provocative situation, then I think it’s absolutely right.”

No question here. Guy’s a dick. Usually what you hear quoted is that first paragraph – minus the “I don’t think it’s good” part.

It’s been over 20 years since the Playboy interview, and Walters ambushes him with it as though it was yesterday. That said, she probably thought she was giving him an opportunity to recant – she certainly looks genuinely surprised when he says his beliefs have not changed. He glares at Walters in a fashion that has been described as hostile and threatening, as though he is sending her some kind of personal message with the comment about women who “can’t leave it alone” and that has drawn comments from those who feel he is attempting to intimidate her with that look.

Vanity Fair

Connery responded to the furor over his Barbara Walters interview by claiming that, like the Playboy interview, his words were taken out of context. They always say that, don’t they? Of course – in the case of the Playboy interview, it appears to have been at least partially true.

“They taped two hours of me and only showed 20 minutes. Barbara Walters was trying to get me to say it was O.K. to hit women. But I was really saying that to slap a woman was not the cruelest thing you can do to her. I said that in my book—it’s much more cruel to psychologically damage somebody… to put them in such distress that they really come to hate themselves…. Sometimes there are women who take it to the wire. That’s what they’re looking for, the ultimate confrontation—they want a smack.”

The VF interviewer notes that “this may be less dramatic than what he appeared to be arguing on the Walters show, but it hardly establishes him as King of the Politically Correct. He agrees that, yes, he probably is a bit of a male chauvinist.”  Connery goes on to discuss the fact that, for example, he likes the fact that his golf club has a men-only bar in addition to the public area, because he likes the bonding experience of just hanging with the guys.

“Listen! I don’t imagine that I couldn’t find 50 women who could run Scotland. Of course! They’d be terrific—no question! They’ve got the ability to do things—yeah! I just think you should have the choice of being with them or not being with them.”

Beyond the Interviews

Connery has told us a few other things, over time, about whether he is an abuser or physically violent, and I don’t mean the repeated iteration of “I don’t abuse women” said to interviewers for decades.

Connery had daily shouting matches over what he felt was unprofessional and incompetent work on the set of LXG. When Norrington taunted him to fight, Connery turned around and walked out.

When an EW reporter came on set, and crew members openly discussed the terrible working environment, disorganized shoot, and uncalled-for delays, Connery’s comments were:

”Oh, yes, it’s been difficult,” Connery himself concurs. ”Very, very difficult. There’s no question about it.”

Around midnight, Connery is summoned from his trailer for an action sequence in which a bad guy will attempt to clobber him on the head with a spiked mace. The star swaggers out looking tired but ready for battle, on and off camera. ”There have been differences of opinion about almost everything,” he says, his eyes wearily following the director around the set. ”Professional differences, personal differences, you name it. But my philosophy has been to shoot the movie and talk about right and wrong afterwards. To be honest, I just want to complete the picture. That’s all I want right now.”

For years, he didn’t discuss Cilento at all, even when she released her book.  It wasn’t until she drew Jason into her public arguments that Connery responded.

‘I haven’t seen the woman in 37 years and she knows nothing about me or my life now,’ he said.

‘Diane can’t move on from the break-up of our marriage and I have already had to contend with her accusations about me being violent towards her.

‘Now the lies seem to be getting even more vicious and, what is worse, she is dragging our son into it.’

‘It seems to me a shame that whatever garbage Diane comes out with about me is reported as the gospel truth.’

When he could have gone on the offensive, after their divorce, he didn’t. When faced with opportunities for physical confrontation, he walks away. And only when she tries to use their son does he respond to her – and then, with a response that seems pretty restrained for a man with a famous temper. He told Playboy that his temper only comes out in the face of incompetence – his own or someone else’s – and that too appears to have a certain element of truth.

Connery: Abuse Victim?

Yeah, it’s a journey, from “he isn’t an abuser” to “he is actually the victim here.”  It’s a long path, but not a difficult one, if you look at Diane Cilento as a classic abuser.

  • Twice used pregnancy to try to trap men into staying with her (and, with Connery at least, succeeded)
  • Presents herself as blameless in their relationship, with the causes of their strife and separation centered wholly on his inadequacies:
    • Too stingy to pay for the servants that she deserves
    • Expecting her to keep his house, entertain his guests, put his career and desires before her profession, and all manner of “making her do things she doesn’t want to do.”
  • Never seems to have a gap in moving from one man/victim to the next. Before one man can divorce her she has already identified the next
  • In the wake of losing the next victim, is approached by a crime writer and when asked for “dirt” to show the seamy side of Bond, comes up with a worthy story
  • Then seizes on that story as an opportunity to
    • Enrich herself
    • At her victim’s expense
    • Use her victim to launch herself back into the public eye (which she has been unsuccessfully trying to do for decades)
    • Uses that opportunity to take digs at her victim in exactly the places that she knows will poke at his insecurities
  • And when the publicity and sympathy for that begins to wane, draws up an entirely different angle to get herself back into the public eye

Connery’s response to all this isn’t the aggressive attack of an abuser. Rather, it’s the response of a victim who is at first just glad to be free again and leave it behind them, then weary and beleaguered. Our son has been an adult for 20 years, why won’t this person just leave me alone?! His comments seem to cry out.

That Barbara Walters interview was, indeed, very telling. He talks about women who “can’t leave it alone.”

“They want to have the last word and you give them the last word, but they’re not happy with the last word. They want to say it again and get into a really provocative situation, then I think it’s absolutely right.

And in Vanity Fair, he adds:

“It’s much more cruel to psychologically damage somebody… to put them in such distress that they really come to hate themselves…. Sometimes there are women who take it to the wire. That’s what they’re looking for, the ultimate confrontation—they want a smack.”

And the first thing that comes to my mind is Almira. Diane arriving back at the hotel room and – what? Complaining again about his many inadequacies?  Taking digs at him that the reason he won’t buy her servants like he should is because he is too low class to understand the need? Physically attacking him? Deriding and taunting him about her dalliance with the waiter? Determinedly attempting to taunt him into hitting her so she can sport a bruise and claim the sympathy vote in the morning? (Yes, this is a thing that female abusers do.)

When abusers deride and denigrate partners in public – as Cilento freely did whenever the press would listen to her – they are rarely less vocal in doing so in private.  How much verbal and psychological abuse did Cilento, with her Oscar and her first-generation aristocratic airs, heap on this young actor who was only just experiencing his first real success? Did she limit her abuse to that or was she also physical? Did Connery slap or shove her in self-defense, and if so was his statement to Walters a self-justification?

Oh, but that threatening look!

Funny thing about that look – it’s the exact same expression he gets when asked about Millfield.

If you’re not familiar – Connery sent his son to a prestigious boarding school and later yanked him out and transferred him elsewhere. The only comment he made on the subject was that Millfield was a “rubbish” school and he felt they had not met their responsibilities.

A gentleman who claims to have been Jason’s classmate gave a fuller picture.  He asserts that a student was bullied to the point of suicide at Millfield. The boy, on being told that he was to remain the summer at Millfield with his tormentor, hanged himself, and the classmate suggests that it was Jason that found the boy and attempted to revive him. Connery, he says, was furious that the school had not properly protected the children, and Jason was not the only student that transferred away that year.

His son was traumatized, and a boy that could easily have been his son was dead. And the look Connery gets when he talks about Millfield is that same look he gives Walters when he talks about women who refuse to let a fight end even when they’ve won, who insist on trying to provoke you because they want you to hit them.

OK, So What If That Theory Is True?

So what if Diane Cilento was a narcissistic, gaslighting abuser, and Sean Connery was an abused man imprisoned not only by his abuser, but by a society that wouldn’t allow him to admit abuse, layered on the fame of playing a man who was the essence of macho capability and male-dominant fantasy?

Connery is still, at best, a chauvinist who may not slap women himself but totally understands why men would, and doesn’t have a problem with it – or, at worst, a misogynist who has no compunction about slapping a woman who is “asking for it”, whether or not there’s any mildly-credible evidence he has ever done so himself.

Which means that even in the absence of anything but thoughtcrimes, he’s still not very likeable.

But it also means that when people vilify him as an abuser, they are siding with the abuser. Perpetuating the fallacy that only men are abusers. Supporting Diane Cilento’s gaslighting and abuse for no better reason than the sexist assertion that because Connery is male and holds benighted views, his abuser is more worth supporting. Speculating that “because he was raised to believe it was OK for a man to slap his wife”, he must therefore be an abuser – the way that juries speculate that because a woman had sex with someone she wasn’t married to, she must be a slut and it’s impossible for her to have been raped.

‘You believe differently than me. Therefore, anything that was done to you is OK.”

“You’re a man. Therefore, even though you show none of the signs of an abuser beyond being impatient and argumentative with people you perceive as incompetent in your workplace, and the other party shows an ongoing pattern of classic abuser behaviors, you are guilty.” (pro tip: that’s not what “always believe women” means.)

He’s unquestionably a bit of a right-wing last-century nut-job when it comes to gender roles, and I wouldn’t care to invite him – or any other “Roman” – to dinner. But it’s a long way from there to where most of the conversations I’m seeing ended up. So…to all you folks who listened to a couple of sound bites and came to your judgements:  I’m suspect you’re all wrong.

Connery in Amsterdam, June 1976
Photo: Mieremet, Rob / Anefo
Dutch National Archive

https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/sean-connery-slapping-women-dangerous-opinions-man-time-3021169

https://www.thelist.com/270971/what-you-didnt-know-about-sean-connerys-ex-wife/?utm_campaign=clip

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/brexit-news/sean-connery-tim-walker-james-bond-4808918

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/sean-connerys-son-jason-hits-985097

https://www.independent.ie/woman/celeb-news/connery-jnr-angered-by-attack-on-his-monster-007-dad-26465130.html

https://archive.vanityfair.com/article/1993/6/great-scot

http://conduitcut.blogspot.com/2012/12/sean-connery-playboy-interview-nov-1965.html

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1036798/Tight-Bond-You-wont-penny-millions-Sean-Connery-told-son.html

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/brexit-news/sean-connery-tim-walker-james-bond-4808918

https://www.nickiswift.com/271029/the-truth-about-sean-connerys-ex-wife/?utm_campaign=clip

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