It was a stunning entrance, a scene in Dr. No (1962) that fed the imaginations of a whole generation of cinema-goers, and helped create one of the most memorable screen images of the 1960s: Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, emerging from the sea on a glorious Jamaican beach in a white bikini.
This month saw the beautiful Swiss actress celebrate her 80th birthday (she was born in Berne, Switzerland, on March 19th, 1936).
The creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, had originally described Honeychile Ryder (as she was known in the novel) as the incarnation of Botticelli’s Venus; when Bond first encounters her on the beach at Crab Key, she is completely naked, except for a belt that carries a hunting knife around her waist.
According to a number of Bond historians, it was that particular scene in Ian Fleming’s 1958 book that helped convince the new partners of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli that Dr. No was perfect for their first big-screen 007 treatment (they had briefly considered Thunderball, but backed off because of legal issues).
The casting challenge for their first James Bond movie Dr. No was to find a suitable actress who could go some way to be their ‘Venus’. Obviously, due to the tight censorship laws that still governed the cinema of the early 1960s, the actress chosen could not appear naked. On the other hand, the producers felt sure that their new movie could push out the visual boundaries as never before. The hunt was on.
Broccoli at one point came across a picture of a girl wearing a man’s T-shirt, soaked to the skin, her breasts clearly visible. The actress was Ursula Andress, and the Bond producer – immediately struck by her remarkable looks – decided to sign her up, even before he had met her!
However, Ursula, who had worked in Italian films and had only held a brief Hollywood contract with Paramount in 1956, was hesitant. She had been dropped by Paramount because she had been reluctant to work on her english-language voice training and general acting skills, and she clearly felt ambivalent about her chosen career path. She certainly had reservations about Dr. No and had to be talked into taking the role by her then husband, the photographer John Derek, who quickly realised what a great opportunity the film was.
Shooting began in Jamaica in January, 1962, and the rest (as they say) is history. Ursula became a major global star. Even though she was entirely re-voiced during the post-production on Dr. No, her appearance had extraordinary impact and opened many new movie opportunities.
The 007 author Ian Fleming was certainly beguiled by Ursula, and – in a nice Fleming in-joke – he included her in his 1963 James Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: at one point, at Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s assistant Irma Bunt points out Ursula Andress to Bond!
Ursula also remains, of course, the only actress (in a sense) to have played on screen two central Fleming women from his novels: in addition to Honey Ryder, Andress played Vesper Lynd in the spoof version of Casino Royale made by Columbia Pictures in 1967.
Happy Birthday, Ursula! Long may you prosper.