The JBIFC is very sad to report that French actress Claudine Auger, who played Domino opposite Sean Connery’s James Bond in Thunderball (1965), has passed away, aged 78. She died in Paris on 19th December, 2019.

Born Claudine Oger on 26th April, 1941, Claudine attended the Conservatoire of Dramatic Art and spent her early career in French theatre. As she explained to the British film magazine Photoplay in 1965, she was a member of the National Popular Theatre in Paris, appearing in classic roles, when she received a call from London asking if she would like to test for a role in a James Bond movie. However, because the theatre director would not give her time off to do the test, she arranged to do it one day, flying to London in the morning and returning to Paris the same night. It was a big gamble, but paid off. She was offered the role in a phone call from director Terence Young (1915-1994). Finding that her theatre director would not give her time off to do the movie, she left anyway and flew straight to the Bahamas. It proved to be a great decision.

From Domino With Love

The character of Domino was especially important to the plot of the fourth 007 movie and, indeed, the film offered key roles to a number of women. A large number of actresses were looked at for the four main female roles in Thunderball (some accounts suggest up to 40 women were auditioned and screen-tested). It cost £10,000 (a princely sum in the 1960s) for EON just to audition the 40 women and narrow down the list. A considerable number of these (possibly up to 22) were considered for the crucial role of Dominique (‘Domino’) Derval, including the award-winning actress Julie Christie (who was a serious contender, but seemed very nervous at her interview), Faye Dunaway, Luciana Paluzzi, Yvonne Monlaur, Marisa Menzies, Gloria Paul and Maria Buccella, to name just a few.

Raquel Welsh, whose photo Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman had spotted in the October, 1964, issue of Life magazine, was actually offered the role at one point and even signed a contract, but Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, Saltzman’s producing partner (apparently as a favour to Richard Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox) reluctantly released her from the contract so that Welsh coud instead appear in the sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage (1966). Faye Dunway was also very seriously considered and negotiations took place, but in the end her agent advised her to accept an alternative film role.

The role of Domino finally went to 23-year old Claudine Auger because her screen-test had gone so well. Interestingly, Ian Fleming’s original creation had been named Domino Vitali, and in an early draft of the Thunderball screenplay she was an Italian woman, named Domino Palazzi. But when Claudine was selected for the role, the character became Domino Derval to reflect Claudine’s French nationality and accent. Ironically, even though Claudine took English language and elocution lessons and handled the role very well, a decision was taken to dub her in the final movie anyway.

The fourth EON James Bond film had a much larger budget than before and had a long 18-week shooting schedule for the principal photography, and all the evidence is that Claudine embraced all the hard work and intense publicity with good humour and a calm demeanour, thoroughly enjoying the experience. She struck up a good relationship with Bond star Sean Connery, and at one point commented to an eager press: ‘Sean Connery is the modern hero of the world – a fine actor, strong, cruel, hard, but capable of great tenderness…’.

In fact, much to the delight of EON’s publicity agents, in her dealings with the press Claudine proved to be a good advocate and staunch defender of the idea of the modern ‘Bond woman’. She told the UK’s Daily Mail, for example, that in her view ‘Bond women are women of the nuclear age’, and she was keen to show the world that she had brains as well as beauty.

Claudine continued working in movies, including in another Terence Young-directed spy film, the wartime thriller Triple Cross (1966), alongside Christopher Plummer. She also took various roles on TV in the 1970s and 1980s, and one of her last appearances came in an episode of the British TV series The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (with Jeremy Brett as Holmes) in 1994. She is survived by her daughter, Jessica.

Claudine Auger (1941-2019), R.I.P.

A rare photo of Auger with Connery and Young in between takes on Thunderball.