Most people know John Gavin, who died today at age 86, as the nominal hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, who saves Vera Miles from a ghastly fate at the hands of maniacal Anthony Perkins. What most people don’t know is Gavin was once signed, sealed, and ready to go as the movie’s most popular secret agent of them all, James Bond!
It’s true! Gavin had signed the contract with producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to star as 007 in 1971’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER , taking over the role from George Lazenby. He would have been the first (and only) American actor to portray MI-6’s suave secret agent, except the powers that be at United Artists wanted someone with more star power to take the role. Saltzman and Broccoli then threw an enormous (at the time) sum of money at original Bond Sean Connery to return to the part that made him famous. It was an offer Connery couldn’t refuse, and poor John Gavin was the spy left out in the cold – although he did receive his full pay for the contract he signed!
John Gavin was born in Los Angeles in 1931. After serving in the Korean War, he signed on with Universal as a contract player. He did his time in small roles, with the studio looking to make him the next Rock Hudson. Gavin got his big break in a pair of pictures for director Douglas Sirk : the WWII drama A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE (1958), told from the German point of view, and the remake of the soap opera IMITATION OF LIFE (1959), starring Lana Turner in the part originated by Claudette Colbert.
He had a supporting role as Julius Caesar in Stanley Kubrick’s epic SPARTACUS (1960), then Hitchcock came a-calling with PSYCHO. Gavin was Sam Loomis, lover of Janet Leigh’s doomed Marion Crane, who along with Vera Miles’ Lila Crane tries to find out where the missing Marion is, leading them to the run-down Bates Motel and Anthony Perkins’s looney Norman Bates. Gavin doesn’t really have a lot to do but look good, but the role of Sam is crucial to the plot and the film’s shocking conclusion.
Major stardom eluded Gavin, though he did keep busy with films here and abroad, television, and the stage. He was president of the Screen Actor’s Guild from 1971-73, and in 1981 accepted the position of Ambassador to Mexico from President Ronald Reagan , a post he held until 1986. Gavin then embarked on a business career, leaving Hollywood behind for good. But for one brief, shining moment, John Gavin was James Bond, if only on paper. I wonder what it would have been like if Saltzman and Broccoli had gone through with their plan, and let an American actor play Agent 007. Alas, the world will never know. Rest in peace, John Gavin.