Thursday, July 25, 2019

Goodbye, Felix - remembering David Hedison (1927-2019)

The week has started on a sad note for many James Bond fans, and for those who spent entire afternoons watching many TV series. We learnt that, at the age of 92, David Hedison passed away. He was the fifth actor to play Felix Leiter in the James Bond films.

Described by Ian Fleming as “the Texan with whom he had shared so many adventures”, Hedison portrayed this idea perfectly in Live And Let Die and Licence To Kill. With his appearance in Bond 25, Jeffrey Wright will break the record playing the role for the third time after Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but Hedison concluded his life being the only actor who could express that friendly link with James Bond that went beyond work with two different actors that played the same role: Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton.

He was also the one who had to represent one of the tensest moments written by Fleming on his second Bond novel, Live And Let Die, when Leiter is thrown to a pool full of hungry sharks that mutilate two of his extremities, something dramatically adapted in Licence To Kill and the catalyst of 007’s desire of revenge that would take him to resign to the Secret Service to avenge his friend and his wife Della, killed by the assailants that were after him.

A descendant of Armenians, Ara David Hedistian was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on 20 May 1927. He initiated his artistic career under the name Al Hedison on a number of TV series before reaching fame after playing the mutant star of The Fly in 1958. He later had a role in the original 1960 version of The Lost World and in The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965, as he played important roles on TV series of that decade like Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea, playing Captain Crane, and the episode ‘Luella’ of The Saint, forming his first friendship bond with Roger Moore.

After an occasional encounter with director Guy Hamilton, the role of Felix Leiter was proposed to him for Live And Let Die, where his friend would be Bond for the first time. There was instantaneous chemistry: Hedison was the Felix who assisted Bond after a “little problem” (the mysterious and surprising assassination of his chauffeur) and had to tolerate the name-calling of the furious Mr Bleeker when Bond destroyed his aeroplane to evade Kananga’s hitmen. He was also the Felix Leiter who shared a tragic destiny who was similar to those of 007: due to the disgraceful consequences of his profession as a CIA and DEA agent, his wife is killed hours after the wedding.

“He was married once, but it was a long time ago”, he had told Della when she was surprised when Bond disregards references to a possible second marriage in a future.

Stripped of one of his legs, bruised and solace-less, Leiter manages to raise a smile when listening to his friend on the phone to inform him that he’ll recover his job at MI6, even after his rebellious attitude of hunting down drug kingpin Sánchez and his criminal empire without the proper authorization, when the US justice didn’t dare to confront him.

Besides his participation in series like Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels and Perry Mason, Hedison teamed up with his friend Moore in the films North Sea Hijack and The Naked Face. In 2018 he wrote the foreword for the new edition of The 007 Diaries, which the new Bond had written in 1973 and remained out of print for years: “Roger welcomed me into the wonderful fold of his life. He hosted my life for Christmas in Switzerland and summer in the South of France, always eager to share the spoils of his stardom yet never one to act with exception or snobbery,” he said remembering the actor who passed away on 23 May 2017, the day Hedison turned 90.

We just have to hope both of them are enjoying two Sazeracs watching a choir of angels playing a version of that Paul McCartney song that marked a generation and attracted an even bigger audience to that 1973 film, where Bond was turning into the field of comedy but wasn’t becoming less popular just for that. “Where’s your sense of adventure, James? This is Heaven, relax!” he would say.

Those who have met him, like actor Robert Davi, talked about his sympathy and sense of humour. There are others who didn’t share that luck, but it just takes watching a few seconds of any of his performances to perceive that warmth and kindness that went through the screen. He made us feel that, besides being a friend of James Bond, he was almost a friend of ours. Maybe this is why, despite his advanced age, we are still surprised and saddened for his departure.

So long, great man!

Goodbye, Felix.

Nicolás Suszczyk

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