Whether as James Bond or as Roger Moore, Roger could always be relied upon to help a lady in distress. I treasure a scene he played as he escorted Native American activist Sacheen Littlfeather to the wings of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage following her appearance apparently to accept (but as it turned out, decline) Marlon Brando’s Best Actor statuette at the 1973 Academy Awards.
It was a bit tense since there had been audience boos, but she had completed her task graciously and courageously. Roger considerately had a reassuring hand at her elbow, but she was steady, having served Brando’s purpose and that of the plight of Native Americans with dignity. I had gone to meet Roger in the stage right wings, near the elevators which rose to the press rooms above.
Roger was long a client of my and my late partner Jerry Pam’s PR firm. A dozen or so members of the PR branch of the Academy watched the show in a holding room and divided up taking the winners and presenters up to the deadline press photo rooms and then to press conference in the electronic media and print press rooms. Because Roger was a client (as were Michael Caine and virtually every actor with a British accent since Jerry was Brit to the bone), this one was mine. As Ms. Littlefeather caught her breath, Roger and I discussed the alternatives and decided that there was no function for him in the press rooms. He and Liv Ullmann were presenters who very expressly had not presented. The Oscar was somewhere else, and his presence with Ms. Littlefeather in photos would only scramble the meaning of this moment in Oscar history. He would head to his seat. And, so, he wished her well in completing her task. Roger really had a way and a smile to put people at their ease.
It was at this moment that fate and Academy’s schedule of events for the evening interceded in the form of a six foot six security guy, who saw two other guys who were about to screw up the Academy’s stated (it was right there on the time-line sheet that he flashed us) plans for the evening. He grabbed my upper arm because I looked suspiciously like the troublemaker and I was pointing Ms. Littlefeather toward that elevator.
Let me explain first that Roger was always a friend in need and a friend indeed. Jerry and I had just started handling Sidney Sheldon’s first novel, “The Naked Face,” because his debut in the book world simply hadn’t taken off like Sidney’s Oscar-winning screenwriting career had. Jerry and I had devised a plan to announce that Roger Moore, the screen’s reigning 007, was acquiring the book for his own production company. “And how much am I acquiring it for?” Roger inquired, not that he didn’t trust us. “Nothing,” Jerry replied, “acquired can be done without any financial obligation.” Roger, with his great sense of why-not?, was game. The beauty of it was that having his first book about to be made by the contemporaneous James Bond gave Sidney a good running start on PR for his second book which turned out to be the biggest worldwide bestseller in decades, “The Other Side of Midnight.” Sidney’s sudden ownership of the bestseller lists put a lot of cred into Roger’s “acquisition” of the now number one author’s prior page-turner. Eventually with all of these positive forces interacting, Roger actually went ahead and made that film. That’s how publicity hustle does make the world go ‘round. Roger did it as nutty favor for two friends, which I suppose he did a lot in his life. Sir Roger and Sir Michael (their knighthoods still to come) co-hosted many crucial charity fund-raisers Guttman & Pam produced. Roger’s ready compassion benefited a lot of people including millions of third world kids he helped in his long and devoted years as UNICEF Ambassador. He did it all with such style and humor, the qualities which imbued and distinguished his Bond. We’re talking a guy with natural grace and lavish humor.
So, getting back to the stage right wings of the Dorothy Chandler, suddenly there’s this not-so-friendly-or-jolly tuxedoed giant challenging our plan to get Brando’s surrogate to and through the high-energy press rooms which lay immediately ahead. “She’s gotta stay here,” this fellow commands. His reason for the gotta is that it is planned that all of the winners will gather on stage at the finale to sing “God Bless America” in a tribute to John Ford. Roger and I explain to him that while it’s true that John Ford is very possibly the greatest director (and arguably most humane) who ever held a megaphone, it is also true that in his films he has probably killed more Native Americans than George Custer. This is not computing for this guy, who is trying to herd us back to the stage. “She’s not an Oscar winner,” Roger emphasizes, “do you see her holding any trophy?” “Yeah, but she made a speech,” the guy insists. “Yes,” Roger says, almost at smile’s end, “and did you HEAR that speech?” “A speech is a speech.” One thing the gods of the stage have is good timing. Suddenly a flat (a piece of scenery) is knocked over somewhere, and our security guy turns to see what the problem is, possibly also needing his alert devotion to duty. Roger gives me a nod, and Ms. Littlefeather and I take off for the elevator. The security guy turns and immediately espies this act of civil disobedience. He makes a move toward the elevator, but Roger... obviously trying to get out of his way... manages to stumble into it. From the elevator, so slow to close, we watch Roger and this guy doing what looks like a samba on the cable-crossed floor. Finally, the guy breaks free and runs toward us yelling, I swear to God, “Where you taking that Indian?” Behind him, as the doors slide slowly shut, we see Roger smiling and giving us a gentle wave of bon voyage.
Bon voyage, Roger.