Tribute Lois Maxwell, better known as Miss Moneypenny from 14 James Bond films, was a perfect foil to the suave super spy — smart, sassy and always ready with the perfect comeback
In 1949, eight young women posed for a picture for Life magazine. One of them was Norma Jeane who changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and was wooed by the arc lights, kings, courtiers and warriors before succumbing to a fatal cocktail of success, depression and drugs. There was another young lady, Lois Hooker, who also changed her name to Lois Maxwell and became known world over as Moneypenny, secretary to spymaster M, who was boss to everyone’s favourite spy, the super suave James Bond.
Maxwell, who was born in Ontario, Canada, on Valentine’s Day in 1927 died from a combination of lung and vascular disease on September 29, 2007. She started her career in the entertainment business without her parents’ knowledge in a children’s radio show. She left for England before she turned 15 with the Canadian Army’s entertainment corps. She joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where she met Roger Moore with who she formed a lasting friendship.
Maxwell made her movie debut in Warner Brother’s “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946) where she was uncredited.
This was followed by “That Hagen Girl” (1947) for which she won the Golden Globe for most promising newcomer. This is no mean achievement considering her co-stars included Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple
The role of Miss Moneypenny came to Maxwell at an opportune moment. Married to British television executive Peter Marriot, who developed a heart problem, Maxwell is quoted as telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “I had a husband who was desperately ill, with two small children and no money, so I called producers I had worked with before and said ‘help me’.”
The role of Moneypenny has an interesting genesis. The James Bond films were approached as a franchise with a host of recurring characters. With James Bond, there would also be the armourer, John Boothroyd, better known as the quartermaster or Q, the boss, Admiral Miles Messervy or M, the boss’s secretary, Miss Jane Moneypenny, the opposite number in the CIA, Felix Leiter, and the amorous Sylvia Trench whose advances on 007 are repeatedly thwarted by the call of duty.
When director Terence Young auditioned Maxwell for the part of Sylvia, he said: “We tested another girl and quite frankly she smells of sex and you look as though you smell of soap.” And so Maxwell became Moneypenny but had the last laugh as Sylvia appeared in only one other James Bond film – “From Russia With Love” while Maxwell appeared 14 movies second only to Desmond Llewelyn’s Q in 17 films.
In an interview, Maxwell said she asked Young to be allowed to give the character “a background” and that Young should not “put my hair in a bun and horn-rimmed glasses on me.” The back story explains the verbal jousting between Bond and Moneypenny.
Maxwell who started to play Moneypenny when she was 35 in Dr. No (1962) played her last outing as the super-competent (“coolly efficient” as critics put it) secretary in “A View to a Kill” at the age of 58. The movie was also Sir Roger Moore’s final outing as the spy with a licence to thrill, in the franchise which was beginning to look a little frayed on the edges. The Timothy Dalton movies featured an uninspiring Caroline Bliss while the Pierce Brosnan movies featured a millennial Samantha Bond as the secretary.
But it was Maxwell who set the template for all the smart one liners and in a way was the perfect foil for Bond. She is the definitive Bond babe – who else would have told Bond: “Flattery will get you nowhere. But don’t stop trying.”