||SEARCH FOR THE SAINT
Casting Roger Moore as The Saint wasn't what author Leslie Charteris had in mind.
Of his hero, Simon Templar, Leslie Charteris, creator of 'The Saint' claimed that he was trying to make a picture of a man. 'Changing...developing...a roaring adventurer who loves a fight...a dashing dare-devil, imperturbable, debonair, preposterously handsome."
Simon Templar was without doubt a character firmly placed in a more innocent age where a gentleman was expected to be all these things and more. Created when Leslie Charteris was a university student at Cambridge, one could hardly see the man Charteris described as "a pirate or philanthropist as the occasion demands" really having much credibility in today's day and age, as has in fact been proved by two ill-fated attempts at reviving the series and a ham-fisted attempt at a full length feature film, proof if ever it was needed that once you've made the definitive version...it's best to leave well alone.
"He lives for the pursuit of excitement...for the one triumphant moment that is his alone." -Leslie Charteris (1962).
Following Louis Hayward's portrayal of Simon Templar in The Saint's 1938 cinema debut (eight years after he'd first appeared in print) in the RKO production of The Saint In New York, a good many producers and stars had tried to get Charteris to sell the TV rights, but he continued to refuse all offers. Although the movies always seemed dull and relatively slow, missing the true essence of the character, the books had, by 1962 sold somewhere in the region of 22 million copies. There had been over three dozen "Saint" novels and hundreds of short stories. The character had also featured on radio shows and in newspaper strips. Charteris himself had made several attempts to bring his creation to the small screen and his own choice of lead was David Niven. But these plans never reached fruition, and so it was in 1962 that Producer's Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman bought the rights for 26 one-hour episodes, with a promise of overseas sales from Lew Grade, then head of ATV and the man with the golden touch when it came to making transatlantic money-spinners.
Looking to sell the show overseas before it had even gone in front of the cameras, Grade offered the part to Patrick McGoohan, already a hit in his own series, Danger Man, which had also gone down well in the USA. However, McGoohan, a deeply religious man, disproved of the Saint characters womanising, and turned it down. Roger Moore, however, had no such qualms about the character, indeed he'd even tried to buy the television rights himself at one stage. The actor seemed to fit the bill perfectly even as far as the producers were concerned having previously taken the lead in the adventure series Ivanhoe and more crucially in being known to a US audience for his appearances in the TV Western, Maverick. However, the actor himself would look back on those roles with little fondness. "I felt like a complete Charlie riding around in all that armour and that plumed helmet, like a mediaeval fireman!" As for Maverick; "I can't stand the noise of guns going off, I hate wearing cowboy boots and my gun bruised my side." When it was announced in May of 1962 that he had landed the part of Simon Templar the actor must have thought he'd really found his niche.
However, it would appear that Charteris was none too happy with the choice. As Roger Moore admitted himself, "When Leslie Charteris heard that I had been cast for the part he is reported to have made a beeline to the nearest bar, ordered the most exotic-sounding drink that came to mind, and tried hard to forget that such a diabolical thing had happened to him."
It's difficult to see what the author's objections were. He had described Templar as lean and very tall, with a deceptively lazy manner and voice to match. One would have thought a perfect description of Moore. However, a useful insight into his way of thinking comes from a May 1960 issue of a US publication The Saint Mystery Magazine in which Charteris writes; "I shall now state again, once and for all, that the Saint could have been superbly played, albeit in different styles, by such actors as Ronald Colman, Cary Grant, or Doug Fairbanks Jr. and if this is my conception of the role, it should be obvious that such totally different types as Louis Hayward and George Sanders were hopelessly miscast. How Felix Marten, the French actor who has just finished the first all-French Saint picture, will turn out, I'm now waiting to see. In due course I shall tell you what I think, and this is one subject on which all other opinions are predestined for the wastebasket. I can be wrong about lots of things; but on all matters concerning Simon Templar I can cheerfully proclaim myself the one and only infallible incontrovertible expert on earth. And this I shall continue to maintain, so help me."
But objections or none, the producers now had the rights to 110 stories from which to choose their initial 26 episodes with the proviso that only Charteris's own stories could be used. Eventually the author came round, admitting that Moore, the tenth actor to play The Saint, was actually a lot less unlike Simon Templar than he had at first anticipated. As Moore said, "He admitted he rather enjoyed the productions. He even agreed to be photographed with me, which was the final gesture of acceptance."
Charteris, born Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin in Singapore on May 12, 1907, (he legally changed his name by deed-poll to Leslie Charteris in 1926), was the son a wealthy Chinese surgeon, (a direct descendant of the emperors of China during the Shang dynasty), and an English Mother. He died in Windsor, England on 15th April 1993, aged 85 years. A dashingly handsome man himself, Charteris no doubt based his famous character in his own mould and whatever reservations he may have had of the casting for the TV series, the incontrovertible proof was that in the elegant form of Roger Moore the character of Simon Templar had been granted the perfect celluloid embodiment, ably attested to by the sheer endurance and near iconic status bestowed upon this incarnation in the hearts and mind of the viewing public world-wide.
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