“Young, beautiful, trapped, could be dangerous” is how the trailer of Thunderball introduced Claudine Auger to mainstream movie audiences.
A classically trained actress fluent in several languages like Yvonne Furneaux, but also a Miss World runner-up, she’s instantly recognisable for the mole she sports below her right lip. As Sophie Schulte-Hillen points out in The 9 Greatest Beauty Marks of All Time, From Cindy Crawford to Madonna, “The inexplicable magnetism of a well-placed beauty mark, of course, has been a phenomenon throughout history.”
Claudine Auger was the first French actress to be cast as a Bond girl, years ahead of Corinne Cléry (Moonraker, 1979), Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only, 1981), Sophie Marceau (The World Is Not Enough, 1999), Eva Green (Casino Royale, 2006) and Léa Seydoux (Spectre, 2015).
Claudine’s career spanned almost four decades and, according to IMDb, encompassed 80 film and TV appearances. But Thunderball is what she’s remembered for.
Thunderball is based on a novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. We’ll let him introduce Domino, the character played by Claudine Auger in the movie version:
She had a gay, to-hell-with-you face that, Bond thought, would become animal in passion. In bed she would fight and bite and then suddenly melt into hot surrender. He could almost see the proud, sensual mouth bear away from the even white teeth in a snarl of desire and then, afterward, soften into a half pout of loving slavery. In profile, the eyes were charcoal slits … fierce and direct with a golden flicker in the dark brown hair that held much the same message as the mouth … a soft, muddled Brigitte Bardot haircut … the sunburn was not overdone … her breasts, high and riding and deeply V-ed.… The general impression, Bond decided, was of a willful, high-tempered, sensual girl…
So, gorgeous, wild and waiting to be tamed by the (implicitly) superior Bond. Pure, deranged sixties male fantasy. In your (wet) dreams, Mr Fleming.
Domino is the most complex and demanding female role to date in a Bond movie. Needless to say, the part, which is central to the plot, requires an exceptionally beautiful and talented actress, and no doubt the production team has the time of their life initiating a worldwide talent search and auditioning candidates. They show admirable devotion to the job by considering 100, perhaps as many as 150 candidates according to Luciana Paluzzi.
First to be offered the role is Faye Dunaway, but on the advice of her agent she decides instead to accept the role of Sandy in Elliot Silverstein’s crime comedy The Happening (1967).
Next up is Raquel Welch. Not surprisingly, Harry Saltzman, founder of EON Productions, who own the film rights, can’t forget a photo of the bikini-clad actress that featured in the October 2, 1964 issue of LIFE magazine. She’s the first to be offered the role of Domino but there’s a problem. Richard Zanuck, one of Darryl Zanuck’s sons and studio head at Twentieth Century Fox, wants her for their upcoming sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage (1966). He knows Salzman’s partner, Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, and persuades him to release Raquel from her contract as a favour to him.
On paper, Julie Christie seems like a promising candidate but apparently she flunks her interview, turning up dishevelled and nervous; plus Albert Broccoli is disappointed that she doesn’t have bigger tits. Other shortlisted lovelies include Luciana Paluzzi, Yvonne Monlaur, Marisa Menzies, Gloria Paul and Maria Buccella.
So how does the relatively unknown Claudine Auger get involved? Putting together different versions of the story from different sources, this seems to be how things worked out…
She’s on holiday in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, at the same time as the crew who are preparing to film Thunderball. She enjoys swimming underwater and one day, by happy coincidence, she surfaces at the same time as and near to the film’s producer, Kevin McClory. He appreciates her potential and makes sure he has her contact details.
Claudine returns to Paris where she’s a member of the Théâtre National Populaire. As she explains to Photoplay magazine in 1965, she gets a call from London asking if she would like to audition for a role in Thunderball. The theatre director refuses to give her time off so she arranges a day-trip to London, enabling her to be back in Paris the same night. Result! Movie director Terence Young calls her a few days later to offer her the role. She has the blend of innocence and sex appeal he is looking for. Once again the theatre director proves intransigent. So Claudine ups sticks and heads off to join Thunderball’s cast and crew.
The 15 March 1965 edition of the Herald Express reports that:
Filming of 007’s latest tussle with the international crime syndicate Spectre began this month and after four weeks of interior work at Pinewood the 82-strong production unit will fly to Nassau by chartered aircraft. I gather that Nassau luxury hotels and beach clubs will figure prominently in the plot. So will 22-year-old auburn-haired Claudine Auger, Miss France of 1952–59, who is said to have learned excellent English when she was a teenage au pair girl in London.
Originally, the idea has been for Domino to be Italian. Now the screenplay is modified to make her French and Claudine is given a series of English lessons to prepare her for her part. Well, that’s a waste of time. Although her English proves to be more than satisfactory, it’s subsequently decided that her voice is too low. So in the end her voice is dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, who dubbed Ursula Andress’s character, Honey Rider, in Dr No.
In an interview in a December 1965 issue of the New York Daily News, Claudine talks about the extensive underwater shooting for the film:
…I was never frightened of it. I took to it like a fish. It’s beautiful down there and peaceful and I get a sense of freedom I don’t get on land or in the air. One has to be more careful skin diving in the Caribbean than in the Mediterranean because of sharks … close to shore there are lazy sharks and we were assured they wouldn’t attack us if we remained calm. Fortunately, I didn’t meet one to test my nerve.
Filming, especially around Nassau, is a joy, as Martine Beswick recalls:
The best of the best was at our disposal. I remember our dressing rooms when we were working on the streets for the carnival scenes –they rented a yacht on which we would go between takes. When we had to work on a beach, they would have tents, champagne would be there and the best of wine. That was Terence [Young], that was his style, that was the way things were done.
The rest is history. Claudine displays her charms in a succession of fetching bikinis, which she apparently helps to design. And Thunderball goes on to be the box office hit of 1965 as well as winning an Academy Award for its special effects.
Claudine Auger pre-Thunderball
Claudine Auger is born in 1942 in German-occupied Paris. As she grows up, she experiences, first-hand, life in Paris after World War II, first at school, then at the Conservatoire national supérieur d’art dramatique, France’s national drama academy. There she learns to act, playing a variety of roles, her repertoire including classical plays by the likes of Racine and Molière.
Looking back in 1965 to those days, she remembers in an interview in the New York Journal-American that “When I was 13 I wasn’t very pretty. I was slim, how you say, like a matchstick…”
Claudine turns out to be a quick developer. In no time she becomes a model and in 1957 she’s named Miss Cinémonde by the movie magazine. In 1958, still just 16 years old, as Miss France she represents her country at the Miss World pageant and is voted runner up. It proves to be a turning point in her personal and professional lives, as she explains in an interview with an Associated Press journalist in 1966:
I had just won the ‘Miss France’ contest with all its publicity and one of the prizes was a role in one of Pierre’s pictures, it was love at first sight.
The movie in question is Christine, which stars Romy Schneider and Alain Delon. Claudine’s small part is uncredited. But it’s a start, and the following year she marries the film’s director, Pierre Gaspard-Huit, 25 years her senior. Apparently Claudine, like Domino, is partial to older men! He will go on to give her roles in several of his films, including a costume drama, Le Masque de fer (The Iron Mask, 1962), and an epic adventure, Kali Yug, La Dea Della Vendetta (The Vengeance of Kali, 1963).
But before then, her arthouse career begins and ends when she catches the eye of avant-garde film director Jean Cocteau, who casts her in the illustrious company of Yul Brynner, Charles Aznavour, Brigitte Bardot and Pablo Picasso in Le Testament D’Orphée (1960).
In all, she makes 15 film and TV appearances before Thunderball.
Claudine Auger post-Thunderball
Claudine hopes that Thunderball will enable her to break through into US movies. With that in mind she poses for a shoot in Playboy magazine and makes a guest appearance on US TV in a Bob Hope special. But it’s not to be. She fails to make an impact on Hollywood in spite of being in demand in Europe and the UK.
Building on her success in Thunderball, she appears in a number of adventure films. The plot of L’homme de Marrakech (1966) revolves around a heist. Triple Cross (1966) is a Word War II spy saga starring Christopher Plummer and Yul Brynner.
Among her many subsequent credits are two movies featuring other Bond girls: Ursula Andress in Le dolci signore (Anyone Can Play, 1967), and Barbara Bach and Barbara Bouchet in La tarantola dal ventre nero (Black Belly of the Tarantula, 1971), one of a number of giallos in which she appears.
It’s testament to Claudine Auger’s acting abilities that, with the passing of her youth, she continues to play mature character roles right up to the mid-1990s.
She divorces Pierre Gaspard-Huit in 1969 and remarries in 1984. She gives birth to her first and only child in 1991 at age 49, and she remains with her second husband, businessman Peter Brent, until his death in 2008. Claudine Auger passes away in 2019.
Want to know more about Claudine Auger?
Fuller accounts are available in online extracts from two books: Film Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, 1962-1973 by Tom Lisanti and Louis Paul; and Deadlier Than the Male: Femme Fatales in 1960s and 1970s Cinema by Douglas Brode.
Most of Claudine’s obituaries are cursory affairs. The most ambitious was published by The James Bond Fan Club, A Woman of the Nuclear Age: Claudine Auger (1941-2019).
I was hoping to find a few interviews with Claudine Auger in The British Newspaper Archive and The Times Archive but the pickings were disappointingly thin. If you’re just looking for pictures, you could head for Claudine Auger’s Facebook page.
On the other hand, there’s lots of information out there about Thunderball. IMDb has quantities of Trivia and on YouTube there’s a fascinating 35-minute documentary narrated by Patrick Macnee (Steed in sixties cult classic TV series, The Avengers), Behind the scenes with THUNDERBALL part 1. The title is misleading. This is actually two documentaries run together. The second, which starts at 28:10, covers Bond’s life up to the point where he becomes 007, some observations by Ian Fleming and a brief profile of director Terence Young and his contribution to James Bond’s onscreen persona.