As a boy, Sean Connery dreamed of escaping the confines of his working-class neighborhood of Fountainbridge in Edinborough, Scotland. However, after a brief stint in the Navy, 19-year-old Connery returned to his childhood home, and began working in a cabinet factory, polishing various types of furniture. But because of his interest in bodybuilding and subsequent entry into the Mr. Universe contest, Connery’s life took an unexpected turn when he was offered a minor role in the touring company of the musical, South Pacific.
It was also during this time that he struck up a friendship with actor Robert Henderson, who encouraged Connery to work on presentation and public speaking. Henderson suggested books for Connery to read, and eventually, all this practice paid off, landing Connery the job of understudy for several of the roles in the production. It was at this point that he changed his name to Sean, leaving Thomas “Tam” behind.
As South Pacific continued its run, Connery grew into bigger roles, ultimately playing the part of Lt. Buzz Adams. When the show ended, he moved to London and continued to pursue his acting dream. He landed a few small roles, but nothing seemed to break until 1956 when he had roles in two plays and appeared several TV shows.
In 1957, he was signed by an agent, and appeared in his first movie, No Road Back. Then, in a strange twist of fate, Connery was chosen to play the lead in the British television production of Requiem for A Heavyweight when Jack Palance pulled out.
More roles were offered, and Connery appeared in Hell Drivers, Action of the Tigers, and Time Lock, all of which were released in 1957. He also signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. But because of his heavy accent, Fox was unable to use him for anything but bit parts, and, in 1958, loaned him out for a role opposite Lana Turner in the Another Time, Another Place. This movie flopped, and Connery once again returned to television. However, his association with Turner led to some uncomfortable confrontations with people associated with Turner’s boyfriend, the man ultimately murdered by Turner’s daughter.
In 1959, Connery finally landed a lead role in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Although the movie was not a success, it brought Connery a great deal of attention. That same year, he also appeared in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, which featured Gordon Scott in the title role. But after this movie, he walked away from films for few years, returning to Edinburgh to focus once again on theatre. He appeared with Sybill Thorndike in The Seagull, and with Susannah York in a television production of The Crucible.
In 1960, he did several more plays, but was beginning to explore the possibility of returning to film. He starred in The Frightened City, and On the Fiddle, and then returned to TV in Macbeth. He also appeared with Claire Bloom in Vronsky. Connery continued to alternate between theatre, television, and the big screen, appearing in the TV version of Anna Karenina and Without the Grail. Little did he know that the biggest break in his career was right around the corner.
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