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Roger Moore was always fond of a wry joke, usually at his own expense. The veteran British screen star, whose death at 89 was announced Tuesday, liked to claim that his acting skills boiled down to three expressions: eyebrow up, eyebrow down and both eyebrows at the same time. This perpetual air of self-deprecating wit came to define his mature screen persona, and arguably damaged his career following his record-breaking 12-year run as James Bond. But it made Moore a better actor than his harshest critics might claim, and was an essential part of his charm.
Moore wafted onto a movie set like he had just walked off a yacht. For much of his career, he exuded an air of unflappable, patrician, old-school-tie Englishness, which belied his modest upbringing as the only child of a policeman and a homemaker raised in one of South London’s poorer districts. He learned youthful lessons in poise from an older generation of well-groomed smoothies, notably his early screen idol Stewart Granger, and from the legendary Noel Coward, who smartly advised the ambitious young actor to accept any and every role that came along.
A sometime model before his acting career took off, Moore was a strikingly beautiful young man, which did not always work in his favor. He once claimed, “I was so pretty, actresses didn’t want to work with me.” More seriously, after moving to Hollywood and signing his first studio contract in 1954, his polished English manner appeared dated and lightweight just as new kind of rugged, raw, Method-era masculinity was revolutionizing American cinema.
Moore’s early film roles were scrappy and undistinguished, but he eventually found his talents more suited to small-screen serials like The Alaskans, Maverick and his career-making breakthrough role as crime-fighting antihero Simon Templar on The Saint. Running for six seasons between 1962 and 1969, The Saint was a London-set star vehicle that fitted Moore’s starchy Englishness and limited acting repertoire like a well-tailored Savile Row suit. The show was syndicated to 60 countries and made more than £350 million ($450 million) for its production company, ITC.
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