Fifty years ago Ian Fleming’s James Bond was a brand new franchise for MGM. Sean Connery is, in my humble opinion, the best Bond of them all and not just because he was the first. He was debonaire, cool and (true to the novels and the time period) a complete and total sexist pig. Now, I’m not advocating for sexist pigs and I’m certainly not glorifying the objectification of beautiful women. But in 1964 when GOLDFINGER was made the Mad Men sensibilities were very much in full swing and Bond personified for many men (if you had money, looks and opportunity) how a playboy conducted himself. And for Goldfinger, the producers spared no expense surrounding their star spy with a small army of beautiful females, the most memorable of which was British Actress Shirley Eaton.
Shirley was a beautiful actress with a stunning face and physique. She personified what would become universally-known at a Bond Girl: a surefire ticket to Hollywood stardom if there ever was one. However, fifty-years ago being a Bond Girl didn’t necessarily hold the weight it does today. Ursula Andres will always hold a place in Bond lore as the first Bond Girl. But it wasn’t ’til Shirley that “Bond Girl” became ubiquitous with sex symbol akin to the “It Girl” moniker bestowed the original Vamp, Theda Bara (other film historians would later wrongly attribute the first-occurrence of the term to Clara Bow).
Both Ursula and Shirley were beautiful, Nordic-looking blondes who weren’t shy about showing off their svelte, athletic bodies. But only one of them was to cement her iconic status as a Bond Girl by being covered (literally) in gold paint. Yes, that’s right, folks. Anybody who hasn’t seen Goldfinger can’t truly appreciate what painting an already beautiful woman from head to toe in metallic gold paint will do to overload a man’s senses. The visual effect was so mesmerizing that Shirley Eaton quickly became the single most iconic image of a goddess captured on film since Greta Garbo. Ironically, MGM had covered Garbo in Silver Make-Up #1 (a formula specifically created for her by Max Factor) to make her ultra-luminous in her silent era movies. So much so that Garbo became the technical center of her movies; everything was lit to look dim in comparison to her glowing face.
For Goldfinger, the producers took every precaution to ensure that Shirley would not asphyxiate under the heavy coat of body-paint. If you look closely at the production shot above, you’ll see that the actress’s stomach was not covered in paint because she would be lying face down when Bond finds her in the big reveal shot (below). You see, in the movie the evil Goldfinger dipped poor Shirley in real gold as a fun, inventive way to off her. Sure to piss off Bond and lead to a climactic, final battle to avenge Bond lovely sex object. The resulting effect was movie magic of the tallest order and images from the scene were splattered in magazines and newspapers throughout the world – making Shirley a star overnight.
In 1964, the American censors were having heart palpitations over the naked body covered in nothing but body paint. That’s when it was decided that Shirley’s bum needed to be covered. The British censors had no such puritanical queasiness. They were much more upset over the exceedingly violent storyline. That said, the English did take exception to the name of another female character in the film – the one played by actress Honor Blackman called “Pussy Galore”. They were adamant that the character be renamed “Kitty Galore” except for one fortuitous day when none other than Prince Philip visiting the British-based set and had a photo op with the young actress. When the photo hit the English newspapers the caption read “Puss and Prince”. After that, the name stuck and the censors backed down.
Shirley’s star rose quickly after the release of Goldfinger but for the most part her movie roles were relegated to the sexpot, cheesecake variety that is typical of the time period. But so what? Her role as the Golden Girl of the Movies was secured and even though watching Goldfinger today is by most accounts a quaint affair – seeing beautiful Shirley lying on a white silk bed covered in gold still has the visual punch to wake the most tired libido. She evokes the stirrings one would imagine the goddesses down through the ages have done in oil paint, marble and stone. Maybe the makers of Bond were just reducing Shirley to a sex symbol, one that appealed to even the lowest common denominator. But I like to think that the result, whether intended or not, subconscious or conscious – was for a brief second raised to object d’art; a living, breathing, life-size work of art. One that is held in the mind long after the original context has fallen away.
Then again, maybe it is mostly about sex and objectifying a beautiful woman by spraying her with body-paint. Either way, I’ll never forget the first time I saw Shirley Eaton on my family’s 12-inch Sony Color TV. I think I was about 8-years old when Goldfinger was replayed as the Saturday Night Movie and my three brothers and I fought for position in front of the tiny screen. And then there she was in all her golden-goddess glory, beamed into our little suburban home and imprinted on my frontal lobes forever. Long before I knew what sex even meant, I knew what I saw was beautiful and that I liked it…a lot. Miss Eaton left an impression alright – one that remains vivid to this day as a movie moment so iconic as to be pure gold.
And I’m glad to say Shirley is still with us to this day! You can visit her on her fan website at http://www.shirleyeaton.net
Don’t forget to drop her a line and tell her what her most famous movie role meant to you!