The BBC is reporting the death of Linda Christian, the actress who played James Bond’s love interest in 1954’s TV adaptation of Casino Royale, and thus (Ursula Andress’ claims to the title aside) could be called the first-ever “Bond girl.” Christian died at the age of 87 after suffering from colon cancer.
Christian was born to wealthy, world-travelling parents, beginning a charmed youth that transformed into a profession when she caught the eye of Errol Flynn in her teenage years, relocated to Hollywood, and soon signed a contract with MGM. Her early films included the Danny Kaye musical Up In Arms and Johnny Weismuller’s final Tarzan film, Tarzan And The Mermaids, but she became most famous in the 1950s for her marriage to swashbuckling star Tyrone Power. The couple’s lavish wedding in Rome was a huge spectacle, one that Italian film historians say inspired visiting MGM executives to shoot their upcoming Quo Vadis at the city’s Cinecittá Studios, thus sparking the “golden age of Italian cinema.” Unfortunately, even with the Pope’s personal blessing, Christian and Power’s marriage was short-lived (although it did produce both singer Romina Power and actress Taryn Power). It also failed to do anything for their respective careers as, for whatever reason, they repeatedly turned down the chance to work together on screen, including rejecting the starring roles in From Here To Eternity.
The film that cemented her place in Bond history, Casino Royale, was part of the CBS anthology series Climax!, and starred Barry Nelson as Secret Agent “Jimmy Bond” and Peter Lorre as his antagonist, Le Chiffre. The conflation of various characters in the Americanized adaptation resulted in Christian’s role as Bond’s former lover, “Vesper Lynd,” being rechristened “Valerie Mathis,” though otherwise much of Ian Fleming’s novel remained intact. You can check it out for yourself thanks to YouTube:
Christian divorced Tyrone Power in 1956, and her career suffered ever after—not least due to her relationships with various married men like her Athena co-star Edmund Purdom. In 1957, she was photographed kissing the (also married) Spanish racing driver Alfonso de Portago moments before he crashed, killing himself and 10 spectators; the famous image was soon plastered across tabloids throughout the world as “The Kiss Of Death.” Despite thus being overshadowed by her often-controversial personal life, Chrsitian managed to score a few other notable films and TV shows, including joining fellow famous adulterers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The VIPs, and starring as a scheming casino girl in a memorable episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Christian left showbiz behind in the late 1960s, but returned to finish out her career in several Italian productions. Her last was the 1988 TV movie Cambiamento d’aria.