Director Edgar Wright announced last night that iconic Bond actress and visual artist Margaret Nolan has died, aged 76. Wright – who worked with Nolan on his upcoming film Last Night in Soho – said that Nolan was at the centre of a venn diagram of “everything that was cool” in the Sixties: “Having appeared with the Beatles, been beyond iconic in Bond and been part of the Carry On cast too.”
It’s her small but significant role in Goldfinger for which Nolan is best known; a literally golden cinematic legacy. Shirley Eaton played the role of Jill Masterson, the (inevitably) tragic Bond girl killed by gold paint (official cause of death: "skin suffocation"). But it was Margaret Nolan whose painted body appeared in the film’s opening titles and posters.
Indeed, if Goldfinger was the film that created the formula that defined every subsequent Bond film – defined either by or against it – Margaret Nolan was its glimmering centrepiece. Goldfinger, the definitive Bond film, was sold on Margaret Nolan's image.
Born in Hampstead in 1943, Nolan had intended to become a teacher, but was persuaded to act by her first husband, Tom Kempinski, who was an actor himself. After a year of glamour modelling, under the name Vicky Kennedy, Nolan landed her first TV role in 1963, playing alongside future 007 Roger Moore in The Saint. In 1964, she made a small appearance in The Beatles’ debut film, A Hard Day’s Night. Goldfinger was released later that same year.
Nolan was just 20 years old when she was cast for the title sequence. Producers wanted Nolan for her body. She agreed but shrewdly negotiated a small acting role too, playing Bond’s masseuse Dink. Not only is Nolan remembered for the iconic titles, but as recipient of old school Bond’s everyday sexism.
After relaxing at a Miami poolside, Sean Connery’s Bond shoos her away like a child as Felix Leiter turns up. “Man talk,” Bond tells Dink, and slaps her on the backside. “It was sexist but that’s how things were back then, I came to expect it,” Nolan told Mi6 Confidential magazine in 2014. “Thank goodness things have moved on somewhat.”
The title sequence was designed by Robert Brownjohn – known as BJ – who had also designed the From Russia with Love titles, which projected colourful text onto the body of a belly dancer. For Goldfinger, he experimented by projecting scenes from the films onto Nolan, who was painted gold and wearing just a gold bikini.
“I wanted now to try projecting moving pictures onto a still figure while the camera tracked and panned,” said Brownjohn. “The girl became, in effect, a three-dimensional gold screen with running figures, explosions and fight sequences moving across her body. The actual images I projected were scenes from all three Bond films and they formed a sort of moving collage.”
Speaking in Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury’s book Some Kind of Hero, Nolan recalled: “I had to be painted all over with a sponge. I had a bikini on. I was never nude. The whole thing was totally professional. It went on for over a week. Lying and sitting on this big bench. I couldn’t see what they were projecting on me at all.”
Images include Gert Frobe as Goldfinger on Nolan’s actual gold fingers; the revolving car licence plates over her mouth; sex panther Sean Connery brooding across her face; Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore on Nolan's midriff; and Bond’s golf ball disappearing down her cleavage. The production manager Trevor Bond later said: “The golf ball going down the cleavage is pure BJ.” Cinematographer David Watkins said that Brownjohn was “like an excited child, taking alternately one colour of pills for up and another for down from a Georgian silver snuff box. He was continually exhorting the crew to get a move on.”
Shirley Eaton, painted gold for the film itself, became the subject of a wacky urban legend: that she had actually died from being covered in the gold paint. In fact, Eaton had retired from acting in the Sixties.
For Margaret Nolan, Goldfinger was hugely lucrative (“I’d never earned so much money in my life,” she said in a 2007 interview). She also shot more publicity material – including the record and book covers – but pulled out of a two-year deal to publicise Goldfinger. “They were quite pissed off because they’d already spent loads of money on me,” she recalled.
Nolan explained that she pulled out for various reasons: she would have to leave her husband behind and tour the world for two years; and she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. Nolan worried she wouldn't “live down” the sexy gold Bond girl image. She later admitted that she never lived it down anyway – she continued to get Bond fan mail decades later. “I might as well just have done it,” Nolan said about the publicity tour. “But I’d probably have ended up marrying some awful big American movie guy and have been pissed off. I’ve had a more interesting life, probably.”
Margaret Nolan also worked extensively in the theatre, from the West End to political fringe theatre. She also had an interesting mix of film and TV roles – both serious and hilarious – including Armchair Theatre, Witchfinder General, The Sweeney, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, and Steptoe and Son (interestingly, her appearance in A Hard Day’s Night had been sat alongside old man Steptoe himself, Wilfrid Brambell).
After her iconic Bond role, Nolan is best known for playing up to her saucepot image with appearances in six Carry On films: Carry On Cowboy, Carry On Henry, Carry On at Your Convenience, Carry On Matron, Carry On Girls, and Carry On Dick.
Nolan enjoyed making the Carry Ons but had all-but disowned them because of how the producers stiffed the cast with measly payoffs. “I want nothing to do with them. Absolutely nothing,” she told Den of Geek about the films. “They were such bastards, the Carry On people [...] I’ve got stories about the Carry On films that you just would not believe [...] They were good fun though, and I loved doing them.”
Nolan retired from acting in 1986 and moved to the Spanish countryside in the early Nineties (though she returned to acting for 2011's The Power of Three). She became interested in permaculture and photomontage art, which she created by cutting up her own portraits. The portraits were taken earlier in her career; she had previously used them to send out with letters to score acting jobs.
“The idea was really to just look beautiful… and passive, the way men liked you to look,” she said about the original portraits. The photomontages were a knowing commentary on her own sex siren image (“I do sort of take the piss out of it,” she said) and how women were presented to and by men. Manipulating her own cinematic beauty, Nolan gave an insight into how astute she was with it.
“That’s why I made some of them quite grotesque, really,” she said about the photomontages. “I was there as this passive woman, being looked at, but behind it all, behind my eyes, of course I knew what was going on.”