Monday, 8 October 2007

Lois: Peter W's column

This is the Peter Worthington column Lois Maxwell's family, friends, former colleagues and longtime readers of her Moneypenny column did not get to read in the Toronto Sun.

The unpublished 800-word column, written by the Toronto Sun co-founder from the heart as Lois' friend and former colleague, was spiked by the editors last Tuesday. It reads:

"A part of the Toronto Sun died this week with the news that in far off Australia, Lois Maxwell, better known as “Moneypenny” had died at age 80.

For 15 years, Moneypenny wrote a column for the Sun newspapers, and after a shaky start with the entertainment department which didn't always appreciate her, she became a fixture who regularly topped readership polls.

Always down to earth, Moneypenny worried that some seemed to resent her because she was a celebrity and not of the newspaper clan. While unfair, perhaps this was inevitable. Since appearing in 14 James Bond movies, Lois more or less adopted the Moneypenny name as her own, and exploited it to advantage.

To the surprise of us both (I was editor when Moneypenny came to us), Lois and I shared the same birthday, and every February at Valentines Day, when timetables permitted, we’d have a birthday lunch and gossip. Periodically, she would grumble that her colleagues in Entertainment undermined her. As editor, I felt this was a battle that she had to fight, and surely Miss Moneypenny, who could handle 007, shouldn't be intimidated by newspaper mortals.

Moneypenny was born Lois Hooker, from Kitchener (“I’m a hooker,” she’d joke to the unsuspecting). She ran away from home at age 15 to join the women branch of the army – a CWAC (Canadian Women’s Army Corps). Tall (nearly six feet) and beautiful, she was a member of the entertainment team for troops in Europe until her age was discovered. She then enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (1944) where she became a friend of Roger Moore, later to replace Sean Connery in the Bond movies.

Lois and I were of the WWII generation of teenage kids fearful of missing the great adventure, and both did something about it – she more daring that I, who merely joined the navy after trying (and failing) to get in the merchant navy at age 15.

Post-war, Lois tried Hollywood, did radio acting, and when she lived in Italy even tried a stint of race car driving. While she worked as a Sun columnist, she started a business to provide police barriers for crowd control. That was Moneypenny - game for anything, and as a widow was always concerned about her security in old age.

She loved her role as the flirtatious, acid-tongue Moneypenny in the James Bond movies, and became a fixture there until replaced in 1987 by a younger Moneypenny. Lois, supported by both Doug Creighton and me, lobbied that a natural progressing in the Bond movies would be for Moneypenny to be promoted to “M” – head of British Intelligence. To this day, it puzzles me why the movie-makers didn’t go that route. As we movie-goers know, Dame Judy Dench eventually got that role in Casino Royale.

It was always a bit of a shock to many of us at the Sun to realize that “our” Moneypenny had played in so many movies – not just the 007 series. She was in the Lolita movie; played in the Roger Moore Saint series; and in the Bedtime for Bonzo movie with Ronald Reagan that some of his critics cited as a reason why he should never be elected President of the U.S. Two dozen movies are to her credit.

At age 20, she won a Golden Globe award as the best new actress in a film with Shirley Temple, That Hagen Girl. While Moneypenny talked willingly about movies and celebrities, she never forced them on you. They might come up in conversations, and you had to keep reminding yourself that she wasn't like the rest of us, that she actually knew these people. Moneypenny was anything but a name-dropper.

Her life altered dramatically when her husband suffered a debilitating heart attack in 1960 and died 14 years later. She was left with a couple of kids and had to manage on her own, something she did cheerily and relentlessly, ever feeling some financial insecurity.

At our annual birthday lunches, Moneypenny would talk about her son, Christian, who had his mother’s wandering spirit and she worried about whether he would settle down. It was apparently at his home in Western Australia, where she died from cancer on the weekend.

As I recall, at our last birthday lunch 20 years ago, Moneypenny was planning to join a crew to sail a yacht across the Pacific. I was uneasy about her doing it, but she seemed determined. Personal risk was not something Lois fretted about. I don’t know if she ever did make the sailing trip. I suspect not.

But I do know that the adventurous, brave, 15-year-old girl who ran away from home to go to war, was the same adventurous, brave spirit who died in Perth, Australia, at age 80.

A great life, a wonderful woman, and a precious part of Sun history."

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