It's strange to remember that Richard Kiel, who has died aged 74, actually only played Jaws in just two James Bond films - 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Moonraker'.
That with just this pair of big screen outings, Jaws and his metal keyboard dental work made such an indelible print on the memories of 007 fans and the rest of a cinematic generation, is testament to both the screenwriters and Richard Kiel's distinctive presence.
In The Spy Who Loved Me, it was his looming form that chased Roger Moore as 007 among Egypt’s pillars and pyramids, and his metal teeth that Bond had to confound on a memorable train ride to Sardinia.
So popular was this elongated assassin that actor Richard Kiel was asked back for Moonraker to face his Nemesis once more. But this time around Jaws went soft, and changed sides. So what happened? Well, as in all good stories, it was the simply the love of a good woman.
Jaws as we're used to seeing him - in the clutches of James Bond, and not friendly ones
For Bond's 50th anniversary, a couple of years ago, Richard Kiel sat down with HuffPostUK. Then 73, as enormous as ever but much, much gentler than his big screen presence, told me how he made sure suave Roger Moore wasn’t the only one to get some onscreen romance…
“It was the idea of the director and producers, and I was delighted. In the script, it called for a six-foot-tall woman, which was fine, but then they decided it would be a 7’7” woman I knew of, and she wasn’t very attractive…”
At this point, former Bond girl Britt Ekland, listening in to our chat in the grounds of Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire (location of Man With the Golden Gun, as it turns out), tutted and told Kiel off – “that’s not very nice.”
Kiel, a diminutive 7’1½“ hastened to explain, “I can’t help but say, if I were a woman I wouldn’t be very attractive either, so I told them this wouldn’t work for me.”
“They were looking at it from a comedic standpoint, but why does Jaws turn into a good guy? He has to, to save the woman he cares about.”
“A 7’7” woman doesn’t need Jaws, she can look after herself,” he added. “It didn’t have the motivation.”
(Who’d have thought Jaws’ back-story to require such analysis? I thought he was just a gun and some teeth. I was moved.)
So the producers found him a mere six-footer but it turned out, as Kiel told it straightforwardly and apparently without taking offence, the actress was too scared of him to stand there without shaking – so the American actor ended up suggesting it be a tiny woman Jaws falls in love with.
When Dolly met Jaws... a romance made in 007 heaven
How tiny? “Not too small, at least five foot.”
(Moonraker producers weren’t remotely convinced this would work, apparently, until Kiel pointed out his real-life wife was 5’1”.)
And so the role fell to French actress Blanche Ravalec who was, like baby bear's porridge, neither too tall nor too terrified, but according to Jaws himself, “just right” – and that is how one of 007’s great foes went soft in the final reel, created one of cinema’s magic little moments and got himself his very own Bond girl to boot.
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