James Bond: World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people
who think they are Napoleon. Or God.”
— Dr. No (1962)
Accomplished Broadway actor, Joseph Wiseman, who became famous after playing the title role of Dr. No, in the first big screen adaptation of British author Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, died on October 19, 2009, at the age of 91 in New York City.
Already a distinguished stage, film and television actor, Canadian-born Wiseman was given the chance to play the first Bond villain, after famous British playwright and actor-singer, Noel Coward had turned it down.
Playing Dr. Julius No, the half-German, half-Chinese, member of the uber-criminal gang, Spectre – the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, in a Mao inspired tunic, complete with shiny and black prosthetic hands, he established the benchmark for all future Bond nemesis in appearance and performance.
Wiseman was seemingly oblivious to his presence in the launch of one of filmdom’s most historic and successful ever series.
He told The LA Times in 1992: “ I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I had no idea it would achieve the success it did. I know nothing about mysteries. I don’t take to them. As far as I was concerned, I thought it might be just another Grade-B Charlie Chan mystery.”
His daughter, Martha Graham Wiseman said that he had viewed “Dr No.” with “great disdain.”
“He was horrified in later life because that’s what he was remembered for,” she recalled to The LA Times.” Stage acting was what he wanted to be remembered for.”
Wiseman was born to a Jewish Orthodox family in Montreal, Canada on May 15, 1918, moved to New York as a child, and had made his Broadway debut by the time he had turned 20.
His Broadway credits included “ Anthony and Cleopatra,” “Detective Story,” and winning the Drama Desk award in the title role of “ In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” while also sharing the stage with acting luminaries as Ingrid Bergman and Helen Hayes.
He acted in films like “Viva Zapata!”(1952), “The Night They Raided Minsky’s”(1968) and “ The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz”(1974). Television also played a big part in Wiseman’s career with guest roles in the “The Twilight Zone,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “The A-Team,” “Law & Order,” as well a recurring role in the NBC drama, “Crime Story.”
In 2001, Wiseman made his farewell Broadway appearance of Abby Mann’s “Judgment at Nuremberg,” about the Nazi war crimes tribunal after World War II.
Playing a witness for the prosecution, he told the New York Times: “ A life being enacted onstage is a thing of utter fascination for me. And acting, it may begin out of vanity, but you hope that it’s taken over by something else.”
With a laugh, he added; “I hope I’ve climbed over the vanity hurdle.”