In the first part of this interview, former racing and stunt driver Erich Glavitza from Austria gave a detailed account about how he got “a call from James Bond” which resulted in him getting hired for the 6th James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. In this second part, you’ll read about the rehearsals with the film crew and the drivers, teaching Diana Rigg how to drive on ice and the experience of working with her and George Lazenby.
Erich, in the first part, we heard about how you got the job and how you got the cars and the necessary equipment. But the racing scenes wasn’t everything they wanted you to do…
There also was the car chase before the race. I was to be the stunt driver for Tracy’s dark red Ford Mercury Cougar XR-7. It was a real beast of a car, with a 7-litre V8 engine and around 400 horsepower. It definitely needed more and better spikes than the other cars. Also, our chief mechanic Willy Neuner had to modify the suspension and the shock absorbers to improve the handling. The power steering wasn’t optimal, and the brakes… oh well, we didn’t need to brake that much, anyway. The car was great fun, so I didn’t care that much.
Of course, all the action had to be well-planned. There were lots of meetings and discussions on how to mount the cameras on and inside the cars, how to shoot the street chase and all those things.
Sounds like you were pretty busy.
I was on a plane to London or Zurich at least once a week in those days. Saltzman had an idea in the afternoon meeting and said “I wanna see that kid tomorrow.” They called me in the evenings and I had to be on the plane the next morning. I remember a meeting on Christmas eve. All we discussed was how to get the Cougar into the barn and if it would be better to shoot everything on location or to rebuild the barn and shoot the interior scenes in Pinewood. Much ado about nothing to me. But I didn’t care too much. They put me on a first class Quantas flight to Vienna to get me home for Christmas. And I always enjoyed the stays (and steaks) at the Hyde Park Hilton. (laughs)
You must have felt like a kid in a candy store.
At times, I still could hardly believe what was going on. But of course I had a lot of hard work before me. I had my drivers together by mid-January and we brought everything to Lauterbrunnen. The race track was ready with fences and banners and a paddock and everything. A big Ford branded racing truck had been brought from London, everything looked wonderful and the drivers liked it a lot.
For the next few days we did a lot of tests. Director Peter Hunt wanted to see us in action and test various shooting positions with the camera crew. Our daily schedule looked as follows: we got out of bed by eleven in the morning (as we never got into bed before 2 or 3 AM). We started work with a security briefing at 4 PM after which roughened up the track as it was super glassy after the preparation with the resurfacers. Almost every week, we had a crew member with a broken leg or arm – Brits, in most cases. Seems like they weren’t as used to these conditions as the Swiss or Austrians.
Were there any other differences between the various Crews – Swiss, Germans, Austrians and Brits? Where there any troubles?
I had the feeling that the British Team was a close-knit team, like a band travelling from one concert / shooting location to the other. But the teams from Switzerland and Germany worked very well together, too. They were all professionals. Me and my crew were actually the only „outsiders“, as we were race-rally drivers and nobody had any experience with the movie business. But at the end oft he day it all worked out very well. Actually, from the beginning when the production office called me until payday, there was nothing that annoyed me (or at least I can’t remember anything).
There was one of the cameramen with whom I’d become good friends and who deserves a special mention. He used to watch our rehearsals and I invited him to join me for a few laps, which he liked a lot. “Erich, you have balls of fire!” he used to say. I had noticed that he was limping, so I asked if he’d slipped on the ice. He said “No, that’s a wooden leg.” And then he told me how his leg was cut off by helicopter blades during the shooting of “You Only Live Twice” – his name was Johnny Jordan. We’d planned to meet again after the film was finished, but it was like it always goes: we didn’t find time due to different schedules. And then one day I got the sad news of his tragic accident: he’d fallen out of a plane and died while shooting “Catch 22”. It was such a shame, I liked him very much.
We usually worked until about 1 AM, testing and rehearsing. We had to take a lot of breaks due to the extremely low temperatures. We once had 35 to 40 degrees centigrade below zero for a few days. One doesn’t really feel the cold any more at these temperatures. You have to be dressed accordingly – or else you’re dead. The drivers all got good racing anoraks from Ford, and there was always some hot tea available in the crew tents.
My guys used to go partying in Lauterbrunnen after work, and it got pretty wild at times. (laughs) Myself, I’d been a non-drinker or a party-goer for all my life. But I still never got into bed before 3 or 4 AM, as I had to attend meetings with Peter Hunt and the camera crew to discuss the shots and camera setups and everything for the next day.
You had never worked on a movie set before. How was it to work with Peter Hunt and especially Anthony Squire, who was the director of the car sequence?
For me as an absolute amateur in the movie business, it was absolutely fantastic to work with them, not only with those two but with the entire crew. They were very cooperative, even in situations when they felt that I or one of my drivers were a bit too amateurish. With Squire, I remember many meetings in which we discussed the different sequences. I always tried to give some input. He never was too proud to hear my advice and sometimes follow it.
Your own Mini was used as camera car, right?
Yes, it’s the red one you see in the movie. Willy Neuner built something with two spring-loaded blocks and tackles that held the 20-kilo-Arriflex camera on the open rear hatch. All interiors but the driver’s seat had to be removed, and Willy Bogner lay prostrate with his feet affixed in the leg area of the passenger’s side and filmed all the overtakings, drifts and jostles. Some cameras were mounted on the hoods and the sides of the cars, others were put into aluminium tubes and positioned on the track. We got pretty close to these when we drifted sideways and hit them with the rear wheels more than once. After a week of rehearsals, the two leading actors George Lazenby and Dianna Rigg arrived.
How was it to work with them? There’s been some talk going on about George himself and their relationship being rather difficult…
Lazenby was the first to arrive. He was really nice to us drivers in the beginning. We took him out for a few laps on the ice track and we had good fun. But the film crew had already known him for a while and didn’t like him as he behaved rather arrogantly. Even Peter Hunt who usually was very nice and relaxed raised his eyebrows more than once on him. Hubert Fröhlich, who was much more impulsive, simply went ballistic when he had his airs and graces.
That doesn’t really sound like a solid working base.
Oh, it got worse after Diana Rigg had arrived on set. Maybe he was jealous as she got much more attention. She was beautiful and clever and had that wonderful British sense of humour that made everybody laugh.
The producers soon had to have some serious talk with him. I had the feeling that Saltzman would have loved to throw him into a crevasse, but Cubby Broccoli arbitrated between them and gave Lazenby a piece of his mind. But the tension kept rising. I’d done everything to keep my boys out of that trouble and not have them affected. Soon, Lazenby got tight-lipped towards me, too, after I told him that I was going to be Diana Rigg’s stunt double in the driving scenes and that I thought she was a hot girl. “She tastes of garlic in the kissing scenes” he snarled, which was not okay in my opinion.
That old garlic story again…
Yes, but it’s true. When Diana heard about it, it was completely over between them. I swear I didn’t tell her. Guess he told a lot of other people about it, as well.
Working with Diana Rigg was much more pleasant, I presume.
Oh, definitely. Peter Hunt asked me if it was possible to give her a few driving lessons on the ice, so she could drive the Cougar herself for the close ups. I didn’t see a problem, and as it turned out, there weren’t any. She wanted to get onto the ice track as quick as possible, while it was still fresh and glassy. I knew what was going to happen, double-crosser that I was and still am at times (chuckles). I just said “Yeah, you go, girl”. It wasn’t that difficult for her to get onto the track from the Paddock. She said that she was glad that the car was an automatic because she was only used to right hand driving and … woosh … we made our first 360. A second try ended the same way. Now it was my turn to play the hero. She wanted to get out of the car, which I did not recommend with the shoes she was wearing. They had no grip at all, it would have been a disaster, had she slipped and broke a limb.
We changed seats inside the car with me sliding onto the driver’s seat underneath of her, which I found very exciting (laughs). Boys will be boys, so I made a few spectacular drifts to show off. She liked that a lot and we had great fun. Lazenby watched from behind the fence, making angry faces. I invited him to take him out for a spin in the Cougar and teach him a thing or two, but he just pouted and off he went…
Doubling for her also required me to wear her costume. We basically had the same physique, so her fur coat and hat fitted me quite easily. When Diana saw me wearing it, she hugged and kissed me and said “You look gorgeous, sweetheart.” I still get heartthrob when I think about that.
But you did not only drive on the race track with her …
One day, her then boyfriend had announced that he’d come to visit her on set. She wanted to get a present for him and asked me to drive her to Interlaken. Of course I did, I never could say “No” to a beautiful woman. One of the Cougars was parked with the nose pointing to the right direction, so we just hopped in and off we went. In Interlaken, we walked through the town and ended up in a watch store where she got him a Breitling watch. The store owner almost got into cardiac arrest when he recognized her, and after a few autographs, she got the watch for half price. It was the same in a nearby café: after a few autographs, we got everything for free… When we were on our way back from Interlaken, she suddenly asked me “Erich, what’s the difference between all the other cars and ours?” I had no idea, so she said: “All the others have license plates.” – Dang! – I’d totally forgotten that the cars only had fake plates for the shooting. The Swiss Police is known for being particularly humourless, so I was glad when we finally made it back to Lauterbrunnen.
You had drawn a bit of attention on you and your boys in the meantime.
The newspaper I worked for had proudly reported about me being in the next Bond movie, and I had also been on an Austrian TV show prior to shooting. A group of Austrian journalists and photographers visited us on set and stayed for a few days. Also, Walter Hayes had sent some young Brits from Ford’s film unit to shoot a 15-minute special for the Ford marketing department, called “Shot on Ice”. Many years later, it became a part of the special features on the “Ultimate Edition” DVD of the film. And I also got an offer from Ford to join their racing team…
End of part Two –
Don’t miss part Three, in which you’ll read about the shooting of the major stunts, several metres of snow, loads of money and more details on the cars and the other drivers.
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Vollgas oder nix –
Meine wilden 60er mit Rindt,
James Bond und Steve McQueen
McKlein Publishing, 288 pages, German
ISBN 978-3947156115, 34.90 Euro
Special thanks to Doug Redenius from the Ian Fleming Foundation and Ajay Chowdhury