Swiss film star Ursula Andress, who on Saturday is celebrating her 80th birthday, is well aware of how a small piece of white cotton changed her life and shaped her career.
“As a result of starring in Dr. No as the first Bond girl, I was given the freedom to take my pick of future roles and to become financially independent,” Andress said in 2001, before the bikini she wore in the 1962 film was auctioned for £41,125 (CHF98,700 at the time).
Andress, who now lives in Italy, was born in Ostermundigen, a suburb of Bern, to a Swiss mother and German father. She had appeared in a handful of forgettable films, mostly Italian, before being cast in Dr. No as Honey Ryder, a Jamaican shell diver, opposite Sean Connery’s James Bond.
Her heavy Swiss-German accent meant her character’s voice was dubbed, but audiences didn’t care. Emerging glistening from the sea like Botticelli’s Venus, holding two large seashells and an unsheathed knife, Andress became an overnight star and, although she didn’t know it, had reached the peak of her career at 26.
She won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for her performance in Dr. No and was given star billing in 1965’s What’s New Pussycat?, but she appeared uninterested by more challenging acting roles.
The 1970s saw her appear in either softcore fare such as The Sensuous Nurse and Sex with a Smile II or gratuitously violent films such as Slave of the Cannibal God. In the 1980s Andress tried her hand at television, appearing in primetime soap opera Falcon Crest.
When asked why she had posed nude for Playboy in 1965, Andress replied: “Because I’m beautiful.” Generations of James Bond fans, who have frequently voted her the “quintessential Bond girl”, will no doubt agree.
Happy Birthday, Ursula!
(Text: Thomas Stephens, picture editor: Ester Unterfinger)