It’s a long way from Dun Laoghaire to Hollywood and one that Kevin McClory made with distinction. For the man who produced the movie Thunderball it was quite a journey and one that he almost did not make.
McClory was born on 8th June 1924 to Thomas and Alice McClory who were both actors and theatre producers. They lived on Mellifont Avenue, Dun Laoghaire and he learned about acting as the youngest member of his parents’ theatre company. It travelled throughout Ireland and Britain but the outbreak of World War II brought a stop to that.
He spent the early war years as a radio officer on the Norwegian tanker Stigstad and it was torpedoed and sunk on 21st February 1943. He and others got into a life raft and survived dreadful conditions for two weeks, as they drifted 600 miles before being rescued and taken to a hospital in Kerry. McClory suffered frostbite and lost the ability to speak for over a year, after which he was left with a stammer.
After the war he worked at Shepperton Studios (Middlesex) as a location manager before moving up the ladder as Assistant to John Huston on The African Queen (1951) and Assistant Director on Moby Dick (1956). He stock was rising and he was asked to act as Assistant Producer on Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days (1956). The film took almost three years to make and was shot in such colourful places as Paris, Kuwait, Karachi, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Hong Kong. At this time he was dating Elizabeth Taylor who had split from her husband Michael Wilding. However, Todd asked Kevin for an introduction and after a whirlwind romance Todd and Taylor were married. Wanting to get away from Hollywood Kevin led a team of 26 men in 5 vehicles around the world from Detroit-to-Detroit. It took 104 days and he made a movie of the experience ‘One Road’ which was sponsored by Ford Motor Company.
In 1959 he met Ian Fleming who asked him to read his James Bond books. He did, and told Fleming that the character ‘jumped off the page’ although he needed some modifications to make him interesting for a screenplay. He, Fleming and Jack Whittingham worked on the new project (Thunderball) until Fleming dropped out due to other commitments. However, when Fleming published the book without recognising the others’ work they sued. And won. And in December 1965 Thunderball was released and it is still the most financially successful of the James Bond series. Later, he was involved with the movie Never Say Never Again when Sean Connery returned in his most famous role (for the last time) in the 1983.
Kevin lived between Nassau and Ireland, and he died in St Columcille’s Hospital, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin on 20th November, 2006 – he was 82.