Linda Christian

d. July 22, 2011

Linda Christian, Mexican actress who made a minor name in Hollywood films of the 1950s and gained belated fame as the first “Bond Girl” for her role in the 1954 television version of “Casino Royale,” died July 22 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif., from colon cancer. She was 87.

Christian broke into Mexican movies in the mid-1940s and made a few uncredited appearances in Hollywood films with “south of the border” settings after she was “discovered” by actor Errol Flynn. She made her American film debut with an “Introducing Linda Christian” credit in 1948’s “Tarzan and the Mermaids,” which was also Johnny Weissmuller’s last appearance as the king of the jungle.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed her to a standard seven-year contract but put her in very few of the studio’s pictures. One of her more visible MGM roles came in 1954’s “Athena,” a less than top-of-the-line musical starring Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Vic Damone. Christian actually became better known as the much-photographed and gossiped-about glamour queen who married swashbuckling actor Tyrone Power, a union that lasted from 1949 to 1956. Life magazine dubbed her “the anatomical bomb” in one of its many photo spreads featuring the actress — first as a pinup girl, later with Power and their children.

Christian received above-the-title billing with Barry Nelson and Peter Lorre in the live television production of “Casino Royale” seen on CBS in October 1954. The script truncated and sanitized Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, turning it into a one-hour play suitable for the early 50s home audience. Christian portrayed Valerie Mathis, a character who combined the functions of Fleming’s female double agent Vesper Lynd and Bond’s ally Rene Mathis, a male French secret agent.

Valerie apparently is in the employ of the evil Le Chiffre (Lorre) as part of his plot against Bond (Nelson), but in the end she turns out to be an agent of the French Deuxieme Bureau. Fleming readers will recall that Vesper worked with Bond and Mathis but was finally revealed to be a Soviet agent after committing suicide to escape execution by SMERSH (“The bitch is dead now,” as Bond bitterly reported to London).

Christian’s other pictures included the low-budget biblical epic “Slaves of Babylon” with Richard Conte and Michael Ansara, “Battle Zone” with John Hodiak and a young Martin Milner, “The House of the Seven Hawks” with Robert Taylor, and the 1962 cult horror film “The Devil’s Hand” with Robert Alda, Neil Hamilton and Christian’s actress-sister Ariadna Welter (Christian was born Blanca Rosa Welter in Mexico in 1923).

She returned briefly to television in 1963 with roles in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Lloyd Bridges Show and The Dick Powell Theatre, and had her highest-profile film role the same year in “The V.I.P.s” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She made some low-budget pictures in Europe throughout the 1960s before retiring from the screen.


Left: Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis, prisoner of Le Chiffre in the finale of “Casino Royale.” Below: as Mara in “Tarzan and the Mermaids” with Johnny Weissmuller.