FOR YOUR EARS ONLY
We speak to the forgotten bond girl, silenced by the film industry
by Maria Raposo
“I was the first girl ever to speak in a bond film”, Nikki Van Der Zyl tells me, 56 years later. Daughter of Rabbi Werner Van Der Zyl, Nikki claims an impressive career as a voice actress. Yet her input to the bond films is still largely unknown.
In Dr. No’s iconic scene, Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder emerges, singing, from the sea in a white bikini. Her voice is soft and clipped – fulfilling all ideas of femininity. Ursula may look like the perfect woman but producers were worried her Swiss-German accent would be difficult for American audiences to understand, so her entire part was dubbed. Instead, it is Nikki’s voice we hear throughout the film.
Ursula won a Golden Globe for this role, which Nikki finds hard to take. “Why didn’t I win?” she asks. The question seems more than fair; after all she is undoubtedly responsible for forming Honey Ryder’s character.
Dr No. is the first film in a series which is yet to fade from popular culture. “No one knew they would be so popular” Nikki tells me, although she criticizes the more recent films for their reliance on stunts and violence
Nikki re-voiced bond girls throughout the 60s and into the late 70s – working on ten films over all, including Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever. She believes her influence has lingered over the Bond legacy, hearing similarities between her voice and the voice of Teri Hatcher in Tomorrow Never Dies. It seems Nikki has set the precedent for the sound of British sexiness – smooth and articulate.
It seems Nikki has set the precedent for the sound of British sexiness – smooth and articulate.
The bilingual actress was also a dialogue coach, helping Goldfinger actor Gert Fröbe with pronunciation. But in terms of behind the scenes friendships, she seems to show a particular affinity for Sean Connery, who played James Bond for two decades. “Sean and I really got on” she says. “I think he was the best Bond”.
Despite her input, Nikki struggled to receive credit for her role. She was banned from an event celebrating ‘Goldfinger’. The reason: because her presence would embarrass the film’s leading actress Shirley Eaton – whose voice Nikki also dubbed.
Nikki protested and in retaliation another invitation was withdrawn – this time from a Bond convention marking 50 years of the films. She was sent a letter, which read, "There have always been sensitivities involved with actors in the series who were dubbed."
The saga continues – last year, Nikki published her autobiography, ‘For Your Ears Only’. Originally the book contained a foreword by Roger Moore but at the very last minute, his office rescinded their permission to use it, without explanation.
Nikki seems calm about the string of injustices when we meet. Yet the tone of her website is bitter – she publishes an article by her husband, who labels her the “unsung star” of the Bond series whilst referring to the bond actresses’ as “mere eye candy” and highlighting their “limitations”.
Nikki’s role reveals the patchwork that makes up the “perfect” society worships. Just as models are Photoshoped in magazines, it seems film stars are also edited. The industry wants the full package – even if that means taking different qualities form different women.
Nikki’s achievements have been celebrated in an exhibition in Berlin. Running until the end of April, ‘Night Flight to Berlin’ at The Pankow Museum explores the history of her family – how they were forced to flee Berlin and Nikki’s extensive career.
The way she speaks about the show reveals how proud she is to finally receive recognition. She tells me how the curator came to stay with her for two weeks to find out more and how they’ve kindly organized the closing party to coincide with her birthday.
Nikki’s story is a sad one; revealing the power the film industry has over individuals. Despite the voice artist’s efforts, in the eyes of the industry she is disposable. Yet, with gathering press attention and her autobiography, hopefully the forgotten bond girl will not be kept a secret much longer.