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Originally published Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Bond guys galore

Who was the first actor to play James Bond on screen? Sean Connery? Nope. Barry Nelson. The American guy-next-door actor played "Jimmy"...

Who was the first actor to play James Bond on screen?

Sean Connery? Nope. Barry Nelson. The American guy-next-door actor played "Jimmy" Bond opposite bad guy Peter Lorre in an excruciating adaptation of "Casino Royale" for a 1954 episode of TV's "Climax!" You can find it as a DVD extra on MGM's edition of the 1967 "Casino Royale" spoof, but you've been warned.

The 007 rankings

1. Sean Connery. Not at all whom creator Ian Fleming had in mind at first — the author considered him unrefined, and it was sophisticated director Terence Young who schooled the Scotsman in style. But Connery made the role his own with palpable confidence and danger. He never should have returned all doughy and pink-shirted for "Diamonds Are Forever," and even he didn't like his unofficial 1983 "Thunderball" remake, "Never Say Never Again." Still, the definitive Bond.

2. George Lazenby. Seriously. The Aussie is often dismissed as an early role model for David Caruso because he quit after one movie. But 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" has emerged over the years as one of the series' best among fans. Lazenby impressed producers by busting an opponent's nose in a screen test, and is the most physical of the Bonds.

3. Timothy Dalton. The Welshman turned down "OHMSS," and his eventual entries, "The Living Daylights" (1987) and "Licence to Kill" (1989) left mediocre impressions. But Dalton brought a no-nonsense quality to the role the Fleming would have toasted.

4. Pierce Brosnan. Women like him, and there's a generation of young fans who identify him with the role; but he poses and delivers one-liners with the gravitas of a male model.

5. Roger Moore. "Live and Let Die" was really a blaxploitation comedy, five of his next six Bond flicks were increasingly silly laugh-fests (1981's "For Your Eyes Only" was a back-to-basics exception), and Moore admits that he played Bond tongue-in-cheek. Ironically, the stiff star of TV's "The Saint" and "The Persuaders" was closer to what Fleming had in mind.

6. David Niven. Sir James Bond in "Casino Royale" doesn't really count because it's not part of the official series. But Niven was Fleming's first choice to play Bond.

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