By Brian Biggane
John Allen was having dinner at a local restaurant one evening in 1996 when a man approached him with a peculiar proposition.
“He said, ‘Hey, I can make you a lot of money,’” Allen recalled. “I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘I want you to beat up a guy and throw him in Donald Trump’s swimming pool. As James Bond.’
“I said, ‘Really? How much do you want to pay me for that?’ He told me and I said, ‘I’m your man.’”
Twenty-three years later, Allen, 72, of Ocean Ridge, is firmly established as the most prominent Sean Connery impersonator in the entertainment business. He’s not only met the Scottish legend innumerable times and served as his body double in movies and commercials, but has appeared in his James Bond character at parties, fundraisers and charity events around the world.
That first experience back in 1996 had him dropped off outside Mar-a-Lago in a tuxedo and save a woman who was purportedly being kidnapped.
“A movie producer had rented out the place for his wife’s 50th birthday party, and she loved James Bond,” Allen said. “They had me in the car, I drove up and jumped out, I stopped the kidnapping and threw the guy in the pool. It was so much fun.
“And then I started being flown around the world, mostly as James Bond. I was selected to work with Sean Connery, which was a highlight. He was making a million dollars a day and I was making a lot less. But I became his double stand-in, so they could film everything and not take up so much of his time. I would move a plant, or paint a wall, and he would come in and do the final shot.”
His days as a child actor while growing up outside Philadelphia gave Allen some of the background he needed, but learning Connery’s voice and mannerisms took time.
“I worked at the impersonation for quite a while,” he said. “There’s the voice, the Scottish accent, and the (raised) eyebrow; you must have the eyebrow.
“I was working in Los Angeles doing commercials and they wanted me to have the voice, so I had a dialect coach from Universal Studios working with me. Watching the movies really did it. It took me about a year, but now I can go in and out of it without any problem.
“It’s so important to do a good job. I’m passionate about my industry.”
Although Connery made only seven James Bond movies, the character has become so iconic that finding work is never a problem.
“I have more than 100 agents,” said Allen, who is divorced. “They call me; they know I’m the guy. They need me, rather than me needing an agent.”
And oh, the stories he can tell. His most recent gig was emcee of the Miss World Beauty Pageant in Miami and Coral Springs, but he spends much of the year in Las Vegas. He’s danced with the wife of the U.S. ambassador in Nicaragua and is now in talks to appear at a New Year’s Eve party on the top floor of the world’s tallest building in Dubai.
Connery, now 89, lives on Lyford Cay in the Bahamas, which Allen has visited numerous times.
“He would have the European companies fly there to do commercials: Scotch commercials, car commercials. So I’d be a part of that and got to know a lot of the people. I feel bad for them but I’ve heard Sean is fine; they survived (Hurricane Dorian) just fine.”
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I came from a little town in Pennsylvania, Alden, just outside Philadelphia. It was a great little town to grow up in. When I was a child I did some acting, worked with Gene Wilder, Howard Keel, Marsha Hunt and Arlene Francis. All in the professional theater in Philadelphia. That gave me a start in acting, so it’s in my character, and that’s where I am today. As time went on I got out of high school and had to go to work, so I went into business for myself.
Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I had a men’s store in Philadelphia, and for a time I had a boutique where we sold clothes to musicians, so I met a lot of them. They would pull up in their limos and come in to buy clothes. When I moved down to Delray Beach in 1979 I had a wicker store. I bought that building, and then kept buying the place next to me, so my compound was getting bigger.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: For the profession I’m in, I would say the most important thing is to stay humble. You’re not the guy; I’m not the guy, I’m not Sean. Sean had a magnificent career. I have a lot of fun, making money and attending wonderful functions, but I’m not him. Young people will have a tendency to lose that and battle other people in the profession, saying “I’m the best.” Just don’t do that.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in Ocean Ridge?
A: I got on my bike one day and came this way. I wanted to get out of Delray; it was too busy. I came riding up this street along the ocean, looked over and saw this place was for sale. I said, that’s exactly where I want to be. That’s my house. It worked out for me. I bought the house four days before Hurricane Irma came in two years ago. They asked if I wanted to wait until afterward and I said no. I was so anxious. I had to have it. We had some damage and had to have it repaired. It’s part of it, living here.
Q: What is your favorite part about living in Ocean Ridge?
A: Being fortunate enough to live in a place where I can look out my windows and see the ocean. Every day it gives me a little validation that I did the right thing in life. All my dedication to buying the properties and knowing they would increase in value. I landed in the right spot. I’m in paradise.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I’m waiting for a friend to give me a book about the guy Ian Fleming created the James Bond character from. I’m not sure of the name of the title, but I’m looking forward to reading that.
Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: I don’t listen to a lot of music. I had a boutique back in the hippie days in Philadelphia and we played the music full blast every day, so I like it quieter now. My daughter and I went to see the Rolling Stones when they came down recently and it was one of the best times of my life. We were right up front, the whole VIP treatment, so it was really nice. But mostly now I enjoy the peace and quiet when I’m home.
Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: Sean Connery is definitely one. And I really was inspired by Howard Hughes to buy land. He always said buy land and don’t sell it. I used to travel the world and import wicker when I had the wicker store, and I’d meet businessmen through that, guys who were putting their life savings into what they were doing. They were mentors. We’d banter back and forth, help each other out with customs, duties, imports and exports. They influenced me a lot to get where I am today.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
A: “If not now, when?” — Attributed to Hillel the Elder, who lived in Babylon in the first century B.C. I really like that because you have to live your life right now.
Q: If your life were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: Who do you think? Wouldn’t that be fun? OK, Sean, go to work!