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They are pilots, casino trawlers, diamond smugglers, C.I.A. agents, astrophysicists, nuclear-weapons experts, cellists, tarot-card readers.

They are Italian, American, Jamaican, British, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch.

Their names are legendary: Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Holly Goodhead, Mary Goodnight, Octopussy.

They are, of course, Bond Girls – and, with few exceptions, they were a career path to nowhere for the actresses who played them.

It’s not a pretty story, this Bond Girl saga, peppered as it is with straight-to-video releases, low-budget horror and “what was her name again?” But it needs to be told.

A glamorous beginning

Three little words, and a franchise was born. Picture this early scene in 1962′ s “Dr. No,” in a swanky casino. She’s an elegant brunette wearing a one-shouldered scarlet gown and a poufy hairdo, and continues to bet despite a losing streak. He’s off-camera.

He: I admire your courage, Miss . . . ?

She: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr. . . . ?

He (camera finds him, cigarette dangling from mouth): Bond. James Bond.

He, of course, is Sean Connery, who’s been milking the still-lucrative Bond cow for 37 years. (Take a look at Catherine Zeta-Jones in Connery’s latest hit, “Entrapment,” and tell me she’s not a Bond Girl.)

But who is the mysterious Miss Trench? She was the gorgeous British actress Eunice Gayson, who had the honor of being the first-ever Bond Girl – and, a little later in the film, the first one to fetchingly sport one of James’ pajama tops. Also in “Dr. No” was a little-known Italian blonde named Ursula Andress, who rose Venus-like from the sea in a white bikini as island girl Honey Ryder. (Bond Girls, by definition, get spectacular entrances.)

Gayson and Andress started it all, cavorting half-clad with Bond in posh hotel rooms and chartered boats, demonstrating impeccable grooming, cool sexiness and infinite trust in 007’s flair for perilous situations.

The Bond franchise continued, at regular intervals, with 18 more movies and a succession of Bonds: Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and the current 007, Pierce Brosnan.

Fresh Bond Girls, however, appeared with each film, and the role became a much-coveted gig – a splashy launch onto the world cinema screen, in a film sure to be a smash hit. Over the decades, the Bond Girl became a symbol for a certain type of gorgeous, street-smart fantasy woman, reaching its epitome in the now-notorious New Yorker reference to Lucianne Goldberg, literary agent and pal of Linda Tripp, as having the looks of “a seasoned Bond Girl.”

As the Bond films became a franchise in the ’60s, a Bond Girl dossier was created for screenwriters that still exists today. Essentially, there are four Bond Girl types. Screenwriter Bruce Feirstein (“GoldenEye,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The World Is Not Enough”) described them recently for Vanity Fair magazine: There’s the Angel with a Wing Down (an otherwise innocent woman connected to the villain), the Naive Beauty (an innocent woman caught up in the plot by accident), the Comrade in Arms (a competent woman with whom Bond reluctantly joins forces) and the Villainous Vixen (an insane, wicked woman whom Bond sleeps with). Bond generally saves them all from impossible danger, except for the Vixens.

So . . . this Bond Girl thing sounds like a pretty nice gig, doesn’t it? A stepping-stone to a fabulous career? Think again.

A perilous role

It’s not too easy to come up with a complete list of Bond Girls. Most of the movies feature more than one, and some supporting roles are more Bond Girl-ish than others. But out of the hundreds of women who have worn bikinis in Bond movies, some 40 actresses have impeccable Bond Girl credentials (multiple lines of dialogue, physical contact with Bond and at least one costume change). And how have their careers progressed since making it with 007? It’s not a pretty sight.

Of the 40, three are out-and-out famous – but two of them don’t really count.

Diana Rigg (Tracy, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” 1968 – and the only Bond Girl to actually marry Bond) was already famous as Emma Peel in “The Avengers” before even meeting 007. (Besides, Bond was played in that film, for the only time, by the somewhat underwhelming George Lazenby.)

Kim Basinger (Domino, “Never Say Never Again,” 1983) went on to win an Oscar 15 years after her Bond stint. However, “Never,” despite the presence of Sean Connery, is not considered an “official” Bond movie – it’s a remake of “Thunderball,” and isn’t made under the auspices of the Broccoli family (producers of all official Bond films). It therefore is not included in the canon by Bond purists, no matter how cute Basinger looks.

This leaves Jane Seymour (Solitaire, “Live and Let Die,” 1973) as the lone un-asterisked success story. She was only 22 when she snuggled up with Roger Moore as the tarot-card reader Solitaire, wearing heavy jewelry and even heavier metallic eyeshadow. Seymour went on to a lengthy and lucrative career in television, including her current recurring role as “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman,” and enjoys the distinction of being the only former Bond Girl to have her own official Web site (, at which you can read about her very photogenic family, see pictures of their latest vacation and find out the secret of Seymour’s hair color – Clairol Loving Care No. 76).

Others, particularly the most recent Bond Girls, have found some success. It bodes well for Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards, stars of “The World Is Not Enough” (opening Friday), that recent Bond films have cast actresses who were already semi-established. Hence the Bond stints of Michelle Yeoh (Colonel Wai Lin, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” 1997), Teri Hatcher (Paris Carver, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” 1997) and Famke Janssen (Xenia Onatopp, “GoldenEye,” 1995).

Honor Blackman, the notorious pilot Pussy Galore (“Goldfinger,” 1964) – upon hearing her name, a dazed Bond gasped, “I must be dreaming” – never quite achieved international stardom, but has managed to maintain a steady and respectable stream of work in movies and television since her film debut in 1946. At 38, she was one of the older Bond Girls, and one of the coolest, telling 007, “You can turn off the charm. I’m immune.” Of course, she wasn’t – but her spiffy fitted pantsuits and riding gear provided a nice contrast to her miniskirted cohorts.

Then there are the rest of them.

Consider the fate of Martine Beswick (Zora, “From Russia With Love,” 1963; and Paula Caplan, “Thunderball,” 1965), for whom the Bond gig appeared to be a quick road to nowhere. Within two years of “Thunderball,” Beswick was headlining in the campy “Prehistoric Women.” Later credits included the role of Red Haired Lady in “Devil Dog: The Hound From Hell” and the title role in “The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.”

Beswick’s hardly alone in B-movie hell. Britt Ekland, who played 007’s inept assistant Mary Goodnight in “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974), had some nice work before her Bond stint – in “Get Carter” and “The Night They Raided Minsky’s” – but post-Bond turned up in “Satan’s Mistress,” “Fraternity Vacation” and “Beverly Hills Vamp.”

In a sort of Bond Girl convergence, Lana Wood (Plenty O’Toole, “Diamonds Are Forever,” 1971) also appeared in “Satan’s Mistress,” as well as a string of forgettable ’70s and ’80s TV movies. Wood’s Bond Girl entrance in “Diamonds” was one of the best: In a purple gown cut to the navel, she purrs, “Hi, I’m Plenty” to a charmed Bond, briefly distracting him from the gambling tables.

Tanya Roberts, who parlayed a brief “Charlie’s Angels” gig into Bond Girl-dom (as the wimpy geologist Stacey Sutton in “A View to a Kill,” 1985) spent the late ’80s and ’90s doing “Almost Pregnant,” “Sins of Desire,” “Night Eyes” and various other straight-to-video fare. This is perhaps only fair, as she seems to have spent her entire Bond stint looking helpless and shrieking, “James!” She is, however, currently undergoing a career redemption of sorts, with a recurring role in the TV series “That ’70s Show.”

And let’s have a moment of silence for the career of perky blonde Lynn-Holly Johnson, known to former teenage girls everywhere as the star of the 1979 figure-skating weepie “Ice Castles.” After appearing as a purple-Lycra-clad Bond Girl on blades (Bibi Dahl, “For Your Eyes Only,” 1981), she went on to roles in “Alien Predator,” “Diggin’ Up Business” (opposite Billy Barty and Ruth Buzzi) and the female Mad Max knockoff “The Sisterhood.”

Maud Adams’ career seemed to have kicked off nicely when she co-starred as vixen Andrea Anders in “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974), and she returned to the Bond harem in 1983 as the titular “Octopussy,” a mysterious smuggler who slinks around in a bathrobe for most of the film. Alas, it was downhill from there: She appeared in all sorts of straight-to-video sequel junk in the late ’80s and ’90s, including “Angel 3: The Final Chapter” and “Silent