Bond 25 speculation heats up via Mark Strong video

Screen capture of now-withdrawn Instagram post by Mark Strong’s trainer.

Nature abhors a vacuum. So do James Bond fans interested in news — any news — about the next 007 film adventure.

In this case, the trainer of actor Mark Strong posted a video of Strong working out on Instagram. “Me and Mark Strong working to a new project,” read the caption. What followed was a series of Bond-related hashtags such as #bond25, #DanielCraig, #MarkStrong, #DannyBoyle and more.

The Instagram post was deleted as was a post on Twitter. Didn’t matter. In the absence of confirmed Bond 25 casting news, it took on a life of its own.

After appropriate qualifications, the Birth.Movies.Death website said this:

Mark Strong, meanwhile, is a great choice for Bond 25, particularly in any kind of action capacity. He’s a rock-solid performer with range, easy-going charm and a great comic sensibility, not to mention a known quantity for Boyle, who directed him in Sunshine.

Or, put another way, “We don’t really know, but here’s why it’s a good idea.”

It should be noted that Strong is a friend of 007 star Daniel Craig. Strong made comments in 2016 that Craig was done as Bond. It wasn’t a correct prediction.

In April, there was a similar reaction, when Dave Bautista put out an Instagram post of himself with a SPECTRE tattoo on his finger where a SPECTRE ring should be. Naturally, there was speculation whether he’d be back in Bond 25.

A year earlier, actor Jeffrey Wright put out a photo of himself from Quantum of Solace which geared up speculation he was going to be in Bond 25.

All of this was taken very, very seriously at the time.

So, we’ll see.

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Richard Irving: Key part of Universal’s TV Factory

Richard Irving’s title card for a Gene Barry episode of The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Richard Irving was a major figure in the establishment of Universal’s television factory.

Irving, a one-time actor, helped get TV movies at Universal off the ground.

He directed two TV movie pilots for Columbo (Prescription: Murder in 1968 and Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971). He also produced and directed 1968’s Istanbul Express (a sort-of TV movie equivalent of From Russia With Love) and the TV movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.

As a producer, he oversaw Universal TV shows such as Laredo, a western, and The Name of the Game.

With the latter, he produced the Gene Barry episodes of the first season. For the rest of the series, he assumed the title of executive producer, supervising the different producers for the episodes starring Barry, Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.

Dean Hargrove, Irving’s associate producer for the first season of The Name of the Game, took over as producer of the Gene Barry episodes from the second season onward.

Irving was promoted to being a Universal television executive, which lasted until 1979.

Steven Bochco, working at Universal in the early 1970s, said in an interview for Archive of American Television, that it was Irving who got him involved in Columbo.

“I got a call from Dick Irving,” Bochco remembered. “‘Dick, it’s a mystery show. I don’t know anything about mystery writing. It’s a mystery to me.'”

According to Bochco, Irving said, “‘Do it. It’ll be great.'”

It was. Bochco wrote Murder by the Book, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the first series episode for Columbo. It also was the first installment of the NBC Mystery Movie aired by the network. Bochco went on the script a number of Columbo episodes on his way to being an important writer-producer on U.S. television.

The Los Angeles Times, in its 1990 obituary for Irving, put his contributions into perspective.

In an era when motion picture studios refused to release their old films to television, not wanting to contribute to declining theater attendance, Irving and such pioneers as William Link, Richard Levinson, Norman Lloyd and a handful of others filled the small screen with dramas, mysteries and comedies.

Irving died at the age of 73.

The Man With the Golden Gun novel, a re-evaluation

Cover to a U.S. paperback edition of The Man With the Golden Gun

A friend of mine makes a point of re-reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels every year. He refers to it as “reading the scriptures.”

I haven’t read the texts in a while. 007 continuation novels, yes. But not the originals, at least not beyond researching them for posts.

As a result, I got one out. But I opted for the runt of the litter, Fleming’s last novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.

The novel doesn’t get a lot of fan love. Raymond Benson, in his James Bond Bedside Companion, says it’s “a major disappointment and is the weakest book in the series.”

The novel is, essentially, a published first draft. Fleming wrote it in early 1964, just months before he died in August of that year of a heart attack.

“He died before he could revise, polish, and add the rich detail he always incorporated after he had completed the first draft,” Benson wrote in his 1984 evaluation of the book. In the 1990s, Benson took over as author of 007 continuation novels and movie novelizations.

That said, The Man With the Golden Gun is still an interesting novel. Fleming, despite failing health, was still a spinner of tales.

The novel begins with Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, trying to kill M. The plot is foiled because a “great sheet of armour-plated glass hurtled down from the baffled slit in the ceiling.”

M decides that Bond is to be un-brainwashed and sent after the supposedly invincible Francisco Scaramanga, the novel’s title character. If Bond dies trying, well, he dies as a hero. If he succeeds, he’s accepted back into the Secret Service.

So far, so good. The problem is Scaramanga doesn’t seem that invincible, other than being a quick draw with his golden gun.

He’s not very smart. Scaramanga comes across as more bluster than brains. He hires Bond (who catches up to Scaramanga in Jamaica thanks to luck) as an assistant.

Meanwhile, Scaramanga’s operation has already been infiltrated by the CIA. The Langley contingent, of course, includes Felix Leiter, who has once again been drafted back into active duty. You would think a guy with one hand and a hook would be a little obvious to deploy in undercover work. But hey, he is awfully capable.

The novel reminds a reader of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel. Instead of a “Hood’s convention” discussing Auric Goldfinger’s Fort Knox robbery plot, Fleming has “The Group,” representing the Mafia, KGB and Castro. The Group’s objectives, though, are less ambitious than Goldfinger’s.

Besides Scaramanga, one of Bond’s adversaries is Mr. Hendriks, the KGB’s representative in this affair. You would think the KGB — by now knowing its plot to have Bond kill M failed — would make sure all of its operatives knew what 007 looked like. But Hendriks has no clue.

“I have no informations or descriptions of this man, but it seems that he is highly rated by my superiors,” Hendriks says at one of The Group’s gatherings.

Still, the novel does get its second wind once Leiter makes his appearance. The Bond films have never really captured the Bond-Leiter rapport of the novels. As far back as Jack Whittingham’s first 007 script draft for Kevin McClory, screenwriters have tried to give Leiter more to do. But it never works out.

One of the best Bond-Leiter bits of this novel comes toward the end. Leiter is getting out of the hospital first. The two have their final Fleming-written banter.

Bond comments how Scaramanga “was quite a guy” and should have been taken alive.

“That’s the way you limeys talk about Rommel and Donitz and Guderian. Let alone Napoleon,” Leiter responds. “Once you’ve beaten them, you make heroes out of them….Don’t be a jerk, James. You did a good job. Pest control. It’s got to be done by someone.”

Each also has trouble actually saying “good-bye” to the other. An exhausted Bond lapses back into unconsciousness. “Mary Goodnight shooed the remorseful Leiter out of the room…”

The Man With the Golden Gun is far from Ian Fleming at his best. But it’s still Fleming. And that’s what makes the difference.

007 literary meme: John F. Kennedy, author

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

In Chapter 7 of The Man With The Golden Gun (“Un-real Estate”), James Bond is relaxing in his room at the uncompleted Thunderbird Hotel in Jamaica.

He’s getting ready to have a bourbon. “The best drink in the day is just before the first one (the Red Stripe didn’t count),” Ian Fleming wrote.

Bond “took Profiles in Courage by Jack Kennedy out of his suitcase, happened to open it at Edmund G. Ross (“I…looked down into my open grave”)…”

When Fleming wrote the book in early 1964,” President John F. Kennedy had been dead only for a few months. Kennedy in 1961 had given U.S. sales of Fleming’s 007 novels a huge lift after listing From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

Thus, it was appropriate that Bond is carrying around Kennedy’s book in the middle of a mission to eliminate Francisco Scaramanga.

Profiles in Courage was published in 1956 when Kennedy was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. It discussed people who exhibited political courage.

In addition to Ross, a U.S. senator from Kansas in the 19th century, the book also had chapters on, among others, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston and Robert A. Taft.

It wasn’t Kennedy’s first book. He wrote the 1940 book Why England Slept.

Profiles in Courage won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for biography. However, a controversy ensued after journalist Drew Pearson said in an interview with Mike Wallace in December 1957 that the book was ghostwritten.

“He’s the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him, which indicates the kind of a public relations buildup he has had,” Pearson told Wallace, according to a partial transcript of the interview in an excerpt of a 2005 Wallace autobiography on NBC News’s website.

The interview aired on ABC. Under a threat from the Kennedy family to file a libel suit, the network apologized.

“I was incensed that my employers had caved in to the Kennedys,” Wallace wrote in his memoir, Between You and Me.

In fact, major work on the book was performed by Kennedy assistant Theodore Sorensen.

“It was no great secret that Mr. Sorensen’s intellect was an integral part of the book,” according to The New York Times’ 2010 obituary on Sorensen. “But Mr. Sorensen drafted most of the chapters, and Kennedy paid him for his work.“

“I’m proud to say I played an important role,” Sorensen said in an interview that was recorded to appear with the obituary. He became Kennedy’s speech writer after the latter took office as president.

A 007-licensed Lego Aston Martin is teased

Lego logo

A 007-licensed Lego Aston Martin was teased this week.

It began with a June 14 tweet from Lego:

“We’ve been thinking about creating a special Secret (Service) model that could help an agent out in a tricky situation. Any ideas? @astonmartin #LicenceToBuild.”

Twenty-four minutes later, the official Twitter feed of Aston Martin responded:

“We may have a few ideas for what the special model could be…” The response also had a smiley and the  #LicenceToBuild hashtag.

After another five minutes, the official James Bond Twitter feed of Eon Productions responded: “Licence to build is authorised #LicenceToBuild”

For now, no additional information is available. (It’s classified “Eyes Only.”) Here’s the post from the 007 Twitter account to give you a little flavor.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

So who is going to buy 007’s home studio?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

It seems as if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s days are numbered as an independent studio. So who ends up with 007’s home studio?

A new era of media consolidation is underway. And MGM is a small fry.

AT&T Inc. has completed its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., CNN, TBS and other media properties. The move comes after a U.S. court approved the deal earlier this week.

Comcast, parent company of Universal, is trying to buy most of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

Comcast is offering $65 billion in cash after 21st Century Fox agreed in December to accept $52.4 billion in stock from Walt Disney Co. An all-out bidding war is expected from the two media giants.

MGM supposedly is trying to go it alone. But, in this new media reality, that seems a long shot at best.

MGM is mostly owned by hedge funds following the company’s 2010 bankruptcy. Hedge funds rarely invest for the long run. They mostly look for a quick turnaround. The fact that the hedge fund owners have held on to their ownership for eight years is remarkable enough.

Given how volatile the situation is, making a prediction about who will buy MGM seems foolhardy. But it seems likely somebody will at some point.

Comcast’s Universal recently won the rights to distribute Bond 25 outside the U.S. So Universal may have a foot in the door. Maybe.

Here’s another question worth asking.

Would a bidder for MGM get out its checkbook and buy out Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions?

After all, if you’re going to go to the trouble of buying MGM, shouldn’t you buy all the James Bond film rights? Especially if media companies are throwing around tens of billions of dollars for acquisitions?

Some Bond fans feel the Broccoli-Wilson family would never sell out. Star Wars fans used to say to the same thing about George Lucas before he sold the franchise to Walt Disney Co.

Interesting days may lay ahead.

MGM pays ex-CEO a lot of money to go away

Gary Barber, former MGM chief, has reason to smile.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has bought shares and options from former CEO Gary Barber essentially to make him go away, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Barber received $260 million for 274,392 shares the former chief owned plus options for almost another 3.9 million shares, according to the entertainment news website.

That was on top of about $15 million in severance compensation that Barber received after being fired in March.

Deadline said in return Barber agreed “not to engage” with MGM for three years. Reuters reported last month that Barber was looking into making a bid for MGM. This new deal would preclude that.

What does this mean for Bond 25? Not much. The main effect is Barber goes away, albeit with a lot more money in his bank account.

Had Barber actually mounted a takeover bid, it had the potential to be a sideshow as MGM and Eon Productions are in the midst of getting Bond 25 off the ground. Sideshow averted.