The 50th anniversary of United Artists making a bet on 007

This past week was the 50th anniversary of the United Artists studio cutting a deal with two middle aged movie producers, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The result of the 1961 agreement would be the James Bond film series, which would make its debut before audiences the following year with Dr. No.

United Artists today is an occasionally used brand controlled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. A half century ago, it was a functioning studio, albeit one that functioned differently than other studios. It didn’t have its own backlot, a la an MGM or Paramount. In fact, at that time even two companies primarily engaged in television production (Desilu and Revue) had their own backlots while UA didn’t.

What UA did have were executives including Benjamin Krim, Robert Benjamin and David Picker. Krim and Benjamin acquired UA from founders Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford in the 1950s. Under the Krim-Benjamin regime, UA would cut deals people such as producer Walter Mirisch, producer-director Billy Wilder and actor-producer Burt Lancaster.

You might not get the same money at UA as you might get at other studios. But UA was also known to grant more creative leeway. Today, UA’s selection of films are part of MGM’s film library; the MGM lion logo is shown at the start of the UA films when they’re shown on television.

Anyway, UA was where Saltzman (who had a six-month option on the bulk of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels) and Broccoli ended up going. The John Cork-directed documentary Inside Dr. No described UA and its interest in Bond. Here’s the start of that documentary. At the 5:13 mark, you can see a copy of the June 29, 1961, press release UA issued about its agreement with Broccoli and Saltzman.

We’ll give a shoutout to the MI6 James Bond fan Web site, which reminded us of the UA/Broccoli-Saltzman anniversary. You can read its post about the subject BY CLICKING HERE.

For more about United Artists — whose non-Bond projects included The Heat of The Night, The Fugitive, The African Queen and many others — you can view Wikipedia’s recap of UA history BY CLICKING HERE. And, if you can track down a copy, we’d also recommend the excellent 1985 book Final Cut by the late Steven Bach, a one-time UA executive who writes about how the movie Heaven’s Gate wrecked the studio.

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