Who did more to make 007 popular in U.S. — JFK or Hefner?

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

2017 has been an eventful year related to the growth of U.S. interest in James Bond. This was the centennial of the birth of President John F. Kennedy and it was the year Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died.

JFK, unquestionably, gave the literary Bond a huge boost in 1961. Kennedy — the first U.S. president born in the 20th century — listed Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

At the time, Kennedy provided a youthful image. He was the youngest elected president at the age of 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the actual youngest president (at age 42), but he assumed office with the assassination of William McKinley.

Regardless, JFK was sworn into office after the then-oldest president, Dwight Eisenhower, departed. Kennedy brought a sense of glamour. That’s why his presidency was dubbed “Camelot.”

As a result, Kennedy’s including the Fleming novel in that 10 favorite book list was an enormous boost. It occurred just as the Eon film series was getting started. Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman struck their deal with United Artists in 1961, with Dr. No beginning production in early 1962.

Still, you could make the case that Hefner’s interest in Bond had a longer-lasting impact.

Playboy published Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity short story in 1960, a year before the famous JFK book list. Playboy serialized Fleming 007 stories. And Playboy’s ties to Bond would be referenced in the Eon films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever.

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

What’s more, Hefner’s Bond interest remained. Playboy published Bond-related pictorials for decades. In the 1990s, the magazine published short stories and serialized novels by 007 continuation author Raymond Benson.

As an aside, the Spy Commander once interviewed Benson about becoming the Bond continuation author. Benson mentioned, in passing, he was a friend of Hefner’s.

My memory is I asked him to go over that again. It was true. And one of the Benson 007 short stories (Midsummer Night’s Doom) was set at the Playboy mansion and Hefner showed up as a character.

The purpose of this post is to pose the question. The answer is up to the reader.

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