Marion ‘Oatsie’ Charles, Ian Fleming friend, dies at 99

Marion “Oatsie” (Leiter) Charles

Marion “Oatsie” (Leiter) Charles, a friend of Ian Fleming who helped inspire the surname of Felix Leiter, died earlier this month, according to an obituary in The Washington Post.

She died on Dec. 5 at the age of 99, the newspaper said. The Post described her as “among the last of the grande dames of Georgetown and Newport, R.I.,… She broke bread with President John F. Kennedy and drank with spy novelist Ian Fleming.”

She married Thomas Leiter in 1942, who she later divorced.

Here’s an excerpt from The Post’s obituary about the creator of James Bond.

During World War II, she made a passing acquaintance of Fleming, the future author of the James Bond British spy novels. They met again in Jamaica in the winter of 1949 during the social season there.

“I’d gone to a party, and a great friend of mine was very much in love with Ian, or thought she was,” she recounted to a Fleming website. “And he was treating her in the most atrocious way. And with the arrogance of youth, I walked up to Mr. Fleming when I was introduced to him and said, ‘Mr. Fleming, I consider you’re a cad.’

“And he looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. Leiter, you’re indeed right. Shall we have a drink on it?’ ”

She said she was taken aback by his charm, and they became friends. When Fleming published his first Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” in 1953, he partially named the CIA agent, Felix Leiter, after her husband.

John Cork, director of a number of James Bond documentaries for home video, wrote a story for the website of Ian Fleming Publications (the same one cited in The Post obit) about Charles.

It described Fleming attending a 1960 dinner party at John Kennedy’s home in Washington. The future president invited Fleming after seeing him with Marion Charles. Others present at the dinner party were Joseph Alsop, a columnist “and part-time CIA operative” and John Bross, a future deputy director the agency, according to Cork’s article.

At the gathering Fleming was asked for ideas for how the U.S. might deal with Fidel Castro in Cuba. One of Fleming’s ideas was for the CIA to drop leaflets promoting the notion “that nuclear fallout was collecting in men’s beards” on the island nation, Cork wrote. Men wearing beards would become impotent. That would prompt men to shave their beards, and beards had become part of the image of the Castro revolution.

Marion Charles was interviewed for some of the Cork-directed documentaries.

UPDATE (6:50 p.m. New York time): I rewatched the Cork-directed Ian Fleming biography documentary that’s on the home video release of The Living Daylights. In it, Charles provided this anecdote:

“I think I made Ian Fleming in a curious way. Jack Kennedy rang me up one morning and said, ‘Oats I’m sick. Have you anything to read?’ ‘Yes, so you like spy stories?'”

The book, according to the documentary, was From Russia With Love. That book, in 1961, turned up in a list of Kennedy’s ten favorite books published in Life magazine. That, in turn, greatly helped sales of Fleming’s novels in the United States.

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