Author discusses The Many Lives of James Bond book

The Many Lives of James Bond cover

James Bond, whether the literary or screen version, always attracts writers wanting to examine the character.

Author Mark Edlitz’s new book, The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, has widened his attention to cartoons, video games, television, radio and other media.

The book is billed as offering “the largest ever collection of original interviews with actors who have played Bond in different media.” That includes performers beyond the six actors who played Bond in the long-running film series produced by Eon Productions.

The book also interprets creators broadly, including actors, directors, writers, song writers, artists and, in one case, a dancer.

The Many Lives of James Bond has five parts: Bond on Film, Bond in Print, Being Bond, Designing 007 and Bond Women.

In this interview, Edlitz discusses why he took on the book and the effort involved.

SPY COMMAND: There have been many books written about the literary and film James Bond. As you planned your book, what did you feel you could add? What areas needed to be addressed?

MARK EDLITZ: There have been many fantastic books about the cinematic and literary Bond; I have many of them. In fact, I assume that my ideal reader is a Bond fan who has read all of the books. Of course, books and films are the most visible part of the franchise, but they are not the only parts. So, I certainly cover both of them in detail. But I also explore the character of Bond in video games, radio dramas, television shows, and comic strips. 

The Many Lives of James Bond is a couple of things. One, it’s the most extensive collection of interviews with actors who have played Bond.  But it’s not always the Bond you’d expect.  Two, it’s also a look at the character as he is interpreted in different media by the artists who created them.

SC: How long did you work on the book? It has interviews with directors (Martin Campbell, among others), actors, and an academic. When did you start and when did you finally have a manuscript you could submit?

EDLITZ: The book took me a few years to write. Tracking down actors, writers, directors, and other artists can be a slow process. But my strategy was to take the book one chapter at a time. Eventually, you write enough chapters, put them all together and think, “Yup, this actually might be a book.”

Having said that, writing The Many Lives of James Bond took less time than my first book How to Be a Superhero, which was a collection of interviews with actors who played superheroes over the last seven decades. How to Be a Superhero took a whopping ten years to write. The Many Lives of James Bond took about three years.

The Many Lives of James Bond is a collection of interviews with the creators of Bond films, books, audio dramas, books on tape, poster artists, and more. I spoke to three Bond directors — Martin Campbell, Roger Spottiswood, and John Glen.

I talked with Bond screenwriters, novelists, comic book writers, and lyricists.  I also interviewed some amazing Bond poster artists, including the legendary Dan Goozee and Robert McGinnis. The two of them created some of the best and most unforgettable art from the entire series.

SC: How many of these are original interviews? How many are compiled from other sources? I ask because Sean Connery has been mostly out of public view for some years.

I conducted all of the full interviews in the book. There is also an appendix for sourced quotes from people who had either passed away or were not available to me. But that’s just a small portion of the book.

The lion share of interviews are brand new.  My self-imposed rule was if I could find the Bond actor and they would talk to me, I would devote an entire chapter to their work. I didn’t speak to Sean Connery.  Of course, I tried. But I’m not sure I would have been able to learn something new from him that he hasn’t already revealed.

I think the book’s strength is that I spoke to people who Bond actors who don’t typically get approached for interviews. For example, I interviewed the performer who played James Bond in the Oscars at the tribute to Albert R. Broccoli and the franchise. He played 007 while Sheena Easton sang “For Your Eyes Only.”

(Spy Command note: This took place at the 1982 Oscars when Broccoli received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. A video of the Easton performance is below. The Q&A resumes underneath the video.)

SC: What was your biggest surprise you found as you researched the book?

EDLITZ: There were several surprises. In The Many Lives of James Bond, I solve a longstanding Bond mystery. Bond fans have wondered about Bob Holness’s performance as Bond in the South African Broadcast Company’s production of Moonraker in the ’50s. No one recorded the production, and there is very reliable information about it.

I was able to track down Holness’s daughter, who gave me some very valuable information that proves once and for all when the production took place. And Brain McKaig of The Bondologist Blog shared his personal correspondence with Holness. That letter also sheds light on his performance.

Another surprise is Connery’s feelings about the part. We all know that he has complicated feelings about playing Bond. And that’s true. But there are some remarkable stories in the book about Connery returning to the role for his performance in the video game From Russia with Love.

I don’t want to spoil it, but he went through the arduous process of recording his dialogue for the day, and something happened to the audiotape. It was gone. The recording was gone. What happened next showed how loyal and magnanimous Connery can be.

SC: Do you think people take Bond for granted? The first novel came out in 1953. The film first came out in 1962. I think some fans think it’s guaranteed Bond will go on. But from what I’ve read, 007 has had some close calls over the years.

EDLITZ: I think there are probably elements of the Bond franchise that people take for granted. The general public probably doesn’t realize just how entertaining the Fleming novels are to read. There have been several periods where pundits said that Bond was done for.

In some cases, they were talking about the films. But Eon finds a way to change things up and make Bond continually relevant. In the periods between films, Bond fans read continuation novels and comic books to hold them over. While we wait for the next movie, Bond fans gather in message boards on websites and on podcasts, where they can talk and share information.

SC: Your book includes comments from the likes of Barry Nelson (who played an American Bond on CBS in 1954), Bob Holness (who played Bond in a radio production), and Bob Simmons (Sean Connery’s stunt double who also did the first gun barrel image). What did those guys bring to the party? (I actually defend the 1954 TV production, which many fans insist upon comparing to the films; for me, it’s something different.)

EDLITZ: Most casual Bond fans will say that only six people played Bond. They are, of course, talking about Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig. A slightly more serious Bond fan will mention David Niven or Barry Nelson. But the true Bond fans know that many actors have played Bond in different media.

I wanted to help shed light on some of their unique contributions. That’s why I tracked down actors who played Bond on the radio, on the cartoon James Bond Jr., and in the video games, to name a few.  Each of these performers has contributed to Bond’s legacy and I wanted to honor them for it.

As an aside, I also agree with you about the merits of 1954’s Casino Royale. When you read Barry Nelson’s comments about the production, you get the sense that he was disappointed with it. Of course, the live production took many liberties and wasn’t always faithful to Fleming’s novel. But what they did was pretty unique; especially for a live production in the ’50s.

SC: What do you think accounts for Bond’s durability?

That’s a good but tough question. It’s almost unanswerable.

The artists I interviewed in the book each have their own theories. The producers’ ability to change with the times plays a big part. I also think he’s possible because Fleming created an endurable character, who isn’t completely knowable.

(Screenwriter) Richard Maibaum made him slightly more accessible, added irony and Bond’s wit. But in all iterations; he retains his mystery.  But he’s malleable enough that he can be interpreted and reinterpreted by so many different artists and in many various forms.

The comic book Bond is different from the Bond of the video games, who is different from the Bond on the radio. Bond is also a perfect vehicle for our fantasies. (Screenwriter) Bruce Feirstein said that any guy who has ever put on a tuxedo thinks he’s James Bond. I agree.

SC: What was your reaction when you finally finished? Elation? Relief? Some other emotion?

EDLITZ: I’ll take D, all of the above. Also, I’m a bit wistful. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I’m a little sorry to let that go. However, I’m thrilled to share the book with my fellow Bond fans.

Many of those Bond fans have been generous, kind, and supportive to me during this process. For many Bond fans, the films and novels are just the tip of the iceberg. The way we deepen our love of the character is by reading books, magazines, and message boards about Bond. So I really hope that Bond fans enjoy The Many Lives of James Bond.

To see the Amazon listing for The Many Lives of James Bond, CLICK HERE.

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