Fleming scholar on the trail of 007’s creator

F.L. Toth during a research trip to Indiana University’s Lilly Library (photo courtesy of F.L. Toth)

F.L. Toth is a librarian and a scholar about the works and life of Ian Fleming. Her Twitter feed, @3octaves, or 007intheAdirondacks, notes significant events in the life of James Bond’s creator. She lives in update New York, territory where the literary Bond was known to travel.

Toth has made research trips to study the life and works of Fleming. She also is a contributor to Artistic Licence Renewed. You can see a sample of her work by CLICKING HERE.

The blog interviewed Toth via direct messages on Twitter. A transcript follows.

THE SPY COMMAND: What spurred your interest not only in Ian Fleming’s Bond stories, but also in the life of the author?

F.L. TOTH: My high school boyfriend (eventually my husband!) introduced me to James Bond movies, and I began to borrow the books from the library. When I got to The Spy Who Loved Me, I was astonished to realize that the jet-setting, sophisticated Bond had an adventure in my little town of Glens Falls (population 15,000, and just outside the Adirondacks).

I was even more amazed to see he knew where to pick up a lady of the night, since that would not be on any tourist maps—he’d have to have been here or have spoken to a local to know. From that moment, when I was a mere 17 years old, I was fascinated by Ian Fleming.

TSC: Fleming seems like a complicated personality. He also seems to have crammed 90 years of living into a little more than 56. What’s your appraisal of Fleming?

F.L. TOTH: Oh, yes, he lived large. He seems to have been a bundle of contradictions, with a lot of people disliking him but others saying how kind he was. He contributed a great deal to his own myth of “ignoring” the warnings to stop drinking and smoking and knew fully well that he was an addict.

But what an amazing brain! He could write with passion about the most minute things, and with such clarity that a person disinterested in golf or bridge is all a -flutter reading his descriptions. And although Fleming women are often a subject of ridicule, some of the most tender monologues I’ve ever read were Fleming’s heroines.

Domino Vitale’s story of the hero in the Players cigarettes, which goes on for five pages, is heart rending.

TSC. As you researched Fleming, what was your biggest and surprise (and why)?

F.L. TOTH: I’ll never get over the shock of Fleming’s knowing where the bad part of my little town is! Other than that the biggest surprise was not at all salacious; it was how comparatively easy he had it as a writer.

Fleming had two uninterrupted months in every year to write, was not altogether dependent on his writing to survive, and had secretaries, researchers, and typists to help him make it happen. Under the circumstances, it would have been amazing if he had NOT had some success. But I think most people who approach Bond from the movies would be shocked to realize how progressive Fleming could be on social issues.

He had moments of shocking feminism, such as having a main character obtain an abortion and remain sympathetic. He had Bond express admiration for Jack Kennedy, and Fleming was an environmentalist who wrote with verve and delight to his wife about his participating in a flamingo count.

He certainly had his conservative and imperialist moments but there are times it seems the only thing that kept him from being a hippie was his love of money, which was considerable.

TSC: Where have you gone to research Fleming? A remember some time back you tweeted from the Lilly Library at Indiana University, which houses many of his manuscripts.

F.L. TOTH: Everywhere I can! Las Vegas, a Bond walking tour of London courtesy of Tom Cull of Artistic Licence Renewed, Dunn’s River Falls (seen in Dr. No) in Jamaica, multiple NYC locations, Lilly Library (not at all a Bond site but as you mentioned the home of the typescripts).

I am hoping to expand my view outside North America and Europe as soon as we are able to resume travel. Interestingly, if a person wants to see a well-preserved Bond site, the best I have seen is undoubtedly Route 9 from the Canadian border down to Lake George. There are multiple businesses under the same management (or at least the same families) as I write this as when Ian Fleming visited in the 1950s and 1960s, and construction along this route has been minimal because of the rules of the Adirondacks.

TSC: What’s your opinion of the films vs. Fleming’s originals? What films since his death do you think he’d have liked the most?

F.L. TOTH: I stopped watching the films years ago because of the sexual assault. More diplomatic people than I call the rape in Goldfinger “problematic” but this is the antithesis of Bond, who was irresistible, not predatory.

I am not entertained by sexual assault and don’t understand why anyone else is. The books have an understated but wry humor so in my opinion Fleming would have enjoyed Roger Moore (who was, according to legend, one of Fleming’s own choices for Bond).

It is important to note that Fleming was not much of a movie or theater buff even though he enjoyed the money movies brought in, and even though he had to know about theater to write his Sunday Times “Atticus” column. Fleming doesn’t write about movies with the regularity or enthusiasm of golf or fine dining.

Fleming’s sister-in-law, Celia Johnson, was a BAFTA award-winning actor and he was not known to have attended any of her performances, which gives an idea of not much interest in the performing arts.

TSC: What are some of the Fleming literary locations you’ve visited or are familiar with?

F.L. TOTH: I am intimately acquainted with the New York State locations in Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me and Route 9 runs right past my house! I’d be glad to take any visitor to a bath in Saratoga or to a diner in Lake George, and when we are able to again, A day at the races would take us to the same grandstand Bond visited all those years ago.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for highlighting the work of this scholar, especially for her perspectives as a woman regarding Fleming’s work vs the cinematic 007.

  2. What a fascinating interview! Thanks for sharing this!

  3. It’s because of people like this that we have no more “Bond girls” and very little sex in the films. The films get more and more boring

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