A look back at a Bond continuation story

Playboy’s publication of Midsummer Night’s Doom

In the late 1990s, Playboy magazine revived a tradition. In the 1960s, Playboy serialized James Bond short stories and novels by Ian Fleming. When Raymond Benson was hired by the Ian Fleming estate in the 1990s, Playboy renewed the connection.

The magazine first published Blast From the Past, a Benson short story ahead of the publication of his first Bond continuation novel. The story connected details from Fleming’s You Only Live Twice Novel (what happened to the son Bond fathered with Kissy Suzuki) to more recent Bond literary events.

Benson also was a friend of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (1926-2017). So, with Benson taking over from John Garnder as continuation author, Playboy went all in.

With Playboy’s January 1999 issue, Benson’s Midsummer Night’s Doom began thusly:

Five minutes into the briefing, M turned her chair to face him and asked, “What do you know about Playboy, 007?

James Bond blinked, “Ma’am?”

The magazine, 007. how much do you know about it?”

At this point, knowing Eon Production now had a woman M (Judi Dench), Ian Fleming Publications followed stit. Toward the end of the story, the reader is informed that Hefner has long known about Bond.

Bond was amazed. “I’m surprised that you remember that day, Mr. Hefner.”

“We have always kept up with you, James,” Hefner said with a wink. “We’re a lot, you and I. And please call me Hef.”

In the movies made by Eon Productions, Bond knew a lot about Playboy. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the George Lazenby version of Bond read a copy while a machine cracked a safe. In 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery’s Bond switched his wallet with Peter Franks, a villain Bond had just killed. Bond had a Playboy Club card

In real life, Hugh Hefner helped boost Bond’s popularity in the U.S.

The 1999 short story played on all of that. Bond’s mission takes him to Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. The story even uses names of friends of Benson’s (similar to how Ian Fleming did in his originals). Benson even evokes the final line of Fleming’s final line from the author’s Goldfinger novel. “Then he brought his mouth ruthlessly down on hers.”

Bond cultural reference: Terry and the Pirates

Diamonds Are Forever poster

In 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh James Bond film referenced a comic strip that may have gotten past some 007 fans.

Toward the end of the movie, Bond (Sean Connery) and Blofeld (Charles Gray) exchange some witticisms. At one point, Bond tells Blofeld he’s holding “all the aces, right down to the Dragon Lady (Jill St. John as Tiffany Case) here.”

The Dragon Lady originated with the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, created by Milton Caniff (1907-1988). Caniff exited the strip late in 1946 when he created Steve Canyon, a character he owned.

At the time Diamonds Are Forever was made, Terry and the Pirates was still being made with other writers and artists. The Dragon Lady remained one of the strip’s most famous characters. Here’s part of the Wikipedia description of The Dragon Lady:

Dragon Lady is usually a stereotype of certain East Asian and occasionally South Asian and/or Southeast Asian women as strong, deceitful, domineering, mysterious, and often sexually alluring.[1][2] Inspired by the characters played by actress Anna May Wong,[3] the term comes from the female villain in the comic stripTerry and the Pirates.[1][3] It has since been applied to powerful women from certain regions of Asia, as well as a number of Asian and Asian American film actresses. The stereotype has generated a large quantity of sociological literature. 

At the time Diamonds Are Forever was released, Terry and the Pirates was in its last years. It would end its run in 1973. With the Bond film, the last drafts of the script were written by Tom Mankiewicz (b. 1942). It’s possible Mankiewicz had read the comic strip. But, at this late date, there’s no way to be sure.

Regardless, the Dragon Lady was a character Diamonds Are Forever references.