The Man With the Golden Gun novel, a re-evaluation

Cover to a U.S. paperback edition of The Man With the Golden Gun

A friend of mine makes a point of re-reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels every year. He refers to it as “reading the scriptures.”

I haven’t read the texts in a while. 007 continuation novels, yes. But not the originals, at least not beyond researching them for posts.

As a result, I got one out. But I opted for the runt of the litter, Fleming’s last novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.

The novel doesn’t get a lot of fan love. Raymond Benson, in his James Bond Bedside Companion, says it’s “a major disappointment and is the weakest book in the series.”

The novel is, essentially, a published first draft. Fleming wrote it in early 1964, just months before he died in August of that year of a heart attack.

“He died before he could revise, polish, and add the rich detail he always incorporated after he had completed the first draft,” Benson wrote in his 1984 evaluation of the book. In the 1990s, Benson took over as author of 007 continuation novels and movie novelizations.

That said, The Man With the Golden Gun is still an interesting novel. Fleming, despite failing health, was still a spinner of tales.

The novel begins with Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, trying to kill M. The plot is foiled because a “great sheet of armour-plated glass hurtled down from the baffled slit in the ceiling.”

M decides that Bond is to be un-brainwashed and sent after the supposedly invincible Francisco Scaramanga, the novel’s title character. If Bond dies trying, well, he dies as a hero. If he succeeds, he’s accepted back into the Secret Service.

So far, so good. The problem is Scaramanga doesn’t seem that invincible, other than being a quick draw with his golden gun.

He’s not very smart. Scaramanga comes across as more bluster than brains. He hires Bond (who catches up to Scaramanga in Jamaica thanks to luck) as an assistant.

Meanwhile, Scaramanga’s operation has already been infiltrated by the CIA. The Langley contingent, of course, includes Felix Leiter, who has once again been drafted back into active duty. You would think a guy with one hand and a hook would be a little obvious to deploy in undercover work. But hey, he is awfully capable.

The novel reminds a reader of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel. Instead of a “Hood’s convention” discussing Auric Goldfinger’s Fort Knox robbery plot, Fleming has “The Group,” representing the Mafia, KGB and Castro. The Group’s objectives, though, are less ambitious than Goldfinger’s.

Besides Scaramanga, one of Bond’s adversaries is Mr. Hendriks, the KGB’s representative in this affair. You would think the KGB — by now knowing its plot to have Bond kill M failed — would make sure all of its operatives knew what 007 looked like. But Hendriks has no clue.

“I have no informations or descriptions of this man, but it seems that he is highly rated by my superiors,” Hendriks says at one of The Group’s gatherings.

Still, the novel does get its second wind once Leiter makes his appearance. The Bond films have never really captured the Bond-Leiter rapport of the novels. As far back as Jack Whittingham’s first 007 script draft for Kevin McClory, screenwriters have tried to give Leiter more to do. But it never works out.

One of the best Bond-Leiter bits of this novel comes toward the end. Leiter is getting out of the hospital first. The two have their final Fleming-written banter.

Bond comments how Scaramanga “was quite a guy” and should have been taken alive.

“That’s the way you limeys talk about Rommel and Donitz and Guderian. Let alone Napoleon,” Leiter responds. “Once you’ve beaten them, you make heroes out of them….Don’t be a jerk, James. You did a good job. Pest control. It’s got to be done by someone.”

Each also has trouble actually saying “good-bye” to the other. An exhausted Bond lapses back into unconsciousness. “Mary Goodnight shooed the remorseful Leiter out of the room…”

The Man With the Golden Gun is far from Ian Fleming at his best. But it’s still Fleming. And that’s what makes the difference.

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007 literary meme: John F. Kennedy, author

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

In Chapter 7 of The Man With The Golden Gun (“Un-real Estate”), James Bond is relaxing in his room at the uncompleted Thunderbird Hotel in Jamaica.

He’s getting ready to have a bourbon. “The best drink in the day is just before the first one (the Red Stripe didn’t count),” Ian Fleming wrote.

Bond “took Profiles in Courage by Jack Kennedy out of his suitcase, happened to open it at Edmund G. Ross (“I…looked down into my open grave”)…”

When Fleming wrote the book in early 1964,” President John F. Kennedy had been dead only for a few months. Kennedy in 1961 had given U.S. sales of Fleming’s 007 novels a huge lift after listing From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

Thus, it was appropriate that Bond is carrying around Kennedy’s book in the middle of a mission to eliminate Francisco Scaramanga.

Profiles in Courage was published in 1956 when Kennedy was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. It discussed people who exhibited political courage.

In addition to Ross, a U.S. senator from Kansas in the 19th century, the book also had chapters on, among others, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston and Robert A. Taft.

It wasn’t Kennedy’s first book. He wrote the 1940 book Why England Slept.

Profiles in Courage won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for biography. However, a controversy ensued after journalist Drew Pearson said in an interview with Mike Wallace in December 1957 that the book was ghostwritten.

“He’s the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him, which indicates the kind of a public relations buildup he has had,” Pearson told Wallace, according to a partial transcript of the interview in an excerpt of a 2005 Wallace autobiography on NBC News’s website.

The interview aired on ABC. Under a threat from the Kennedy family to file a libel suit, the network apologized.

“I was incensed that my employers had caved in to the Kennedys,” Wallace wrote in his memoir, Between You and Me.

In fact, major work on the book was performed by Kennedy assistant Theodore Sorensen.

“It was no great secret that Mr. Sorensen’s intellect was an integral part of the book,” according to The New York Times’ 2010 obituary on Sorensen. “But Mr. Sorensen drafted most of the chapters, and Kennedy paid him for his work.“

“I’m proud to say I played an important role,” Sorensen said in an interview that was recorded to appear with the obituary. He became Kennedy’s speech writer after the latter took office as president.

Thrilling Cities audio book available

Cover to a 2009 edition of Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book

An audio book version of Ian Fleming’s 1963 book Thrilling Cities is now available, Ian Fleming Publications said Sept. 12.

Thrilling Cities was a non-fiction book by Fleming. It was based on a series of stories he did for The Sunday Times about important cities around the world.

The audio book is narrated by actor Barnaby Edwards.

It is available at Amazon U.K. and the website of W.F. Howes Ltd. 

Thrilling Cities, indirectly, also begat the creation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran from September 1964 to January 1968.

Producer Norman Felton was approached whether the book could be made into a television show. Felton had access to gallies. He decided it couldn’t but made a pitch for an adventure show. Ian Fleming was involved in the project from October 1962 until mid-1963.

Literary 007 meme: Arthur Krock

Kentucky historical marker for Arthur Krock (1886-1974)

In the 12th chapter of Thunderball (The Man From the C.I.A.), James Bond is waiting to make a contact after an aircraft with two atomic bombs has been hijacked.

Bond “went to the souvenir shop and bought a copy of the New York Times. In its usual discreet headlines it was still leading with the loss of the Vindicator,” Ian Fleming writes.

“Perhaps it also knew about the loss of the atom bombs, because Arthur Krock, on the editorial page, had a heavyweight column about the security aspects of the NATO alliance.” Before Bond can finish Krock’s column, he’s surprised by Felix Leiter. “007? Meet No. 000.”

It’s a passing reference to a figure who was once among the most significant figures in American journalism.

Krock was a reporter, columnist and Washington bureau chief for the Times. He won four Pulitzer Prizes, two regular awards, a special commendation and a special citation.

Krock also worked in a much different era, the insider journalist. One of his Pulitzer Prizes was for an exclusive interview with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“So great was his knowledge of politics and government that Presidents sought his advice and, possibly in return, granted him exclusive interviews,” according to his obituary in the Times.

What’s more, some have written that Krock was too close to some of his subjects. The Columbia Journalism Review wrote in 2013 that Krock’s friendship with Joseph Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, “showed in his coverage.”

Thus, when Bond is musing whether the Times knows more than its telling in Thunderball, it’s fiction based on fact.

As the blog has noted before, Fleming had been a working journalist, including being foreign editor of The Sunday Times. The 007 creditor likely was familiar with Krock’s work.

“Unquestionably, Arthur Krock was conservative in his outlook on matters political, social and economic. His editorial page column, ‘In the Nation,’ was widely regarded as a major voice of conservative America,” according to the Times’ obituary.

“But as a reporter, any partisan leanings he may have had were submerged in his independence as a professional journalist.”

Krock was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, in 1886. After working in Washington for Louisville, Kentucky, newspapers, Krock joined the New York Times in 1927. He was given the task or reorganizing the paper’s Washington bureau in 1932.

Krock yielded the Washington bureau chief title in 1953 so the paper could keep the up-and-coming James Reston, according to The Kingdom and the Power by Gay Talese. But Krock continued writing the “In the Nation” column until his retirement in 1966.

1991: A NYT writer revisits the literary 007

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

While researching another topic, the blog stumbled on a 1991 New York Times Magazine article, “Demigods Aren’t Forever.”

The writer, William Grimes, was born in 1950 and discovered Bond in the early 1960s when Ian Fleming’s novels became a big deal in the U.S. thanks to President John F. Kennedy.

As it turns out, the article is part of the “James Bond is washed up” genre. Grimes also writes about Cambridge (a film reference), rather than Eton and Fettes College.

Still some passages caught the blog’s eye.

Discovering 007

For me, 1963 was the year of Bond. The timing was perfect. I was 13, and Ian Fleming’s slender thrillers had become a national sensation after J.F.K. pronounced “From Russia, With Love” one of his 10 favorite books. On top of that, Sean Connery had just made his first appearance as the British spy in “Dr. No,” and more films were on the way. This cultural ferment helped redefine my goals. Before 1963, I wanted to be my father. After 1963, I wanted to be Bond.

Preference for the literary Bond over the cinema 007

Bond moved easily and masterfully through all situations because he knew things. That was the appeal. Even at 13, the sexual repartee so prominent in the Bond movies seemed a little bogus to me. …In my mind, Bond was a suave intellectual who could slice through life’s difficulties with the ruthless efficiency of Oddjob’s hat.

Living like Bond is harder than it looks

On a pleasant spring evening (during a trip to France), I entered a bistro and, although the place was empty, was immediately shown to the worst table in the place. Fine, all part of the game — advantage France. As Bond Man, I would watch the waiter’s contumely shade into dismay at my effortless French, grudging respect at my daring yet perfect menu selections and frank admiration at my handling of the wine list.

None of this came to pass. Tension caused my French to falter. The waiter merely shrugged at the food order, as though to say, it’s your money, do what you want with it. Ditto the wine.

Disillusionment

Recently I reread most of the Bond books. The casino action held up pretty well. And so did the driving, which I could now, as an actual driver, analyze with a critical eye. But Bond — the Bond of the books much more than the movies — turned out to be not quite as smooth as I remembered. His taste in food runs to enormous slabs of steak and giant lobsters… On wine matters, he patently bluffs. He apparently knows nothing about literature, music or art. The Bond bookshelf contains nothing weightier than Ben Hogan’s “Modern Fundamentals of Golf…The superspy had gotten old, stale. He was no longer up to the job. The time had come to retire 007.

Obviously, your mileage (especially if you’re busy reading the newest 007 continuation novel, Forever and a Day) may vary.

Literary 007 meme: Jimmy Cannon

Jimmy Cannon (1909-1973)

Thanks to .@JB_UnivEx on Twitter, the blog was reminded of a major U.S. sports writer, Jimmy Cannon (1909-73).

In the novel Diamonds Are Forever, Bond hangs around quite a bit with former CIA agent Felix Leiter.

Leiter gives Bond a New York Post sports column he clipped from the newspaper.

“This Jimmy Cannon is their sports columnist,” Leiter tells Bond. “Good writer. Knows what he’s writing about. Read it in the car. We ought to be moving.”

A couple of sentences later, there’s this passage:

“Bond settled himself down with Jimmy Cannon’s tough prose. As he read, the Saratoga of the Jersey Lily’s Day vanished into the dusty, sweet past and the twentieth century looked out at him from the piece of newsprint and bared its teeth in a sneer.”

What follows is a supposed Cannon column. (h/t to the Fleming’s Bond website, which wrote about Cannon in 2014.) Afterwards, Leiter comments. “And Jimmy Cannon doesn’t let on the big boys are back again, or their successors.”

Cannon, in his day, was a celebrated U.S. newspaper sports columnist. He wrote short, punchy sentences. It was said Cannon never wrote a sentence longer than 10 words.

One of his fans was Dick Schaap (1934-2001). Schaap began as a newspaper man but managed to transition into television. He was the host of an ESPN show called The Sports Reporters. It consisted of Schaap and (mostly egoist) newspaper columnists. That show ended in May 2017.

Going into commercial breaks during the early years of The Sports Reporters, viewers saw images of Howard Cosell, one of the most famous U.S. sports casters of all time. Another was Jimmy Cannon.

When Cannon died, Dave Anderson of The New York Times did his obituary.

He was perhaps the first sportswriter aware of the sociological impact of the black athlete. Of Joe Louis, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, he once wrote:

“He’s a credit to his race—the human race.”

Of all his assignments, Mr. Cannon appeared to enjoy boxing the most, even though he criticized it as “the red‐light district” of sports. He was content with his role as a sports columnist despite editors who sometimes derided the sports pages as the “toy department” of their newspapers.

When Diamonds Are Forever was written, Ian Fleming was still a working journalist. In his case, Fleming was the foreign editor of The Sunday Times. Of course, earlier in his career, Fleming wrote from the Soviet Union for the Reuters news service.

The fact that 007’s creator was familiar with leading U.S. journalists was not a surprise. Fleming would drop other references to U.S. journalists later in his novels.

Still, Dick Schaap, a Cannon admirer, is barely remembered today. Cannon didn’t live to the era when sports writers became celebrities.

1970s: Future of the literary Bond?

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

By Nicolas Suszczyk,

Guest Writer

Forever and a Day, the new James Bond novel, came out this week. Based on material Ian Fleming wrote for an unproduced TV series, British author Anthony Horowitz placed Bond in a pre-Casino Royale era, sent to investigate murder of the man who carried the 007 number before him in the Cote d’Azur.

Looking Backwards

It is not the first time that Ian Fleming Publications decided to look backwards.

Devil May Care, published in 2008 to coincide with Fleming’s centenary, put Bond in 1967, after the events of The Man With The Golden Gun. Solo (2013), by William Boyd, saw Bond in 1969 after the events of Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun. Horowitz’s first 007 novel Trigger Mortis (2015) was a direct sequel of Goldfinger in 1957, taking as reference the unused Ian Fleming treatment Murder on Wheels.

On the other hand, IFP tried to do the exact opposite in 2011 with Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche, where a rebooted Bond in his early 30s dealt with organized terrorism in the 21st century.

After Ian Fleming and Kingsley Amis, Bond continuation authors John Gardner and Raymond Benson set 007 stories from the early 1980s to the early 2000s without rebooting while escaping the reality that Bond should be an elderly man in those adventures. Much like The Simpsons, 007 remained the same age for years.

Where To Next?

So, what should be next in store for the literary James Bond? The answer seems obvious but not less interesting: the 1970s.

In that decade, three literary Bond pieces were published. In 1973, we had John Pearson’s The Authorized Biography of 007, a fictionalized encounter between the author (Fleming’s biographer) and the “real” Bond, who checked or contradicted facts about the previous novels.

Later in the decade (1977 and 1979) saw the publication of Christopher Wood’s novelizations of the James Bond films he wrote: The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, respectively.

The novelizations were officially titled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me and James Bond and Moonraker.

Although these were adaptations of the movies, they had few ties with the 1970s.

Between 1968’s Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis and 1981’s Licence Renewed by John Gardner, there were no original James Bond novels.

That’s why it would be a lucrative and accurate alternative for the post-2018 literary Bond to follow, the possibility of taking an interesting and creative angle.

Volatile Era

The 1970s were a politically convulsed era where a James Bond story could perfectly fit. In 1974, a longtime ally of Great Britain, the United States, was affected by the Watergate scandal that ended with the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Also during the decade, the CIA came under scrutiny by reporters and the U.S. Congress.

Richard Nixon, with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Moore, while campaigning for president in 1960. He wouldn’t be elected until 1968 and was forced to resign in 1974.

In the rest of the world, Latin American countries were ruled by dictators: Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina (this junta would lead to the Falklands war with the U.K. in 1982) and Hugo Bánzer Suárez in Bolivia, to name a few.

All these governments had their origins in the early or mid-1970s, something that should serve as the background for an original Bond plot.

The novels have utilized such settings. William Boyd’s novel Solo has Bond dealing with a civil war in a dictatorial African nation of Zanzarim.

Prime Minister of Rhodesia Ian Smith declared the independence of his country in 1970, cutting its last link with the British Crown. This created a conflict with the British PM Harold Wilson, who refused to recognize the new regime of the African nation and was backed by the United States.

IRA Bombings

Also in the 1970s, England was the target of many IRA bombings which could also serve as a background for a more British-oriented plot.

Munich suffered a terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympic Games executed by a Palestinian cell that ended with 11 athletes killed and convulsed the whole world.

The 2005 film Munich, starring Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, dealt with the revenge mission taken by the Mossad years later. Bond may not be related to the Olympic Games but terrorism has been the enemy in John Gardner novels like For Special Services, COLD and Win, Lose or Die and, of course, the recent films like The World Is Not Enough, Casino Royale, Skyfall and SPECTRE where terrorist attacks have played a major role (MI6 being bombed twice).

By the end of the decade, in November 1979, employees of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were kidnapped by followers of the new leader Ayatollah Khomeini for more than a year.

Some embassy employees managed to escape thanks to the Argo operation executed by the CIA with the aid of Hollywood which faked the production of a film in the region.

It is known that British diplomats aided in the mission, despite being written out of the 2012 Ben Affleck movie. Bond, known for bearing a diplomatic passport on occasions, could have been directly or indirectly involved in this operation.

In a decade shaken by social, racial and political events there could surely be a place for the literary Bond. The decade of the 1970s was not a part of any of the 40 James Bond novels published to date (not counting the novelizations or Young Bond series).

The ’70s could serve for a series of stories set year by year, resulting in 10 James Bond book written by Anthony Horowitz or whoever who follows him and, perhaps, adapting more unused Ian Fleming material.

The 1970s, done right, would be a perfect gold mine for any creative storyteller to place James Bond in.