1977: Spoilers? What spoilers?

“Wet Nellie” from The Spy Who Loved Me

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of angst over the reveal of a spoiler from No Time to Die. But, a couple of generations ago, the James Bond film franchise was a lot looser when it came to potential spoilers.

There are multiple examples. Bond soundtracks often came out before the films did. Some tracks had titles like Death of Grant, Death of Goldfinger, Death of Fiona and Death of Aki. So those developments clearly weren’t dealt with as big secrets.

But 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was perhaps the most cavalier in this regard. What’s a spoiler?

Instead of re-issuing the Ian Fleming novel The Spy Who Loved Me, a novelization written by co-screenwriter Christopher Wood reached book stores ahead of the movie (at least here in the U.S.).

On the very first page — before even the title page — there was an excerpt of Bond’s jump with the agent’s Union Jack parachute.

That was just for openers. Wet Nellie was the centerpiece of the Who-Cares-About-Spoilers marketing campaign.

Wet Nellie, of course, was the movie’s central gadget, the Lotus that could convert into a submarine. In reality, multiple cars were used but most Bond fans are familiar with the tale by now.

At the time, I had a mail subscription to the Los Angeles Times. I was studying journalism and the paper was at its peak of excellence and influence. Each day’s paper arrived four days after the publication date.

Anyway, weeks before the movie was out, the entertainment section of the LAT had a detailed story about Wet Nellie. It was the first time I even heard of the Wet Nellie nickname and how it was a takeoff of the Little Nellie name for Bond’s mini-helicopter in You Only Live Twice.

The story described how the version that actually traveled underwater worked, including how it was piloted by guys with scuba equipment. Moreover, the story clearly had been done with the cooperation of the filmmakers. They wanted to be sure everybody knew about Wet Nellie.

As a result, two of the biggest highlights of the movie were pretty common knowledge before its U.S. debut.

To a degree, that was understandable. Eon Productions and United Artists were betting big on Bond after the breakup between producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The budget roughly doubled compared with the previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun.

So there was a lot riding on the 1977 movie. If Bond went down, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort — and publicity about two of its biggest sequences.

That was then. This is now. Fan attitudes change. So do studio publicity strategies.

Does No Time to Die evoke one of Fleming’s last ideas?

New No Time to Die poster

Is this a spoiler? Only if it’s correct. Nevertheless, don’t read any further if that upsets you.

The MI6 James Bond website today published a story about No Time to Die spoilers based on call sheets issued during filming in Italy last year.

The article reveals a number of details. But one in particular would catch the attention of Bond fans who’ve read Ian Fleming’s original novels.

Specifically, such fans would note the end of the author’s You Only Live Twice novel.

Here’s an excerpt:

One of the final scenes to be shot Italy back in September was with Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and Madeliene (Lea Seydoux) on the coast near Maratea Port for scene #235. This location is doubling for Safin’s island. Local press caught shots of a rib boat with Nomi in combat gear and Madeline on a radio.

But there is a third character included in these late scenes, and it is not James Bond. Her name is Mathilde and she is 5 years old. She appears in scene #235: “Nomi pilots Madeliene and Mathilde to safety with island in the background.”

Could Mathilde be the daughter of Bond? That would be similar to the You Only Live Twice novel, where Bond, suffering from amnesia and thinking he’s a Japanese fisherman, travels off to the Soviet Union. He’s unaware that Kissy Suzuki is pregnant with his son.

The MI6 article adds this at the end:

Could James Bond become a parent? Regular Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have for years worked on including elements of unused Ian Fleming material, and aside from Bond’s brainwashed attempt to assassinate M in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of the most glaring omissions from the film series is how Bond leaves Kissy at the end of ‘You Only Live Twice’.

We’ll see. Eventually.

Footnote: Bond continuation novel author Raymond Benson ran with the idea at the beginning of his 1997-2002 run. James Suzuki, the daughter of Bond and Kissy, figures into the short story Blast From the Past. That story was first published in Playboy.

James Suzuki is killed, bringing Bond into conflict with another old enemy.

Jeremy Duns discusses scripts for 1967 Casino Royale

Jeremy Duns

Writer Jeremy Duns over the past nine years has researched the James Bond work performed by journalist-screenwriter Ben Hecht (1893-1964) and novelist Joseph Heller (1923-1999).

Both were among the scribes employed by producer Charles K. Feldman for his 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. But little had been written about that Casino Royale work prior to Duns’ research.

The Spy Command conducted an interview with Duns via email.

QUESTION: What is it about the Charles K. Feldman production of Casino Royale that spurred you to find out more?

JEREMY DUNS: I tend to be interested in oddities and gaps in the record, and follow them up if I think there might be more there.

There has been so much written about the James Bond series that the tendency is to think that there’s nothing substantial that could now be discovered about this world, but I started to rethink that in 2005 after I found a few draft pages of an unpublished Bond novel from the Sixties (Per Fine Ounce).

That research was triggered by my reading a few sentences about the book in Duff Hart-Davis’ excellent biography of Peter Fleming, published in 1974. The discovery suggested to me that there might be more to find than I’d thought. A couple of years later, a passing mention in one of Kingsley Amis’ published letters to a ‘story outline’ he was writing ‘based on an original Ian Fleming idea’ led me to finding Jon Cleary’s unfilmed screenplay for The Diamond Smugglers.

So what else could there be out there? Like many, I had read more about the 1967 version of Casino Royale in advance of the reboot with Daniel Craig, and had watched it again. It was as much of a mess as I remembered, but I was intrigued as to how it had all come about.

So many famous actors, directors and writers were involved, and I was particularly intrigued by some of the names in the latter camp – several books mentioned that, among others, Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller had been involved in writing for the film.

Those are two mammoth figures, of course, so that started me looking. Idly searching the internet in late 2009 I found that the Newberry Library in Chicago had copies of Ben Hecht’s material for the film. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I had any luck with Heller, for reasons explained here.

QUESTION: As you’ve written, Feldman’s project went through various phases from straight adaptation to madcap spoof. What do you think accounts for this?

DUNS: Lots of factors, I think, although we don’t know for sure. Eon’s films became increasingly successful as Feldman was trying to make his, and with each one, Sean Connery became more established in the public’s view as James Bond – he was soon virtually indistinguishable from the character.

Feldman tried to poach Connery for his movie, but Connery asked for a million dollars and Feldman refused (according to Connery he admitted to him later that this had been a mistake). But at some point, I suspect he figured that trying to compete with Eon by making a film like theirs, without Connery, would risk a weak imitation.

Feldman had also negotiated with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to make Casino Royale with them, but they had balked at his price. There might well have been some bitterness on Feldman’s part from those negotiations failing. And in 1965 he produced What’s New Pussycat?, which despite being a chaotic production, became a big hit.

Just as a few years later, George Lazenby was convinced by his agent that James Bond was old hat in the hippie era, Feldman seems to have convinced himself of something a little similar –- that the wild madcap psychedelic tone of What’s New Pussycat? was the hip new thing, and that he had a finger on that pulse.

QUESTION: What accounts for the interest of Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller in writing for Feldman? Was it just money? Were the writers genuinely interested in the material?

DUNS: It’s always tricky to speculate on people’s motivations, and I suspect they were nuanced and with many factors.

Ben Hecht

I don’t think Hecht needed the money, but he had initially moved to Hollywood in order to make it, of course. He was a screenwriter for hire, and one of the highest-paid in the field. He knew Feldman, had worked with him before, and they seemed to have been on friendly terms. He was certainly interested in the material – in his last letter to Feldman he said he had “never had more fun writing a movie.” I think the drafts he wrote also show he was interested in the source material.

As for Heller, Feldman offered him $150,000 to work on the script, and by Heller’s own account that was a major motivating factor – as it likely would have been for most writers.

But Heller was also interested in the material, I think, and enjoyed writing it, if not the stress of working for Feldman and doing so in the dark with other writers simultaneously working on the same script. Heller’s correspondence with Feldman and his satirical article about the experience are self-deprecating and dismissive, to the point where one might feel he disliked Bond, but that’s the Heller voice, familiar from Catch-22: cool, cynical, sardonic. It’s not the voice of his material.

If I’d only found a snippet of his letter to Feldman in which he described the pre-titles sequence he and George Mandel wrote for the film, but none of the script material, it would be easy to assume that he found the whole thing beneath him and was taking the mickey out of the whole thing. But I think that sequence is brilliant and shows a lot of care and craft. That and a lot else he wrote is easy to imagine in a later Connery film.

Other aspects of that letter, the script material, and Heller’s extensive notes and suggestions for it, show that he took the job very seriously, and did a lot of work on it.

Joseph Heller

QUESTION: Of the Hecht and Heller Casino Royale scripts, which do you think is better?

DUNS: That’s impossible to say at this point, mainly because I don’t know if there’s any more Heller material out there. There are thousands of pages in the Charles K Feldman Collection, but it’s currently closed, and there are clearly parts of the story we don’t yet know.

That said, it looks on the face of it that Hecht did more work on the film, for longer, and it more generally fits the kind of Bond film I tend to favor, eg From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Heller’s material wasn’t pastiche, spoof or satire, but nudges more towards the vein of You Only Live Twice.

Heller built on a lot of Hecht’s material, though, perhaps with Billy Wilder’s material in between, so there are several plot similarities, and their tone is broadly similar. But there’s more research to do, and it’s a little like comparing apples and pears. These were two geniuses of the 20th century, let loose on James Bond.

QUESTION: How would you describe Charles K. Feldman. I know he was an agent (and Albert R. Broccoli’s boss) and he got into production. What made him want to do that transition?

DUNS: He was a powerful Hollywood figure, and as an agent represented a huge number of stars: Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, to name just a few. He was handsome and debonair and had a rather peculiar biography, of which it’s not clear how much was true – there’s a touch of Jay Gatsby about him. I’m no expert on his career, but I think he went into production at least in part because the studio system was collapsing and creating his own projects was a way to steer a new course for the talent he represented.

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

QUESTION: Is there an element of tragedy with the Feldman production of Casino Royale? Hecht dies while working on the project. Feldman dies not long after the movie came out. The finished movie seems to have wasted an enormous amount of money. Was it worth it?

DUNS: Ben Hecht was 71 when he died, Feldman 63. I don’t know if the latter’s death was at all connected to the stress of making Casino Royale, but I doubt Hecht’s was related. This just happened to be the project he was working on when he died.

In terms of the finished film, I think it was a folly and an obsession that led Feldman astray, and he squandered enormous sums – including a lot of his own money – on it. But he also didn’t make use of some extraordinary script material he had commissioned from two of the era’s greatest writers. That’s perhaps not a tragedy, but it’s certainly a crying shame. Still, the material itself still exists, and I hope it can be read more widely at some point.

QUESTION: Perhaps an obvious question but is making a James Bond movie a lot harder than it looks? The two non-Eon films (1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) both encountered a lot of problems.

DUNS: Making any film is harder than it looks, but yes, a Bond film is especially tricky, especially because of the weight of expectations. At this point, Feldman was up against a phenomenon and, despite Heller’s clear warning, he didn’t understand that even a spectacle like Bond has to be at least halfway coherent.

You can replace John Barry with Burt Bacharach. You can have tremendous sets and costumes and Ursula Andress and David Niven and Orson Welles and the world’s greatest directors and writers… but you need to be able to put it all together. Feldman, quite literally, lost the plot.

The book Duns on Bond is an omnibus that collects Duns’ articles about Hecht’s Casino Royale scripts as well as pieces he wrote concerning Per Fine Ounce and The Diamond Smugglers. It can be ordered at AMAZON UK and AMAZON US, as well as AMAZON CANADA and other Amazon sites.

Duns wrote about Joseph Heller and Casino Royale in an APRIL 20 article in The Times of London. The article is behind a paywall. if you register for The Times’ site, you can see two free articles a month. The Times is offering a one-month free subscription plan. 

1980s: When 007 fandom grew up

Original cover to The James Bond Films by Steven Jay Rubin

Almost 20 years after Sean Connery’s debut as James Bond in Dr. No, 007 fandom began to grow up.

One of the breakthroughs was The James Bond Films by Steven Jay Rubin, first published in 1981. It was one of the first times that the Bond phenomenon got a more dispassionate examination.

Previously, there had been books that examined the films. John Brosnan’s James Bond in the Cinema amounted to a detailed review of the first seven Bond films (a later edition added to that). Kingsley Amis (who would soon write a 007 continuation novel) examined the Ian Fleming novels in The James Bond Dossier.

The Rubin book, though, included details of the behind-the-scenes conflict. In my own case, it was the first time I read how producers Abert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman ended up alternating as the lead force behind each film. It also spelled out details of the conflict between the duo.

“Live And Let Die was Harry Saltzman’s swan song as a full time James Bond film producer,” Rubin wrote at the start of his chapter about The Man With the Golden Gun. “Since that first meeting in Broccoli’s office in the early 1960’s, their partnership had been a stormy one.”

Not the stuff of what the publicity department had turned out for years.

Rubin didn’t get cooperation from Eon Productions, which began making the Bond movies in 1962. With a lack of film stills, Rubin had to turn to other sources to illustrate his book, including photos from news services.

In a way, at least for me, I had a greater appreciation of what the series had accomplished. The reader got an idea of alternate ideas and concepts that had been considered for different films.

Another key 1980s publication was Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion, first published in 1984. It examined both the Fleming novels and the films.

Benson first became a fan in the mid-1960s when Goldfinger came out and Bond had become a phenomenon.

He was (and still isn’t) a fan of the Roger Moore films that came later for the most part. In a video posted Feb. 20 by The Bond Experience, Benson said: “The movies became something else. They became comedies,” he said. “Once got The Man With the Golden Gun, I was just kind of going, ‘This is not the Bond I know.’…They weren’t my cup of tea.”

Nevertheless, Benson’s interest revived in the early 1980s when both the John Gardner 007 novels began and For Your Eyes Only reached theaters. In the interview, Benson said that’s when he got the idea of doing The James Bond Bedside Companion. “I was really back interested again.”

The book analyzed both the Fleming originals and the films up to that time (a later edition updated the films). In the 1990s, Benson was hired to succeed Gardner as the Bond continuation author. He did both original novels and movie novelizations until 2002.

You can see the Benson interview below.

Co-author discusses Nobody Does It Better

Cover to Nobody Does It Better

Mark A. Altman is an executive producer of television series such as Pandora. He also writes books with Edward Gross. The two have come out with Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond.

The book runs more than 700 pages. It includes the viewpoints about 150 people, including those directly involved with the film series (producers, directors, writers, actors) as well as observers and followers of the film series.

The blog interviewed Altman by email.

QUESTION: What made you want to tackle a book about James Bond?

ALTMAN: After writing bestselling books on Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, I was pretty much done, but my co-writer wanted to keep going. For me, they’re basically passion projects so I told him I was done and then I took a dramatic pause and said: “unless we could do a book on James Bond.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, our agent sold it immediately and I found myself committed to it in short order. But I don’t regret it because I had more fun writing this than any book we did previously and it’s my favorite of all the oral histories we’ve written on a subject that is very near and dear to me.

Q: What does your bring to the table that other books haven’t covered?

ALTMAN: As Han Solo says, that’s the real trick isn’t it? I’ve been reading books about 007 since I was a kid and am a big fan of much of the scholarship about the Bond franchise. So the real question was what we could bring to the table that was different from previous books on the subject,. I had no interest in just covering the same ground given that books like Steve Rubin’s The James Bond FIlms and Raymond Benson’s Bedside Companion were dog-eared parts of my childhood and later I devoured John Cork’s Encyclopedia and, more recently, the wonderful Some Kind Of Hero.

Unlike with Star Trek where there were a lot of books, but most of them sucked, this was a subject where the bar was very, very high.  In terms of making it different, we seized on the format combining both making of behind-the-scenes and critical analysis which is what we all do every time we watch a Bond film and that made it different. It was also important to talk to as many people as possible, especially those who haven’t talked about working on a 007 film before or talk to them in a level of depth that hadn’t occurred before.

Q: How did you split up the work with your co-author Edward Cross?

ALTMAN: We basically split the book and then flip it. That’s essentially what we did here with Ed writing from The Road To Bond through On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and then I took over and wrote from Casino Roayle 1967 to License To Kill and then he took over the rest and then we flipped it and added and revised each other’s work.

Q: How long did the book take to complete? You’re a showrunner and that can be time-consuming by itself.

ALTMAN: The biggest problem for me is time since I have a day job running a TV show. It’s been a problem in the past on other books as well where I start during hiatus and then get busy on a TV series and have limited time to do interviews and then write and promote. This was no different, but we spent about two years on it off and on and I think it shows in the quality of the book.

On the other hand, my day job often gives me access I wouldn’t get strictly as a journalist. I also was able to revisit some interviews I did back when I was a journalist like Tom Mankiewicz which I never got to use and finally was able to share in this book and he was a national treasure so that was a real incentive for me to do this book as well.

Q: What was the biggest surprise (an anecdote, piece of information or something else) you encountered while working on the book?

ALTMAN: There’s so much to unpack here. One of the most interesting stories was Jeff Kleeman, the former president of United Artists, explaining what really happened with Timothy Dalton leaving the franchise for Pierce. Also, there are some great stories from Woody Allen about Casino Royale 1967 and I felt that Paul Haggis who did his first in-depth interview on Casino Royale and Quantum really had some terrific insight into how Quantum went off-the-rails.

I also loved so much of the Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour stories about Live And Let Die that go a little deeper than what we’ve heard before about that film and, of course, a real deep dive examining the Pierce era which it hasn’t really gotten before. There are also some great stories from John Landis about The Spy Who Loved Me which I thought were fantastic.

Q: What’s your analysis of where the series stands now? What impact will the delay in the release have?

ALTMAN: I was really disappointed when No Time To Die was pushed to Thanksgiving, but obviously in retrospect it was a very smart and necessary decision. I’m really hoping that it is a fitting capper to the Craig era and takes its cues from Casino Royale not to mention On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and doesn’t double down on the family drama of Spectre.

But I always go into every 007 movie hoping it’ll be the best one ever and sometimes I more disappointed than others. I actually think the release date might help the film as it could play all through the holidays. It’s not unlike when Force Awakens got bumped from summer and ended up being a huge hit for Christmas and changed the whole release pattern for Star Wars films with Solo proving a notable outlier.

Q: Is there something you’d like to add?

ALTMAN: I’m really proud of this book. I think anyone who is a fan of the James Bond films and the spy mania films they spawned in the ’60s is going to enjoy this book. No matter how much you think you know about 007, you’re likely to find some new and fascinating information and also some wonderful arguments that will potentially engage and enrage you as well. But that’s the fun of being a Bond fan.

Anyone who was alive in 1983 still is fighting the same battle of Octopussy vs. Never Say Never Again and that’s what this book is in a nutshell. Not to mention there are some GREAT Never Say Never Again stories in here. Barbara Carrera and Dick Clement were two of my favorite interviews despite the fact that I really don’t like that movie very much :))

The book is available in hardcover, digital and audiobook and a great way to spend your time in social isolation if nothing else.

To view the Amazon listing for Nobody Does It Better, CLICK HERE. You can follow Mark A. Altman at Twitter and Instagram @markaaltman. To read a review of the book from The Associated Press, CLICK HERE.

Author discusses Quantum of Silliness

Cover to Quantum of Silliness

If there was ever a time that James Bond fans could use a good laugh, now is it. The new book Quantum of Silliness: The Peculiar World of Bond, James Bond aims to provide such laughs.

There’s a global pandemic and the news is pretty grim. The disease COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of life, including entertainment. No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film, has been postponed (along with a number of other films). Bond fans have time on their hands waiting for November when No Time to Die is now scheduled to be released.

As a result, the blog reached out to author Robbie Sims. The interview was conducted by email.

QUESTION: How would you describe Quantum of Silliness? A James Bond humor book? Or is there more to it?

SIMS: Anyone ill-minded enough to follow me on Twitter (@TheTchaikovsky) will know what to expect… it’s essentially an absurdist take on the world of Bond, so lots of quickfire gags and enough ropey puns to make Tom Mankiewicz blush. But there are several longer-form articles in there too analyzing particular aspects of the movies (e.g. a look at the recurring motif of weddings and funerals across the films; celebrating the franchise’s greatest double-takes; and an examination of just why Die Another Day is so awful).

Q: What prompted you to take on doing a book?

SIMS: This will be frustrating to hear for anyone who’s ever tried to get a book deal (myself included, unsuccessfully about 15 years ago) but it wasn’t actually my idea! I was lucky that a publisher who followed me on Twitter got in touch and suggested putting something together to coincide with the release of No Time To Die.

Obviously, in hindsight we’ve pre-empted the release by eight months, but I’m glad it’s out there now as it hopefully gives Bond fans something to soften the blow of the film’s delay.

Q: How long did you work on Quantum of Silliness?

SIMS: Two or three months, fitting it in around my actual grown-up job as a scriptwriter. Never a chore though – I enjoyed writing it in my spare time. It was a labor of love, but like a really easy labor where the child is small and greased and I’ve had an epidural.

Q: What do you think accounts for the longevity of Bond?

SIMS: Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. Once something becomes ingrained in pop culture, I guess it’s there to stay. This, of course, happened to 007 back in the mid-’60s with Bondmania but I also think we shouldn’t overlook how the Moore era steered the franchise successfully through much of the ’70s and ’80s… then Pierce in the ’90s.

If you were a child during these eras and loved watching the films as a family event (and from my point of view it always WAS an event) either at the cinema or when they came on TV, then you’re likely set up as a Bond fan for life. So it now has this incredible cross-generational appeal, which most film franchises perhaps do not.

Q: Were there any surprises along the way while you were preparing the book? Is there something you found out that you didn’t know?

SIMS: This is the ongoing joy of being a Bond fan – uncovering fresh nuggets. Although I count myself as a bit of a Bond geek, I by no means have an encyclopedic knowledge so it’s nice to discover something new about the franchise.

For example, I hadn’t twigged that General Gogol’s secretary was a recurring character called Rubelvitch (Eva Reuber-Staier plays her in TSWLM, FYEO, and Octopussy); and that General Pushkin’s mistress in The Living Daylights is called Rubavitch – presumably because an earlier draft of the script has Gogol’s character in Pushkin’s place.

This isn’t the sort of trivia that’s going to go down well at dinner parties, but hey: it gets me excited.

Q: Describe the format of Quantum of Silliness.

SIMS: It’s been described as a good toilet book! Much as I hesitate to associate my work with fecal matter, I think that means it’s something to easily flick through and glean amusement from whilst the reader deals with… other tasks.

There are plenty of great Bond books out there that take an academic look at the legacy of Fleming or chart EON’s evolution and the production of the films. Quantum Of Silliness should be considered as a much more light-hearted and playful companion piece.

The gags are grouped into various categories like ‘Elliot Carver’s Fake News’ ‘Sir Godfrey Tibbett’s Titbits’ and ‘Thoughts from the Cubby-hole’, plus I have fun imagining the fantasy fisticuffs between disparate Bond characters in a section called ‘Thunderbrawl’ and compiling a list of the franchise’s best mute henchmen in ‘No Time To Dialogue’ etc. But in between all the daftness, you might learn a thing or two about the films or even get to appreciate them from a fresh perspective.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

SIMS: Just to say that before joining Twitter (which was relatively recently in 2018) I wasn’t engaged with the Bond community at all… never used any forums or belonged to any fan clubs etc.

I was lucky to have a real-life BBF (best Bond friend) to geek out with, so that was all the engagement I needed… but when he moved to Amsterdam I thought I’d see what was going on online.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the wider 007 community, but I’ve been really heartened by how welcoming and encouraging everyone has been, especially in supporting my account and Quantum Of Silliness.

Given the rollercoaster ride the Bond 25 journey has been so far, it’s amazing to be a part of such a fun, supportive and creative community. So thanks, and well-done everybody! Here’s hoping we can all pull through a challenging year ahead and – fingers crossed – collectively enjoy the heck out of No Time To Die come November.

To view the Amazon.com listing for Quantum of Silliness, CLICK HERE. To view the Amazon UK listing, CLICK HERE

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.

Those odd back covers to 1960s Bond paperbacks

Back cover to a Signet paperback edition of Live And Let Die (it’s on top of a DVD collection of UPA cartoons, in case you’re wondering).

In episode 0028 of the James Bond & Friends podcast, there was a discussion about the back covers of 007 paperbacks and the odd order they listed the Ian Fleming books.

David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier noted how Pan paperback editions of the Fleming novels listed the books in a seemingly random order.

The podcast got a reaction on social media. I remembered the U.S. paperbacks also seemed odd. So I got out a couple of my own Signet paperbacks issued in the U.S. during the 1960s.

A 1963 Signet printing of For Your Eyes Only listed the books in this order:

Casino Royale, Live And Let Die, Goldfinger, From Russia With Love Moonraker, Doctor No, Diamonds Are Forever and Thunderball.

Casino Royale and Live And Let Die were the first two books in the series. But it jumps out of order after that.

At the same time, an inside page lists the Fleming Bond novels in a different order. It starts with From Russia With Love, goes back to Doctor No, then presents the rest randomly (Casino Royale listed fourth, Goldfinger fifth and Moonraker sixth, among others.

The 27th printing by Signet of Live And Let Die (no specific printing date but before The Man With the Golden Gun was out in paperback) has this listing in alphabetical order (discounting “the”) with more titles:

Casino Royale, Diamonds Are Forever, Doctor No, For Your Eyes Only, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Live And Let Die, Moonraker, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice.

RE-POST: Author talks about his Broccoli-Saltzman book

Cover to When Harry Met Cubby by Robert Sellers

Originally posted May 10. Re-posted today, Sept. 1, because the book is due out later this month..

Author Robert Sellers provided an in-depth look about the fourth James Bond film, Thunderball, with 2007’s The Battle for Bond. The writer has re-entered the world of Bondage with a new book, When Harry Met Cubby, about the founding 007 film producers, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

The blog interviewed Sellers about his new book via e-mail.

THE SPY COMMAND: You did a comprehensive book about Thunderball. What about the Broccoli-Saltzman story enticed you to tackle their story?

ROBERT SELLERS: Mainly because no one had done it before, which is strange because seemingly every other aspect of the Bond films has been covered. But not the relationship between these two extraordinary men, not in any great detail that’s for sure. I just thought it was about time their story was told.

SC: The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership was a bit of an Odd Couple affair. What strengths did each partner bring? What was each partner’s weakness?

SELLERS: The words most people used to describe them was chalk and cheese. They shared almost nothing in common, save for drive, ambition and a love of movies. Personality-wise you couldn’t have had two more different individuals. That included their outside pursuits and social circles. If you went to Harry’s house for dinner, or you went to Cubby’s, even if there were 20 people at dinner there was no overlap. Cubby’s friends were completely different to Harry’s.

At the beginning there was this strange alchemy at work, theirs was a relationship that was based on two opposing points of view reaching the same objective and their combined qualities made for an ideal pairing. Things went bad after just a few movies, mainly because Saltzman had so many outside interests. Harry was always buying up companies, signing up talent or movie properties, he had so many other strings to his bow, other balls in the air, whereas Cubby knew that Bond was like the goose that laid the golden egg and was intent on preserving it and to make sure that nobody tarnished it. Broccoli never understood why Harry needed to make other pictures outside Bond and this did lead to friction between the two men.

Both men certainly brought a lot of separate talents to the Bond table. Harry loved the gadgets and gizmos, Cubby was very much concerned with the casting, making sure that the girls were pretty, and worrying about the script, that it didn’t get bogged down with too much dialogue, that it got on with the action, and that the storyline was straightforward enough so people from ten to 100 could follow it.

As (screenwriter) Tom Mankiewicz so brilliantly put it to me: “So much of the pizazz that went in Bond belonged to Harry, and much of the essence and soul of Bond was Cubby.”

SC: Saltzman exited the world of Bond in the mid-1970s. He is perhaps less well known to newer Bond fans compared with Broccoli (especially since Broccoli’s daughter and stepson still run the show). Should Saltzman be better remembered than he is? Why?

SELLERS: Absolutely. People have told me that in the early days Harry was the driving force behind the films, much more proactive than Cubby. That changed later on when Harry began to diversify all over the place. Harry was a real ideas man; he’d churn them out with machine gun rapidity. The only problem was most of his ideas were either too expensive, too impractical or downright dumb. So, it was a case of sieving through the bad ones to get to the good ones. But those good ideas were often absolute gems.

There was also something of the showman about Harry Saltzman, the spit and sawdust of the circuses he worked in during his early days in show business and it was these elements that he later brought to bear upon the Bond movies; everything had to have an over the top style. That was Harry’s circus philosophy, make it bigger, make it more spectacular, make it something audiences have never seen before. There was something of P. T. Barnum about Harry.

SC: Eventually, each partner alternated as primary producer for each Bond film. When did that start? As early as You Only Live Twice? Even earlier?

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with Roger Moore during the filming of Live And Let Die.

SELLERS: The fractures in the producer’s relationship was really highlighted around the making of You Only Live Twice, ironically at much the same time as both of them fell out with their star, Sean Connery.

There had always been disagreements behind the scenes, but what had begun to grate with Cubby was the feeling that his partner wasn’t as committed to Bond as he was. This growing imbalance between the two men in their commitment to the Bond pictures reached a point where Cubby just felt aggrieved that he was carrying the load of the franchise almost on his own. As a result, Cubby was pretty much the working producer on You Only Live Twice. I was told Harry never stepped foot in Japan once cameras started rolling.

By the time of Diamonds Are Forever, the two producers could no longer work together and it was decided they ought to take turns being the operating producer on each new Bond. As Guy Hamilton succinctly put it: “I can work very happily with Cubby, and I can work very happily with Harry. But working with Cubby and Harry together is a nightmare.”

SC: Without giving too much away about your book, what was the biggest surprise you encountered during your research?

SELLERS: I guess the thing I could say that impressed me the most was just how much creative control both producers had over the films.

According to Broccoli and Saltzman, there were two kinds of producers, the business and administrative producer and the creative producer. Both men identified themselves as creative producers, involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process, offering ideas and guidance and ultimately putting their individual stamp on the pictures.

In post-production, too, they were a presence in the cutting room and at rushes. Even when the film was in release their job wasn’t finished; they’d scrutinize ad campaigns, carefully go through every detail with the distributors, attend opening nights round the world and read reviews to gauge what the critics were saying.

This was especially important to Broccoli. He might be on holiday or visiting some city in the world, and if there was a Bond film playing, he would go in and sit and listen to the reaction of the audience to find out what they liked, and what they didn’t like.

The way each of them operated as producers on the set was different, though. Harry would be around, but you wouldn’t know he was there. He might be in his trailer or having meetings somewhere. Whereas Cubby was always very visual, always around. And he knew every crew member’s name. The crew loved Cubby, not so much Harry.

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

SC: In terms of the early Bond films, could any other producers have achieved what they did? Was it like catching lightning in a bottle? I know that a lot of the regular crew members (Ted Moore, Ken Adam, Richard Maibaum) had worked for Broccoli when he was partner with Irving Allen.

SELLERS: I honestly believe the Bond films would not have been the success they were without Broccoli and Saltzman at the helm. Probably their greatest contribution was selecting the right team for the films, many of whom had worked for Cubby before, people that he knew were dependable and could deliver the goods.

On Dr No, Broccoli and Saltzman chose the technicians with the same care and diligence as the actors. They brought together an excellent crew and encouraged them; that was their real talent, hiring the right people and allowing them the creative freedom to express themselves. Can you imagine what the Bond films would have been without the vital contribution of Ken Adam or John Barry? Or for that matter the skillful editing of Peter Hunt, who was brought in by Saltzman.

Broccoli and Saltzman were also risk takers. They knew that in the film business you have to take risks and have the strength of your conviction. Both men were not afraid to make tough decisions and both stood up for what they believed in.

There is no better example of this than their choice of Sean Connery to play Bond. When United Artists voiced their disapproval, Broccoli and Saltzman stood by their man, telling the studio top brass they intended going ahead with Connery or not at all. Instinct told them this was the guy. And history proved them correct, of course. That’s why the Bond films were a success under Harry and Cubby, all the decisions they made were the right ones.

When Harry Met Cubby: The Story of the James Bond Producers is set for publication in September from The History Press. You can view its Amazon entry BY CLICKING HERE. You can view its Amazon UK entry BY CLICKING HERE.

Half of James Bond Radio team signs off

James Bond Radio logo

Half of the James Bond Radio team is signing off.

“This is a bit of a heartfelt message, but with so many ongoing things at the moment, unfortunately, I’ll be stepping away from JBR for the foreseeable future,” Chris Wright said in an announcement on its Facebook page today.

“Sometimes life gets in the way of Bond, and sadly this is one of those times,” he added. “So this is Agent Wright signing off.”

His partner, Tom Sears, also had a message in the announcement.

“What can I say?” Sears wrote. “After 5 years and 2 million downloads, I’m of course gutted to see our man in Cardiff go, but like all good things, it has to come to an end eventually. As far as the future of the podcast goes? I’m not yet sure. I’ll be thinking things through over the next few weeks.”

Since its debut in 2014, James Bond Radio had a lot of 007 chat. It also has had various interviews. A notable “get” was a 2016 interview with seven-time film 007 Roger Moore.

James Bond Radio also had a 2014 interview with Sylvan Mason, daughter of Jack Whittingam, who wrote the first Thunderball screenplays for Kevin McClory.