Limbo for the serious James Bond fan Part II

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week’s fuss/buzz/kerfuffle (take your choice) about whether Daniel Craig has quit or not as James Bond unleashed a heat, if not much light about what’s next for the film 007.

What follows are some observations until there’s some real news to chew on.

Both the Daily Mail and BBC were opaque: There were dueling media accounts last week by the Daily Mail (which said Craig quit and turned down 68 million British pounds to do two more movies) and the BBC (which said Craig hadn’t quit and a decision wouldn’t be made for “a while.”).

For many, the decision which to believe was easy. The BBC is a prestigious media outlet while the Daily Mail (or Daily Fail, according to its critics) is a sloppy U.K. tabloid.

Still, both relied on unidentified sources of information. The Daily Mail cited “insiders,” including “one LA film source.” The BBC cited “authoritative Bond sources” (Barbara Broccoli? Michael G. Wilson? An Eon publicist?).

In a lot of instances, you have to not identify sources to break a story. But there’s the drawback that, in the end, the reader has to trust the outlet. In this case, the two outlets — one prestigious, the other not — are equally opaque in how they obtained their information.

Tabloids have been right in the past: Tabloids have been correct about Bond news in the past. That doesn’t mean each new story — such as last week’s Daily Mail story about Craig — should get an automatic pass. But people do tend to forget when their information has turned out to be right.

One such story occurred four years ago when the Daily Mail insisted that Naomie Harris was playing Moneypenny in Skyfall. The initial publicity said she was playing an MI6 agent named Eve.

Harris denied she was playing Moneypenny. The MI6 James Bond website ran a story in January 2012 that amplified that point.

Although little has been revealed about her Bond Girl role in the upcoming “Skyfall”, a lot of talk has been generated by the casting of Naomie Harris. Tabloids ran wild with speculation that the actress would be playing Miss Moneypenny, but Harris has finally put that story to bed.

(snip)

Despite Harris categorically stating in the interview that she will not be playing Moneypenny in the film, one tuned-out sub editor at the Mail still managed to slip the falsehood into her unrelated travel report from the Maldives, printed in the same issue of the newspaper. (emphasis added)

Months later, the Daily Mail was proven to be correct.

Again, the Daily Mail has a bad journalistic reputation. But, for some reason, it has had 007 scoops proven correct. Many of them were reported by Baz Bamigboye, but he hasn’t been on the Bond beat since late 2014. Skepticism is understandable. Still, all sorts of stories about both Skyfall and SPECTRE were proven correct.

People, incorrectly, believe something isn’t official until there’s a press release: Contracts can be signed and commitments made — all very official, and legally binding — before there’s a public announcement.

Example: Ford Motor Co. hired Boeing Co. executive Alan Mulally as its new chief executive officer on Friday, Sept. 1, 2006. Mulally signed his contract on that date. His hiring, however wasn’t announced until four days later, Tuesday, Sept. 5, the day after the U.S. Labor Day holiday. The Sept. 1 date didn’t become public until a subsequent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about terms of the new CEO’s contract.

In other words, Mulally was legally Ford’s CEO for four days before the company informed the public. That’s as official as it gets. A press release is the end of the process and not the beginning.

 

Moore speaks up on behalf of Craig

Seven-time 007 Roger Moore, as he has done in the past, spoke up on behalf of actor Daniel Craig.

Moore put out a post on his twitter account on Friday, apparently referring to a Daily Mail story late Wednesday saying that Craig had quit the role after four Bond movies. That story cited “insiders” and quoted a “LA film source.”

The BBC came out with a short item on Thursday quoting “authoritative Bond sources” that Craig had not and a decision won’t happen “for a while.” There has been no official statement on the topic. Before these dueling stories, there have been many articles discussing possible future Bonds.

Moore has often complimented Craig, including a 2012 interview with Time magazine. So it wasn’t surprising that Moore’s tweet on Friday followed that pattern.

Morley Safer’s 007 moment

Morley Safer, the long-time 60 Minutes correspondent, died on Thursday only days after CBS announced his retirement.

Safer covered the Vietnam War for CBS and came aboard 60 Minutes in 1970, two years after the broadcast began. During that stretch, he managed a James Bond moment.

In the 1970s, he did a story about the Orient Express, including how it had seen better days. You can catch a few shots of it in The Associated Press video obituary below, starting around the 20-second mark.

At one point, the story showed the train changing engines, with the new engine having the number 007 on its front.

That led to a brief sequence edited to make it appear as if Safer was listening in on the From Russia With Love fight between James Bond (Sean Connery) and Red Grant (Robert Shaw).

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find that clip, but the AP obit below is worth a watch. It runs 1:17. Meanwhile, while living as a bachelor in London in the 1960s while working for CBS, he bought a Bentley with his poker winnings, according to Sunday’s 60 Minutes telecast about Safer’s career.

UPDATE (10:25 p.m.): If you CLICK HERE, you may be able to view the 1977 story about the Orient Express. The video seems to be freezing up after a commercial is shown. The story was titled “Last Train to Istanbul.”

 

Daily Mail says Daniel Craig is out as 007

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

UPDATE (May 19): The BBC reports that “authoritative Bond sources” say Daniel Craig hasn’t made up his mind and no decision is expected soon. CLICK HERE and see the item with a time stamp of 07:56.

ORIGINAL POST: The U.K. tabloid newspaper and website the DAILY MAIL said turned down a 68 million pound ($99 million) to do two more 007 films.

In the past, the Daily Mail had a number of scoops about 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE that were proven to be true. The bulk of those stories were written by Baz Bamigboye, but he been writing about other entertainment subjects since late 2014.

Here’s an excerpt from the new story by Rehema Figueiredo:

Insiders said Craig turned down a £68million offer from MGM studio to return as Bond for two more films following last year’s hit Spectre. The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer.

One LA film source said: ‘Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted.’

There has been a lot of speculation that Craig, 48, was quitting Bondage and even more about possible replacements. Almost all of those stories cited how Craig some in some interviews shortly after SPECTRE finished filming that he would rather slit his wrists than do another Bond film.

However, the Daily Mail is the first outlet to go out on a limb and state definitively that Craig was out. Craig has done the last four films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Craig also was a co-producer of SPECTRE.

What follows is in the for what it’s worth category (and not an endorsement of the Daily Mail story):

SPECTRE ended with Bond driving off in the Aston Martin DB5 with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux).

Just before filming began, the script had Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world,” a line originally from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, spoken by George Lazenby’s Bond, just before (and after) his wife Tracy (Diana Rigg) is killed. The finished version of SPECTRE didn’t have the line.

To read the entire Daily Mail story, CLICK HERE.

 

(Almost) 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded the other day that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide will mark its 20th anniversary this year. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

A book about 007’s inspiration

Cover for Into The Lion's Mouth

Cover for Into The Lion’s Mouth

Author Larry Loftis has come out with a book, Into The Lion’s Mouth, about real-life World War II spy Dusko Popov, who was said to be an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

The blog had a chance to ask some questions of Loftis by e-mail. The exchange follows.

What interested you in the subject in the first place to do a book?

I was working on an espionage novel four years ago and I started researching “greatest spy ever.”  Dusko Popov’s name kept … ahem … popping up.  The more I read, the more intrigued I became. The man’s real life was more entertaining and thrilling than what I was making up. After reading my manuscript, my editor (Tom Colgan, famously Tom Clancy’s editor) remarked, “It’s a good thing this is nonfiction. This story is too incredible to be a novel.”

Over the years, different people have been argued to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. What makes you sure your guy is the one?

The short answer is … read my book! :)  To fully explain, I’d need to include all 400 pages here. What I can say is that most people confuse two entirely different questions, namely: 1) Who was the model (or who were the models) for James Bond?; and 2) Who was the inspiration for James Bond.  Both questions can be answered with certitude. As to the model(s) from whom Fleming borrowed characteristics for Bond…there were numerous individuals. Fleming repeatedly stated this.

However, as to the man who inspired 007, there is only one name—Dusko Popov. He is the man we see in Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale. Everything about James Bond (MI6 agent, playboy, handsome, charming, intelligent, daring, crack shot, etc.) matches Popov … and Popov only. And the famous casino scene? That came from what Fleming saw in Casino Estoril (Lisbon) when he shadowed Popov (MI6 agent “TRICYCLE”) in August 1941. For a short explanation, see my website (LarryLoftis.com or RealJamesBond.com).

Fleming, of course, couldn’t reveal a word about this. To do so would have landed him in prison for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act.

Not a word was published about what MI5 or MI6 (working in tandem with Fleming’s Naval Intelligence department) had done during the war until MI5’s Double-Cross Committee chairman, J. C. Masterman, published his report in 1972, long after Fleming had died. Masterman only referred to agents by code names but MI5 nevertheless objected to the release (which was eventually published by Yale University Press).

Following Masterman’s book, others began to reveal tidbits of Popov’s activities through fictitious code names—BICYCLE, TALLYRAND, and IVAN (Popov’s German code name).

My book details exactly where, when, and how Popov and Fleming met, and what Fleming knew of him.  Suffice it to say that people in Estoril (especially at the Palacio Hotel) know that Popov was Fleming’s inspiration and, as you’ll see in my book, so does the Fleming family.

Since I knew that people would ask this very question, I have included in my book a chart which gives the men most often suggested as either the model or inspiration for James Bond, and how they compare to the Bond we see in Casino Royale. Only one man matches all categories—Dusko Popov.

After you began researching, what was the biggest surprise you encountered?

Just the sheer amount of data to process. There are thousands of pages on Popov in the U.K. National Archives, and an equal amount in the U.S. FBI files. And if you want to be thorough, you have to read primary sources about everyone involved: Fleming’s files in the National Archives, Admiral Godfrey’s memoirs at the Churchill Archives, FDR’s files in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, memoirs of key Germans, memoirs of MI5, MI6, and Naval Intelligence officers, and biographies of Popov, Fleming, Menzies (“C”), Godfrey, Hoover, Stephenson (BSC), and Donovan (OSS and later, CIA).

Then we have the secret police files and embassy information from Lisbon, the WWII information about Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Brazil … and on it goes.

What differences are there between your subject and Fleming’s literary Bond?

Most importantly, women. As Fleming told a BBC reporter, Bond typically romances just one girl per book.  Popov had two or three girls per city—London, Lisbon, Madrid, New York, Sun Valley. The MI5 archive files include numerous love letters written to him that were intercepted by British Intelligence. MI5 also asked the army if they had a female who could provide Popov “companionship” while keeping an eye on him.

He seduced enemy spies. He received letters from girls he couldn’t remember. In short, Popov’s irresistible charm, animal magnetism—whatever you want to call it—was well known throughout all British Intelligence (MI5, MI5, Naval Intelligence).  Without question, Fleming was well-aware of the incorrigible playboy who was Britain’s best spy.

Second, as impressive as Bond is, Popov excelled him in every way.  Bond speaks three languages in Casino Royale; Popov spoke five. Bond is highly intelligent; Popov had a doctorate in law; Bond is a crack shot; Popov won two snap shooting contests. Later, in Dr. No, we see that Bond’s cover is as an import/export businessman. Popov not only had that cover in WWII, he had to use it, and did. MI5 files reveal that Popov consummated a $14 million (in 1940s dollars!) shipping deal, for example, and numerous other transactions involving tons of turpentine, pewter, and other commodities. After the war he structured a $15 million bond deal between South Africa and Switzerland.

After your research, did your ideas about Ian Fleming change? If so, how?

Only slightly. As you’ll see in my book, Fleming himself couldn’t have been the model for Bond since he was never an agent and, as BSC’s William Stephenson said, Ian wasn’t a “man of action.”  Fleming was actually tested by Stephenson for his potential as an operative and failed. But while Ian lacked operative skills and disposition, he had administrative and planning skills in spades. Fleming’s boss, Naval Intelligence Director Adm. John Godfrey, was so impressed with Ian’s work that the admiral said that he, Godfrey, should have been Ian’s assistant and not the other way around.

After your research, did your evaluation of Fleming’s original stories change? If so, how?

Since I was only concerned with the inspiration and creation of James Bond, I only studied Casino Royale. I don’t want to spoil the reading of my book or Casino Royale for those who haven’t yet read it, but let me say that if you know 1941 Estoril—the Palacio and Parque hotels, the Cascais cliffs, and the casino—you will see that Casino Royale is a thinly-veiled re-creation of Casino Estoril.

A recurring theme, in both fiction and real life, is whether human intelligence is still important. What are your feelings on the subject after doing this book?

Unquestionably, yes. Case in point … During WWII, the Allies had two star double agents—GARBO (Juan Pujol) and TRICYCLE (Popov). Both were highly valued by the Germans and both were instrumental in deceiving Nazi intelligence about D-Day. Popov was the more valuable of the two because he was the only agent who actually met with—and was grilled by—seasoned Abwehr, SD, and Gestapo interrogators. It’s one thing to receive radio reports, or to intercept an enemy’s message and decode it; both sides did that. It’s quite another to interrogate for seven or eight hours someone who claims to have eye witness details. That’s what Popov did, often when the Germans almost knew for certain that he was doubling.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Four things excited me about Popov’s story, and why I wrote the book: 1) the James Bond connection; 2) the fact that this man is probably the greatest spy ever; 3) the fact that the story is very much a thriller  (suggested by reviewers to have a Vince Flynn pace); and 4) Popov warned the FBI on Aug. 18, 1941 that the Japanese would be attacking Pearl Harbor (Hoover told no one).

As an aside, Popov made appearances on television shows in 1970s promoting his own book, playing up how he was Bond’s inspiration. One such appearance took place in an installment of the syndicated version of To Tell The Truth.

 

Yikes! Even the NYT gets into 007 sweepstakes stories

Tom Hiddleston's expression here is close to our reaction to the NYT story

Tom Hiddleston’s expression here is close to our reaction to the NYT story

Say it isn’t so, Gray Lady.

The New York Times, considered one of the best newspapers, if not the best newspaper, in the world couldn’t resist doing a James Bond story based on the activities of U.K. bookies who don’t actually know what’s going on.

Over the past few days, British bookmaker Coral stopped taking bets on who the next James Bond will be. That’s because there were a surge of bets in favor of British actor Tom Hiddleston.

The surge, in turn, occurred because of U.K. tabloid stories that Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli and Skyfall and SPECTRE director Sam Mendes had a late-night dinner recently with the 35-year-old actor.

This is what bookies do. They adjust odds based on bets. And if there are too many bets for one candidate, they stop making bets because they won’t make money.

Various U.K. tabloids have written up the Coral action. So has the BBC.  But The Times evidently felt it was now a matter for its attention.

The Times doesn’t actually bring any reporting to the issue. The story mostly cites other outlets. You know,  the way, blogs like ours (that are way, way down the media food chain), do.

Imagine the reaction when there’s actual news to report.

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