About the ties between British and American Bond fans

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas. Kennedy helped boost the popularity of James Bond.

I stirred a hornet’s nest this week by suggesting there are some British fans of James Bond who, shall we say, aren’t fond of American fans.

I posted a typical Twitter survey on the subject. I actually was encouraged by the bulk of responses, which indicated many British fans like their American counterparts just fine.

Still, there were some reminders that the feeling isn’t universal. For example:

What makes all of this amusing is the role Americans have had with the Bond film franchise.

Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions was American. Harry Saltzman, the other co-founder, was Canadian.

Also, Broccoli’s daughter, Barbara Broccoli, and stepson, Michael G. Wilson, were Americans The United Artists executives who gave the OK (Eon has never financed Bond films) were Americans. Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz were Americans.

What’s more, two of the people who helped increase the appeal of Bond were also American: Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy. I know it’s a cliche, but Kennedy listing From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books helped make Bond a thing in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Hefner’s Playboy serialized Ian Fleming short stories and novels.

From Russia With Love was one of the last movies Kennedy saw at the White House before he was assassinated in 1963.

The U.S. declared independence from Britain in 1776. The two countries had a major conflict in 1812. But, for most of the time since then, the U.S. and U.K. have had what is often described as the “special relationship.”

The “special relationship” may apply to Bond fandom. But, at least in the U.K., there are dissenters. So it goes.

Eon says (again) it’s not interested in Bond spinoffs

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon in November 2011

Eon Productions has said, yet again, it’s not interested in James Bond spinoffs such as streaming TV versions of 007-related characters.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the half-siblings atop Eon, spoke to Total Film (it’s not clear this is from a previous Total Film interview or a new one), which was posted online by Games Radar.

“We make films. We make films for the cinema. That’s what we do,” Broccoli, 61 and the daughter of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, told Total Film.

 “We’ve resisted that call for 60 years,” added Wilson, 79 and stepson of Albert R. Broccoli.

Amazon, which airs original streaming programming, has agreed to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, in a deal valued at $8.45 billion. The acquisition is pending, subject to regulatory review, including an investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Wilson has been involved full-time in the Bond franchise since 1972. Barbara Broccoli has been active full-time since 1982. Both had Bond-related activities (Wilson as a Goldfinger extra, Barbara Broccoli writing captions for publicity stills for The Spy Who Loved Me) before their full-time involvement.

It also doesn’t appear the Eon leaders have thought that much about Bond 26.

“It’s tough to think about the future until this film has its moment,” Barbara Broccoli told Total Film. “I think we just really want to celebrate this (No Time to Die) and celebrate Daniel, and then when the dust settles, then look at the landscape and figure out what the future is.” No Time to Die is the fifth and final Bond movie for star Daniel Craig.

No Time to Die’s world premiere is scheduled for Sept. 28 and its U.K. release on Sept. 30. The 25th James Bond film is scheduled to debut in the U.S. on Oct. 8.

UPDATE: Jack Lugo of James Bond Radio reminds me that Eon was deeply involved with the syndicated James Bond Jr. cartoon show of the early 1990s. The title character was James Bond’s nephew. Michael G. Wilson shared a “developed by” credit on that cartoon series.

UPDATE II: Here’s a screen shot from the end titles of the first episode of James Bond Jr.

In a way, cinema Bond’s 60th already is underway

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

h/t to David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier who researched the founding date of Eon Productions.

2022 will mark the 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. But in one sense, the 60th already is underway when it comes to key events that led to the movie.

What follows is a sampling (hardly a comprehensive list) of key dates.

June 29, 1961: United Artists issues a press release that it will distribute a series of James Bond films to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. A partial image of the press release is shown in Inside Dr. No, a documentary included in Bond film home video releases.

The producers earlier agreed to join forces. Saltzman held a six-month option on most of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. But he had been unable to reach a deal with a studio.

Broccoli had been interested in the Bond novels for years. He was introduced to Saltzman. Broccoli was unable to buy out Saltzman’s option. So they approached UA together.

July 6, 1961: Eon Productions is incorporated. It is the Broccoli-Salzman company that will produce the Bond films. A separate company, Danjaq, was formed to control the copyright to the movies.

Aug. 18, 1961: Eon receives a script by Richard Maibaum adapting Thunderball, Fleming’s most recent Bond novel. However, the novel had been based on material from an unmade film. Thunderball would generate legal fights. Eon would switch gears and begin its Bond series with Dr. No instead.

Aug. 23, 1961: Broccoli sends a note to Saltzman. “Blumofe reports New York did not care for Connery feels we can do better.”

The note appears in both Inside Dr. No and When the Snow Melts, Broccoli’s autobiography.

Blumofe may refer to Robert F. Blumofe, a West Coast-based UA executive from 1953 to 1966.

A 1961 article in The New York Times described him as “Hollywood symbol of cinematic revolution.” That referred to how UA provided producers and filmmakers more autonomy than other studios.

Connery, of course, was Sean Connery who got the Bond role. UA would soon change its mind about Connery’s suitability for the part.

UPDATE: Last year, Eon’s official Twitter feed listed Nov. 3, 1961 as the date when Connery’s casting was announced.

Reminder of a major Bond transition

Earlier today, the Eon Productions official James Bond feed on Twitter posted a reminder of a major transition in the long-running film series.

The tweet had a photo from 1988 of the start of production of Eon’s 16th Bond film. In the photo, Eon co-founder, Albert R. Broccoli, is holding a clapperboard. At the time the film was to have been called License Revoked:

Richard Maibaum, a screenwriter who went back to the earliest days of the Eon series, had worked on the plot. But the Writers Guild of America went on strike.

Michael G. Wilson, who collaborated on the Eon Bond films of the 1980s, took over as lead screenwriter. In those days, the weekly print edition of Variety carried a chart of major movies in production. That listed only Wilson as the movie’s screenwriter. Eventually, after the WGA went back to work, the final credit, when the movie was released in 1989, was “Written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum.”

The title later was changed to Licence (the English, rather than American, spelling) to Kill.

The movie would be the final Bond credits for Maibaum, director John Glen (who, in addition to his five directing credits had worked as editor and second unit director on three others) and title designer Maurice Binder.

Albert R. Broccoli chose Pierce Brosnan to play Bond in the 1990s, but passed on producing duties to Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. The Eon co-founder got a “presents” credit in GoldenEye.

An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

For Your Eyes Only’s 40th: Back to Fleming

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld (?) menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Updated from a June 2016 post.

Audiences got something in June 1981 they hadn’t seen in a while — a James Bond film with much of the proceedings actually based on Ian Fleming stories.

For Your Eyes Only, based on two Fleming short stories, even included some dialogue here and there taken from 007’s creator.

At this point, there hadn’t been so much Fleming material in a Bond movie since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended with the death of Bond’s wife Tracy.

That movie was referenced at the very start of the pre-titles sequence when Bond visits Tracy’s grave. Her year of death was listed on her headstone as 1969 and her epitaph read, “We Have All the Time in the World.”

Following two Bond spectacles, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, the 1981 pre-titles sequence immediately signaled a change in tone.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson ended up using chunks of the For Your Eyes Only and Risico short stories while fashioning a plot line to tie the two Fleming tales together.

It was also one time where Eon Productions and producer Albert R. Broccoli varied from their usual strategy of “tailoring” a movie to its leading man.

Roger Moore, making his fifth 007 film appearance, was called upon in the Maibaum-Wilson script to kick a car containing a killer in the employ of the movie’s villain off a cliff. Earlier in the story, Bond’s opponent was responsible for the death of an MI6 agent.

There were multiple accounts at the time that Moore hesitated but that first-time director John Glen (who had been promoted by Broccoli from second unit director) stuck to his guns.

It was a harder Bond than Moore normally played and it worked for the story. This was a case of writing Bond first and having the actor play to that.

For Your Eyes Only still added big set pieces, including a wheelchair-bound Blofeld (originally it wasn’t officially supposed to be the villain, but that got “re-conned” many years later as part of an official home video promotion) controlling a helicopter with Bond inside. There were also chases, with Bond in a small car for a change and on skis being menaced by various killers.

However, For Your Eyes Only stayed very much earth-bound compared with Moonraker, where Bond had gone into space. On more than one occasion, Moore’s Bond is forced to use his wits to survive.

During the summer of 1981, Bond still drew audiences amid heightened box office competition, such as Indiana Jones’ debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a huge hit with global box office of almost $390 million.

For Your Eyes Only generated global box office of $195.3 million. While a bit down from Moonraker’s $210.3 million, the change in direction was accepted by the general public.

Moreover, fans of Fleming’s original novels and short stories took note. It would not be until 2006’s Casino Royale that audiences would get as much Fleming content in a 007 film. For Your Eyes also was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

FROM 2011: For Your Eyes Only’s 30th anniversary: 007 returns to earth

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

1973: Live And Let Die’s unusual soundtrack packaging

Part of the Live And Let Die soundtrack packaging (Spy Command photo)

In the 21st century, vinyl music (you know, records) has been revived. Truth be told, it was the best format for movie soundtracks. There was more room for poster images and other art related to the movie.

One of the best examples of this occurred in 1973 with the release of Live And Let Die, the eighth James Bond film.

Most soundtracks of the era were single discs that fit into a sleeve. Live And Let Die’s soundtrack, likewise, was just one disc. But when you looked at the cover, you could open it and see two sets of images (see above).

The biggest image, naturally, was Roger Moore as the new James Bond. Still, all told, there were 11 either film stills or publicity images from the movie. It’s not the kind of presentation you get on a CD or a music download.

The cover was an image of the movie’s main poster art. The back cover was a listing of the tracks on the record.

The list included “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” (from the fake funeral scene) arranged by Milton Batiste. Batiste also composed “New Second Lind,” performed by Harold A. “Duke” Dejan and The Olympia Brass Band.

The other tracks were composed by George Martin except for the final track on side two, the film’s version of The James Bond Theme.

A final note: On this U.S. version of the album, Albert R. Broccoli gets top billing over fellow producer Harry Saltzman. Saltzman was actually the primary producer of the film. A lot of home video versions work from a version where Saltzman got top billing.

UPDATE: A former Bond collector (he sold his collection off some time back) advises me the 1969 U.K. vinyl release of the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service soundtrack also had a gate-fold cover as described above for the Live And Let Die soundtrack. I have a copy of the U.S. OHMSS vinyl soundtrack, but it only has a standard cover.

Also, a reader complained that I didn’t mention Paul McCartney and Wings. They performed the title song. It was written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Most fans know that but I decided to make up for that here.

UPDATE II: Another reader advises the U.K. version of the vinyl release of The Spy Who Loved Me also had a gate-fold cover. I have the U.S. vinyl release and no gate-fold cover.

To quote Commodore Schmidlapp from the 1966 Batman feature film: “Pip, pip, Yankee dollars.” Except, when it comes to Yankee Bond fans: “Go stuff it, you uncouth barbarians.”

UPDATE III: David Reinhardt of the Ian Fleming Foundation, up seeing this post provided gate-fold images from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me soundtracks that appeared outside the U.S.

OHMSS soundtrack gate-fold images
The Spy Who Loved Me gate-fold images

As stated before: “Pip, pip.”

2021’s two most important 007 anniversaries

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

People love anniversaries and James Bond fans are no exception. Typically, anniversaries of films are noted. But, in 2021, anniversaries of two events are more important.

On June 29, 1961, United Artists put out a press release that the company had reached an agreement with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to finance and release a series of films based on Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. A copy of the release can be seen in the documentary Inside Dr. No.

The tale has been told many times. Saltzman had obtained a six-month option on most of Fleming’s books. But time was running out and Saltzman met up with Broccoli, who had better studio connections. An uneasy partnership was formed and their first 007 film debuted a year later.

Thus, we’re approaching the 60th anniversary of the event that made the Bond film series possible.

In 1981, UA was sold by Transamerica Corp. to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Transamerica had acquired UA in 1967 but grew weary of the unpredictable movie business.

Now, we’re approaching the 40th anniversary of the tie-up between MGM and Bond. The relationship has often been dysfunctional. MGM’s ownership has changed at various times. The studio at one point was seized by a French bank and it underwent bankruptcy in 2010. Reportedly, MGM is again up for sale and one possible buyer is Amazon.

The one constant over those four decades is that Bond has remained one of MGM’s major assets. Every time MGM runs into financial trouble, Bond fans fret about what will happen to the gentleman agent. For those fans, the journey might seem like the Israelites wandering the wilderness for 40 years.

The two anniversaries also remain relevant to today. The Broccoli-Wilson clan that succeeded the Broccoli-Saltzman duo retains creative control. Any deal to buy MGM has to take that into account.

Happy anniversaries.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.