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.

Historic CBS Television City on verge of being sold

The historic CBS Television City complex is on the verge of being sold, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The likely buyer is Hackman Capital Partners, according to the newspaper, citing people familiar with the negotiations it didn’t identify. The property may be valued at $700 million the Times said.

CBS originally acquired the complex in 1950 and it became its West Coast production hub starting in 1952.

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

One of the early shows produced at Television City was Climax!, a series of live dramas beginning in 1954. The third Climax! broadcast was an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, the year after the first James Bond novel was published. It featured Barry Nelson as an American Bond.

Admittedly, that’s one of the more obscure Television City productions.

“Television City has played an important role in CBS history and American pop culture as home to many legendary TV shows,” the Times noted in its latest story. “It is where entertainers such as Jack Benny, Judy Garland and the cast of ‘All in the Family’ performed.”

CBS has moved most of its West Coast entertainment operations to CBS Studio Center, with the network renting out Television City to programs not owned by CBS. The Times said if the deal with Hackman is finalized, “CBS is expected to continue to operate the 25-acre studio as a tenant for a period of time.”

Neither CBS nor Hackman commented to the newspaper for its story.

Historic CBS complex (with a 007 connection) may be sold

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale, produced at CBS’s Television City

CBS’s historic Television City complex, where thousands of hours of television shows were made, may be sold off, the Los Angeles Times reported late last month.

“CBS has not decided whether to part with the property it has owned since the early 1950s, but real estate brokers put a tempting value on it for the owners: $500 million to $750 million,” the Times reported on Sept. 28.

The company bought the site in 1950 and Television City began operations in 1952. The phrase, “From Television City in Hollywood” would become familiar to US television viewers.

One of the early shows produced at Television City was Climax!, a series of live dramas beginning in 1954.

The first Climax! broadcast was an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, with Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe. The third was Casino Royale, adapting Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. That, of course, is the broadcast that many 007 fans consider the red-haired stepchild because it features an American Bond (Barry Nelson). Others view it differently, particularly when compared with other live television broadcasts.

In the following years, “such legendary entertainers as Jack Benny, Judy Garland and the cast of ‘All in the Family’ performed for millions of viewers,” the Times noted.

However, according to the newspaper, CBS has moved most of its West Coast entertainment operations to CBS Studio Center, with the network renting out Television City to programs not owned by CBS.

Jim Steranko: 1960s spy fan

Jim Steranko provides a Sean Connery/007 cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 (1967)

Not that it’s a terrible surprise but writer-artist Jim Steranko, who had a legendary run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1960s, was a big fan of 1960s spy entertainment.

His S.H.I.E.L.D. stories included a weapons master named Boothroyd. He also had the Sean Connery version of James Bond make a one-panel cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 in 1967.

Anyway, Steranko takes questions from fans (or “henchmen”) each Sunday night on Twitter.

The Spy Commander couldn’t resist. So I asked if he had seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. during the period.

The answer? Well, judge for yourself:

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I needed to look it up. The Hunter was a 1952 series where, according to IMDB.COM, Bart Adams used the cover of an international businessman to battle Communist spies. Barry Nelson was the first actor to play James Bond in the 1954 CBS television production of Casino Royale.

Jerry Goldsmith and the 1954 Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954's Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

UPDATE (March 22): Jon Burlingame’s research indicates Casino Royale was all “tracked” music, with Jerry Goldsmith just selecting previously recorded musical cues. See below in the original post where Goldsmith describes the process. Meanwhile, the post has been re-titled.

ORIGINAL POST: As we’ve noted before, the 1954 television broadcast on CBS of Casino Royale doesn’t get a lot of respect from James Bond fans. But did that first adaptation of an Ian Fleming story include music by a future superstar movie composer?

The composer in question is Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). In 2002, Goldsmith gave an interview to journalist Jon Burlingame about his career. One of Goldsmith’s first efforts was on the CBS series Climax!, a series of one-hour live television dramas.

BURLINGAME: How did you get Climax!? Did they feel you were ready?

GOLDSMITH: No, they did’t know anything. This was the very early days of television. Music was even more infantile. Music was the bastard child…it was a necessity but it was the most unimportant necessity…At that point, CBS, they had me sort of on staff. They said they were going to put me under contract and I’m going to be responsible for the music on Climax! Basically, it was going to be recorded music.

BURLINGAME: So you were supposed to be picking cues?

GOLDSMITH: Yeah.

BURLINGAME: Just as you had done on (CBS) radio?

GOLDSMITH: Yeah.

At this point, it sounds like Goldsmith was more of a music supervisor for Climax! and wasn’t doing original work. Yet there are more details in the interview.

To avoid union penalties, “Whatever I wrote for CBS would immediately be recorded in Europe as track music,” Goldsmith told Burlingame in 2002. “I actually wrote music for the (CBS) library.”

At the same time, directors wanted music tailored for the Climax! episodes, Goldsmith said in the interview. According to Goldsmith, there’d be a mix of some new music (with very few instruments) with the track music.

Here’s the key thing. Burlingame pressed Goldsmith about the first Climax! episode he wrote music for. “I remember it was the second broadcast. We had an alto flute, and me playing the piano and organ. That was it.”

Burlingame asked again what the show was. Goldsmith didn’t specify. “I did three years…I did 36 a year…It became mostly original after a while.” Later, Goldsmith says “the first show I did” was The Long Goodbye. Goldsmith doesn’t mention this but The Long Goodbye was was the first episode of Climax! (One of that episode’s highlights, Goldsmith says, is an actor whose character was supposed to be killed gets up and walks off.)

The Climax! adaptation of Casino Royale, with Barry Nelson as an American Bond, was the show’s third broadcast, ON OCT. 21, 1954. While there are copies of the broadcast out there, some have shortened end titles, which don’t include complete end titles. The IMDB.com entry for the broadcast credits Goldsmith with the music, but IMDB.com relies on volunteers to enter information.

Goldsmith did indeed get music credits for later Climax! broadcasts, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which he received a “special music composed and conducted by” credit. In Keep Me in Mind, he’s listed as musical director.

Here’s the 2002 interview. The part about Climax! starts around the 16:00 mark, with the reference to The Long Goodbye around the 28:00 mark. The interview lasts almost two hours:

Casino Royale (1954), a reappraisal

Barry Nelson in 1954's Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

If there’s a red-headed stepchild in the world of James Bond, the 1954 CBS production of Casino Royale would be it.

The television Bond is mostly ignored. When it does come up in fan conversation, it’s the subject of derision.

An American as James Bond? Outrageous — although Eon Productions, which makes James Bond movies, seriously considered the notion twice, for Diamonds Are Forever (John Gavin was signed before Sean Connery was enticed back) and again for Octopussy (James Brolin was screen tested before Roger Moore was enticed back).

And he’s called Jimmy Bond! Outrageous — although Bond never calls himself Jimmy, other characters do. The only time he refers to his own name, he is making a telephone call and says, “This is James Bond.” Actor Barry Nelson also is clearly billed as playing James Bond in the end titles.

The television production, part of CBS’s Climax! anthology series and airing live on Oct. 21, 1954, is more like a televised play. While Ian Fleming’s first novel was short, it still covered too much ground to be covered in a 60-minute time slot. Excluding commercials and titles, only about 50 minutes was available to tell the story.

Antony Ellis and Charles Bennett, who adapted the novel for television, certainly took plenty of liberties with the source material.

Two Fleming characters, Vesper Lynd and French agent Rene Mathis, are merged into one character, Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian), a woman from Bond’s past who is working for French intelligence. Meanwhile, Bond is changed from being a British agent to an American one. Felix Leiter is changed to a British agent and his name is now Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate).

Presumably, the idea of an American Bond stemmed from how this was airing on U.S. television. At this point, Fleming and Bond weren’t huge names among the American public.

Anyway, to get things going, Act I opens with Bond being shot at outside a casino. It’s not terribly convincing, mostly because of the limited resources of the production, which was broadcast live. Bond ducks behind a column and the audience can see squibs going off to simulate gun fire.

Shortly thereafter, Bond makes contact with Leiter, who explains to Bond (and the audience) how the agent’s mission to bankrupt Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) in a high stakes game of baccarat. No M, no briefing from M.

At one point, Leiter says Bond’s nickname is “card sense Jimmy Bond,” while Valerie calls Bond “Jimmy.” However, she also calls him “James Bond” when introducing the agent to Le Chiffre ahead of the big baccarat game.

Peter Lorre is the first actor to play a Bond villain referring to the agent constantly as “Mr. Bond,” something that would be repeated throughout the Eon films.

There are some bits from Fleming’s novel, particularly during Bond’s card game with Le Chiffre. Even here, Ellis and Bennett do some tinkering. After Bond is cleaned out, he gets additional funds not from Leiter, as in the novel, but from Valerie. What’s more, Bond’s torture is considerable milder than the novel or 2006 feature film. The ending from Fleming’s novel isn’t used and things end happily.

This version of Casino Royale’s main value is that of a time capsule, a reminder of when television was mostly done live. Lorre is suitably villainous. If you find him fun to watch on movies and other television shows, nothing here will change your mind.

Barry Nelson’s Bond won’t make anyone forget the screen 007s. Still, Nelson was a pro who had a long career. He does the best he can with the material and production limitations. He even gets to deliver the occasional witticism. (“Are you the fellow who was shot?” Leiter asks. Bond replies, “No I was the fellow who was missed.”)

UPDATE: Casino Royale was the third broadcast of the Climax! series. The first was an adaptation of The Long Goodbye, with Dick Powell reprising the role of Philip Marlowe. So in two of the first three broadcasts, Climax! tackled novels by Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming.

Casino Royale’s 60th to be celebrated at University of Illinois

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

The 60th anniversary of the publication of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, is scheduled to be celebrated at the University of Illinois starting in April.

The programs include the following:

Casino Royale and Beyond: Sixty Years of Fleming’s Literary Bond April 12-July 12. An excerpt from the university’s Web site:

The University Library’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library and Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, along with the Spurlock Museum, are planning several events this spring to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the publication of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale.

Library Friend Michael L. VanBlaricum, also an Illinois alumnus, was invited to curate a multi-venue exhibition. Not surprising, as VanBlaricum has amassed perhaps one of the finest collections of Ian Fleming material in private hands. He is also President of The Ian Fleming Foundation, dedicated to the study and preservation of the history of Fleming’s literary works, the James Bond phenomenon, and their impact on popular culture.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library will display all manner of editions of Casino Royale, as well as letters, reviews, photos, and other works. The Casino Royale and Beyond: Sixty Years of Ian Fleming’s Literary Bond exhibit will focus on Fleming, his background, profession, and books. VanBlaricum will give a special talk about the exhibition in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library when the exhibit opens on April 12th.

Unconventional Bond: The Strange Life of Casino Royale on Film April 16-June 16. The exhibit describes the 1954 one-hour CBS adaptation starring Barry Nelson as an American Bond; the 1967 spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman; and the 2006 film produced by Eon Productions that was the first Daniel Craig 007 film.

More information is available by clicking on the links above. The university is at Urbana-Champaign, in the east-central part of Illinois near where I-57 and I-74 intersect.