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.

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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.

Happy 82nd birthday Sean Connery

Sean Connery getting fitted by tailor Anthony Sinclair

Saturday, Aug. 25, is the 82nd birthday for the original film 007, Sean Connery.

It has been almost a half-century since Connery’s debut as James Bond. His performances as Bond have been analyzed over and over (with more to come with the 50th anniversary of Dr. No in October).

We have our own thoughts about the golden anniversary of Dr. No. But that’s for another time. For now, we just want to wish happy birthday to Sir Sean. While not the first actor to play 007 (American Barry Nelson did that in the 1954 CBS adaptation of Casino Royale and Bob Holness had played Bond in a 1956 radio version of Moonraker), the Scotsman born Aug. 25, 1930, put agent 007 on the cinematic map.

Connery enjoyed a long acting career until retiring in 2003 (aside from some occasional voice over work). He turned in many fine performances. Still, for many people, Connery defined the Bond role and still casts a shadow over any actor who takes on the character. Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions with Harry Saltzman, spent a considerable amount of his autobiography discussing how casting Connery as Bond was one of the smartest things he ever did.

That’s not a knock on those actors. Rather, any actor who fills those shoes will be measured against Connery.

In any event, happy birthday, Sir Sean.

An obscure 007-Hitchcock connection: Charles Bennett

This week, there was a dialogue among proprietors of 007 Web sites among connections between James Bond and director Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps one of the most direct ties (behind the camera) is also the most obscure.

Writer Charles Bennett worked on 1940’s Foreign Correspondent starring Joel McCrea


One of the most cited examples was how North by Northwest’s crop-duster plane sequence inspired a scene in From Russia With Love where a helicopter dive bombs 007. The U.K. Daily Mail wrote up how Ian Fleming hoped Hitchcock would direct a Bond film before the Eon Productions series began production.

However, the most direct connection is the 1954 adaptation of Casino Royale that aired on CBS, starring American actor Barry Nelson. It was co-scripted by Charles Bennett (1899-1995). Bennett was a screenwriter on a number of Hitchock films, including The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936) and Foreign Correspondent (1940). Bennett also co-authored the story that was the basis of the 1934 and 1956 versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

By the 1950s and ’60s, a period that included the first Casino Royale adaptation, Bennett was mostly writing for television. His work also included one episode of The Wild, Wild West, “The Night of the Eccentrics,” that introduced Count Manzeppi, intended to be a recurring villain. Manzeppi, played by Victor Buono, would only return for one additional episode (which Bennett would not write). Still, the episode is rather quirky, and includes Richard Pryor as one of Manzeppi’s henchmen.