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.

Have No Fear, Bond is Here: 50 Years of Casino Royale

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

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

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

It was a day of 2002 when my father bought me a VHS tape of the 1967 satirical version of Casino Royale, then the only film tied to Ian Fleming’s much different book that initiated the literary saga of James Bond.

That video had no subtitles in Spanish, and by then my English knowledge was good but not good enough to understand a movie. If the film’s plot was already confusing, misguided and in many aspects “incomplete,” just imagine a 12-year-old boy trying to get something out of it, barely understanding a few words and having not read the novel.

Strangely enough, I was fascinated by the movie. I still am.

The Charles K. Feldman production is a colorful, bombastic and very funny film: you won’t be laughing for hours, but there are a few humorous moments that will make you raise a smile.

It has a great score, with the legendary Burt Bacharach and the Herb Alpert trumpets for the main titles. And there’s the delicate voice of Dusty Springfield, who performed the Oscar-nominated song that has outlived the movie, “The Look of Love.”

‘Suggested by’

The story, “suggested” by Fleming’s novel and written by, among others, Wolf Mankowitz, has the four leaders of the secret services begging the retired Sir James Bond (David Niven) for help after a mysterious threat has agents of every secret service killed.

Sir James refuses, disappointed by the abuse of gadgetry in the operatives and upset for “the bounder who was been given his name and number,” an obvious reference to Sean Connery’s official 007.

Failing every attempt to bring him back, a missile (actually a plan of M to take him out of retirement) blows his mansion away. Back to London, Sir James plans a strategy to confuse the enemy: to recruit a number of agents and name them all “James Bond 007,” including the girls.

What follows is an absolute nonsense. Peter Sellers is seduced by Ursula Andress and recruited to play baccarat against Orson Welles. The daughter of Mata Hari and James Bond are kidnapped by an UFO. A psychedelic mind torture replaces the infamous carpet beater from the novel.

Woody Allen, pioneering a look for Bond villains that would be seen in the official 007 film series

Woody Allen, pioneering a look for Bond villains that would be seen in the official 007 film series

And the evil threat behind it all… the nephew of 007, Jimmy Bond.

In the end, after an everyone vs everyone battle that includes George Raft, Jean Paul Belmondo, Geraldine Chaplin and dozens of Indians and cowboys, everything goes up in smoke.

Messy production

The production of the film was messy, with the stars fighting each other almost like at the end of the movie, and Peter Sellers rewriting his scenes and hassling with Orson Welles to the point their scenes had to be shot separately.

The film was directed by five movie makers (John Houston, Ken Hughes, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath and Val Guest) not knowing what the other was shooting. Yet, I don’t think Casino Royale is a bad movie.

The best advice is to fully enjoy it would be to put the novel aside, forget every comparison to the official Bond films, sit back and enjoy an hilarious and colourful story that resembles the swinging 1960s. The structure of the story evokes another Charles K. Feldman production, What’s New Pussycat, released two years before.

The cast has a good number of very talented actors that maybe don’t show all their talents and even when their appearances are limited to a few frames, it wasn’t bad to see them. Yet, in my opinion, the ones that steal the show are David Niven and Woody Allen.

Niven, an original suggestion of Fleming to portray Bond, plays a refined 007 in his retirement. The movie shows him as a man worried about banal things like the black flower in his garden, his time to play Claude Debussy pieces on piano, and came from “a selected priesthood” to become a spy.

This Bond shows a great difference with Eon’s version. He refuses the seduction of the many young girls who laid eyes on him at McTarry’s castle and rejects his widow (Deborah Kerr), considers a spy has now became a “sex maniac” and his trademark drink is a lapsang souchong tea instead of a martini shaken not stirred. In Feldman’s vision, this is not Connery’s Bond retired but “one and only” and Connery’s Bond an impostor.

On the other hand, Woody Allen’s Dr. Noah – head of SMERSH, no reference is made to the Soviets as in the book – is seen in the shadows until his real identity is revealed: Jimmy Bond.

The nephew of Sir James can’t speak in front of him – a trauma makes his voice block upon the admiration of his uncle. Shortly after, we see him trying to impress (and ultimately falling into her trap) the captive agent Detainer (Daliah Lavi) by replicating all the abilities of his uncle: “everything uncle James does, I can do it better.”

Another special mention goes to Joanna Pettet and the late Ronnie Corbett in the Berlin scenes, where Pettet’s character Mata Bond (daughter of Sir James and Mata Hari) infiltrates the old dancing school of her mum that has become a SMERSH hideout, to find a battery operated butler who – falling into Mata’s seduction — reveals Le Chiffre is trying to make money by selling his “art collection,” actually… soldiers caught in the act having fun with hookers.

Like I said before, this movie has won my heart. I would not dare to put it next to the Eon Bond films (not in chronological order, at least) but as I get older, I understand its humor more and more.

Everytime I watch it, I feel like getting into a time machine and going back to the late 1960s. And it’s a great experience indeed!

1962: Hope and Crosby provide 007 a `Road’ map

Bob Hope, left, and Bing Crosby in the opening to The Road to Hong Kong

Five months before the debut of Dr. No, the final Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” movie came out, The Road to Hong Kong. The film, we suspect by coincidence, provided a road map to the future of 007 movies.

The 1962 movie had some major departures from previous “Road” movies. It was produced in the U.K. and was released by United Artists. The earlier films in the series had been produced in Hollywood and released by Paramount. Dorothy Lamour, the female lead of the previous Road movies, makes a cameo as herself but Joan Collins is the main female lead.

The change in locale meant the Norman Panama-Melvin Frank production (both would write the script, Panama directed and Frank produced; the duo had written the 1946 Road to Utopia) would take advantage of U.K. movie talent: Syd Cain was one of the art directors. Maurice Binder designed the main titles. Walter Gotell is one of the main lieutenants of a mysterious organization — stop us if you’ve heard this before — trying to take over the world. Bob Simmons shows up late in the movie as an astronaut in the employ of the villainous organization.

What’s more, there are “animated” sets (designed by Roger Furse) at the villain’s lair that would do Ken Adam proud. Two future participants in the 1967 Casino Royale (Peter Sellers and David Niven) show up in cameos. Did we mention Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin making cameos at the end? Well, they do.

If you’ve never seen The Road to Hong Kong, you can CLICK HERE and watch the 91-minute film on YouTube (at least until it gets taken off that Web site). While a comedy, it is a preview of the more fantastic Bond movies that would emerge a few years later, starting with 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

Casino Royale’s 45th anniversary: Oh no, 007!

April Fool’s Day is as good as any occasion to note this month marks the 45th anniversary of Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale, the producer’s 1967 send-up of 007.

Feldman, one-time agent (Albert R. Broccoli was one of his employees) turned producer, was nobody’s fool. He had produced films in a variety of genres such as 1948’s Red River (uncredited), 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1965’s What’s New Pussycat.

So, when he acquired the film rights to Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel in the early 1960s, Feldman recognized it had commercial potential even as the film series produced by one time associate Broccoli and Harry Saltzman was getting underway in 1962. (CLICK HERE for a post on Jeremy Duns’s Debrief blog for a more detailed history.)

Feldman tried to entice director Howard Hawks, his one-time colleague on Red River. Hawks was interested but the director backed out after seeing an early print of Dr. No with Sean Connery.

Feldman pressed on, signing distinguished screenwriter Ben Hecht to come up with a screenplay. Details of Hecht’s work were reported last year by Jeremy Duns in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper. Hecht died in 1964, while still working on the project.

By now, Eon’s series was reaching its peak of popularity with 1964’s Goldfinger and 1965’s Thunderball. Broccoli and Saltzman agreed to a co-production deal with Kevin McClory, holder of the film rights for Thunderball. James Bond, The Legacy, the 2002 book by John Cork and Bruce Scivally, presents a narrative of on-and-off talks between Feldman, Broccoli, Saltzman and United Artists, the studio releasing the Broccoli-Saltzman movies. In the end, talks broke down. (Behind the scenes, Broccoli and Saltzman had their own tensions to deal with, including Saltzman’s outside ventures such as his Harry Palmer series of films.).

So Feldman opted to go for farce, but not in a small way. His movie had an estimated budget, according to IMDB.com. of $12 million. The Cork-Scivally book put the figure at $10.5 million. Either way, it was more than the $9.5 million budget of You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Broccoli-Saltzman series. Twice’s outlay included $1 million for Ken Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set.

Feldman’s film didn’t have that kind of spectacle. But he did pay money (or Columbia Pictures’ money) for talent such as John Huston (one of five credited directors), David Niven (playing the “original” James Bond, brought out of retirement, who implies the Sean Connery version of the Broccoli-Saltzman series was assigned the James Bond name by MI6), Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress (now famous because of Dr. No), William Holden, Woody Allen and….well CLICK HERE to view the entire cast and crew.

Casino Royale, however, was less than the sum of its impressive parts. The humor is uneven, it doesn’t really have a story, despite employing a number screenwriters, including Wolf Mankowitz, who introduced Broccoli and Saltzman to each other. (For a more sympathetic view, CLICK HERE for a long essay on the subject.)

The’67 Casino managed a reported worldwide gross of $41.7 million. That was good in its day, though less than a third of Thunderball’s $141.7 million global box office.

Much has been written since 1967 about the stressful production, including reported feuds between Sellers and Welles. Perhaps all that took a toll on the film’s producer. Feldman died in May 1968, a little more than 13 months after Casino Royale’s premier, at age 64.

TCM to have an evening of the Other Spies on Jan. 24

Turner Classic Movies is having an evening of the “other” spies on Jan. 24, emphasizing lighter fare.

The evening starts at 8 p.m. New York time with In Like Flint (1967), the second of two James Coburn outings as Derek Flint. The intrepid adventurer shows off his ability to talk to porpoises, infiltrates the Kremlin and ends up in outer space.

Next up at 10 p.m. is Where The Spies Are (1966) with David Niven, once Ian Fleming’s preferred choice to play James Bond in what amounts to a warmup for the 1967 Casino Royale spoof. Midnight brings Agent 8 3/4 (1964) with Dirk Bogarde. At 2 a.m. (actually on Jan. 25, of course), TCM is scheduled to telecast 1966’s The Silencers, the first of four films with Dean Martin performing a spoof version <a.of Donald Hamilton’s counter assassin, Matt Helm.

TCM’s final spy entry at 4 a.m. is Salt and Pepper (1968), with Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. The duo had done an episode of The Wild, Wild West together (The Night of the Returning Dead) and liked how director Richard Donner operated. Thus, Donner was hired to direct Salt and Pepper, one of Donner’s first theatrical films.