Ford cars, RIP

“Have you not heard? Ford is getting out of the car business!”

This week, Ford Motor Co. said it was virtually exiting the car business in North America, its home (and most profitable) market. By 2020, Ford announced, it will just have two cars in its lineup: the Mustang sports car and the Ford Active crossover due out next year. Ford will concentrate on trucks, SUVs and “crossovers.”

For people of a certain age this seems almost unthinkable. Ford always was aggressive with product placement. Ford cars have been in generations of films and U.S. television shows.

Here’s a look at some prominent examples.

James Bond films: The Bond Cars website provides a list, which says Ford shows up early in the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions. For example, it’s a Ford that serves as the hearse used by Dr. No’s assassins when they kill MI6 operative Strangways.

Ford’s relationship geared up in Goldfinger. A Lincoln Continental is crushed. Felix Leiter rides around in a Ford Thunderbird. Auric Goldfinger uses Ford trucks to transport his larger laser gun to Fort Knox.

And, of course, the movie marked the film debut of Mustang. The sports car was introduced in the spring of 1964 while filming was underway on Goldfinger. Mustangs would also show up in Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever.

Thunderball also featured a lot of Ford cars, including the Continental, Count Lippe’s Ford Fairlane and a station wagon among other vehicles. Emilo Largo drives a Ford Thunderbird on his way to SPECTRE headquarters immediately after the film’s main titles.

The automaker had an on-and-off relationship with the series. Teresa Bond (Diana Rigg) favored a red Mercury Cougar in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A number of Ford cars are crashed in the moon buggy chase in Diamonds Are Forever.

Ford also owned Aston Martin from 1987 until 2007. For Die Another Day, Ford had a huge product placement deal, mostly to promote European brands it owned at that time, including Aston, Land Rover and Jaguar. However, a Ford Thunderbird (driven by Halle Berry’s Jinx) also showed up.

The company’s ties to the film series ended with 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Land Rover would return in the 2010s, but after Ford had sold it off.

Matt Helm and Gail Hendricks (Dean Martin and Stella Stevens) in Matt’s Mercury station wagon equipped with a bar.

Matt Helm film series: For four 1960s Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin, Ford provided the vehicles.

Perhaps the most offbeat car was a Mercury station wagon, which was Matt Helm’s personal car in The Silencers (1966). It was equipped with a bar (!) in the back seat. Matt encourages Gail Hendricks (Stella Stevens) to have a drink or two to loosen up. She ends up consuming too much and passing out.

Other Ford-made cars in the series included a Thunderbird Matt drove around Monte Carlo in Murderers’ Row. It had some extras, including a device where words dictated into a microphone are spelled out on the car’s tail lights. (“If you can read this, you’re too close…”)

Hawaii Five-O (original series): Steve McGarrett’s signature car was a Mercury (a two-door model in the pilot, a four-door version thereafter). Lots of other Ford-made cars showed up during the 1968-1980 series.

Ford even supplied cars for an 11th season episode filmed in Singapore. The cast of that two-hour installment, The Year of the Horse, included George Lazenby, who received “special guest star” billing.

Erskine in a Mercury made by Ford Motor Co. in a sixth-season end titles of The FBI.

The FBI: Ford supplied cars for a number of Quinn Martin-produced shows. But the tightest relationship between the company and QM Productions was this 1965-1974 series.

Ford cut a deal to sponsor the show, which was broadcast on ABC. The automaker agreed to kick in extra money to ensure the series would be filmed in color. Executives felt a color series would show off Ford cars better. When The FBI debuted in fall 1965, most of ABC’s lineup was still produced in black and white.

Ford also vetoed the broadcast of one first-season episode, The Hiding Place, because there had been talk of a boycott being organized. The episode finally saw the light of day in 2011 when Warner Archive began releasing the show.

Symbolic of the ties between Ford and show came in the end titles. Inspector Lewis Erkine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) came out of the FBI Building (now the Department of Justice Building) and drove a Ford product home. It was a Mustang for the first four seasons. Subsequent seasons had different Ford-made cars.

The end titles were productions in and of themselves. Zimbalist traveled to Washington for annual meetings with then-Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover. Ford would transport a car for him to drive in Washington for the following season’s end titles. Some of the cars were prototypes and weren’t the most sturdy.

This post merely scratches the surface. There have been many series over the years featuring Ford cars. It won’t be quite the same with Ford cars going away.

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On Superman’s 80th, a few 007 connections

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Superman. DC Comics is out with Action Comics No. 1,000 to celebrate the occasion

The thing is, there are some elements in common, thanks to how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies were made at Pinewood Studios, the long-time home to the James Bond film franchise.

So here’s a few of them. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m sure there are many stunt performers who worked on both.

Geoffrey Unsworth: Unsworth (1914-1978) was a celebrated cinematographer, whose credits included Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), much of which was photographed at the same time as the film movie. Unsworth’s credits also included 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unsworth also had a James Bond connection. On Dec. 21, 1961, he photographed screen tests for actresses vying to play Miss Taro for Dr. No.

John Glen: Glen directed five James Bond films, 1981-89, after earlier editing and being second unit director on three 007 films. He was one of the second unit directors for the 1978 Superman film.

Stuart Baird: Baird was editor on the first Superman movie. He performed the same duties on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).

Alf Joint: A stunt performer on the Bond series, perhaps his most famous bit was in the pre-titles of Goldfinger as Capungo, who gets killed by Bond (Sean Connery). He was also a stunt coordinator on Superman.

Shane Rimmer:  He had small roles in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever while having a larger supporting role as a U.S. submarine captain in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also *sounds* like he does some voiceover work in the pre-titles of Live And Let Die as an agent who’s killed in New Orleans. (“Whose funeral is it?”)

He also played a NASA controller in Superman II. The IMDB listing for Superman III lists him as “State Policeman.” Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t confirm.

Guy Hamilton: He directed four 007 films, two with Sean Connery and two with Roger Moore. He was signed to direct Superman but exited the project and replaced by Richard Donner.

(UPDATE 9:40 a.m., April 20): By popular demand, two more.

Tom Mankiewicz: The screenwriter of 1970s 007 films was credited as “creative consultant” in Superman and Superman II. He essentially rewrote the scripts, combining elements of very serious Mario Puzo drafts and much lighter drafts by David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Clifton James: The veteran actor, who played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Bond films, again played a sheriff in Superman II.

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.

Phrases long-time 007 fans will recognize instantly

Well, he did say, “Hit me.”

You can tell when long-time James Bond fans get together. They’re likely to say phrases that make no sense to the average person.

“Cai…Cai…CAIRO!” In the pre-titles sequence of Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond is hunting down Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Apparently in Japan (no doubt a sound stage at Pinewood Studios), 007 throws a would-be informant through a couple of paper walls.

Finally, Bond asks, “Where is Blofeld?” The informant says, “Cai…Cai…Cairo!” What makes the sequence is the informant’s mouth movements don’t remotely match the words he’s supposedly saying. For Bond fans, that’s part of the fun.

“Hit me.” In the next scene of Diamonds, we see a casino in Cairo. You can tell by the guys wearing a fez that This Must Be in The Middle East.

One is playing blackjack and says, “Hit me.” Cue Bond punching the guy out.

“Opening crater…Closing crater.” Those are the only lines that a lower-level SPECTRE employee we’ve dubbed “Crater Guy”  gets to utter in You Only Live Twice.

Crater Guy, well, opens the closes the door to SPECTRE’s volanco headquarters in the movie. He’s not a mastermind (Blofeld is). He’s not even a henchman (Hans is).

Crater Guy, no doubt, is a working stiff just trying to feed his family. Bond kills him but can’t kill Blofeld, the guy who started all this trouble. The blog suspects this could spur academic papers about how Bond tramples on the working class.

Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die

“You made a shocking mess of my hair, you sadistic brute!” That’s a line from SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) in Thunderball after she’s made love with Bond.

Occasionally, when Bond fans get together, they come up with, eh, more colorful variations of the first half of the line. All spoken in an Italian accent (matching Paluzzi’s), of course.

“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” That’s probably the most memorable line spoken by Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) in Live And Let Die.

Bond fans, in addition to that line, are known to utter other Pepperisms such as, “I got me a regular Ben Hur down here, doing 95 minimum.”

James passed away recently. Most obits referenced Live And Let quite a bit. That reflects how the New York-born actor stole the scenes he was in for the eighth James Bond film.

Diamonds’ 45th: Rodney Dangerfield of 007 films

Diamonds Are Forever poster

Diamonds Are Forever poster

When Diamonds Are Forever came out 45 years ago this month, it was a huge deal. Sean Connery was back! Everything was back to normal in 007 land.

Nowadays, Diamonds is more like the Rodney Dangerfield of James Bond films, not getting any respect.

Some fans complain about too much humor, about Connery not being in shape, about Blofeld (Charles Gray) dressing in drag as a disguise and about Bond’s wardrobe (his fat, pink tie in particular).

Perhaps the biggest advocate of the movie is former United Artists executive David Picker. In his 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybes and Nevers, he says Diamonds saved the Bond series because he got the idea of paying Connery a lot of money to return as 007.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had cast American John Gavin in the role. But UA became more hands on with the seventh film in the series compared with previous entries. UA (via Picker) didn’t want to take a chance after George Lazenby played Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Regardless, Diamonds reflected the creative team’s desire to get back to the style of Goldfinger. As a result, director Guy Hamilton returned. So did production designer Ken Adam after a one-picture absence. John Barry was on board and this time Shirley Bassey would return to perform the title song.

There was new blood, however, in the form of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to rewrite Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. Mankiewicz would work on the next four films of the series, although without credit on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q was aghast at Bond’s tie.

Mankiewicz (1942-2010), part of a family prominent in both show business and politics, still generates sharp divisions among Bond fans. Supporters say his witty one liners enlivened the proceedings. (“At present, the satellite is over Kansas,” Blofeld muses at one point. “Well, if we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.”) Detractors say he simply didn’t understand Bond and made things too goofy.

The writer’s initial draft actually contained more bits from Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel than would be in the final film. (This 2011 ARTICLE has more details, just scroll down to the section about the Mankiewicz draft.) Still, with Diamonds, it was now standard practice that the films need have little in common with Fleming’s novels.

The legacy of the movie is mixed. Diamonds got 007 into the 1970s. But as late as 1972, people still questioned whether the series could survive without Sean Connery. That wouldn’t be evident until after Diamonds. And the movie clearly began a lighter era for the series.

Still, Bond was Bond. The movie was a success with moviegoers. It had a worldwide box office of $116 million, an improvement from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s $82 million and You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million.

Diamonds fell short of Goldfinger and Thunderball ($124.9 million and $141.2 million respectively). But it did well enough that Eon Productions would again try to find a successor to Connery.

2003: Academics dissect (and then some) James Bond

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

We were reminded of an event that took on a life of its own: a 2003 academic conference about Ian Fleming and James Bond.

It was held at the main Indiana University campus in Bloomington, where many Fleming manuscripts and letters are kept. On May 29-June 1 of that year, various academics descended on Bloomington to examine 007 from every conceivable angle.

Some of the essays were collected in a 2005 book, Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. It’s a bit pricey even today, with a paperback costing $26.

However, the book’s introduction can be viewed on a Google preview of the book. It gives you a flavor of some of the subjects discussed.

For example, “Fleming’s Company Man: James Bond and the Management of Modernism” argued that 007 was “less a champion of consumer culture than a hero of the corporation,” according to introduction.

“‘Alimentary, Dr. Leiter’: Anal Anxiety in Diamonds Are Forever” is an essay that “explores Bond’s sexuality, but as it is represented in the films of the seventies.”

Another entry is “Lesbian Bondage,” which “traces Bond’s transformation from excessively masculine hero to stylishly accessorized dandy.” The latter version “is less appealing to feminists and lesbians,” according to the introduction’s summary of the essay.

Other essays presented at the conference sought to put Bond in a historical context, including how the novels were first published as the British Empire was dissipating. “The Bond novels represent a response to the dilemmas and give voice to the hopes and fears of Cold War England,” the introduction says.

What’s more, the introduction says there were disagreements arose during conference planning. It says there were “disparate goals” between Ian Fleming Publications and the Ian Fleming Foundation.

The latter preserves Bond-related artifacts, including vehicles and miniatures that appeared in the films. Ian Fleming Publications hires authors to write 007 continuation novels. IFP, according to the introduction, urged conference organizers “to use only Fleming’s name — not Bond’s — on our promotional material and to avoid any kitschy display of fan-based adoration.”

Four 007 films credited with saving the franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This week’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale generated a number of stories crediting the 21st James Bond film with saving the franchise.

However, this wasn’t the first time the series, in the eyes of some, had been saved. What follows is a list of four.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the Eon Productions fold for a one-off after 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t looking for Connery’s return. But United Artists executive David V. Picker was. As a result of efforts by Picker, Connery was offered, and accepted, a $1.25 million salary coupled with other financial goodies. John Gavin, who had  been signed as Bond, was paid off.

None other than Picker himself, in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers,  said the moved saved the Bond series.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Still, Majesty’s box office ($82 million) slid 26.5 percent from You Only Live Twice and 42 percent from Thunderall. Those percentage change figures won’t warm a studio executive’s heart.

Diamonds rebounded to $116 million, better than Twice but still not at Thunderball levels. Nevertheless. Picker has argued his strategy of getting Connery back kept the series going.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): The 10th 007 film was made after Broccoli and Saltzman dissolved their partnership, with UA buying out Saltzman.

What’s more, the box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had plunged almost 40 percent from Roger Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

As a result, there was anxiety associated with the production. Spy ended up re-establishing Bond, in particular the Roger Moore version. The movie produced a popular song, Nobody Does It Better, and the film received three Oscar nominations.

GoldenEye (1995): The 17th Bond adventure made its bow after a six-year hiatus, marked by legal fights. Albert R. Broccoli, at one point, put Danjaq and Eon on the market, though no sale took place.

As the movie moved toward production, health problems forced Broccoli to yield day-to-day supervision over to daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson.

The question was whether 007, now in the person of Pierce Brosnan, could resume being a successful series. The previous entry, Licence to Kill, didn’t do well in the U.S., finishing No. 4 in its opening weekend, even though it was the only new movie release released that weekend.

GoldenEye did fine and Bond was back.

Casino Royale (2006): This week, a website called History, Legacy & Showmanship had comments by various Bond students, including documentary maker John Cork, who is quoted as saying, “Casino Royale saved Bond.” Yahoo Movies ran a piece with the headline ‘Casino Royale’: The Movie That Saved James Bond Turns 10.

Meanwhile, GQ.com ran a article saying Casino was the best 007 film while Forbes.com aruged the movie “provides a helpful template in terms of doing the reboot just right.”

If Casino saved the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily in a financial sense. 2002’s Die Another Day was a success at the box officce. But Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were having a creative mid-life crisis.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

The something new was casting Daniel Craig in a more serious version of 007 and starting the series over with a new continuity.

Casino was a hit with global box office of $594.4 million compared with Die Another Day’s $431.9 million. In the U.S. market, Casino actually sold fewer tickets than Die Another Day (25.4 million compared with 27.6 million). But, with higher ticket prices, Casino out earned Die Another Day in the market, $167.4 million to $160.9 million.

On Twitter, the blog did an informal (and very unscientific) survey whether fans thought Casino had saved the series. You can see the results below.

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