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.

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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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Cleveland Pops orchestra to have 007 music program

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

The Cleveland Pops orchestra on Nov. 12 will have a program titled “The Name is Bond…James Bond!”

The program includes various James Bond film songs, including Goldfinger, Skyfall, Diamonds Are Forever and Nobody Does Better. Some non-Bond selections are also part of the program, including Secret Agent Man and Mission: Impossible.

The Cleveland Pops is conducted by Carl Topilow and performing will be Rachel York, an actress and singer.

The Cleveland Pops will perform at Severance Hall starting at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $21 to $95.

More details about the program, including how to order, can be found by CLICKING HERE.

 

James W. Gavin, ace pilot for TV and movies

James W. Gavin pilots a helicopter with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

James W. Gavin pilots a helicopter with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on board.

One in a series about unsung figures of television.

James W. Gavin over a long career in television and movies mostly went unnoticed.

The pilot/second unit director/bit part player was a top helicopter pilot. His services were in demand for various TV serious as well as films such as Vanishing Point and The Towering Inferno.

Gavin got a bit of recognition in the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz told the anecdote of how Gavin had the presence of mind to get the cameras rolling when explosions were set off for what was supposed to be a rehearsal for the oil-rig sequence.

According to Mankiewicz, some of that footage ended up in the final version of Diamonds.

On occasion, Gavin got to be an actor. Not surprisingly, he played pilots, presumably because it was cheaper to film him reciting lines while he was flying. In some cases, he was billed as “Gavin James,” rather than by his real name.

Gavin was one of the go-to pilots for QM Productions, flying helicopters for the company’s various shows, including The FBI.

Gavin died in 2005 at the age of 70.