Happy 89th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

It’s Sean Connery’s 89th birthday. The 007 film franchise began with him and his debut as James Bond in Dr. No.

In all, he played Bond seven times (six for Eon Productions, once in the non-Eon movie Never Say Never Again). He played many other characters and was still a popular movie star when he retired from the screen early in the 21st century.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

Tarantino’s LA theater to show five 1960s 007 films

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Actor-director Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles will show five 1960s James Bond films in July.

The movies are scheduled for 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday afternoons as part of the theater’s “Afternoon Classics” series.

The theater is showing IB Tech prints of each film. The term refers to a process for making color movie prints that allows for use of more stable dyes.

The schedule is as follows:

July 3: From Russia With Love.

July 10: Goldfinger

July 17: Thunderball

July 24: You Only Live Twice

July 31: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

UPDATE: Plaza Atlanta, which describes itself as Atlanta’s oldest movie theater, plans to show 25 James Bond films in July — the 24 (to date) produced by Eon Productions plus 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

A Facebook post by the theater has the schedule. They will be shown in order, with Dr. No leading off on July 1.

A letter to 007 fans: Chill

Original James Bond film gunbarrel

To: James Bond fans
From: The Spy Command

Take it’s easy. Relax.

The 25th entry in the Eon 007 film series is being filmed. But, viewing various comments on social media, a number of fans seem to be uptight.

What follows is a summary of Bond social media comments.

There is a serious movement to trash Bond 25 before it’s released.

As the blog has noted, Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. and U.S. tabloids have run critical articles. That’s interesting, but keep this in mind: THEY ARE TABLOIDS. They traffic in sensationalism. They always have, they always will. Don’t get too worried about it.

Why are people criticizing Daniel Craig?

The last time Bond fans were, more or less unified behind a Bond actor was Sean Connery in the 1960s.

George Lazenby? Some fans argued he was too stiff, too raw.

Roger Moore? Too lightweight! (This sentiment was particularly concentrated in the U.S. where some fans looked at old Moore publicity stills from the 1950s and said he wasn’t manly enough.) Not worthy of the role that Connery originated!

Timothy Dalton? Some fans thought he was too theatrical.

Pierce Brosnan? He was trying to split the difference between Connery and Moore and not being his own man.

It goes with the territory. If you like Craig’s interpretation of Bond, just let it go. You’re going to get a fifth movie and who knows? He may still come back for Bond 26.

“You’ll be sorry — you rats!” 

Some James Bonds don’t have much of a sense of humor. When they see other fans kid around, they say things like those other fans will be sorry when Bond 25 turns out to be the best Bond film in years!

Well, when Bond films come out every four or five years, that’s not a huge accomplishment. Of course, it’ll be the best Bond film in years

If you want to be a smart alec, at that pace, a new entry is guaranteed to be the worst Bond film in years. The blog prefers to take a realistic approach overall.

If you’re a true Bond fan, you shouldn’t criticize the movie!

The blog’s general rule is you shouldn’t criticize something before it comes out. So, yes, you shouldn’t say Bond 25 sucks before, well, there’s a Bond 25 to view.

At the same time, Bond 25 has had more than its share of odd developments. There have been various delays, including a director (Danny Boyle) coming aboard and then departing. Those are all legitimate topics of fan conversation.

A final cautionary note

The Bond franchise has a history of tense moments. Dr. No was a troubled production. So was From Russia With Love. The Spy Who Loved Me. Tomorrow Never Dies.

In the end, all of those films turned out well.

Yet, you can never assume success. The Flying Wallendas were a spectacular high-wire act. But some of their members died when things went wrong despite numerous successful performances.

Bond 25, of course, is just a movie. But success is never guaranteed, no matter how long the winning streak is.

To sum up: Don’t get bent out of shape about tabloid articles. Relax while filming progresses. Still, keep everything in mind. Just keep it in the proper perspective.

Robert Sellers talks about his Broccoli-Saltzman Book

Cover to When Harry Met Cubby by Robert Sellers

Author Robert Sellers provided an in-depth look about the fourth James Bond film, Thunderball, with 2007’s The Battle for Bond. The writer has re-entered the world of Bondage with a new book, When Harry Met Cubby, about the founding 007 film producers, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

The blog interviewed Sellers about his new book via e-mail.

THE SPY COMMAND: You did a comprehensive book about Thunderball. What about the Broccoli-Saltzman story enticed you to tackle their story?

ROBERT SELLERS: Mainly because no one had done it before, which is strange because seemingly every other aspect of the Bond films has been covered. But not the relationship between these two extraordinary men, not in any great detail that’s for sure. I just thought it was about time their story was told.

SC: The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership was a bit of an Odd Couple affair. What strengths did each partner bring? What was each partner’s weakness?

SELLERS: The words most people used to describe them was chalk and cheese. They shared almost nothing in common, save for drive, ambition and a love of movies. Personality-wise you couldn’t have had two more different individuals. That included their outside pursuits and social circles. If you went to Harry’s house for dinner, or you went to Cubby’s, even if there were 20 people at dinner there was no overlap. Cubby’s friends were completely different to Harry’s.

At the beginning there was this strange alchemy at work, theirs was a relationship that was based on two opposing points of view reaching the same objective and their combined qualities made for an ideal pairing. Things went bad after just a few movies, mainly because Saltzman had so many outside interests. Harry was always buying up companies, signing up talent or movie properties, he had so many other strings to his bow, other balls in the air, whereas Cubby knew that Bond was like the goose that laid the golden egg and was intent on preserving it and to make sure that nobody tarnished it. Broccoli never understood why Harry needed to make other pictures outside Bond and this did lead to friction between the two men.

Both men certainly brought a lot of separate talents to the Bond table. Harry loved the gadgets and gizmos, Cubby was very much concerned with the casting, making sure that the girls were pretty, and worrying about the script, that it didn’t get bogged down with too much dialogue, that it got on with the action, and that the storyline was straightforward enough so people from ten to 100 could follow it.

As (screenwriter) Tom Mankiewicz so brilliantly put it to me: “So much of the pizazz that went in Bond belonged to Harry, and much of the essence and soul of Bond was Cubby.”

SC: Saltzman exited the world of Bond in the mid-1970s. He is perhaps less well known to newer Bond fans compared with Broccoli (especially since Broccoli’s daughter and stepson still run the show). Should Saltzman be better remembered than he is? Why?

SELLERS: Absolutely. People have told me that in the early days Harry was the driving force behind the films, much more proactive than Cubby. That changed later on when Harry began to diversify all over the place. Harry was a real ideas man; he’d churn them out with machine gun rapidity. The only problem was most of his ideas were either too expensive, too impractical or downright dumb. So, it was a case of sieving through the bad ones to get to the good ones. But those good ideas were often absolute gems.

There was also something of the showman about Harry Saltzman, the spit and sawdust of the circuses he worked in during his early days in show business and it was these elements that he later brought to bear upon the Bond movies; everything had to have an over the top style. That was Harry’s circus philosophy, make it bigger, make it more spectacular, make it something audiences have never seen before. There was something of P. T. Barnum about Harry.

SC: Eventually, each partner alternated as primary producer for each Bond film. When did that start? As early as You Only Live Twice? Even earlier?

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with Roger Moore during the filming of Live And Let Die.

SELLERS: The fractures in the producer’s relationship was really highlighted around the making of You Only Live Twice, ironically at much the same time as both of them fell out with their star, Sean Connery.

There had always been disagreements behind the scenes, but what had begun to grate with Cubby was the feeling that his partner wasn’t as committed to Bond as he was. This growing imbalance between the two men in their commitment to the Bond pictures reached a point where Cubby just felt aggrieved that he was carrying the load of the franchise almost on his own. As a result, Cubby was pretty much the working producer on You Only Live Twice. I was told Harry never stepped foot in Japan once cameras started rolling.

By the time of Diamonds Are Forever, the two producers could no longer work together and it was decided they ought to take turns being the operating producer on each new Bond. As Guy Hamilton succinctly put it: “I can work very happily with Cubby, and I can work very happily with Harry. But working with Cubby and Harry together is a nightmare.”

SC: Without giving too much away about your book, what was the biggest surprise you encountered during your research?

SELLERS: I guess the thing I could say that impressed me the most was just how much creative control both producers had over the films.

According to Broccoli and Saltzman, there were two kinds of producers, the business and administrative producer and the creative producer. Both men identified themselves as creative producers, involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process, offering ideas and guidance and ultimately putting their individual stamp on the pictures.

In post-production, too, they were a presence in the cutting room and at rushes. Even when the film was in release their job wasn’t finished; they’d scrutinize ad campaigns, carefully go through every detail with the distributors, attend opening nights round the world and read reviews to gauge what the critics were saying.

This was especially important to Broccoli. He might be on holiday or visiting some city in the world, and if there was a Bond film playing, he would go in and sit and listen to the reaction of the audience to find out what they liked, and what they didn’t like.

The way each of them operated as producers on the set was different, though. Harry would be around, but you wouldn’t know he was there. He might be in his trailer or having meetings somewhere. Whereas Cubby was always very visual, always around. And he knew every crew member’s name. The crew loved Cubby, not so much Harry.

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

SC: In terms of the early Bond films, could any other producers have achieved what they did? Was it like catching lightning in a bottle? I know that a lot of the regular crew members (Ted Moore, Ken Adam, Richard Maibaum) had worked for Broccoli when he was partner with Irving Allen.

SELLERS: I honestly believe the Bond films would not have been the success they were without Broccoli and Saltzman at the helm. Probably their greatest contribution was selecting the right team for the films, many of whom had worked for Cubby before, people that he knew were dependable and could deliver the goods.

On Dr No, Broccoli and Saltzman chose the technicians with the same care and diligence as the actors. They brought together an excellent crew and encouraged them; that was their real talent, hiring the right people and allowing them the creative freedom to express themselves. Can you imagine what the Bond films would have been without the vital contribution of Ken Adam or John Barry? Or for that matter the skillful editing of Peter Hunt, who was brought in by Saltzman.

Broccoli and Saltzman were also risk takers. They knew that in the film business you have to take risks and have the strength of your conviction. Both men were not afraid to make tough decisions and both stood up for what they believed in.

There is no better example of this than their choice of Sean Connery to play Bond. When United Artists voiced their disapproval, Broccoli and Saltzman stood by their man, telling the studio top brass they intended going ahead with Connery or not at all. Instinct told them this was the guy. And history proved them correct, of course. That’s why the Bond films were a success under Harry and Cubby, all the decisions they made were the right ones.

When Harry Met Cubby: The Story of the James Bond Producers is set for publication in September from The History Press. You can view its Amazon entry BY CLICKING HERE. You can view its Amazon UK entry BY CLICKING HERE.

David Picker, ex-UA executive, dies at 87

David Picker (1931-2019)

David Picker, part of the United Artists executive team that struck the deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to launch the 007 film series, died Saturday at 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The cause was colon cancer, according to the entertainment-news outlet.

Picker was among the UA executives who, in 1961, held a meeting in New York with Broccoli and Saltzman. He was head of production for the studio, which was led by Arthur Krim (1910-1994).

In the documentary Inside Dr. No, he said UA struck a deal with the producers the same day.

Picker wrote a 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybe and Nevers: A Book About the Movies. In the book, he took credit for part of the success of the Bond series.

“Much has been written about Bond,” Picker wrote. “Until now, no one has written in detail exactly what happened, how it happened and why it happened for one simple reason: they weren’t there.” The Bond series “would not have happened had it not been for this author’s belief in their potential.”

In the memoir, Picker wrote that Dr. No really cost $1.35 million, not the $1.1 million that had been budgeted and that he had found a way to provide the extra $250,000.

The 2011 book A Bond for Bond, published by Film Finances Inc., the company that provided the movie’s completion bond, published a copy January 1963 budget document with a figure in British pounds that was closer to the $1.1 million figure.

In 1969, Picker became president and chief operating officer at UA. For 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Broccoli and Saltzman signed American actor John Gavin to play Bond. PIcker, though, didn’t like the choice and wanted to try to re-sign Sean Connery, who had departed the Eon series after You Only Live Twice.

UA operated more like a bank than a studio. It didn’t have its own studio facilities, like a Warner Bros. or a Disney. It often gave the producers it worked with a lot of leeway.

But on this occasion, Picker won out and Connery was signed for $1.25 million, with UA agreeing to finance other films for the star. One movie, The Offence, was made under that deal.

Picker left UA in the 1970s. For a time, he became a producer himself, then held executive jobs at Paramount and Columbia Pictures.

Picker appeared in multiple documentaries made in the late 1990s and directed by John Cork about Bond movies. He also was among those interviewed for the 2012 documentary Everything or Nothing about the 007 film series.

If Twitter existed in the early days of 007 films

Twitter logo

Twitter, founded in 2006, drives a lot of the conversation on social media.

When it comes to movies and TV shows, Twitter often is a medium for fans to express themselves about movies and TV shows. It’s also a way for various media outlets to blast out headlines before publishing stories.

With that in mind, here are some of the tweets that could have been posted in the earliest days of the James Bond film franchise.

Sean Connery’s casting as James Bond is announced.

–They cast WHO? The guy is balding and he has bad teeth!

Production on Dr. No begins

–Dr. No is a half-day behind schedule after its first day of filming! This movie is doomed!

–I hear the reason for the delay was Jack Lord was late. Bloody American!

–Rumor has it the fourth day of shooting was almost a total loss. Does this production know what it’s doing?

–The Dragon keeps breaking down! Lousiest machine I’ve had to work on!

Things get serious when the movie goes to post-production.

–Film Finances, the company that provided the completion bond for Dr. No, has taken over control. This production is doomed!

–Word is Film Finances has impounded a big chunk of Terence Young’s salary until it gets its money back. What a messed up production this is!

The movie comes out

–Felix Leiter?! He wasn’t in the book!

–Hey! They changed the ending! What happened to Dr. No being buried under guano?!

Eon makes From Russia With Love as the second film in the series

–Call Me Bwana? It was Niagara in the book! And it was Marilyn Monroe, not Anita Ekberg!

–I must say Lotte Lenya is far too glamorous to play Rosa Klebb!

–Pedro Armendariz just committed suicide. How tragic! I wonder if they got all the Darko Kerim footage they needed.

–Terence Young was almost killed in a helicopter accident! Is this production jinxed?

–There’s a rumor that they set off explosions for what was intended as run-through. Do these jokers know what they’re doing?

–Hey! They changed the ending! Bond went all the way to Paris in the book!

–I still don’t know about this Connery guy.

Bond 25 questions: The new writer edition

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

One of the later questions deal with a possible Bond 25 story line, so consider that a spoiler.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a writer and performer, has come aboard Bond 25 as the newest screenwriter. The story was broken by the Mail on Sunday while The Observer had its own, later story with additional details.

Not surprisingly, the blog has some questions.

What is Waller-Bridge’s background?

She was born in 1985 and acts, writes and directs. One of her prominent credits is the BBC comedy Fleabag.

Why is she being brought on Bond 25?

According to The Guardian’s story, actor Daniel Craig requested her services. An excerpt:

Sources close to the film in the US said that while in the country she discussed with Craig how to improve the script of Bond 25, which the 007 actor felt needed some “polishing”, by introducing more humour and the offbeat style of writing she is best known for.

What’s the significance of this move?

Eon Production recently hired “script doctor” Scott Z. Burns for a four-week stint going over the script. If The Guardian is to be believed, the powers that be felt yet more work was needed.

The Mail on Sunday hyped Waller-Bridge’s hiring as “a comprehensive makeover for the MeToo era.” The Guardian’s story makes it sound like more of a tweaking.

Any plot hints? (here’s the spoiler for the spoiler adverse)

The Mail on Sunday story said one plot “being considered” has a retired Bond while a woman agent now has the 007 code number.

If accurate, that’s the flip side of an idea in Anthony Horowitz’s Forever and a Day 007 continuation novel. It’s set in 1950. Bond gets promoted to the 00 section and opts to take the 007 number, which had been assigned to a murdered agent.

Is it a big deal to hire a woman screenwriter for a Bond film?

It shouldn’t but it probably will be because there have been so few.

Johanna Harwood (b. 1930) worked on the first two films in the Eon series. She shared the Dr. No screenplay credit with Richard Maibaum and Berkely Mather. On From Russia With Love, she received an “adapted by” credit while Maibaum got the screenplay credit.

Dana Stevens took over from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had done the initial drafts of The World Is Not Enough. Bruce Feirstein subsequently took over from her. Purvis, Wade and Feirstein shared in the screenplay credit while Stevens went uncredited.