Michael G. Wilson turns 80

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson, during publicity for 2015’s SPECTRE

Michael G. Wilson, a producer and writer who worked longer on James Bond films than anyone else, celebrated his 80th birthday today.

Wilson, who has been involved with Bond for 50 years on a full-time basis, is the stepson of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the half-brother of 007 producer Barbara Broccoli.

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took command of Eon in 1994 as GoldenEye was in pre-production and Cubby Broccoli suffered from ill health. The Wilson-Barbara Broccoli combination has produced every Bond film starting with GoldenEye.

Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli died in 1996, ending 35 years with the franchise.

Wilson’s mother, Dana, married Cubby Broccoli in 1959. She had earlier been married to actor Lewis Wilson, who had played Batman in a 1943 serial. The actor was the father of Michael Wilson.

Michael Wilson’s first involvement in the 007 series was as an extra on 1964’s Goldfinger, but that was a one-off. Starting in 1972, he joined Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

Michael G. Wilson’s first 007 on-screen credit in The Spy Who Loved Me

In those early years, Wilson, a lawyer who also had training in engineering, was involved in the separation between Eon founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the latter facing financial troubles. Eventually, United Artists bought out Saltzman’s interest in the 007 franchise.

Wilson’s first on-screen credit was as “special assistant to producer” on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Wilson got a small title card, sharing the screen with other crew members. But that belied how Wilson’s influence on the series was growing following Saltzman’s departure.

A Poster Changes

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of the poster for The Spy Who Loved Me, with a credit for “Mike Wilson.”

An early poster for Spy had the credit “Assistant to the Producer Mike Wilson.” It didn’t mention other notables such as production designer Ken Adam or associate producer William P. Cartlidge. Later versions didn’t include Wilson’s credits but Adam and Cartlidge still didn’t make the final poster.

For 1979’s Moonraker, Wilson was elevated to executive producer, a title which can be a little confusing. On television series, an executive producer is supposed to be the top producer or producers. For movies, it’s a secondary title to producer. This time, Wilson was included on the posters as were Adam and Cartlidge.

With 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, Wilson doubled as a screenwriter, working in conjunction with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum. Wilson received a screenwriting credit on every 007 film made by Eon in the 1980s. Starting with 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was joint producer along with Cubby Broccoli.

While adding to his production resume, Wilson also began making cameo appearances in the Bond movies themselves. A 2015 story in the Daily Mail provided images of a few examples. The cameos varied from a quick glance (The World Is Not Enough) to getting several lines of dialogue (Tomorrow Never Dies, as a member of the board of directors working with the villain).

‘Particularly Hard’

After Cubby Broccoli’s death, Wilson in interviews began complaining about the work load of making Bond films. “It just seems that this one’s been particularly hard,” Wilson said in an interview with Richard Ashton on the former Her Majesty’s Secret Service website concerning The World Is Not Enough that’s archived at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

In an earlier Ashton interview, after production of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Wilson described the pressure he felt.

“There are a myriad of things every day,” Wilson told Ashton. “From the producer’s point of view they want to know the schedule, does the set need to be this big? Are we gonna shoot all this stuff in the action sequence? How much of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor? You’re putting the director under pressure to make decisions all the time – and he has a point of view he wants to put across.”

‘Desperately Afraid’

Dana Broccoli was an uncredited adviser on the Bond films during Cubby Broccoli’s reign. She became “the custodian of the James Bond franchise” after his death in 1996, according to a 2004 obituary of Dana Broccoli in The Telegraph.

With her passing, Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were truly on their own. One of their first decisions was to move on from Pierce Brosnan, the last 007 actor selected by Albert R. Broccoli, and go in a new direction with Daniel Craig.

In an October 2005 story in The New York Times, Wilson described the process.

“I was desperately afraid, and Barbara was desperately afraid, we would go downhill,” said Michael G. Wilson, the producer of the new Bond film, “Casino Royale,” with Ms. Broccoli. He even told that to Pierce Brosnan, the suave James Bond who had a successful run of four films, he said.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli also began pursuing other interests, including plays as well as movies such as the drama The Silent Storm, where they were among 12 executive producers.

Wilson as P.T. Barnum

Wilson, to a degree, also was the Bond franchise’s equivalent of P.T. Barnum. In separate interviews and public appearances he said he hoped Daniel Craig would do more 007 films than Roger Moore even as the time between Bond films lengthened while later saying Bond actors shouldn’t be kept on too long.

Legal fights between Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired United Artists in 1981) caused a six-year hiatus in Bond films between 1989 and 1995. When production resumed with GoldenEye, Wilson no longer was a credited screenwriter.

Cubby Broccoli had benefited from a long relationship with Richard Maibaum (1909-1991), who ended up contributing to 13 of the first 16 Bond movies. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli seemed to search for their own Maibaum.

At first, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein seemed to fit the bill. He received a writing credit on three movies, starting with GoldenEye and ending with The World Is Not Enough.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011 Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011.

Later, the producing duo seemed to settle on scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who received credits on six consecutive 007 epics. They ran began with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and ran through 2015’s SPECTRE. They were hired in 2017 to work on a 007th film, No Time to Die, released in 2021. Director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge were among the other writers on the script.

Still, it wasn’t the same. After 2012’s Skyfall, Purvis and Wade weren’t supposed to return, with writer John Logan (who’d done Skyfall’s later drafts) set to script two movies in a row.

It didn’t work out that way. With SPECTRE, the followup to Skyfall, Logan did the earlier drafts but Purvis and Wade were summoned back. Eventually, Logan, Purvis, Wade and Jez Butterworth would get a credit.

Changing Role?

Cubby Broccoli seemed to live to make James Bond movies. Wilson  not as much, as he pursued other interests, including photography. By the 2010s, it appeared to outsiders that Barbara Broccoli had become the primary force at Eon.

In December, 2014, at the announcement of the title for SPECTRE, Wilson was absent. Director Sam Mendes acted as master of ceremonies with Barbara Broccoli at his side. Wilson showed up in later months for SPECTRE-related publicity events.

Nevertheless, Wilson devoted the majority of his life to the film series.

Making movies is never easy. Wilson’s greatest accomplishment is helping — in a major way — to keeping the 007 series in production. He was not a founding father of the Bond film series. But he was one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures for the film Bond beginning in the 1970s.

“When you go around the world you see how many people are so anxious, in every country, ‘Oh, when’s the next Bond film coming out?'” Wilson told Ashton after production of Tomorrow Never Dies. “You realize that there’s a huge audience and I guess you don’t want to come out with a film that’s going to somehow disappoint them.”

Footnote to Fleming’s involvement with U.N.C.L.E.

Last week, an artifact of Ian Fleming’s involvement in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up on social media.

It was a copy of a November 1964 article in the Daily Mail with a headline of “FLEMING’S LAST CASE: The Man From UNCLE versus The Girl From THRUSH.”

An excerpt:

Mr. (Napoleon) Solo was the last creation of Ian Fleming before he died. You will see Napoleon Solo when a new TV series called The Man From UNCLE comes to Britain next year. Mr. Solo, I predict, will soon have a following. Not perhaps quite as large as Agent 007 but satisfying enough. I like him.

What’s interesting about the article is how earlier in 1964, attorneys for Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sent a cease and desist letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where the U.N.C.L.E series was produced).

That led to legal negotiations. The result was the TV series being retitled The Man From U.N.C.L.E. instead of Solo (also the name of one of the gangsters in Goldfinger), as originally planned. At one point, MGM issued a press release saying Ian Fleming had nothing to do with the TV show. The text of both the cease-and-desist letter and the MGM press release can be FOUND HERE.

The Daily Mail story contains an amusing gaffe. It identifies the “Girl From THRUSH” as actress Anne Francis. It was really actress Janine Gray (b. 1940). The Daily Mail also used a severely cropped image of Gray from her appearance in an U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Deadly Games Affair. Here’s the full image:

Bond films: Does ‘Fleming content’ matter anymore?

Some guy who had something to do with James Bond

I watched an entertaining video about the future of James Bond films. One of the issues it raised was do we really want to rehash Ian Fleming’s original texts anymore.

Go to the 12:19 mark of this video:

An excerpt:

I also know there are a lot of Bond fans out there who want to see them go back to the Ian Fleming source material and do super-faithful adaptations of those books. This is something I’m really unexcited about. Largely, I feel because I feel a good chunk of those books have already been adapted quite faithfully.

As noted in the video, Goldfinger’s screenplay improved upon Fleming’s novel. Also, check out the comments section of the video.

Regardless, Ian Fleming (1908-1964) has been dead longer than he was alive. Sherlock Holmes has gone on far longer than his creator Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). In that regard, Bond and Holmes have something in common.

To be clear, I know the creator of the YouTube video. He’s a great guy and he produces wonderful Bond-related videos.

Also, for the sake of clarity, I have done an article updated three times that attempted to put a value on the “Fleming content” of the Eon film series.

Finally, for a character to be long-lived, that character goes beyond his or her creator. Holmes and Tarzan fall into the category. Others, not so much.

Bond is approaching his 60th anniversary as a film character. Changes take place.

Once upon a time, Batman was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Batman is a lot different than those days. But the Finger-Kane imprint still is present. And Batman is one of the most popular characters in the world.

The same thing may be happening with Bond.

British broadcaster claims Bond is not a fantasy

Spoilers for No Time to Die.

Last month, British broadcaster Simon Mayo in a broadcast had a spoiler discussion with film critic Mark Kermode about No Time to Die. Mayo, as part of the chat, claimed that James Bond is not a fantasy.

MAYO: Batman’s fantasy, isn’t it?…Bond isn’t fantasy and Batman is fantasy.

Kermode attempted to talk Mayo down from that notion. “Daniel Craig in Casino Royale is not playing the same character that Sean Connery was playing in Dr. No.”

Of course, back in 2006, Eon Productions said it was starting the Bond series over with Daniel Craig. Most Bond fans got that and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon made clear the series had begun all over.

Casino Royale’s “Bond begins” approach came a year after director Christopher Nolan helmed a Batman movie where the Dark Knight began again. By now, the approach is old hat for Batman.

Still, Mayo said that notion doesn’t apply for Bond.

Still, Bond isn’t fantasy?

A few examples:

–Casino Royale (novel): Bond smokes 70 cigarettes a day and consumes a lot of alcohol.

–Dr. No (novel): Bond kills the villain by burying him in bird guano.

–Goldfinger (novel): The villain actually intends to steal all the gold from Fort Knox. When the novel was turned into a movie, the plot became detonating an atomic bomb inside Fort Knox. That’s much more realistic, I guess.

–You Only Live Twice (novel): The villain constructs a “garden of death” to entice suicide-inclined Japanese to kill themselves.

–You Only Live Twice (film): A villain’s base inside a volcano and a giant magnet used by the Japanese Secret Service to whisk enemy cars away and drop them in the bay. Don’t forget the “intruder missile” that captures space capsules.

–Live And Let Die: Gas pellets that cause an opponent to expand and explode.

–The Spy Who Loved Me: A tanker that can capture submarines.

— Moonraker: A space station that can launch deadly globes that can wipe out millions of people.

But Bond, a fantasy? Of course not.

This all began when I put a few tweets referring to Mayo as Kermode’s “sidekick.” I stand corrected. But few, if any, who objected to my referring to Mayo as a sidekick defended his actual position. They mostly were upset about use of the term sidekick.

Anyway, the video of the Kermode-Mayo exchange is below. The “fantasy” debate starts after the 3:00 mark.


No Time to Die footnote edition

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die’s theatrical rollout is well along, with only a few countries left to see the movie. With that in mind, here’s a look at various things that were either supposed to happen or people wanted to happen.

The ginormous premiere: Remember how Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions were supposed to be considering staging the movie’s world premiere “at the biggest venues in London, starting with Wembley and going down from there” ?

At least that was the tale from The Mirror on April 17. That didn’t happen. The premiere took place at Royal Albert Hall.

An “in memoriam” title card for Sean Connery and Roger Moore: James Bond fans were rooting for No Time to Die to note the passings of Sean Connery (1930-2020) and Roger Moore (1927-2017). The two actors played Bond in 13 of Eon’s 25 Bond films. That didn’t happen, either.

MGM’s push for a Best Picture Oscar nomination: Matthew Belloni, part of a digital news startup called Puck, wrote in June that he was told No Time to Die “will get a best picture push a la the final Lord of the Rings.”

This, of course, could still happen. Belloni is a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter. And some of his other items about No Time to Die have proven correct, including an August newsletter item that MGM and Eon were committed to releasing No Time to Die in late September in the U.K. and on Oct. 8 in the U.S.

The Bond series has experienced a mixed record at the Oscars. Goldfinger and Thunderball won for sound and special effects respectively. Skyfall won for best song and a sound award while SPECTRE also received a best song Oscar.

However, Bond films haven’t been nominated for acting, directing, or writing nor for best picture. Perhaps that could change if MGM and Eon make a sufficient push.

Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

Tarantino takes a shot (?) at Jack Lord

Soundtrack cover for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino is out with a novelization of his 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As a result, the writer-director has even more room to make comments about 1960s entertainment.

So far, I’m only a chapter into it and noticed a less-than-flattering reference to Jack Lord, the first screen Felix Leiter and the star of the original Hawaii Five-O (1968-80).

In Chapter One (“Call Me Marvin”), actor Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie) chats with agent Marvin Schwarz.

“Stewart Granger was the single biggest prick I ever worked with,” Dalton says. “And I’ve worked with Jack Lord!”

What brought this on? Lord (1920-98) had a reputation for (depending on your perspective) being a perfectionist or….more than that.

A 1983 Starlog interview with Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum revealed that Lord was wanted back to reprise the Leiter role for Goldfinger. Except, Lord wanted a big raise and better billing. Cec Linder got the job instead.

Also, there was this passage from a 1971 TV Guide article (text is available on Mike Quigley’s Hawaii Five-O page) that had quotes from Ben Wood, entertainment editor for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

“My phone rang. It was the show’s press agent. He said that ‘management’ was ‘very upset’ over the piece. I had called Zulu and Kam Fong stars. They are not stars, I was told. Not even Jimmy MacArthur. They are all ‘featured players.’ There is only one star of Five-O, and that is Jack Lord. When I reported this conversation in print, a couple of CBS vice presidents (Perry Lafferty and Paul King) got into the act. ‘Management’ had said no such thing. They demanded a retraction, making it look as if I was guilty of inaccurate reporting. That was when we began to refer to ‘Jimmy MacArthur, Co-Star’.”

The original Five-O ended its run more than 40 year ago. But, occasionally, there are still references to Lord. In November 2020, the official George Lazenby Twitter feed suggested that the one-film Bond may have had an interesting experience.

Also in Chapter One, Rick Dalton also compliments director Paul Wendkos to Schwarz. Wendkos’ many credits include the 1968 Hawaii Five-O TV movie pilot.

MGM may push for a Best Picture nom for NTTD

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer may promote a Best Picture Oscar nomination for No Time to Die, according to a newsletter by a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

An edition of the newsletter this week outlines various MGM Oscar hopefuls. “And don’t forget No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie, which I’m told will get a best picture push a la the final Lord of the Rings,” wrote Matthew Belloni, who left THR last year. He is now part of a digital media startup.

A screen capture from the newsletter showed up on the James Bond Facebook group alt.fan.james-bond. Belloni verified on Twitter he had written on the subject of MGM’s Oscar hopefuls.

The Bond series has won five Oscars: sound (Goldfinger), special effects (Thunderball) another sound-related award (Skyfall in a tie with Zero Dark Thirty) and two for best song (Skyfall and SPECTRE). It has had other nominations, including for best song (multiple times), cinematography (Skyfall), art direction (The Spy Who Loved Me) and best score (The Spy Who Loved Me and Skyfall).

Starting with 2009-released films, the Oscars permitted as many as 10 Best Picture nominees, up from five previously. The idea was to make it easier for popular films to be among the nominated movies.

MGM is in the process of being purchased by Amazon.

Eon’s 007 Twitter engages in revisionist history

The official 007 Twitter feed engaged in some revisionist history. In a tweet today, it referred to “the iconic Skyfall DB5.”

Skyfall DB5? Director Sam Mendes insisted the Aston Martin DB5 be the GOLDFINGER DB5.

Originally, scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had it being the DB5 that Daniel Craig’s James Bond won in 2006’s Casino Royale. But Mendes wanted the Goldfinger car, and the Goldfinger car it was.

That was the entire point. And, when Skyfall went into theaters in 2012, it indeed got a rise from audiences.

You can view the tweet for yourself:

Nikki van der Zyl, voice of Bond women, dies

Nikki van der Zyl (1935-2021)

Nikki van der Zyl, a German-born actress who provided the voice for various Bond women characters, has died at 85, Her death was disclosed on Twitter by The Bond Bulletin.

Van der Zyl was used to dub over, among others, Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Eunice Gayson in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and Claudine Auger in Thunderball. She worked on various Bond films through Moonraker.

In addition, van der Zyl acted as a dialogue coach for Gert Frobe (who ended up dubbed by Michael Collins) in Goldfinger.

Being a voice actor “is technically exacting work,” van der Zyl said in a 2015 story in The Independent. “The art of such acting is often much overlooked. You have to have to pay attention to the physical appearance of the person to ensure the character has an appropriate voice and actors speak with a blend of dialects, making it quite a challenge matching your speech to their lip movements.”

In a 2015 interview with James Bond Radio, van der Zyl said Goldfinger was her favorite Bond film because she was on the set and present throughout the film because of working with Frobe. “I feel more close to that film than the others.”

Here is the James Bond Radio interview. Van der Zyl appears beginning around the 13:25 mark.

And here is a 2013 video in The New York Times Magazine showing van der Zyl reading some of the same lines she spoke in Dr. No.