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.

Aston Martin unveils its F-1 team

Aston Martin introduced its Formula One team today. Aston has been an engine supplier for the global racing series. Now an F-1 team has been rebranded with the Aston name.

Aston is known as James Bond’s preferred ride, starting with 1964’s Goldfinger. In real life, the company has had its struggles. The F-1 initiative is important to the U.K.-based maker of expensive sports cars.

Aston had a livestream about F-1. (Hopefully that link will go to a replay later.) Gemma Arterton, who played Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, acted as host. Meanwhile, here’s a promotional video:

UPDATE: Aston Martin also released a video of Daniel Craig singing the praises of Aston.

A new Goldfinger?

UPDATE (1 p.m., New York time): I have been advised that a European Union trademark exists for the name Goldfinger (among other Bond trademarks).

ORIGINAL POST: James Bond fans took note of a story in Variety about a new Goldfinger project that has nothing to do with 007 or Auric Goldfinger.

This new Goldfinger film, according to the entertainment-news outlet is set in the 1980s and “depicts cut-throat machinations between Hong Kong’s jostling business elites amidst the backdrop of the tail end of British colonial rule.”

The James Bond Goldfinger, released in 1964 and based on a 1959 Ian Fleming novel, turned Bond into a phenomenon and was the first mega-hit for the film 007.

Some fans might be wondering how it’s even possible a new movie could be titled Goldfinger.

The Weintraub Tobin law firm in California has intellectual and entertainment practices. The firm’s IP Law Blog had a February 2020 entry about how copyright and trade applies to titles.

“Generally, the title to a single motion picture is not entitled to trademark protection,” wrote attorney Scott Hervey. “This is the same for the title to single books, songs and other singular creative works.”

However, things can be more complicated.

For one thing, with a serialized work such as a television series, “trademark protection would be warranged.”

Also, according to Hervey, courts may grant protection if it can be demonstrated a title has acquired secondary, or distinctive, meaning. “Establishing acquired distinctiveness is not an easy task,” he wrote.

Strictly a guess, but I could see how an attorney might argue that Goldfinger has a unique meaning, i.e. a specific rich, megalomaniac villain.

If you want to take a deeper dive into the subject, you can read the attorney’s blog post by CLICKING HERE. We’ll also see if this Goldfinger project generates fees for lawyers.

ADDENDUM: I should have pointed this out. No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, is at least the third use of that title. In the 1950s, there was a war movie produced by Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli with that name (it was called Tank Force in the U.S.) That movie was released by Columbia. No Time to Die was also the title of a 1992 episode of Columbo.

To be sure, No Time to Die is a pretty generic title and not in the class of distinctiveness as Goldfinger. Besides the examples above, there have been very similar-sounding titles such as And a Time to Die…, a 1970 episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Bond 26 and beyond

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond fans are waiting for another delay for the release of No Time to Die/Bond 25. If/when (probably when) that happens, the bigger question is for Bond 26 and beyond.

No Time to Die was a pre-COVID-19 movie with pre-COVID-19 finances. The 25th James Bond film ran up costs approaching $290 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K, regulatory filing.

But, hey, it was a contender for a theatrical box office of $1 billion or more (split with theaters). Certainly Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Bond’s home studio) and Danjaq LLC (parent company of Eon Productions) were working on that assumption.

Then, of course, COVID-19 changed everything. Theaters were shut down in many regions. And the virus — despite the emergence of vaccines — has not been brought to heel. At least not yet and maybe not soon.

Perhaps you can just kick the can. Delay the release date one, two, who knows how many times? Eventually, everything will be back to normal.

Won’t it?

No Time to Die is on the shelf. It will get shown. Sometime.

The big question is what happens with Bond 26, whenever that gets made, and in whatever form.

Studios such as Walt Disney Co. and AT&T’s Warner Bros. have embraced the streaming model model. MGM reportedly shopped No Time to Die around for a streaming deal but couldn’t get the price it wanted.

What’s more, MGM reportedly has put itself up for sale. The studio’s association with Bond will reach its 40th anniversary this year. The Bond-MGM association has been a rocky one, dysfunctional even.

Danjaq/Eon controls the rights to Bond. But Danjaq/Eon needs MGM (whether by itself or in alliance with other studios) to get 007 movies made.

Put another way, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed before you can even talk about future Bond adventures.

Example: Is the traditional model of a big theatrical release followed by home video revenues even practical now? Or do studios need to reduce the costs of big “tentpole” films?

Of major tentpoles, Bond seemingly is in a good position to ramp down and do more cost-effective productions. The early 007 films such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, were pretty lean films.

Still, that was almost 60 years ago. Things change.

No Time to Die may be a rousing James Bond film. But Bond’s future still is being determined — and things are more uncertain than James Bond emerging triumphant at the end of a movie.

Unlikely Bond streaming spinoff series

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There has been a lot of speculation whether the streaming era will lead to new James Bond-related series for streaming.

In late 2019, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that her company was resisting the idea of such spinoffs. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” she told the publication. She didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from but a reasonable guess might be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Broccoli may be able to head off such pressure. Or perhaps not. Regardless, this list of potential spinoffs is unlikely to see the light of day.

The Adventures of Bill Tanner: In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bill Tanner, chief of staff to M, was the closest thing to a friend that James Bond had in the British secret service.

In the films made by Eon, Tanner hasn’t had that much of a presence.

In GoldenEye, Tanner (Michael Kitchen) criticizes the new M (Judi Dench), unaware she’s right behind him. In For Your Eyes Only, Tanner (James Villiers) comes across as a stuffy bureaucrat and not a pal of James Bond (Roger Moore). In more recent films, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is there, gets a few lines with Daniel Craig but not much else.

Trying to build a streaming series, even if it were only six to eight episodes, might be a bit of a challenge.

Cooking With May: May, Bond’s housekeeper, is a character from Fleming’s novels who hasn’t been included in the films.

One possibility would be to hire someone who can cook playing May as she prepares meals for Bond. Expect many of her dishes to involve scrambled eggs.

Leolia!: Leolia Ponsonby was the secretary to the 00-section in Fleming’s novels. There were three 00-agents. Others were referenced, but readers only witnessed Ponsonby interacting with Bond. The character was phased out and replaced by Mary Goodnight.

A streaming series would have the inevitable origin story. That would answer such pressing questions such as how she came to work for the British Secret Service in the first place.

Golfing With Hawker: This would be a show about how to improve your golf game. A real golfer would play Hawker, Bond’s caddy in both the novel and film Goldfinger. Viewers would learn the secrets of hitting out of sand traps, straightening out their drives and hitting around trees.

After watching Golfing With Hawker, you, too, can learn to hit out of a bunker like this one.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.