Happy 90th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a 1960s 007 publicity still

Adapted and expanded from a 2011 post.

Sean Connery celebrates his 90th birthday today. There’s little more than needs to be said about Connery’s contributions to the James Bond film series.

Terence Young, director of three of the first four Bond movies, famously said the three reasons that 007 films took off were, “Sean Connery, Sean Connery and Sean Connery.” Young also tutored Connery in the ways of Bond.

Still, the blog can’t help but wonder if Connery had even the slightest hint of what was about to happen to him after being cast as Bond.

The answer is probably not. Who could?

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were a couple of journeymen producers. Terence Young was a journeyman director. Richard Maibaum, a journeyman screenwriter and occasional producer.

Ian Fleming had written some novels that had gotten attention, including in 1961 when Life magazine listed the author’s From Russia With Love as one of then-President John F. Kennedy’s favorite novels.

Also in 1961, United Artists announced it intended to start a film series based on the novels. Connery would end up with a $16,800 paycheck for the first film, Dr. No. Hardly the makings of a phenomenon.

Life can change in an instant. That was certainly true of a Scot actor who was starting to make an impression with audiences.

Things were never quite the same after that. Connery has been retired for almost two decades. His Bond films perhaps aren’t seen with the same enthusiasm by modern audiences. So it goes.

Then again, without Connery’s Bond films, would there even be a 21st century Bond series?

Like with much of the 1960s spy craze, the Connery 007 films caught lightning in a bottle. Bond was able to remain relevant after Connery’s departure. But you can argue that Connery provided the foundation that others followed.

Broccoli is gone. Saltzman is gone. Young is gone. Maibaum is gone. Even one of Connery’s successors, Roger Moore, is gone. United Artists was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. UA exists pretty much only on paper today.

Connery, in retirement, remains.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

The remarkable Paul Dehn

Paul Dehn (1912-1976)

While doing some research, it occurred to me how remarkable Paul Dehn’s career as a screenwriter was.

In the space of one year Dehn adapted film versions of Ian Fleming (Goldfinger) and John Le Carre (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold).

In the space of 10 years, Dehn added adaptations of William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and Agatha Christie (the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express).

On top of that, he worked on four sequels for The Planet of the Apes.

Dehn (1912-1976) engaged in intelligence activities during World War II, according to his WIKIPEDIA ENTRY. In the post-war years, Fleming, Dehn and former intelligence operatives such as Alan Caillou (1914-2006) drew upon their experiences in spinning stories for film and TV shows.

Still, Dehn had quite a ride. He was the second writer brought in for Goldfinger, brought in by Harry Saltzman after Richard Maibaum had begun the process.

“Dehn solved the final problems of the adoption and added some Britishness,” film historian Adrian Turner wrote in the 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“Although Maibaum had disapproved of much of Dehn’s work, Dehn sent him a cable on the day of the film’s premiere — “Congratulations on Goldfinger am proud to have collaborated with you” — which was a nice gesture,” Turner wrote.

Turner added that had “a strong sense of British tradition” and “wrote poetry, lyrics for popular songs, plays and libretti for short operas.”

Dehn died on Sept. 30, 1976, at the age of 63.

Jeremy Duns discusses scripts for 1967 Casino Royale

Jeremy Duns

Writer Jeremy Duns over the past nine years has researched the James Bond work performed by journalist-screenwriter Ben Hecht (1893-1964) and novelist Joseph Heller (1923-1999).

Both were among the scribes employed by producer Charles K. Feldman for his 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. But little had been written about that Casino Royale work prior to Duns’ research.

The Spy Command conducted an interview with Duns via email.

QUESTION: What is it about the Charles K. Feldman production of Casino Royale that spurred you to find out more?

JEREMY DUNS: I tend to be interested in oddities and gaps in the record, and follow them up if I think there might be more there.

There has been so much written about the James Bond series that the tendency is to think that there’s nothing substantial that could now be discovered about this world, but I started to rethink that in 2005 after I found a few draft pages of an unpublished Bond novel from the Sixties (Per Fine Ounce).

That research was triggered by my reading a few sentences about the book in Duff Hart-Davis’ excellent biography of Peter Fleming, published in 1974. The discovery suggested to me that there might be more to find than I’d thought. A couple of years later, a passing mention in one of Kingsley Amis’ published letters to a ‘story outline’ he was writing ‘based on an original Ian Fleming idea’ led me to finding Jon Cleary’s unfilmed screenplay for The Diamond Smugglers.

So what else could there be out there? Like many, I had read more about the 1967 version of Casino Royale in advance of the reboot with Daniel Craig, and had watched it again. It was as much of a mess as I remembered, but I was intrigued as to how it had all come about.

So many famous actors, directors and writers were involved, and I was particularly intrigued by some of the names in the latter camp – several books mentioned that, among others, Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller had been involved in writing for the film.

Those are two mammoth figures, of course, so that started me looking. Idly searching the internet in late 2009 I found that the Newberry Library in Chicago had copies of Ben Hecht’s material for the film. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I had any luck with Heller, for reasons explained here.

QUESTION: As you’ve written, Feldman’s project went through various phases from straight adaptation to madcap spoof. What do you think accounts for this?

DUNS: Lots of factors, I think, although we don’t know for sure. Eon’s films became increasingly successful as Feldman was trying to make his, and with each one, Sean Connery became more established in the public’s view as James Bond – he was soon virtually indistinguishable from the character.

Feldman tried to poach Connery for his movie, but Connery asked for a million dollars and Feldman refused (according to Connery he admitted to him later that this had been a mistake). But at some point, I suspect he figured that trying to compete with Eon by making a film like theirs, without Connery, would risk a weak imitation.

Feldman had also negotiated with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to make Casino Royale with them, but they had balked at his price. There might well have been some bitterness on Feldman’s part from those negotiations failing. And in 1965 he produced What’s New Pussycat?, which despite being a chaotic production, became a big hit.

Just as a few years later, George Lazenby was convinced by his agent that James Bond was old hat in the hippie era, Feldman seems to have convinced himself of something a little similar –- that the wild madcap psychedelic tone of What’s New Pussycat? was the hip new thing, and that he had a finger on that pulse.

QUESTION: What accounts for the interest of Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller in writing for Feldman? Was it just money? Were the writers genuinely interested in the material?

DUNS: It’s always tricky to speculate on people’s motivations, and I suspect they were nuanced and with many factors.

Ben Hecht

I don’t think Hecht needed the money, but he had initially moved to Hollywood in order to make it, of course. He was a screenwriter for hire, and one of the highest-paid in the field. He knew Feldman, had worked with him before, and they seemed to have been on friendly terms. He was certainly interested in the material – in his last letter to Feldman he said he had “never had more fun writing a movie.” I think the drafts he wrote also show he was interested in the source material.

As for Heller, Feldman offered him $150,000 to work on the script, and by Heller’s own account that was a major motivating factor – as it likely would have been for most writers.

But Heller was also interested in the material, I think, and enjoyed writing it, if not the stress of working for Feldman and doing so in the dark with other writers simultaneously working on the same script. Heller’s correspondence with Feldman and his satirical article about the experience are self-deprecating and dismissive, to the point where one might feel he disliked Bond, but that’s the Heller voice, familiar from Catch-22: cool, cynical, sardonic. It’s not the voice of his material.

If I’d only found a snippet of his letter to Feldman in which he described the pre-titles sequence he and George Mandel wrote for the film, but none of the script material, it would be easy to assume that he found the whole thing beneath him and was taking the mickey out of the whole thing. But I think that sequence is brilliant and shows a lot of care and craft. That and a lot else he wrote is easy to imagine in a later Connery film.

Other aspects of that letter, the script material, and Heller’s extensive notes and suggestions for it, show that he took the job very seriously, and did a lot of work on it.

Joseph Heller

QUESTION: Of the Hecht and Heller Casino Royale scripts, which do you think is better?

DUNS: That’s impossible to say at this point, mainly because I don’t know if there’s any more Heller material out there. There are thousands of pages in the Charles K Feldman Collection, but it’s currently closed, and there are clearly parts of the story we don’t yet know.

That said, it looks on the face of it that Hecht did more work on the film, for longer, and it more generally fits the kind of Bond film I tend to favor, eg From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Heller’s material wasn’t pastiche, spoof or satire, but nudges more towards the vein of You Only Live Twice.

Heller built on a lot of Hecht’s material, though, perhaps with Billy Wilder’s material in between, so there are several plot similarities, and their tone is broadly similar. But there’s more research to do, and it’s a little like comparing apples and pears. These were two geniuses of the 20th century, let loose on James Bond.

QUESTION: How would you describe Charles K. Feldman. I know he was an agent (and Albert R. Broccoli’s boss) and he got into production. What made him want to do that transition?

DUNS: He was a powerful Hollywood figure, and as an agent represented a huge number of stars: Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, to name just a few. He was handsome and debonair and had a rather peculiar biography, of which it’s not clear how much was true – there’s a touch of Jay Gatsby about him. I’m no expert on his career, but I think he went into production at least in part because the studio system was collapsing and creating his own projects was a way to steer a new course for the talent he represented.

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

QUESTION: Is there an element of tragedy with the Feldman production of Casino Royale? Hecht dies while working on the project. Feldman dies not long after the movie came out. The finished movie seems to have wasted an enormous amount of money. Was it worth it?

DUNS: Ben Hecht was 71 when he died, Feldman 63. I don’t know if the latter’s death was at all connected to the stress of making Casino Royale, but I doubt Hecht’s was related. This just happened to be the project he was working on when he died.

In terms of the finished film, I think it was a folly and an obsession that led Feldman astray, and he squandered enormous sums – including a lot of his own money – on it. But he also didn’t make use of some extraordinary script material he had commissioned from two of the era’s greatest writers. That’s perhaps not a tragedy, but it’s certainly a crying shame. Still, the material itself still exists, and I hope it can be read more widely at some point.

QUESTION: Perhaps an obvious question but is making a James Bond movie a lot harder than it looks? The two non-Eon films (1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) both encountered a lot of problems.

DUNS: Making any film is harder than it looks, but yes, a Bond film is especially tricky, especially because of the weight of expectations. At this point, Feldman was up against a phenomenon and, despite Heller’s clear warning, he didn’t understand that even a spectacle like Bond has to be at least halfway coherent.

You can replace John Barry with Burt Bacharach. You can have tremendous sets and costumes and Ursula Andress and David Niven and Orson Welles and the world’s greatest directors and writers… but you need to be able to put it all together. Feldman, quite literally, lost the plot.

The book Duns on Bond is an omnibus that collects Duns’ articles about Hecht’s Casino Royale scripts as well as pieces he wrote concerning Per Fine Ounce and The Diamond Smugglers. It can be ordered at AMAZON UK and AMAZON US, as well as AMAZON CANADA and other Amazon sites.

Duns wrote about Joseph Heller and Casino Royale in an APRIL 20 article in The Times of London. The article is behind a paywall. if you register for The Times’ site, you can see two free articles a month. The Times is offering a one-month free subscription plan. 

OHMSS’ 50th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

Updated and adapted from a 2014 post.

When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond in Dr. No, there was interest. Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were popular. President John F. Kennedy was among their fans. Still, it wasn’t anything to obsess over.

By the end of the 1960s, things had changed. Bond was a worldwide phenomenon. 007 was a big business that even producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hadn’t anticipated originally. Now, the role was being re-cast after Sean Connery departed the role.

As a result, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which debuted 50 years ago this month, was under intense scrutiny. The film required a long, exhausting shooting schedule. This time, Bond would be played by a novice actor, George Lazenby, and supervised by a first-time director, Peter Hunt.

Hunt, at least, was no novice with the world of 007. He had been editor or supervising editor of the previous five Broccoli-Saltzman 007 films and second unit director of You Only Live Twice. So he was more than familiar with how the Bond production machine worked. Also, he had support of other 007 veterans, including production designer Syd Cain, set decorator Peter Lamont, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry.

Lazenby, on the other hand, had to take a crash course. He was paired with much more experienced co-stars, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. And he was constantly being compared with Connery.

When, at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella,” the statement was true on multiple levels.

Majesty’s was also the first time Eon Productions re-calibrated. You Only Live Twice had dispensed with the main plot of Fleming’s novel and emphasized spectacle instead. Majesty’s ended up being arguably the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming 007 novel. It was still big, but it had no spaceships or volcano hideouts.

Majesty’s global box office totaled $82 million, according to THE NUMBERS WEBSITE. That was a slide from You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million. Twice’s box offce, in turn, had declined compared with Thunderball.

For Lazenby, once was enough. He subsequently has said he erred by not making a second Bond. “This never happened to the other fella,” indeed.

The film also marked Hunt’s exit from the series. He had been one of the major contributors of the early 007 films. But Eon would no longer employ his services after Majesty’s.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among many 007 fans. In 1969 and 1970, the brain trust at Eon Productions and United Artists concluded some re-thinking was needed. Things were about to change yet again.

RE-POST: Author talks about his Broccoli-Saltzman book

Cover to When Harry Met Cubby by Robert Sellers

Originally posted May 10. Re-posted today, Sept. 1, because the book is due out later this month..

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.

Golden Gun’s 45th anniversary: The unloved Bond?

goldengunposter

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

Updated and expanded from a 2014 post.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun.

The 1974 film has received a lot of flak over the decades. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

For example, Don McGregor, then a writer for Marvel Comics, savaged the movie in a lengthy article in a 1975 issue of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine (which featured a cover drawn by comics legend Neal Adams).

Also, the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website had few kind words when its contributors (including myself) did rankings of the Bond films. (Speaking only for myself, as I look back on my comments, one about John Barry was over the top.)

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.”

Neal Adams cover to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine containing an article savaging The Man With the Golden Gun

However, the movie also has its defenders. Among them is David Leigh, who runs The James Bond Dossier website and is a regular guest on the James Bond & Friends podcast.  Also, the August 2018 issue of 007 Magazine (which is sold out) had an article titled, “In Defence of The Man With the Golden Gun.”

The movie was a bit of a disappointment at the box office. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Golden Gun is not the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that many like to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t demanding candor.

But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Oswald Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (John Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it doesn’t get much love from part of the 007 fan community.

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.

Robert Sellers coming out with a Broccoli-Saltzman book

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

Robert Sellers, the author of The Battle for Bond, a book about the behind-the-scenes conflict concerning Thunderball, is coming out with a new book about Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the co-founders of Eon Productions.

There is a listing on the U.K. site of Amazon for When Harry Met Cubby: The Story of the James Bond Producers.

According to the listing, the book will be out in September. Here’s part of the description:

Both men were of such contrasting personalities that relations between them often span out of control, to such an extent that they not only fell out with their star, Sean Connery, but ultimately with each other. Loved and hated in equal measure, respected and feared by their contemporaries, few movie people have loomed as large over the industry as Broccoli and Saltzman, yet tragically they would meet very different ends.

During the 1960s heydey of the Bond film series, Broccoli and Saltzman took the industry by storm as 007 became a phenomenon.

In the ensuing decades, a narrative took hold of Saltzman being the more volatile of the two. Some fans (via social media) claim that Saltzman wasn’t really a producer.

On the other hand, other accounts indicate that Saltzman had a major impact on Bond film stories. Richard Maibaum had been a Broccoli man (going back to the producer’s partnership with Irving Allen). Saltzman brought in others (such as Len Deighton, Paul Dehn and John Hopkins) to revise Maibaum’s work.

Regardless, the blog’s guess is the new Sellers book will bring new insights to an old partnership that finally ruptured in the mid-1970s.

Albert Finney dies at 82

Albert Finney (1936-2019)

British actor Albert Finney has died at 82, according to obituaries published by The Guardian and the BBC.

The actor had a long career, beginning in the 1950s and concluding with 2012’s Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film. He was nominated five times for an Oscar, including for his performances in 1963’s Tom Jones and 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express.

One of his early highlights was 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a “kitchen sink” drama from producer Harry Saltzman, who a year later co-founded Eon Productions with Albert R. Broccoli.

In Skyfall, Finney played Kincade, who the actor described as “an old retainer of James Bond’s family.”

Skyfall director Sam Mendes told The Huffington Post in 2012 there had been consideration of trying to cast Sean Connery, the original film Bond, in the part. ” So, it was a very brief flirtation with that thought, but it was never going to happen, because I thought it would distract,” Mendes told the website.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in a November 2011 story that Mendes surprised the Skyfall cast during a script reading with the news that Finney was joining them.

The story, however, had one key error: “Finney, who has been in remission from cancer of the prostate for several years, will play a Foreign Office mandarin with powers over the Secret Intelligence Service, described to me as a reasonably big role and full of class.” That would turn out to be Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes. Mallory takes over as the new M following the death of the Judi Dench M at the climax of the film.

Below is a brief video with Finney in costume talking about Skyfall.