How writers channel their lives to their work

“Most fiction is shaped by geography and permeated by autobiography, even when it is trying not to be,” Ross MacDonald (Kenneth Millar), in the introduction to Archer in Jeopardy, a 1979 omnibus of three Lew Archer novels, published in 1979.

There’s an old saying you should “write what you know.” But, for many fiction writers, it goes beyond that.

Writers, whether they intend to or not, show what is going on with their lives.

Take, for example, the James Bond novels and short stories by Ian Fleming. “The early novels have an engaging style that concentrates on mood, character development, and plot advancement,” Raymond Benson wrote in The James Bond Bedside Companion. “In the later novels, Fleming injected more ‘pizzazz’ into his writing.”

Toward the end of his run, Fleming had other issues. In April 1961, the author suffered a major heart attack, according to the Ian Fleming Publications website. Fleming stories written after that time reflect a fascination with death, especially the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice.

Nor was Fleming alone. Paddy Chayefsky had a dark outlook about humanity. Characters played by James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, George C. Scott in The Hospital and William Holden in Network are, in effect, alter egos for Chayefsky.

This post began with a quote from Kenneth Miller, aka Ross Macdonald. His Lew Archer often probed troubled families to solve a mystery. Miller himself channeled his own troubled life when writing his Lew Archer stories.

Writing fiction is hard. Doing it well takes talent and effort. Even though who do it well may not be able to make a sale.

Regardless, the authors tell more about themselves than they perhaps intend. As Kenneth Millar observed most fiction “is permeated by autography.”

Bond as strategic thinker

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

I’ve been re-reading Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, for research. Something leapt out at me. James Bond is not the best strategic thinker.

Bond, thanks to Felix Leither providing much-needed funds from the U.S., bests a Communist operative, LeChiffe at the gaming tables. After winning, Bond drinks a lot of champagne while LeChiffre prepares a counter-attack. Bond eventually is captured.

Too late, it occurs to Bond he should have been more prepared.

He squirmed at the thought of himself washing down champagne at the Roi Gallant while the enemy was busy preparing the counterstroke. He cursed himself and cursed the hubris which had made him so sure that the battle was won and the enemy was in flight.

Chapter 16, The Crawling of the Skin

The thing is, Bond never really learns that lesson. In the novel From Russia With Love, Bond knows the situation is a trap but decides to ride the train to the end. In Dr. No (both novel and film), Bond travels to Crab Key with basically no plan, just bringing a gun with him.

Both the literary and cinema Bond doesn’t do much in the way of planning. In Quantum of Solace, Bond bounces from one situation to another. In the film Skyfall, Bond sort of, kind of, has a plan but M still gets killed.

Bond, of course, is a blunt instrument. On some occasions, he’s the dull instrument who nevertheless comes out on top. In Casino Royale (both novel and 2006 film), he’s been taken in by Vesper. In the film, he even loses all the money.

Fleming scholar on the trail of 007’s creator

F.L. Toth during a research trip to Indiana University’s Lilly Library (photo courtesy of F.L. Toth)

F.L. Toth is a librarian and a scholar about the works and life of Ian Fleming. Her Twitter feed, @3octaves, or 007intheAdirondacks, notes significant events in the life of James Bond’s creator. She lives in update New York, territory where the literary Bond was known to travel.

Toth has made research trips to study the life and works of Fleming. She also is a contributor to Artistic Licence Renewed. You can see a sample of her work by CLICKING HERE.

The blog interviewed Toth via direct messages on Twitter. A transcript follows.

THE SPY COMMAND: What spurred your interest not only in Ian Fleming’s Bond stories, but also in the life of the author?

F.L. TOTH: My high school boyfriend (eventually my husband!) introduced me to James Bond movies, and I began to borrow the books from the library. When I got to The Spy Who Loved Me, I was astonished to realize that the jet-setting, sophisticated Bond had an adventure in my little town of Glens Falls (population 15,000, and just outside the Adirondacks).

I was even more amazed to see he knew where to pick up a lady of the night, since that would not be on any tourist maps—he’d have to have been here or have spoken to a local to know. From that moment, when I was a mere 17 years old, I was fascinated by Ian Fleming.

TSC: Fleming seems like a complicated personality. He also seems to have crammed 90 years of living into a little more than 56. What’s your appraisal of Fleming?

F.L. TOTH: Oh, yes, he lived large. He seems to have been a bundle of contradictions, with a lot of people disliking him but others saying how kind he was. He contributed a great deal to his own myth of “ignoring” the warnings to stop drinking and smoking and knew fully well that he was an addict.

But what an amazing brain! He could write with passion about the most minute things, and with such clarity that a person disinterested in golf or bridge is all a -flutter reading his descriptions. And although Fleming women are often a subject of ridicule, some of the most tender monologues I’ve ever read were Fleming’s heroines.

Domino Vitale’s story of the hero in the Players cigarettes, which goes on for five pages, is heart rending.

TSC. As you researched Fleming, what was your biggest and surprise (and why)?

F.L. TOTH: I’ll never get over the shock of Fleming’s knowing where the bad part of my little town is! Other than that the biggest surprise was not at all salacious; it was how comparatively easy he had it as a writer.

Fleming had two uninterrupted months in every year to write, was not altogether dependent on his writing to survive, and had secretaries, researchers, and typists to help him make it happen. Under the circumstances, it would have been amazing if he had NOT had some success. But I think most people who approach Bond from the movies would be shocked to realize how progressive Fleming could be on social issues.

He had moments of shocking feminism, such as having a main character obtain an abortion and remain sympathetic. He had Bond express admiration for Jack Kennedy, and Fleming was an environmentalist who wrote with verve and delight to his wife about his participating in a flamingo count.

He certainly had his conservative and imperialist moments but there are times it seems the only thing that kept him from being a hippie was his love of money, which was considerable.

TSC: Where have you gone to research Fleming? A remember some time back you tweeted from the Lilly Library at Indiana University, which houses many of his manuscripts.

F.L. TOTH: Everywhere I can! Las Vegas, a Bond walking tour of London courtesy of Tom Cull of Artistic Licence Renewed, Dunn’s River Falls (seen in Dr. No) in Jamaica, multiple NYC locations, Lilly Library (not at all a Bond site but as you mentioned the home of the typescripts).

I am hoping to expand my view outside North America and Europe as soon as we are able to resume travel. Interestingly, if a person wants to see a well-preserved Bond site, the best I have seen is undoubtedly Route 9 from the Canadian border down to Lake George. There are multiple businesses under the same management (or at least the same families) as I write this as when Ian Fleming visited in the 1950s and 1960s, and construction along this route has been minimal because of the rules of the Adirondacks.

TSC: What’s your opinion of the films vs. Fleming’s originals? What films since his death do you think he’d have liked the most?

F.L. TOTH: I stopped watching the films years ago because of the sexual assault. More diplomatic people than I call the rape in Goldfinger “problematic” but this is the antithesis of Bond, who was irresistible, not predatory.

I am not entertained by sexual assault and don’t understand why anyone else is. The books have an understated but wry humor so in my opinion Fleming would have enjoyed Roger Moore (who was, according to legend, one of Fleming’s own choices for Bond).

It is important to note that Fleming was not much of a movie or theater buff even though he enjoyed the money movies brought in, and even though he had to know about theater to write his Sunday Times “Atticus” column. Fleming doesn’t write about movies with the regularity or enthusiasm of golf or fine dining.

Fleming’s sister-in-law, Celia Johnson, was a BAFTA award-winning actor and he was not known to have attended any of her performances, which gives an idea of not much interest in the performing arts.

TSC: What are some of the Fleming literary locations you’ve visited or are familiar with?

F.L. TOTH: I am intimately acquainted with the New York State locations in Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me and Route 9 runs right past my house! I’d be glad to take any visitor to a bath in Saratoga or to a diner in Lake George, and when we are able to again, A day at the races would take us to the same grandstand Bond visited all those years ago.

Reminder: Cashing in on collectibles can be tricky

First edition copy of 1953’s Casino Royale sold at auction several years ago.

This week, a set of Ian Fleming U.K. first edition books with Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and short stories went on sale for the princely (kingly?) sum of 475,000 British pounds ($649,000), according to the BBC

This set of first-edition Fleming books includes inscriptions by the author on 10 of the 14 books. That has jumped up the asking price.

The sale is the latest reminder of how volatile it can be cashing in on collectibles.

Back in 2015, a Bond collector in the U.S. (a friend of mine) put up his collection of U.K. and U.S. first-edition Bond books. The payments varied greatly by title and other factors.

In the case of the 2015 sale, an uncorrected proof of From Russia With Love fetched a higher price than a first-edition Casino Royale. The collector also sold off original Bond film posters.

In general, collecting can be volatile. You can encounter ups and downs for a variety of reasons.

Meanwhile, with the new sale of Fleming books, a copy of A Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies by ornithologist James Bond (for whom Fleming named his character after) is also included, according to the BBC.

As an aside, I’ll happily entertain legitimate bids for my 1964 copy of Daredevil No. 1, autographed by Stan Lee.

2021’s two most important 007 anniversaries

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

People love anniversaries and James Bond fans are no exception. Typically, anniversaries of films are noted. But, in 2021, anniversaries of two events are more important.

On June 29, 1961, United Artists put out a press release that the company had reached an agreement with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to finance and release a series of films based on Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. A copy of the release can be seen in the documentary Inside Dr. No.

The tale has been told many times. Saltzman had obtained a six-month option on most of Fleming’s books. But time was running out and Saltzman met up with Broccoli, who had better studio connections. An uneasy partnership was formed and their first 007 film debuted a year later.

Thus, we’re approaching the 60th anniversary of the event that made the Bond film series possible.

In 1981, UA was sold by Transamerica Corp. to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Transamerica had acquired UA in 1967 but grew weary of the unpredictable movie business.

Now, we’re approaching the 40th anniversary of the tie-up between MGM and Bond. The relationship has often been dysfunctional. MGM’s ownership has changed at various times. The studio at one point was seized by a French bank and it underwent bankruptcy in 2010. Reportedly, MGM is again up for sale and one possible buyer is Amazon.

The one constant over those four decades is that Bond has remained one of MGM’s major assets. Every time MGM runs into financial trouble, Bond fans fret about what will happen to the gentleman agent. For those fans, the journey might seem like the Israelites wandering the wilderness for 40 years.

The two anniversaries also remain relevant to today. The Broccoli-Wilson clan that succeeded the Broccoli-Saltzman duo retains creative control. Any deal to buy MGM has to take that into account.

Happy anniversaries.

Sean Connery, original film 007, dies at 90

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery, the original film James Bond, has died at 90. His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a post on Twitter.

Jason Connery, the actor’s son, told the BBC that his father “has been unwell for some time.”

The Scottish actor took on the role of James Bond with Dr. No, when he was 31. By doing so, he became one of the major icons of the 1960s, along with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Connery enjoyed a long career, which extended into the early 21st century. His last live-action performance was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery also did voice work for a 2005 video game that adapted the 007 film From Russia With Love and a 2012 animated film, Sir Billi.  The actor’s honors included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s The Untouchables.

Despite all that, his seven Bond films — six for Eon Productions as well as the non-Eon production of 1983’s Never Say Never Again — defined his career and made him a star.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.

Audiences adored the combination. The first four Bond films were mostly faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming novels. For the American market, Connery’s Bond was a more macho hero than audience members probably expected.

The actor stayed busy with non-Bond projects, including The Hill, a World War II drama. But the conversation kept coming back to Bond, like in an Oct. 3, 1965 episode of What’s My Line?

Connery, the first of two mystery guests, was present because The Hill was opening in New York later that week. He was also in New York filming A Fine Madness, directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later work with Connery on Never Say Never Again.

But panelist Martin Gabel, one of Connery’s co-stars in the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie, cited Bond in deducing the actor’s identity.

What’s more, Connery’s relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman became troubled. As the budgets and scope of the movies expanded, Connery felt cheated with his share of the enterprise.

In 1966, Columbia Pictures released The Silencers, a spoofy version of Donald Hamilton’s very serious Matt Helm novels. The producer was Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen.

To secure the services of star Dean Martin, Allen had to make Dino a partner. That ensured the actor, who received a share of the proceeds, would get a bigger payday than Connery got for 007 films. From then on, Connery would be at odds with his Bond employers.

Connery quit the series after 1967’s You Only Live Twice (the first 007 venture than dispensed with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel).

UA, unhappy with the box office of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, lured Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with a big payday, including a $1.25 million fee (which the Scottish actor donated to a trust he founded). Connery also received a percentage of the box office.

After Diamonds, Connery said he was done with Eon for good. But he went back into Bondage one more time with Never Say Never Again.

Connery had more behind-the-camera power than he ever had with Eon. He brought in scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to do an uncredited rewrite of Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script. The actor also recruited Michel Legrand to score the movie.

Both the script and the music would be among the most criticized aspects of Never Say Never Again. But many Bond fans, happy to see Connery one last time, overlooked the actor’s role as de facto producer.

Sean Connery in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Regardless, Connery was the building block for Eon’s 007 film series that has lasted more than a half century.

The series, of course, had many talented contributors including director Young, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry. However, Connery provided a popular Bond for audiences. All future Bond actors would be compared to Connery.

Some fans and critics have argued that Connery has been surpassed in the 21st century by Daniel Craig. But without Connery at the start, that’s almost a moot point. All of Connery’s 007 successors had the opportunity because of the Scot’s original work.

Zimmer’s site lists track titles for NTTD soundtrack

Hans Zimmer

Post concerns a possible spoiler, but it’s not spelled out in the post itself. But if you’re queasy about spoilers at all, leave now.

The Hans Zimmer website  has a listing of the track titles for No Time Time to Die’s soundtrack.

One page on the site lists 21 track titles for the soundtrack. The title for track No. 16 may indirectly refer to something from an Ian Fleming novel. In case this is up by mistake and gets yanked you can view (if you are so inclined) a screengrab of part of the page.

The soundtrack is now available for pre-ordering, Decca Records said today on Twitter.

Zimmer replaced Dan Romer as No Time to Die’s composer. Steve Mazzaro, who scored The Rhythm Section for Eon Productions, provides additional music for the 25th James Bond film.

UPDATE: The soundtrack list is now out from various sources, including the Film Score Reporter site. Continue reading

About that Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M thing

Portrait of the Bernard Lee M in The World Is Not Enough. Thanks to Ben Williams.

One of the ongoing debates in James Bond fandom is whether Bernard Lee’s M (1962-79) is the same as Robert Brown’s M (1983-89).

The answer: You can argue they are the same or they are different characters, with Brown’s M being Admiral Hargreaves from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

The available evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

Background: Bernard Lee played Sir Miles Messervy for the first 11 James Bond films.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, the character name was not revealed until Ian Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man With the Golden Gun. “Miles” was mentioned briefly by General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me movie.

Lee died in January 1981. He wasn’t available to participate in the production of For Your Eyes Only. In that film, it was stated that M was on leave and that the chief of staff was running operations.

Octopussy script: In the first draft by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, dated June 10, 1982, there isn’t a hint that M is another person.

M’S VOICE
(over intercom)
Stop fishing for compliments, Double-O-Seven, and get in here.

(snip)
M’S OFFICE – M MINISTER FANNING
as BOND enters. Fanning is a scholarly looking slightly pudgy man in his late thirties. SOTHEBY CATALOGUE and the FABERGE EGG lie on M’s desk

The rest of the scene is more or less what we got in the 1983 movie. Again, there was no hint that M was a different character than in the first 11 movies.

From that, you can conclude that a simple change in casting took place. Bernard Lee died. Robert Brown replaced him. But the character is the same.

Judi Dench’s M lectures Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the portrait of Bernard Lee’s M in the background.

However, in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, things may have changed.

In the pre-titles sequence, there is an explosion at MI6 headquarters in London. British Intelligence is forced to regroup at another headquarters in Scotland.

The art department (Peter Lamont? One of his deputies? One of the lowest ranking blokes?) included a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M.

Was this a “retcon,” or retroactive change in continuity?

There are certainly signs that the view of Lee/M and Brown/M being separate characters has taken hold with many fans. The MI6 James Bond website conducted a vote on Twitter this weekend, with the view that they are different characters winning the day.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Five years later: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

Five years after the 2015 movie of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came out, my social media inbox is pretty full about the Guy Ritchie-directed film.

It’s a mixed bag. I know some people who loved it. These folks liked the updated take on Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) and Alexander Waverly (Hugh Grant).

Within that group, there was a sigh of relief the movie didn’t end up like Wild Wild West (1999) and I Spy (2002) — other films based on 1960s spy shows.

I know others who hated it.

With that group, there’s criticism about the lack of a secret headquarters, badges (to access the secret headquarters) and cool gadgets. It’s not U.N.C.L.E., just something with that name.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a few questions about my own opinion. For me, despite changing Solo’s backstory, the Henry Cavill version of Solo is more or less where Robert Vaughn’s original was.

The more radical change was Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin. The 2015 movie suggests some serious mental issues. That didn’t stop David McCallum from endorsing the film in a 2015 interview with Fox News.

My main complaint? The filmmakers could have given us more of Jerry Goldsmith’s original theme. Guy Ritchie wanted to avoid that, but a few notes of the original theme were sneaked into the film.

Some original fans complain about Hugh Grant’s Waverly. They cite how much younger Grant was compared with Leo G. Carroll’s Waverly. The thing is, the original Waverly was very manipulative, a trait that Grant’s Waverly had.

One footnote: The 2015 movie worked in one of Ian Fleming’s ideas from October 1962 (namely that Solo liked to cook). So there’s that.

In any event, I personally was surprised by the amount of social media chatter about the fifth anniversary of the movie.

Do I think there will ever be a sequel? I doubt it. I’ll take what I can get, though.

Without whom, etc. (56th anniversary)