Fleming’s papers: Life as it is vs. how it should be

Ian Fleming

This week, The Indianapolis Star (a paper where the Spy Commander worked for 17 years) had a feature story about how Indiana University is the home to a collection of Ian Fleming’s first-edition books and 007 manuscripts.

Understandably, this made its way around social media. Some British 007 fans decried how a library in the United States had custody of this material.

I understand the sentiment. But when you look at things how they are compared with how they should be, the situation becomes more complicated.

Ann Fleming

Specifically, Ann Fleming (1913-1981), the widow of Ian Fleming, had no use for James Bond.  She thought she was marrying the foreign editor of The Sunday Times of London.

Instead, she got married to an author who was in the process of creating James Bond.

Ian Fleming died in August 1964. Ann eventually sold off Ian’s collection of rare first-edition books (the primary interest of Indiana University’s Lilly Library). As part of the deal, she threw in many Ian Fleming manuscripts of James Bond novels.

As a chaser, the university received Fleming correspondence with the likes of (among others) Raymond Chandler, Allen Dulles and Robert F. Kennedy.

Anyway, during a discussion about this on Facebook, some British fans decried how the papers concerning the most British of heroes were housed in the United States.

I understand that. It is not what you’d expect.

The thing is, if Ann Fleming hadn’t sold the collection off, she probably would have just chucked it all in the trash. She wasn’t a Bond fan and it was taking up a lot of space in her home.

The question is not why are Fleming’s papers in the United States. The answer is known: Ann sold them off (for $150,000, according to The Indianapolis Star story).

The question is are the papers in safe hands? The Lilly Library at Indiana University has holdings including a Gutenberg Bible. The answer appears to be yes.

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Well, you can’t say Solo isn’t a popular title

Circa 1963:

1963-64 (before being renamed The Man From U.N.C.L.E.):

2013:

2018:

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.

How adapting Fleming’s Twice novel may be hard

Cover to the first-edition U.S. hardback edition of You Only Live Twice

This week, the blog published a post about issues related to reworking the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a way to faithfully adapt Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel.

A reader e-mailed the blog should go a step further and discuss the difficulties in doing a faithful adaptation of the 1964 novel.

So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown by chapter of what a screenwriter would need to examine. Fleming creates a mood by describing Bond’s inner thoughts and observations. The novel also was a major change of pace following the epic novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 1, Scissors Cut Paper: Bond and Tiger Tanaka are at a geisha party. They drink sake and play a game of scissors-rock-paper.

Bond is a bit uneasy. “Tiger had promised he would beat Bond. To fail would be to lose much face. How much? Enough to breach a friendship that had become oddly real between the two of them over the past weeks?”

The chapter ends with Bond at Tiger’s home to discuss a discrete matter.

Chapter 2, Curtains for Bond?: Flashback to previous events where Bond is a broken man following the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 3, The Impossible Mission: M, after consulting with Sir James Molony in the previous chapter, gives Bond a diplomatic mission. A lot of talking and exposition, not many visuals.

Chapter 5, Magic 44: The novel’s McGuffin is explained and why it’s important.

Chapter 7, The Death Collector: Plot twist. Tiger tells Bond there’s a fellow, one Doctor Shatterhand, who’s causing the Japanese government some discomfort by enticing those inclined to suicide. Much of the chapter is a list of types of poisons as well as poisonous plants.

Chapter 8, Slay It With Flowers: Tiger puts the proposition to Bond — kill the foreigner with his poison garden that attracts the suicidal. “You are to enter this Castle of Death and slay the dragon within.”

Chapter 11, Anatomy Class: Tanaka tells Bond about haiku poems and 17th century poet Bassho. Bond writes his own haiku: “You only live twice: Once when you are born, Once when you look death in the face.” Tiger tells Bond that “it is a most honourable attempt.”

Chapter 12, Appointment in Samarra: The chapter begins with a bit of action. Bond and Tiger are being followed by a man on a motorcycle. The tables are turned and a chase ensues. The motorcycle rider dies. A tattoo shows he is a Black Dragon.

Later, Bond discovers that Doctor Shatterhand, the target he’s been given by Tanaka, is really Blofeld.

You Only Live Twice first U.K. edition

Chapter 13, Kissy Suzuki: More details why Bond wants revenge on Blofeld and the scale of his villainy, which is on “the scale of a Caligula, of a Nero, of a Hitler or any other great enemy of mankind.” Bond also meets Kissy Suzuki.

Chapter 17, Something Evil Comes This Way: Bond has infiltrated the Shatterhand/Blofeld estate. He witnesses Blofeld’s guards torture a man before tossing him into a lake with piranha. Blofeld and Irma Bunt chat a bit. Blofeld suggests they may need to move on, establishing other places to entice suicides. “The same pattern can be repeated in other countries,” Blofeld says. “Everywhere there are people who want to kill themselves.”

Chapter 20: Blood and Thunder: Bond and Blofeld have their showdown. Bond escapes Blofeld’s castle via a balloon but after an explosion he drops into the sea.

Chapter 21; Obit: M writes Bond’s obituary for The Times of London. Skyall (2012) adapted this, substituting Turkey for Japan.

Chapter 22: Sparrows’ Tears: It turns out Bond is suffering amnesia due to head injuries. He’s settles down with Kissy but finds a scrap of paper with the word “Vladivostok.” The novel ends with Bond (unaware that Kissy is pregnant) planning to go to the Soviet Union.

This was loosely adapted in Skyfall. In that film, Bond simply quits MI6 (and goes off the grid) after being wounded by Moneypenny.

Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.: More than a footnote

Ian Fleming

This weekend marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming.

Understandably, there were the usual observations of his passing. After all, without Fleming, we wouldn’t have James Bond movies or the 1960s spy craze.

After all these years, however, there’s an oddity. That is, Fleming’s connection to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

U.N.C.L.E. originated because there was interest in turning Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into some kind of television show.

That led to television producer (who concluded the book would not be the basis of a show) into doing a pitch for something different. In turn, that led to NBC saying it Fleming could be enticed into participating, it’d buy the series without a pilot being produced.

In turn, that led to meetings between Felton and Fleming in New York in October 1962. In turn, that led to Felton writing up ideas and Fleming (after days without much being accomplished) writing on 11 pages of Western Union telegram blanks. In turn, that led to Felton employing Sam Rolfe to concoct something that went beyond far beyond the initial Felton-Fleming ideas.

Eventually, Fleming exited the project (under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), selling off his interest for 1 British pound.

Regardless, without Fleming, U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t exist given the history with Thrilling Cities. But some long-time (i.e. original) U.N.C.L.E. fans hesitate to acknowledge that. Felton and Rolfe did the heavy lifting — there’s no denying that at all. But Thrilling Cities was the catalyst.

Also, Fleming’s idea of naming the hero Napoleon Solo (Felton’s initial idea was Edgar Solo) was huge. The original idea was Solo would be an ordinary looking fellow. But a character named Napoleon Solo was not going to be your next door neighbor or the guy in the apartment down the hall.

At the same time, Bond movie fans don’t even consider it. And Ian Fleming Publications, run by Fleming’s heirs, don’t even mention U.N.C.L.E. in the IFP timeline of Fleming’s life. 

Fleming was connected to U.N.C.L.E. for less than eight months (late October 1962 to June 1963). Not an enormous amount of time but more than just a footnote.

It is what it is, as the saying going. The 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t give a credit to either Sam Rolfe or Ian Fleming, while Felton (who died in 2012) got an “executive consultant” credit. Ironically, one of Fleming’s 1962 ideas — of Solo being a good cook — was included in the film.

It would appear that U.N.C.L.E. will remain Fleming’s bastard child (figuratively, of course) now and forever.

Without whom, etc.

Our annual tradition. Ian Fleming died on Aug. 12, 1964 at age 56. So here’s a quick reminder of an extraordinary life. Ian Fleming crammed 90 years of living into a little more than 56.

Blanche Blackwell, Fleming companion, dies

Blanche Blackwell and Ian Fleming in Jamaica

Blanche Blackwell, who had a relationship with Ian Fleming, has died at 104, according to an obituary posted by The Telegraph.

Blackwell was part of two 007-related documentaries, 2000’s Ian Fleming: 007’s Creator ( an extra in the home video release of The Living Daylights) and 2012’s Everything or Nothing.

Her interviews for the documentaries provided perspective for fans about Fleming’s complicated life, touching on her affair with the married author. She lived in Jamaica, where Fleming wrote his James Bond novels.

“He was somebody who could be anybody he wanted to be,” Blackwell says of Fleming at the start of the 2000 documentary.

Ian Fleming: 007’s Creator included a section on Blackwell. “I decided how I wanted to live long ago,” she says. “And I’ve managed to succeed at doing it without getting into too much trouble.”

In 2012, The Express. published a feature story about her.

“A neighbour of both (Noel) Coward and Fleming, she was a society beauty who beguiled the guests who came to her home, Bolt House, in St Mary, Jamaica,” according to the story.

UPDATE (Aug. 12): The Washington Post has published a very detailed obituary of Blanche Blackwell that’s worth a read.