JFK at 100: 007’s biggest American fan

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas (photo by the Spy Commander)

Today, May 29, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

His presidency, shortened by assassination in November 1963, is still studied by scholars.

The purpose of this post is more limited. JFK was the most prominent American fan of the literary James Bond, propelling the character to even greater heights of popularity in the early 1960s, just as the movie series was about to start.

Kennedy provided a list of his 10 favorite books. The titles tended to be biographies of prominent politicians and one was written by Winston Churchill.

But the list also included a spy thriller, From Russia With Love, the fifth James Bond novel penned by Ian Fleming.

Today, you might ask what was the big deal?

JFK was the first American president born in the 20th century. His election amounted to a major generational change. And he and his family were photogenic at a time television became the dominant medium.

As a result, JFK’s endorsement was a boon to the Bond novels and the movies about to come out.

Ian Fleming certainly knew that was the case.

” I am delighted to take this opportunity to thank Kennedys everywhere for the electric effect their commendation has had on my sales in America,” Fleming wrote in a 1962 letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother.

UPDATE (4:15 p.m. New York time): A 1987 story in the Los Angeles Times provides a bit more detail.

ABC newsman Pierre Salinger, formerly Kennedy’s press secretary, said from Paris: “I was simply given the list and instructed to distribute it. There’s been speculation its inclusion was engineered to show he wasn’t an egghead. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can tell you people were shocked on Capitol Hill.”

The article was a tremendous boon to producers Albert (Cubby) Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who only months earlier had acquired film rights to the Bond novels. By year’s end, they were in pre-production on “Dr. No” and had a deal with United Artists for a second installment–“From Russia With Love.”

Kennedy had done more than just help popularize the novels and pave the wave for screen adventures. He had “created a public tolerance for this type of activity,” said Roy Godson, a professor of government at Georgetown University. “Kennedy was fascinated by these types of operations. No other President, before or since, has been as actively involved in the covert-action aspect of spying.”

 

“Without whom, etc.”

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

It was 109 years ago today that Ian Fleming was born.

Without him, James Bond novels wouldn’t have come to be. That would have freed up a slot for President John F. Kennedy’s list of his top 10 favorite books. Who knows what book would have benefited from being on that early 1960s list?

Also, James Bond movies wouldn’t have come to be. That’s 24 movies in the official series (and counting) plus two others.

Neither would have The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originated when producer Norman Felton was approached about whether he’d like to a series based on Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book.

The author’s involvement (from October 1962 to June 1963) with U.N.C.L.E. spurred NBC to put the show in development. By the time Fleming exited (under pressure from Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), enough work had occurred for NBC to keep developing the series. One of Fleming’s ideas (that Napoleon Solo liked cooking) ended up in the 2015 movie version of the show.

For that matter, pretty much the entire 1960s spy mania (Matt Helm movies, Flint movies, I Spy, The Wild Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible) probably doesn’t happen because Bond generated a market for such entertainment.

Happy birthday, Ian Fleming.

Our rants about Bond 25

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad, yet again.

Bond isn’t at the same level as other film franchises: You’ve bought an old helicopter. And we should care, why?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in 2015 acquired a lot of old cars. More than three years after filming began, it didn’t really matter in the movie’s ultimate success (or lack thereof), did it? Buying vehicles and props is, at the end of the day, a minor enterprise.

Real film franchises have studios that distribute them. Bond doesn’t have one.

The most recent 007 film, SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Sony Pictures released the last four Bond movies. SPECTRE concluded Sony’s most recent two-picture contract.

If Bond were a fantastically profitable film franchise, other studios would be beating down the doors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio. But MGM hasn’t yet reached a new deal.

Of course, Sony got taken with the last two films (Skyfall and SPECTRE), providing 50 percent of the financing but only 25 percent of the profits. That might, just might, be a factor in MGM’s delays in finding a new studio partner.

Meanwhile, real film franchises actually seek publicity. Marvel Studios releases two movies a year. But it successfully gets publicity year round. Ditto for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics film universe, despite the fact it’s not as successful as Marvel.

The Bond franchise is more like the Kremlin. I know, Ian Fleming would spin in his grave at that reference.

Seriously, though, there are parallels. Both provide little tiny bits of news that require the knowledge of long-time followers to interpret. Why else, do you suppose, there has been so much attention to the purchase of a helicopter?

Carry on.

Some questions about Bond 25 (20XX)

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This originally was intended as a humorous post. But, truth be told, there’s not much funny right now.

Sketchy, circumstantial evidence suggests the 007 film franchise is more or less in the same place it was from 2002 to 2006: Trying to figure out what to do next.

The franchise eventually got back into gear by adapting Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale.

You could debate whether a reboot (i.e. starting the series over) or recasting the lead role (letting Pierce Brosnan go and bringing on Daniel Craig) was necessary.

Even if you disagreed with either move, the idea of seeing Eon Productions do a straight adaptation of Casino ensured fan interest. The main question fans asked was, “How will it turn out?”

In early 2017, there isn’t another Ian Fleming novel to adapt.

Eon has already partially adapted the You Only Live Twice novel (with Skyfall). That 2012 film featured a disturbed, off-kilter Bond on a variation of the “impossible mission.”

On the other hand, does Eon Productions adapt the rest of the 1964 novel with Bond 25? Have Blofeld kill SPECTRE heroine Madeline Swann, causing Bond to go off on (another) mission of revenge? Some fans would say yes, saying the “Blofeld Trilogy” would finally be fulfilled on the screen.

Does Eon finally adapt a 007 continuation novel? Over the years, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson has criticized the ones written by John Gardner.

However, Eon opened the door with SPECTRE, adapting a sequence of Kingsley Amis’ 1968 novel Colonel Sun. You had to be patient watching the end titles to catch the acknowledgment citing Amis’ estate. At this point, you don’t have to use one of Gardner’s novels. There are many to choose from.

It still comes down to nobody knows when Bond 25 is coming out. Nobody knows what studio will release it. Nobody knows for sure who will play James Bond. Many fans are sure Daniel Craig will be back. Some will tell you it’s virtually assured that Daniel Craig will be James Bond in Shatterhand (Blofeld’s alias in the You Only Live Twice novel) in 2018.

But, for now, that’s a matter of faith, not fact.

PREVIOUS POSTS: 

WHY NOBODY SHOULD BE SURPRISED THAT ‘NOTHING IS HAPPENING’

PURVIS & WADE DISCUSS WRITING 007 FILMS

 

Lost love: Similarities between Allied, Casino Royale

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt

Spoilers for Allied

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Some days ago I decided to watch Allied, which had recently premiered in my country. I barely knew something about the plot.  I found a movie that touched my deepest emotions. I linked the love story with the ill-fated James Bond and Vesper Lynd relationship in the novel and film Casino Royale.

The film is set during World War II. The main figure is a Canadian agent named Max Vatan (played by Brad Pitt, in a very emotionless performance I must add).

Recruited by the British, he is assigned to to terminate a Nazi German ambassador in Morocco. There, he meets his “wife,” French Resistance agent Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who has infiltrated the Nazi society and befriended the wives of their enemy agent targets.

At first, he refuses to fall for her. But the attraction is stronger and they make love inside a car, hiding from a fiery sandstorm.

The day arrives and the mission is successful. They kill the ambassador, eliminate a few enemy agents and escape. They fall in love and marry back in London.

Things seem to go well and admist a WWII bombing she gives birth to Anna, their little girl.

But happiness doesn’t last long. His superiors inform Max that his wife is suspected of being a spy for the Nazis, a woman who killed the real Marianne Beausejour and took her place. A bait with false information is set up for her, and Max is given two options if they confirm Marianne is a mole: He kills her or they’re both executed for treason.

After some investigation by Max on his own, he discovers the truth: Marianne was a spy. She claims the Nazis threatened to kill her daughter, but she swears to have truly loved him from the beginning. They both plan to escape to South America after Max eliminates – one by one – all the people who were blackmailing his wife.

As they are about to leave the country, he is captured and his boss ignores all the reasons given by Vatan to save them. Seeing there is no way out for his loved one, Marianne dedicates a last “je t’aime” to Max and shots herself. The film ends with a letter from the woman to her daughter, whom Max is taking care of.

I have to admit this story made me cry, way more than Casino Royale. That’s probably because I knew the ending for the Ian Fleming novel before reading it or watching the film and because director Robert Zemeckis really knows how to make his audience weep, as he showed in films such as the acclaimed Forest Gump.

But the subject I wanted to bring up here are the many connections between this movie and Casino Royale.

First of all, Vatan is working for the British and the party scenes are very reminiscent to the lifestyle Ian Fleming had during this time: men in tuxedos, booze, cigars, and beautifully dressed and made up women.

French is also widely spoken trough the film, very much like in Casino Royale.

Max contacts people to check the true identity of his wife: an alcoholic soldier who lost his arm and a disfigured comrade who has lost an eye on the line of fire. These physical attributes are shared with Gettler, the black-patched agent of SMERSH who trails Vesper, and the hotel receptionist whom Bond interrogates about Gettler, who has lost an arm during the war.

In Allied, Marianne wants to change her life and escape from the Nazi threat by marrying Max, which is what Vesper hopes to do with James by escaping to South America trough Le Havre in Casino Royale.

While 007 and Vesper didn’t have a family and Bond’s patriotism is enormous, Vatan does not hestitate before betraying his country for the love of Marianne and the daughter they had in common.

If Vesper Lynd was blackmailed with her captured Polish boyfriend, Marianne is blackmailed with the life of her daughter by an incouspicious looking old woman who babysitted Anna and a jeweler who drops by to a party she was hosting to “offer her a necklace.”

Allied poster

Allied poster

Marianne is leaking information to the enemy in a similar way to what Vesper was doing to that number at Invalides she was calling when he almost discovers her, while being controlled all the time. In the latter case, it was a man with a black patch.

Both women share the same ending: while Vesper dies after an overdose of pills while the secret agent was asleep, Marianne shots herself in front of her husband and the capturing agents. They both leave a letter for posterity: Vespers’ is dedicated to 007, revealing the truth and a few information on how she was blackmailed and some leads. Marianne’s letter is dedicated to Anna, telling her a words of love and some memoirs of the happy times.

A main difference is again established between Max Vatan and James Bond.

In the very last scene,  Vatan is seen retired, walking next to a teenage Anna on the farm he always dreamed of having. He holds a good memory of his wife, with photos of her across his room.

On the other hand, a saddened Bond feels furious for the damage Vesper’s actions caused to his country and he swears to go behind the men who threatened her. He would complement the moment by reporting that “the bitch is dead,” even tough when he would pay a visit to her grave in a future novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Both Casino Royale and Allied are a testimony to how WWII affected lives and relationships and how enemies or allies haunted the private lives of these men and women who dedicated their life to a major cause.

Video of the Fleming-LeCarre debate

On Nov. 29, Intelligence Squared, staged a debate in London whether Ian Fleming or John Le Carre was the better espionage novelist.

The group has now posted the video of the debate to YouTube. You can view the debate here.

Anthony Horowitz, who has written one 007 continuation novel (Trigger Mortis) and is committed to another, represented the Fleming side. David Farr, who adapted Le Carre’s The Night Manager, represented Le Carre.

You can view the debate for yourself here:

 

How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.