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.

Bond 25 questions: The No Time to Die edition

No Time to Die logo

Bond 25 has a title — No Time to Die. So does the blog have questions?

You bet.

What’s your reaction? It’s OK.

Just OK? I rarely go to a movie for its title. I liked Avengers: Endgame a lot, but the title had little to do with it.

What about the visuals? The font? The logo? 

It’s apparently a font that’s been around for decades called Futura black. A couple of examples: The Love Boat (1977-87) and Banyon (1972-73)
But what about the title itself?

James Bond Brasil in a tweet raised the question whether No Time to Die is a tribute to a 1958 film of that name co-produced by Albert R. Broccoli (with Irving Allen), directed by Terence Young and written by Richard Maibaum and Young.

In the United States, that movie was released with the name Tank Force. Besides those future Bond film crew members, the director of photography on Tank Force was Ted Moore, who’d photograph seven Bond films between 1962 and 1974.

Any other thoughts?

In episode 0019 of the James Bond & Friends podcast, I predicted the title of Bond 25 would come out in August. So, I will take some satisfaction from that.

Tarantino’s theater to show an Irving Allen double feature

Dean Martin’s title card for The Wrecking Crew, titles designed by Wayne Fitzgerald.

Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema has scheduled a double feature of movies produced by Irving Allen — The Wrecking Crew and Hammerhead.

Allen (1905-1987) was the partner of Albert R. Broccoli. But the partnership ended in part because Broccoli wanted to make movies based on Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels while Allen was cool to the idea.

Once the 007 film series took off, Allen looked to get in the game.

The Wrecking Crew was the last of four Matt Helm films starring Dean Martin. To entice Martin, Allen made him a partner in the enterprise. That meant Martin, who got a percentage of the action, got paid more for 1966’s The Silencers than Sean Connery got for Thunderball.

The Wrecking Crew also is referenced in Tarantino’s upcoming movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywwod. The cast includes Margo Robbie as actress Sharon Tate. A recent trailer for the movie shows Robbie’s Tate going to see herself in The Wrecking Crew.

Hammerhead was based on a novel by James Mayo (real name Stephen Coulter), whose books featured a hero named Charles Hood. Vince Edwards played Hood in Hammerhead. One of the screenwriters was Herbert Baker, who had worked on three Matt Helm movies for Allen.

The Wrecking Crew and Hammerhead are scheduled to be shown June 12 and 13, according to the New Beverly’s website. The theater is showing a new 35mm print of The Wrecking Crew.

M:I accelerates its output amid longer 007 film gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The facts are clear. The importance is a little fuzzy.

So, producer-star Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie intend to do two Mission: Impossible film back to back. The movies would come out in 2021 and 2022.

If that works out, that means there will have been four M:I films (all directed by McQuarrie) from 2015 to 2022. There will have been two 007 films (2015’s SPECTRE and 2020’s Bond 25) coming out during that same period.

The M:I development makes sense in that Cruise will turn 60 in 2022. While a fantastic physical specimen for a middle-aged guy, the clock is ticking on Cruise’s time as a movie action hero.

The two McQuarrie-directed M:I films (Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible-Fallout) have been big hits. So it’s a natural studio Paramount could secure his services for two more movies. On top of everything else, McQuarrie and Cruise obviously get along.

Once upon a time, something similar was envisioned for the Bond series. John Logan was hired to write Bond 24 (later titled SPECTRE) and Bond 25. Skyfall director Sam Mendes, in a 2014 interview, said that he came back to helm SPECTRE after plans were ditched to do Bond 24 and 25 back to back. Star Daniel Craig had vetoed the idea.

Bond fans have a mixed reaction to this. There are the usual social media posts about Bond is superior, Bond is forever, Mission: Impossible will be done when Cruise is done, etc.

But there are also gibes (such as this one by the author of a Bond-related book) calling Cruise a “teeny man.” Cruise is listed at 5-foot-7 on IMDB.com while current 007 star Daniel Craig towers above him by an entire three inches, according to that same website. Craig is no runt but he’s definitely the shortest Bond in a series cast with tall actors.

(Historical note: Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions, had his early successes as a producer after he and his then-partner Irving Allen signed 5-foot-6 1/4 Alan Ladd as a star.)

The M:I news hardly means the end of Bond. And nobody is seriously making that argument.

At the same time, M:I has been showing more energy (perhaps because of the aforementioned ticking clock). On the Bond side? It star, Craig, and lead producer, Barbara Broccoli, wanted to do other things after SPECTRE. “Everybody’s a bit tired,” Craig said during a 2016 appearance.

As I said at the beginning: The importance of all this is fuzzy. M:I will do what it has to do (with the “teeny man” having a BIG say). The Bond series will do what it wants to do. Unlike other franchises, Bond is not totally controlled by a studio and the one studio involved (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) a weak industry player.

Dino’s Matt Helm movies to be shown Sept. 26 on TCM

Dean Martin and Stella Stevens in The Silencers.

Movie channel TCM will present all four of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films on Sept. 26. It’s part of a month-long salute to Dino, with Martin movies being shown on Wednesdays.

The Helm movies were produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Albert R. Broccoli. That partnership ended, in part, because Broccoli wanted to make movies based on Ian Fleming’s 007 novels. Allen wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea.

After the early Bond films, produced by Broccoli and his new partner, Harry Saltzman, had become a success, Allen searched for his own spy property to pursue.

He ended up with Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series of serious spy novels. But Allen got Dean Martin to participate as a partner. So the movie adaptations took a much lighter tone and, in effect, were spy versions of Martin’s variety show.

The Silencers will be shown at 8 p.m. ET, followed by Murderers’ Row at 10, The Ambushers at midnight and The Wrecking Crew at 2 a.m., Sept. 27.

For more about the Helm film series, read MATT HELM, AMERICA’S LOADED WEAPON.

h/t to reader Mark Henderson, who flagged this on The Spy Command’s Facebook page.

Happy 100th birthday, Dino

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter in The Ambushers (1967).

Today, June 7, is the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Dean Martin. Dino, in his day, was the epitome of cool and charm. For many, he still is.

His contribution to spy entertainment was starring in the four-film Matt Helm series produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

To entice Dino, Allen made the actor his partner. As a result, Martin enjoyed a bigger pay day for the first Helm film, The Silencers, than Sean Connery got for Thunderball. Connery noticed and wanted to be a partner in the Bond franchise..

The Helm series doesn’t get respect in the 21st century. Many who like the movies refer to their affection as a “guilty pleasure.”

The Helm movies, rather than doing straight adaptations of Donald Hamilton’s serious novels, incorporated Dino’s “lovable lush” act.

One of the movies, Murderers’ Row, even had a plot point where Matt gives his boss Mac (James Gregory) a clue by deliberately misstating his alcohol preference. (“Matt Helm never drank a glass of bourbon in his life!” Mac says as he tries to figure out the traitor in his organization.)

For the record, this blog would greatly appreciate a new Helm movie that faithfully adapted the Hamilton novels. At the same time, the Spy Commander discovered the novels *because* of the Dean Martin films. Speaking strictly for myself, I’m very fond of both, despite the flaws of the movies.

Regardless, today is a day of celebration. Bottoms up, Dino.

Happy 100th, Donald Hamilton

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

Today, March 24, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Donald Hamilton, creator of Matt Helm.

It has been 23 years since the last Helm novel, The Damagers, was published. It’s common for fans of the series to get out their copies every so often to re-read the adventures of the American “counter-assassin.”

The Helm novels, unlike Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, were written in the first person. The stories are like a cross between Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels and the more fantastic elements of Fleming’s 007 stories. Because the reader only discovers things as its hero (or anti-hero) does, you get sucked into the rhythms of the story before realizing just how much fantasy there is in them.

For example, with the sixth novel, The Ambushers, Helm ends up in a machete fight with an ex-Nazi while a missile is ready to be fired. But the journey to that point is pretty grim and gritty. By the time of the machete fight, you’re so caught up in the story you’re not going to stop there.

The first novel of the series, Death of a Citizen, was done as a one-off. Helm, who has been living peacefully for 15 years after World War II, is suddenly drawn back into his former violent life. An editor suggested with a few changes (including the character’s first name, George and killing off Helm’s wife) it could be turned into a series. The character became Matt Helm. Hamilton settled for Mrs. Helm getting a divorce.

The books were turned into comedies with Dean Martin, produced by Irving Allen, the former partner of James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. There has been talk for years of a series Helm film but nothing has developed.

Hamilton died in 2006. There is one unpublished Helm novel but the Hamilton family has held onto it in case a new movie develops. For now, fans of the novel have to be satisfied with re-reading Hamilton’s well-told stories.