007 literary meme: John F. Kennedy, author

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

In Chapter 7 of The Man With The Golden Gun (“Un-real Estate”), James Bond is relaxing in his room at the uncompleted Thunderbird Hotel in Jamaica.

He’s getting ready to have a bourbon. “The best drink in the day is just before the first one (the Red Stripe didn’t count),” Ian Fleming wrote.

Bond “took Profiles in Courage by Jack Kennedy out of his suitcase, happened to open it at Edmund G. Ross (“I…looked down into my open grave”)…”

When Fleming wrote the book in early 1964,” President John F. Kennedy had been dead only for a few months. Kennedy in 1961 had given U.S. sales of Fleming’s 007 novels a huge lift after listing From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

Thus, it was appropriate that Bond is carrying around Kennedy’s book in the middle of a mission to eliminate Francisco Scaramanga.

Profiles in Courage was published in 1956 when Kennedy was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. It discussed people who exhibited political courage.

In addition to Ross, a U.S. senator from Kansas in the 19th century, the book also had chapters on, among others, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston and Robert A. Taft.

It wasn’t Kennedy’s first book. He wrote the 1940 book Why England Slept.

Profiles in Courage won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for biography. However, a controversy ensued after journalist Drew Pearson said in an interview with Mike Wallace in December 1957 that the book was ghostwritten.

“He’s the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him, which indicates the kind of a public relations buildup he has had,” Pearson told Wallace, according to a partial transcript of the interview in an excerpt of a 2005 Wallace autobiography on NBC News’s website.

The interview aired on ABC. Under a threat from the Kennedy family to file a libel suit, the network apologized.

“I was incensed that my employers had caved in to the Kennedys,” Wallace wrote in his memoir, Between You and Me.

In fact, major work on the book was performed by Kennedy assistant Theodore Sorensen.

“It was no great secret that Mr. Sorensen’s intellect was an integral part of the book,” according to The New York Times’ 2010 obituary on Sorensen. “But Mr. Sorensen drafted most of the chapters, and Kennedy paid him for his work.“

“I’m proud to say I played an important role,” Sorensen said in an interview that was recorded to appear with the obituary. He became Kennedy’s speech writer after the latter took office as president.

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1991: A NYT writer revisits the literary 007

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

While researching another topic, the blog stumbled on a 1991 New York Times Magazine article, “Demigods Aren’t Forever.”

The writer, William Grimes, was born in 1950 and discovered Bond in the early 1960s when Ian Fleming’s novels became a big deal in the U.S. thanks to President John F. Kennedy.

As it turns out, the article is part of the “James Bond is washed up” genre. Grimes also writes about Cambridge (a film reference), rather than Eton and Fettes College.

Still some passages caught the blog’s eye.

Discovering 007

For me, 1963 was the year of Bond. The timing was perfect. I was 13, and Ian Fleming’s slender thrillers had become a national sensation after J.F.K. pronounced “From Russia, With Love” one of his 10 favorite books. On top of that, Sean Connery had just made his first appearance as the British spy in “Dr. No,” and more films were on the way. This cultural ferment helped redefine my goals. Before 1963, I wanted to be my father. After 1963, I wanted to be Bond.

Preference for the literary Bond over the cinema 007

Bond moved easily and masterfully through all situations because he knew things. That was the appeal. Even at 13, the sexual repartee so prominent in the Bond movies seemed a little bogus to me. …In my mind, Bond was a suave intellectual who could slice through life’s difficulties with the ruthless efficiency of Oddjob’s hat.

Living like Bond is harder than it looks

On a pleasant spring evening (during a trip to France), I entered a bistro and, although the place was empty, was immediately shown to the worst table in the place. Fine, all part of the game — advantage France. As Bond Man, I would watch the waiter’s contumely shade into dismay at my effortless French, grudging respect at my daring yet perfect menu selections and frank admiration at my handling of the wine list.

None of this came to pass. Tension caused my French to falter. The waiter merely shrugged at the food order, as though to say, it’s your money, do what you want with it. Ditto the wine.

Disillusionment

Recently I reread most of the Bond books. The casino action held up pretty well. And so did the driving, which I could now, as an actual driver, analyze with a critical eye. But Bond — the Bond of the books much more than the movies — turned out to be not quite as smooth as I remembered. His taste in food runs to enormous slabs of steak and giant lobsters… On wine matters, he patently bluffs. He apparently knows nothing about literature, music or art. The Bond bookshelf contains nothing weightier than Ben Hogan’s “Modern Fundamentals of Golf…The superspy had gotten old, stale. He was no longer up to the job. The time had come to retire 007.

Obviously, your mileage (especially if you’re busy reading the newest 007 continuation novel, Forever and a Day) may vary.

Who did more to make 007 popular in U.S. — JFK or Hefner?

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

2017 has been an eventful year related to the growth of U.S. interest in James Bond. This was the centennial of the birth of President John F. Kennedy and it was the year Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died.

JFK, unquestionably, gave the literary Bond a huge boost in 1961. Kennedy — the first U.S. president born in the 20th century — listed Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

At the time, Kennedy provided a youthful image. He was the youngest elected president at the age of 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the actual youngest president (at age 42), but he assumed office with the assassination of William McKinley.

Regardless, JFK was sworn into office after the then-oldest president, Dwight Eisenhower, departed. Kennedy brought a sense of glamour. That’s why his presidency was dubbed “Camelot.”

As a result, Kennedy’s including the Fleming novel in that 10 favorite book list was an enormous boost. It occurred just as the Eon film series was getting started. Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman struck their deal with United Artists in 1961, with Dr. No beginning production in early 1962.

Still, you could make the case that Hefner’s interest in Bond had a longer-lasting impact.

Playboy published Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity short story in 1960, a year before the famous JFK book list. Playboy serialized Fleming 007 stories. And Playboy’s ties to Bond would be referenced in the Eon films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever.

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

What’s more, Hefner’s Bond interest remained. Playboy published Bond-related pictorials for decades. In the 1990s, the magazine published short stories and serialized novels by 007 continuation author Raymond Benson.

As an aside, the Spy Commander once interviewed Benson about becoming the Bond continuation author. Benson mentioned, in passing, he was a friend of Hefner’s.

My memory is I asked him to go over that again. It was true. And one of the Benson 007 short stories (Midsummer Night’s Doom) was set at the Playboy mansion and Hefner showed up as a character.

The purpose of this post is to pose the question. The answer is up to the reader.

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.

From Russia With Love’s 50th Part I: the difficult sequel

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

Nothing about From Russia With Love was easy. From scripting all the way through filming, the second James Bond film was difficult and at times an ordeal.

At last three writers (Richard Maibaum, Johnna Harwood and an uncredited Len Deighton) took turns trying to adapt the Ian Fleming novel, with major rewrites during shooting. One cast member (Pedro Armendariz) committed suicide shortly after completing his work on the movie because he was dying of cancer. Director Terence Young was nearly killed in a helicopter accident (CLICK HERE for an MI6 007 fan page account of that and other incidents).

For many 007 fans, the movie, which premiered Oct. 10, 1963, is the best film in the Eon Productions series. It’s one of the closest adaptations of a Fleming novel, despite the major change of adding Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE into the proceedings. It also proved the success of Dr. No the previous year was no accident.

Fleming’s novel was one of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 10 favorite books, a list published in 1961 in Life magazine. From Russia, With Love (with the comma and published in 1957) was one of the author’s most important books.

Fleming’s friend, author Raymond Chandler, had chided 007’s creator for letting the quality of his Bond novels slip after 1953’s Casino Royale. “I think you will have to make up your mind what kind of writer you are going to be,” Chandler wrote to Fleming in an April 1956 letter. Fleming decided to step up his game with his fifth 007 novel.

Years later, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, with an endorsement of the source material from Kennedy, proceeded with adapting the book. Dr. No veterans Young, editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore and scribes Maibaum and Harwood all reported for duty on the new 007 project.

The major Dr. No contributor absent was production designer Ken Adam, designing the war room set and other interiors for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. John Stears, meanwhile, took over on special effects.

Armendariz, as Kerim Bey, the head of MI6’s station in Turkey and Bond’s primary ally, had a big impact. He lit up every scene he was in and had great on-screen chemistry with star Sean Connery. When Kerim Bey is killed, as part of the complicated SPECTRE plot, it resonates with the audience. The “sacrificial lamb” is part of the Bond formula, but Armendariz was one of the best, if not the best, sacrificial lamb in the 007 film series.

The gravely ill actor needed assistance to complete his scenes. In long shots in the gypsy camp sequence, you needn’t look closely to tell somebody else is playing Kerim Bey walking with Connery’s 007. (It was director Young, according to Armendariz’s WIKIPEDIA ENTRY.)

Young & Co. retained the novel’s memorable set pieces (the fight between two gypsy women, the subsequent battle between Bulgarians and gypsies and the Orient Express train fight between Bond and Red Grant). The production also added a few twists, including two outdoor sequences after getting Bond off the train earlier than in the novel. The question was how would audiences respond.

The answer was approvingly. “I see that ‘From Russia With Love’ is now a movie and although I rarely see them I plan to take this one in,” former CIA Director Allen Dulles wrote to Fleming in 1964.

He wasn’t alone. The film, with a budget of $2 million, generated $78.9 million in worldwide box office, almost one-third more than its predecessor.

NEXT: John Barry establishes the 007 music template

1997 HMSS article: A VISIT WITH IAN FLEMING

November 2012 post: LEN DEIGHTON ON FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Film 007’s upcoming 50th anniversary: what was going on in 1962, anyway?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Next year is the golden anniversary of the first 007 film, Dr. No, and Variety has reported that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is “working up plans for a 2012 yearlong commemoration.” That got us to thinking about what was going on in the world in 1962, which quite a newsy year in a variety of ways.

Here are some examples of well-known, and lesser-known, events that year:

Jan. 15: NBC airs “La Strega” episode of Thriller, starring Ursula Andress, female lead of Dr. No, which will be the first James Bond film.

Jan 16: Production begins on Dr. No, modestly budgeted at about $1 million. Fees include $40,000 for director Terence Young and $80,000 each for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, not counting their share of profits. (Figures from resarch by film historian Adrian Turner). Star Sean Connery tells Playboy magazine in 1965 that he was paid $16,800 for Dr. No.

Inside Dr. No, a documentary made by John Cork for a DVD release of the movie, says about 10 percent of the film’s budget went to the Ken Adam-designed reactor room set, where the climatic fight between Bond and Dr. No takes place. (Date of production start from research by Craig Henderson’s For Your Eyes Only Web site.

Jan. 17: Jim Carrey is born.

Feb 3: U.S. begins embargo against Cuba.

Feb. 20: John Glenn becomes first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth.

March 2: Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points as his Philadelphia Warriors team defeats the New York Knicks 169-147 in a game played in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Chamberlain achieves the feat by scoring 36 baskets and, perhaps most amazingly, by hitting 28 of 32 free-throw attempts. (Chamberlain was a notoriously bad free-throw shooter.) The player averaged 50.4 points per game in the 1961-62 season.

April 16: The Spy Who Loved Me, Ian Fleming’s latest 007 novel, is published. The novel takes a radical departure from previous Bond novels. The story is told in the first person by a female character, Vivienne Michel, with Bond not appearing until two-thirds of the way through the story. Fleming, in his dealings with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, specifies only the title is to be used for any movie. Broccoli (after Saltzman departs the film series) does just that in the 10th film of the 007 series, which comes out in July 1977.

May (publication date, actual likely earlier): The Incredible Hulk, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, debuts in the first issue of his own comic book.

June 1: Nazi Adolph Eichmann executed in Israel.

July 3: Future Mission: Impossible movie star Tom Cruise is born.

July 12: Rolling Stones debut in London.

August (publication date actual date probably earlier): Amazing Fantasy No. 15 published, debut of Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, with cover by Jack Kirby and Ditko.

Aug. 5: Actress Marilyn Monroe dies.

Aug. 6: Michelle Yeoh, who will play Chinese secret agent Wai Lin in the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, is born.

Aug. 16: Future Get Smart movie star Steve Carell is born.

Aug. 16: Ringo Starr joins the Beatles.

Sept. 26: The Beverly Hillbillies debuts on CBS. In a later season, Jethro sees Goldfinger in a movie theater and decides that being a “Double-Naught” spy is his life’s calling.

Oct. 1: Federal marshals escort James Meredith, first African American student at the University of Missippi, as he registers at the school.

Oct. 1: Johnny Carson, a few weeks short of his 37th birthday, hosts his first installment of The Tonight Show. He will remain as host until May 1992. At one point during Carson’s run on the show, he and Sean Connery reference how Carson’s debut on Tonight and Connery’s debut as Bond occurred at around the same time.

Oct. 5: Dr. No has its world premier in London. The film won’t be shown in the U.S. until the following year.

Oct. 14: A U.S. U-2 spy plane discovers missile sites in Cuba, beginning the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis will bring the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of World War III.

Oct. 22: President John F. Kennedy makes a televised address, publicly revealing the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Oct. 28: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announces the U.S.S.R. is removing its missiles from Cuba. (for a more detailed timeline of these events, CLICK HERE.)

Oct. 29: Ian Fleming begins three days of meetings with television producer Norman Felton concerning a show that will eventually be known as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (source: Craig Henderson) Fleming’s main contribution of the meetings is that the hero should be named Napoleon Solo.

Nov. 7: Richard Nixon loses race for governor of California, tells reporters “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” He’ll be back.

Dec. 10: The David Lean-directed Lawrence of Arabia has its world premiere in London. The film’s crew include director of photography Freddie Young and camera operator Ernest Day, who will work on future James Bond movies. Young will photograph 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Day would be second unit director (with John Glen) on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

For a more comprehensive list of significant 1962 events, CLICK HERE.