No Time to Die wins best song Oscar

No Time to Die won the best song Oscar Sunday night.

Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell received Oscars for writing the title song to the 25th James Bond film. It was the third straight best song Oscar for the Bond film series, following 2012’s Skyfall and Writing’s on the Wall from 2015’s SPECTRE.

No Time to Die also had been nominated in the sound and visual effects categories. Dune won those Oscars.

The show’s in memoriam segment also included Leslie Bricusse, who co-wrote the lyrics for Goldfinger’s title song and who wrote the lyrics for the title song of You Only Live Twice.

The Oscars telecast also included a tribute to the Bond series via film clips while the title song for Live And Let Die played.

2021’s spy entertainment “In Memoriam”

As 2021 draws to a close, here’s a look at those who contributed to spy entertainment (or at least spy-related). These are not listed in any particular order.

Cicely Tyson (1924-2021), actress: Distinguished actress. Her many credits included appearances on I Spy and Mission: Impossible.

Leslie Bricusse (1931-2021), songwriter: Bricusse had a varied career that included collaborating with the likes of John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith and Henry Mancini among others.

In the 1960s, he worked with Barry on Goldfinger, Thunderball (the “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” song that wasn’t used but figured into the score) and You Only Live Twice. He worked with Goldsmith on “Your ZOWIE Face” from In Like Flint.

Nikki van der Zyl (1935-2021), voice artist: She voiced over Ursula Andress and other actresses during the run of Eon Productions’ James Bond film series. Eon also called upon her services to dub Anita Ekberg in Call Me Bwana, the comedy Eon made in-between Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

Yaphet Kotto (1939-2021), actor: He played Dr. Kananga, the villain in the film version of Live And Let Die. Kotto had a long career. He became an actor in the dying days of “old Hollywood.” One of his early films was Five Card Stud, a Dean Martin-Robert Mitchum western produced by Hal B. Wallis who had produced Casablanca.

William P. Cartlidge (1942-2021), production staff: Cartlidge worked on three James Bond movies directed by Lewis Gilbert — You Only Live Twice (as assistant director), The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker (as associate producer).

Jack Turley (1927-2021), writer: American television writer whose work included episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The FBI.

Arthur Weingarten (1935-2021), writer/producer: He penned episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Later, he had the title of executive story consultant for the final season of The FBI and wrote an episode for that show. He later became a producer of U.S. television shows.

Peter Mark Richman (1927-2021), actor: Veteran character actor who often played villains. His many credits included appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., It Takes a Thief, and Mission: Impossible. He also starred in spy-fi curiosity Agent From H.A.R.M.

Tanya Roberts (1955-2021), actress: She played Stacey Sutton, the lead female character in A View to a Kill. She previously had been in Charlie’s Angels.

Tommy Lane (1936-2021), actor/stuntman: Lane played Adam, one of Dr. Kananga’s henchmen in Live And Let Die. In a movie full of colorful characters, he still made an impact. In the movie’s boat chase, Adam has a faster boat than Bond (Roger Moore). That forces Bond to improvise.

Jessica Walter (1941-2021), actress: Walter enjoyed a long career. That included two episodes of The FBI where her characters were part of espionage rings.

Edward Asner (1929-2021), actor: Veteran actor who played the gruff Lou Grant in two series (The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant). He also played villains on The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West.

Neil Connery (1938-2021), actor: The younger brother of Sean Connery was cast in the lead of a Bond takeoff titled Operation Kid Brother or OK Connery depending on which version you saw. The movie featured other actors (Adolfo Celi, Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson, Bernard Lee, and Lois Maxwell) who had appeared in Eon’s 007 film series. The movie was even released by United Artists. In the movie, Neil Connery plays “Dr. Neil Connery.” He uses hypnotism as if it were a superpower.

Frank McRae (1941-2021), actor: The one-time football player transitioned to acting. His roles included Sharkey, the likable “sacrificial lamb” in 1989’s Licence to Kill.

Richard Donner (1930-2021), director: Donner is best known for directing the 1978 Superman film with Christopher Reeve and the Lethal Weapon series of movies. In the 1960s, working in television, he directed episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West and Get Smart. In the 1980s, Donner was offered Never Say Never Again but turned it down.

John Pearson (1930-2021), writer: Pearson wrote on various subjects, including a 1966 biography of Ian Fleming. Pearson had worked with Fleming at The Sunday Times.

Charles “Jerry” Juroe (1923-2021), publicist: Juroe’s long career included stints as a publicist at United Artists and Eon Productions. He published a book about his career in 2018.

Al Harrington (1935-2021), actor: Harrington was a cast member of the original Hawaii Five-O series during the show’s fifth through seventh seasons.

Frank Jacobs (1929-2021), writer: Jacobs wrote many parodies for Mad magazine. In 1965, he penned a satiric version of a James Bond musical. The songs were sung to the tune of songs from Oklahoma!

Michael Apted (1941-2021), director: Apted was known for directing dramas as well as working on the 7-Up series of documentaries. His selection to direct The World Is Not Enough (1999) was seen as unusual.

Helen McCrory (1968-2021), actress: English stage and film actress, she had a key role in Skyfall (2012).

Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

Margaret Nolan, Bond’s ‘Golden Girl,’ dies

Margaret Nolan, an actress who appeared in Goldfinger and A Hard Day’s Night, has died, according to director Edgar Wright.

Wright reported her passing on Twitter:

Nolan was 76, according to her entry on Wikipedia.

Nolan had a small role as Dink in Goldfinger, a woman James Bond (Sean Connery) meets in Goldfinger. But it was the film’s main titles, designed by Robert Brownjohn, where Nolan made her biggest impact.

In Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel, Auric Goldfinger has a fetish of having women painted gold. Brownjohn jumped on the idea for his main titles. Nolan, clad in a bikini, was painted gold, with scenes from the movie (as well as scenes from Dr. No and From Russia With Love) projected onto her body.

Brownjohn’s visuals of Nolan coupled with the title song written by John Barry and lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, helped make Goldfinger a huge hit. The lyrics referred to a “Golden Girl.” Both the song and the images captured the imaginations of audiences in 1964.

She also had a small role in A Hard Day’s Night starring The Beatles. Bond fans could spot her instantly.

Below is an image from her brief appearance in Goldfinger outside of the main titles.

“Dink, say goodbye to Felix.”

And below is one of the Goldfinger posters with the Nolan image.

Goldfinger poster

UPDATE (Oct. 12): The official 007 Twitter feed took note of Nolan’s passing this morning.

Does the title song of a Bond movie really matter?

New SPECTRE poster

New SPECTRE poster

In the past few days, there have been reports, speculation, etc., about who may be perform the title of SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

Here’s a question that isn’t being asked much: Does the title song, or the selection of a title song performer, really matter that much for a James Bond movie?

For example, the 2006 Casino Royale got a lot of good reviews and is held is high opinion by a lot of fans. But very little of that has to do with “You Know My Name,” the song played over the main titles.

Meanwhile, the title song to 1967’s You Only Live Twice, written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse and performed by Nancy Sinatra, is considered one of the best 007 title songs.

Yet, a lot of fans feel the film You Only Live Twice isn’t up to the standards of the first four Bond films made by Eon Productions. Part of that stems from how it was the first movie to throw out the main plot of an Ian Fleming novel.

For that matter, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is another highly regarded Bond film. It didn’t even have a title song. Instead it had a Barry instrumental for the main titles. It was the last time the main titles didn’t feature a song.

Yes, a good title song can enhance the movie (“Nobody Does It Better” for The Spy Who Loved Me being an example), but it’s rarely make or break. In the 21st century, however, the sort of perspective is in short supply.

An announcement may be coming Tuesday. Meanwhile, over at the MI6 JAMES BOND WEBSITE there’s an attempt to make sense of the latest news.

Mad Men meets 007 (not once, but twice)

Mad Men, the popular drama on cable network AMC, had its season finale on June 10, which included not one, but two, James Bond references.

The most noticeable was how the episode ended with Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of You Only Live Twice, written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse. The fifth 007 film made by Eon Productions premiered premiered 45 years ago this month.

However, there was an earlier Bond reference, albeit a brief one. Near the episode’s conclusion, Jon Hamm’s Don Draper was in a movie theater. While no images of the movie were shown, the first several notes of Burt Bacharach’s main theme to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, could be heard. That film had its 45th anniversary in April.

The Sinatra song has an interesting back story, familar to many, if not most, 007 fans. Namely, Barry and Bricusse wrote two versions. The first, performed by Julie Rogers, was deemed not good enough. The second, the Nancy Sinatra version, is a 007 fan favorite though Sinatra was so nervous, the song had to be cobbled together from multiple takes. If Mad Men fans are curious (and don’t already know the story), a 2006 special on U.K. television about the 007 theme songs provides the details:

This isn’t the first time Mad Men referenced 1960s spy entertainment. In 2010, the popular show included a clip from a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

UPDATE: Time magazine’s review of the episode picks up the You Only Live Twice connection and runs with it.

A modest proposal for any official 007 50th anniversary gala

James Bond fans worldwide have been chatting this week since Tom Jones performed the title song from Thunderball at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts 2012 awards show the other night. Most readers of this blog have already seen it plenty, but just in case, here it is again:

Jones really made an impact with the audience of celebrities. What could possibly top that?

Well, how about if there really is a 50th anniversary gala — particularly if such a gathering could really bring the six 007 film actors together — having Jones perform with Shirley Bassey and Nancy Sinantra? That way you could bring the surviving performers of the major James Bond title songs from the first decade of the 007 film series. Bassey’s performance of Goldfinger (written by Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) set the standard. Jones’s Thunderball (Barry and Don Black) was a worthy follow-up and You Only Live Twice (Barry and Bricusse) is one of the most memorable of the series.

We have no idea if this idea is practical. But if it could be pulled off having that trio would make a 50th anniversary gala special. Bassey performed last year at a memorial concert for John Barry. Jones showed at BAFTA he’s going strong. We don’t know if Sinatra would be interested, but it would merit an inquiry if a big 007 gala takes place.

Thunderball’s 45th anniversary part IV: John Barry’s challenge

For John Barry, scoring Thunderball, the fourth James Bond movie, couldn’t have been easy. Deadlines were tight to make the film’s December 1965 release dates. Barry had to re-do the title song. And the film had a lot of underwater footage, with no dialogue which would need the composer’s music to bring it to life.

Thunderball may not be the best of Barry’s 11 007 scores. He himself has called On Her Majesty’s Secret Service his “most Bondian.” Still, Barry was more than up to the challenges presented by Thunderball. He ended up writing two title songs, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Leslie Bricusse and, in a last-minute change, Thunderball with Don Black.

Barry, either by dramatic choice or to save precious time, used the 007 theme, a piece he originally wrote for two action sequences in From Russia With Love, in Thunderball. Bringing back 007 reinforced the idea that the composition was a second theme for Bond, a backup to The James Bond Theme. Barry would bring back 007 three more times, in You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker.

First, Barry’s score for the sequence where Bond escapes Fiona Volpe and her SPECTRE henchmen, during a street carnival in Nassau:

Barry then slows down the same basic music for the big underwater showdown between SPECTRE frogmen led by Emilo Largo who are carrying an atomic bomb and a U.S. force (with Bond, of course, joining in). Barry then speeds the music up for a sequence shortly thereafter where Bond confronts Largo on his hydrofoil as the villain tries to escape:

Barry’s bosses, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, sent Barry scurrying after deciding they’d prefer a song that actually had the word “Thunderball” in it. So Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was scrapped. But the Barry-Black team came through, with Tom Jones performing the song.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary: even Michael Jackson wanted to get into the act?

Over at Examiner.com, they’re running a story saying Michael Jackson had wanted to perform the song Goldfinger. The quoted source for this? None other than Shirley Bassey, who became a star performing the title song of Goldfinger, first released in the U.K. in September 1964 and in the U.S. in December of that year.

A sample of the article:

Although Michael Jackson never had the opportunity to perform Goldfinger during a concert at London’s O2 Arena, Shirley Bassey had grown close to Michael Jackson and actually looked forward to hearing the King of Pop perform her most famous of the three James Bond theme songs she provided for the legendary film franchise.

“He loved Goldfinger and had said he wanted to do Goldfinger in his next show,” revealed Bassey.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary (cont.): the first hit 007 song

Nearly 45 years after it was introduced, Goldfinger’s title song still resonates with the public. As we’ve written about before, the song was nearly killed because co-producer Harry Saltzman hated it. But there was no time to record a replacement. So it remained and became a big hit.

The previous 007 film, From Russia With Love, had a title song but the main titles used an instrumental version coupled with the James Bond Theme. The Matt Monro performed vocal version was used in the middle of the movie (supposedly playing on a radio) and in the end titles. Thus, Goldfinger was the first 007 to have a song play in the main titles. Goldfinger was also composer John Barry’s first opportunity to write a title song for the series. He had arranged the James Bond Theme in Dr. No and composed the dramatic music for From Russia With Love while Lionel Bart wrote that film’s title song.

This time, Barry teamed up with lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Meanwhile Robert Brownjohn designed titles where scenes from the movie (along with an outtake from From Russia With Love and a shot from Dr. No) were projected over actress Margaret Nolan, who played Dink in the film (the character Sean Connery slaps on the rump). The results can be seen in this video:

That’s not the end of the story, though. In 1992, an alternate version of the song surfaced as part of a CD celebrating the 30th anniversary of James Bond’s film debut. Anthony Newley, co-writer of the lyrics, had given it a try with an alternate arrangement of the music:

For John Barry, Goldfinger would become part of a spectacular career scoring movies. In 2001, Barry conducted an orchestra playing an instrumental version of the song, which sounds similar to the sequence in the film where Bond drives the Aston Martin in the Swiss Alps. Take a look:

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