007 book auction: cashing in collections can be tricky

First edition copy of 1953's Casino Royale sold at auction

First edition copy of 1953’s Casino Royale sold at auction

The first rule of collecting is a collectible is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it.

This week, 007 collector Gary J. Firuta’s collection of first-edition James Bond novels, page proofs and other items was sold by Heritage Auctions. The auction showed how prices for collectibles can vary widely.

For example, A U.K. first edition of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale novel sold for $21,250. (The auction company takes a cut so the seller doesn’t receive the full price.) Heritage has auctioned a number of other first-edition copies of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel and the Firuta sale is in the middle of a wide range.

In 2010, a first edition copy of Casino Royale was sold by Heritage for $11,950. In 2014, another copy was sold for $32,500. Then, there was a special case. In 2009, a first edition copy of the book, which included a Fleming inscription (“to M”) sold for $50,787.50.

The condition of the book can be a factor. The book sold in 2009 was described by Heritage as a “stunning example of the first Bond novel in fine condition.” The book sold in 2010 was described as a “very good copy of the first Bond novel.” And the copy sold in 2014 was described as “a fine copy of a very rare title in dust jacket and much better than usually seen.”

Meanwhile, with the Firuta sale, the first edition Casino Royale did not generate the highest price. Instead, an uncorrected proof of From Russia With Love sold for $40,000.

Here’s part of the description from Heritage:

London: Jonathan Cape, [1957]. Uncorrected Proof. One of 75 copies printed, though few have survived. Octavo. 249, [7, blank] pages. Publisher’s printed wrappers (with “Uncorrected Proof” at the bottom of the front wrapper.) Some toning and wear to edges of wrappers, front wrapper with crease at lower corner and faint ink notes with erasure marks, spine slightly sunned, some rubbing to spine, hinges starting, title-page a bit loose, page 249 with small hole (very little loss to text). With a Jonathan Cape advertisement for From Russia With Love (“Spring List 1957”) affixed to the inner front wrapper. A very good copy of an extremely rare item.

With a textual change to page 94, in the final paragraph, changing from “In all respects. She is very beautiful. Naïve but obedient.” to “The woman said grudgingly ‘She is very beautiful. She will serve our purpose.'” This was done by Fleming to tone down the lesbian overtones of the passage. Moreover, the published novel features a significant expansion to the novel’s closing paragraphs. (emphasis in original)

What follows are some other highlights of the sale.

–A Moonraker first edition that included a letter by Fleming to G. Wren Howard, a co-founder of publisher Jonathan Cape. The letter concerned a would-be title for the novel, The Infernal Machine. Price: $15,000.

–A first edition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that was No. 205 of a set of 250 signed by Fleming. Price: $10,312.50. However, another regular first edition of the novel went unsold.

–A first edition of Live And Let Die, price: $10,000.

–Three first edition copies of Fleming’s final Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun. Price: $8,750. Here’s a description:

One copy is the rare first edition, first issue, first state (trial binding) with the gilt-stamped gun on the front board; the other two copies are first editions, second state bindings, one with the first issue green endpapers, the other with the second issue plain white endpapers. Spines lettered in gilt, dust jackets.

Firuta’s collection of posters and related items will be auctioned later this month by Heritage.

Chronicles of SPECTRE Part V: OHMSS

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

The new James Bond film SPECTRE has given the fans many nods to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service throughout the promotions, either by the bars of John Barry’s instrumental theme on the trailer and by the snow scenes. Some people even suggested that the 2015 film could be a remake of the 1969 Bond adventure.

One of the most faithful adaptations of an Ian Fleming novel, the sixth 007 film made by Eon Productions is distinctive in many ways: it was the first film to feature a new Bond actor, George Lazenby, and it establishes some kind of continuity with the previous adventures, by having the secret agent looking up at some personal effects from his old missions on one scene.

It also showed, for the first time, a more emotional Bond. “This one is different. This one has heart”, the trailer narration claimed.

Just like in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the enemy is once again SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

After his reveal in the 1967 film, the organization per se is overshadowed by its Number One figure. Previously played by Anthony Dawson and Donald Pleasance, Blofeld is now portrayed by the charismatic Telly Savalas, who would be later known as TV’s popular detective Kojak.

Unlike the 1963 novel by Fleming, where Bond considers resigning from the Service tired of following Blofeld’s lead, in this 1969 adaptation 007 is completely obsessed to find his nemesis and to kill any trace of SPECTRE, even resigning (he finally doesn’t, thanks to Moneypenny) when M relieves him from the mentioned assignment.

SPECTRE’s Number One, this time, is calling himself Balthazar, Count de Beauchamp. His intentions seem quite less lethal in comparison to his previous demands: to get his title validated by the College of Arms and amnesty for his crimes.

Blofeld turned himself from a criminal mastermind to a snobbist blue-blooded aristocrat. Yet, nobody should be fooled by his image: if his demands are not met, he’ll unleash the virus omega providing total infertility to the world’s livestock. How? By hypnotizing the (young, female) patients of his clinic atop Piz Gloria in Switzerland and, once on their homes via radio transmission, order them to unleash the virus, as “part of the cure.”

Blofeld is certainly not less lethal this time, as he can fistfight 007 himself towards the film’s climax and engage on a shootout with him. He also has a taste for beautiful women, as he tries to seduce the imprisoned Tracy, Bond’s girlfriend and future wife.

In a way, he is more of an equal to Bond and not an authority figure. It could be assumed that, from From Russia with Love to You Only Live Twice, Blofeld was M’s M’s evil counterpart: seated on his throne and giving orders. In OHMSS, Number One has turned into Bond’s counterpart.

As for the SPECTRE organization per se, not much of it remains. Blofeld still has a bunch of troops capable of firing machine guns while skiing at high speed as well as a female agent Irma Bunt.

This time, tough, she’s not a young sexy lady in the scale of Fiona or Helga, but an old and authoritarian woman in the style of Rosa Klebb. Even when in the novels we learn Bunt has married Blofeld, not even a glance of a romantic interaction between the two is given in the 1969 film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has Blofeld as the main villain, his leadership overshadowing the SPECTRE organization. His character will always be remembered for one thing: he had James Bond’s wife, Tracy (Diana Rigg), killed minutes after the wedding, leaving the secret agent for the tears.

Many years before Casino Royale showed us Daniel Craig’s Bond crying over the female lead’s dead body, it was George Lazenby in his short time as 007 who brought drama to the very last second of the film, bringing up a Bond who hasn’t fully triumphed this time.

Next up, in 1971, James Bond takes revenge on Ernst Stavro Blofeld: a different Blofeld, in terms of personality, looks and ambitions.

Playboy, promoter of 007, to cease having nude photos

George Lazenby's 007 reading a copy of Playboy

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Playboy, a big promoter of James Bond over the decades, will no longer run photos of nude women, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTED.

Here’s an excerpt:

As part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.

Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

This is obviously a big change for Playboy. Its first issue included photos of a nude Marilyn Monroe. The magazine’s circulation has plunged to 800,000 from 5.6 million in 1975, according to the Times.

We mention it here because Playboy and 007 have a long history.

The magazine serialized some of Ian Fleming’s original Bond short stories and novels in the 1960s. In the 1990s, the magazine also presented short stories by then-007 continuation author Raymond Benson. One of Benson’s short stories, Midsummer Night’s Doom, published in Playboy’s 45th anniversary issue, was set at the Playboy mansion. In that story, Bond event chats with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Bond and Playboy came together in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond (George Lazenby) casually reads a copy of Playboy while a safe-cracking machine (one of the few gadgets in the film) is at work. After Bond has copied the documents he needs, he takes the magazine’s centerfold with him.

Also, in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, it’s disclosed that Bond (Sean Connery this time) has a membership to a Playboy Club. Such clubs eventually went out of business.

To read the entire Times story, which has a lot of detail about the Playboy revamp, CLICK HERE.

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.

Patrick Macnee dies at 93, BBC says

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Macnee, debonair actor best known for playing John Steed on The Avengers, died today at 93, according to the BBC, WHICH CITED MACNEE’S SON RUPERT.

There was also a statement ON THE ACTOR’S WEBSITE that said Macnee “died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California…with his family at his bedside.”

Macnee enjoyed a long career, playing dozens of characters. Still, The Avengers and his character of John Steed, with his bowler and umbrella, became Macnee’s career trademark. The show first went into production in 1961. Its greatest popularity came when he was paired with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

The actor saw two of his co-stars — Honor Blackman and Rigg — leave the series to take the lead female role in James Bond movies (Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Another Majesty’s actress, Joanna Lumley, was Macnee’s co-star in a 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Macnee finally got his turn at a Bond movie, A View to a Kill, in 1985, playing an ally of Bond (Roger Moore) who is killed by henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones). Macnee, years earlier, had played Dr. Watson to Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in a made-for-television movie. Macnee also made a properly dignified chief of U.N.C.L.E. in 1983’s The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

UPDATE: For the second time this month (Christopher Lee’s death was the other), Roger Moore bids adieu to a colleague:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a re-evaluation

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a special place in the James Bond film series.

It’s the film closest to its source material, Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name. It’s also a movie whose reputation has improved over the years.

Yet, fans keep pining for things that cannot be. If only the movies had been made in order of the novels, instead of reversing the order of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice. If only the experienced Sean Connery had played Bond in Majesty’s instead of newcomer George Lazenby.

Here are a few thoughts on that:

OHMSS would have been a lot different if it had been filmed in 1966 instead of You Only Live Twice. The fan argument about the filming the Fleming novels in order (Majesty’s first, followed by Twice instead of the other way around) assumes we’d have gotten essentially the same movie as the one released in 1969.

As stated in Majesty’s, “I wouldn’t go banco on that.”

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 2009, provides a rundown of various Majesty’s treatments and script drafts. According to Helfenstein, Richard Maibaum had a 1966 OHMSS treatment and draft including “an aquatic Aston Martin” a lot more gadgets than the 1969 film would have and the relevation that Blofeld was the brother (treatment) or half brother (draft) of Auric Goldfinger (pages 27-29).

That’s only one example. The book includes a table (pages 38-39) summarizing the differences of 10 different treatments and drafts, from 1964 through the 1969 film’s shooting script. The main thing in common is Tracy, Bond’s doomed wife, dies in all of them.

Peter Hunt, making his directing debut in Majesty’s, was one of the driving forces to keep the movie faithful to the novel. Had Majesty’s been after Thunderball, Hunt wouldn’t be the director. We might have gotten a similar film, but it’s likely we would have gotten something with more gadgets and a different tone (probably closer to Goldfinger) than audiences received in 1969.

Would Majesty’s really be better with Sean Connery than George Lazenby as Bond? For many, the answer is “of course.” Lazenby had no real acting experience before the film and Connery was, well, Connery. But not everyone subscribes to this conventional wisdom.

Writer Jeffrey Westhoff IN THIS ESSAY (in which he details why Majesty’s is his *favorite movie* not just favorite 007 film), argues against that idea. Here’s an excerpt.

I have often heard film critics and fellow Bond fans acknowledge the superior script and technical work in OHMSS, but then say, “It would be the best James Bond movie if only Sean Connery were in it.” I reject that.
But let’s pretend a younger, amenable Connery was cast in an OHMSS directed by Hunt. It’s still a dubious proposition. For the story of OHMSS to work, particularly the ending, Bond must be vulnerable. From Goldfinger onward, Connery’s Bond was invulnerable, Superman in a tuxedo. I’m not saying Connery didn’t have the ability to play Bond as vulnerable, but after Goldfinger I doubt the audience would have accepted it.

For many reasons, OHMSS required a new actor as Bond….Lazenby’s athleticism in the fight scenes cannot be matched, and his acting improves as the film progresses, reaching its fruition in the proposal scene. More than any scene in the entire series, this one puts the greatest demand on the actor playing Bond.  (emphasis added)

The thing is, there is no right or wrong answer to all this. Without a time machine to go back to change events, or the ability to travel to an alternative universe where things occurred differently, there’s no way to know.

At the same time, real life is more complicated than what we want. So it is with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only certainty is the movie remains — perhaps flawed but still one of the best entries in the Bond series.

007 Magazine offering Majesty’s collectible

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

007 Magazine is offering an On Her Majesty’s Secret Service collectible.

The fan publication is reprinting two issues and offering them as a single publication. Two 36-page issues were published in 2010 and are out of print.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released in late 1969. It was the first Eon Productions 007 film not to feature Sean Connery as Bond. George Lazenby, the movie’s star, quit after his only appearance as the secret agent.

Various photos and feature stories are part of the 007 Magazine package.

007 Magazine is reprinting both in a single issue with a new cover. The price is 19.99 British pounds, $30.99 or 26.99 euros.

Orders are due March 31.

For more information about the reprint, CLICK HERE.


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