Peter Janson-Smith, Fleming’s literary agent, dies

Peter Janson-Smith

Peter Janson-Smith

Peter Janson-Smith, Ian Fleming’s literary agent and a behind-the-scenes figure in the success of the literary James Bond, has died according to multiple social media posts by friends and family members.

Janson-Smith, 93, helped raise the visibility of Fleming’s original novels and short stories during the author’s lifetime. After Fleming’s death, eventually he became the chairman of Glidrose, now known as Ian Fleming Publications.

In that capacity, Janson-Smith helped launch the 007 continuation stories penned by John Gardner and Raymond Benson than ran from the early 1980s into the early 2000s.

The literary Bond had its ups and downs after Fleming died in 1964. Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun under the pen name Robert Markham. But that proved to be a one-off. In the 1970s, Fleming biographer John Pearson took a stab with a “biography” of Bond that was again a one-off. 007 screenwriter Christopher Wood wrote novelizations of the Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

It wasn’t until Gardner’s 1981 007 debut, Licence Renewed, that the Bond continuation novels began publishing on a regular schedule. After Gardner’s run, Janson-Smith helped recruit Benson, author of a non-fiction work about the 007 film and novels/short stories, to continue.

Benson wrote a 2010 article describing Janson-Smith’s life published on the Commander Bond 007 fan site.

Janson-Smith told Benson how the Christopher Wood novelizations came about.

“We had no hand in that other than we told the film people that we were going to exert our legal right to handle the rights in the books,” Benson quoted Janson-Smith as saying. “They chose Christopher Wood because he was one of the screenwriters at the time, and they decided what he would be paid. We got our instructions on that, but from then on, these books-of-the-films became like any other Bond novel—we controlled the publication rights.”

Near the end of the piece by Benson, Janson-Smith reflected on his career.

“At age eighty-seven,” Janson-Smith told Benson, “it is time to call it a day, but I am still a consultant where my experience has a value. I suppose you could say I’m on the ‘inactive duty’ list of the Double-O section!”

About that whole ‘Blofeld Trilogy’ thing…

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

This blog’s recent post about suggestions for Bond 25 included the idea that it may be time to let the “Blofeld Trilogy” idea pass. But many don’t want to let go. So here’s a closer look.

What is it? The phrase was popularized by Raymond Benson in his 1984 book The James Bond Bedside Companion, referring to Ian Fleming’s novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

The term “Blofeld Trilogy” isn’t mentioned in the index. On page 123, the author introduces his analysis of Thunderball thusly:

The ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, is a terrific book. It is the beginning of what could be called the Blofeld Trilogy, which also includes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Thunderball also marks the change from the earlier novels to the later, more mature books.

Anything wrong with that? Not wrong, but perhaps more complex.

How so? First, Fleming almost certainly didn’t plan a trilogy. The Thunderball novel was Fleming’s way of recouping time spent on the unsuccessful film project spearheaded by Kevin McClory. McClory sued after the novel came out. In the resulting settlement, future editions of the novel indicated it was based on a screen treatment by McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming.

Second, Fleming wrote four novels during this period. He also penned The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962, written from the perspective of a woman who encounters Bond in the last third of the novel. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE but this only is mentioned in passing. Again, a sign this wasn’t a planned thing.

An important part of the Blofeld Trilogy: At the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is dead. Early in the You Only Live Twice novel, we’re told how Bond has fallen apart and is about to get his walking papers. He’s given a last chance to salvage his career. The unlikely mission leads to Blofeld and a final confrontation.

Yeah, so? The 007 film series adapted the novels out of order (as hard-core fans know all too well), so the Blofeld Trilogy, per se, wasn’t done. However, Eon Productions already has clearly cherry picked from the Blofeld Trilogy.

Example: In Skyfall, Bond has fallen apart after being shot by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’s a shell of former self when he finds out MI6 has been attacked. Even then, it takes quite a bit of screen time before Bond is back to his former self.

I repeat, yeah, so? Some fans would like Bond 25 to adapt the setup of the Blofeld Trilogy, have Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) killed and have 007 have a proper “revenge” story.

Initially, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During the scripting process, there was a henchwoman named Irma Bunt and the last line of the movie was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world.” Both were deleted from the final film.

A couple of things, regarding Bond 25:

1) Do we really want Bond to fall apart for the second time in three movies? Remember, it’s not the Blofeld Trilogy if he doesn’t fall apart.

2) We’ve had either revenge story lines or elements of them in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. Does the film series really cry out for another revenge story?

Nobody is going to change their mind based on this post. Just something to think about.

Benson post-007 character in development at ABC

Image for The Black Stiletto, a character created by former 007 continuation novel author Raymond Benson

Image for The Black Stiletto, a character created by former 007 continuation novel author Raymond Benson

The Black Stiletto, a character created in a series of novels by former 007 continuation author Raymond Benson, is “in development” at ABC, according to a story on THE DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD entertainment news website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Black Stiletto, based on the novels by Raymond Benson, follows a young woman’s evolution into a modern-day hero when a family secret from the past is revealed and puts the only family she’s ever known in imminent danger.

Benson wrote 007 continuation novels published by Ian Fleming Publications from 1997 to 2002, as well as three movie novelizations (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day) as well as a number of Bond short stories.

Benson also wrote The James Bond Bedside Companion, a reference book about the 007 novels and films, that was originally published in 1984 and updated in 1988.

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.

Some questions about a James Bond musical

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

It’s been a few days since stories came out that there are plans for a James Bond stage musical to be produced by Merry Saltzman, daughter of Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions.

Since then, there haven’t been any more details about James Bond: The Musical. We can’t offer many answers, but we’re more than willing to pose the questions.

Where did Merry Saltzman get the rights for this project? Stories in BROADWAY WORLD.COM and PLAYBILL said Saltzman had “secured the rights” for a stage production. But where from?

Ian Fleming Publications, run by 007 creator Ian Fleming’s heirs, controls the literary rights. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq (holding company for the Broccoli-Wilson family) control the film rights.

Once upon a time, Harry Saltzman had half of Danjaq. But he sold his share in 1975 to United Artists because of financial troubles. MGM acquired UA in the early ’80s.

Neither Ian Fleming Publications or MGM/Danjaq has publicly commented about Ms. Saltzman’s plans.

Is there any kind of precedent for this? In the 1980s, there was an attempt to mount a non-musical Casino Royale play but nothing happened.

Raymond Benson, who’d go on to write 007 continuation novels published from 1997-2002, was involved in the ill-fated project. He gave an interview in 2007 to the journal Paradigm. Excerpts were published by the MI6 JAMES BOND WEBSITE as well as the COMMANDER BOND FAN WEBSITE.

According to the interview excerpts, the Fleming literary estate commissioned the play. Benson adapted Ian Fleming’s first novel into a play but the literary estate opted not to continue. By the late 1990s, Danjaq/Eon secured the film rights to Casino.

Benson is quoted in the interview as saying the “stage play cannot be produced without the movie people’s permission…I own the copyright of the play, but the Fleming Estate owns the publication rights and the movie people own the production rights.”

It should be noted that Merry Saltzman’s project is supposed to have an all-new story, rather than adapt any Fleming novel, According to the Playbill story it will have “several Bond villains, plus some new ones.”

Is this a good idea? Decades ago, there were probably some who scoffed that Pygmalion could be made into a musical. Yet, My Fair Lady was made. Then again, some people thought a musical play featuring Spider-Man was a sure winner and things didn’t turn out that way.

For now, color us skeptical. Until we know more, however, here’s a 2012 video that our friends at The James Bond Dossier found a few days ago.

Raymond Benson observations on 007 and other topics

Raymond Benson's Die Another Day remains the most recent 007 film novelization. Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Raymond Benson, circa late 1990s. Photo by Paul Baack.

Raymond Benson, 007 scholar and one-time James Bond continuation novel author, granted an interview to the SIRENS OF SUSPENSE WEBSITE.

Here are a few of his observations.

About writing his 007 continuation novels and short stories:

“I grew up with Bond and (Ian) Fleming. I knew the universe inside-and-out…and I believe that’s why the people at the Fleming Estate hired me.”

On his favorite Bond actor:

Sean Connery will always be my favorite: he’s the iconic Bond, the guy against everyone else will be measured. That said, I feel the most accurate portrayal of Fleming’s literary Bond was that of Timothy Dalton.

On the chances Idris Elba will ever play 007:

As for the Elba discussion, it’s a moot point. Mr. Elba is a fine actor and could certainly do the role, but he’s aleady too old.

When the computers of Sony Pictures were hacked, one disclosure that emerged was that Sony executive Amy Pascal voiced a preference for Elba (born Sept. 6, 1972) to succeed Daniel Craig (b. 1968) in the role. Craig is currently filming SPECTRE, due for release in November and his contract calls for one more 007 film after that.

On whether Benson might every get the chance to do another 007 novel:

The Estate has never re-hired an author, just as the film producers are never going to re-hire Brosnan or Dalton.

Benson’s last Bond novel and 007 movie novelization were both published in 2002.

To view the entire interview, CLICK HERE.

NYC hangout for Bond writers, collectors loses an owner

Jean-Claude Baker

Jean-Claude Baker

Jean-Claude Baker, a New York restaurateur, died this week at 71. He owned Chez Josephine, a colorful establishment that on more that one occasion served as a place for James Bond collectors and scribes who wrote about Agent 007 to gather.

One can only imagine how Ian Fleming would have described Chez Josephine. It was part restaurant, part shrine for Baker’s adoptive mother, Josephine Baker. There’s live music and the restaurant does brisk business from New York theater goers.

There was also something of a James Bond clientele.

Gary Firuta, a Bond collector, often brought the likes of writers James Chapman, Raymond Benson, Alan Porter, John Griswold, Anders Frejdh and Joseph Darlington to Chez as well as video producer Mark Cerulli.

Jean-Claude, upon seeing the Bond-related groups enter, would immediately say, “Oh, my friend!” in his French accent and fuss over those present. One could be away for months or a year or two. It was always the same when Jean-Claude spotted you.

Today, there are myriad Chez Josephine customers who wish they could hear “Oh, my friend!” just one more time.

For more information about Jean-Claude Baker’s colorful life, you can view AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES or a PLAYBILL OBIT.

UPDATE: Here’s the text of an e-mail the restaurant sent to customers:

With great sorrow, the Chez Josephine family mourns the passing of Jean-Claude Baker.

Throughout his eventful life, Jean-Claude fulfilled with passion and commitment his one true vocation: to bring laughter, joy and love to all who knew him. His larger-than-life personality and unfailing generosity touched everyone around him.

His spirit was irrepressible. His love will endure in the lives touched by his special magic. A magic that his Chez Josephine family will do its best to continue in his honor.

The restaurant is closed today–Thursday, January 15–out of respect to our “Maman Jean-Claude.” We will reopen on Friday, January 16, as Jean-Claude would wish.

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