Did Fleming think Maibaum’s 007 was better?

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

This week, TCM kicked off showing 19 James Bond films made by Eon Productions. The first night included a promotional video featuring comments by Bond film veterans Bruce Feirstein (credited as writer on three films) and Martin Campbell (director on two).

Feirstein, at one point told an anecdote about Bond’s creator talking to Richard Maibaum on the set of Goldfinger.

“Apparently, Fleming told Maibaum that he liked Maibaum’s Bond better than his own. Because Maibaum added the wit….There is no wit in the books. So one of the key elements that we all know and love Bond for was added by Maibaum.”

That sounds very provocative. But how true is it? Feirstein doesn’t provide a source for the information. The word “apparently” is a way to hedge your bet.

What’s more, the Bond scripting process was a lot more complicated.

Movies are a collaborative medium. That’s especially when it comes to scripts. By the time Goldfinger was in production, Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather, Len Deighton, Wolf Mankowitz and Paul Dehn had all taken turns at the typewriter (some getting credit, some not).

At the very least, it’s debatable whether there was a “Maibaum Bond” versus a “Fleming Bond.”

Maibaum was a writer on 13 of the first 16 Bond films made by Eon. He was clearly a major contributor and had a lot of input.

On the other hand, with Goldfinger, Maibaum started the scripting while Dehn did the later drafts. And Mankowitz sold co-producer Harry Saltzman a major idea (having the gangster Mr. Solo in a car that was crushed at a junkyard) that was a highlight of the movie. The 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger spells out the scripting process.

In any case, Feirstein provided an interesting anecdote. You can see it around the 6:40 mark of this YouTube copy of the TCM video. Warning: you never know when these things may get pulled down by YouTube.

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.

Licence to Kill’s 30th anniversary: 007 falters in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

Licence to Kill, which had its world premiere 30 years ago today, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

–It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series.

–The last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) participated in the writing

–It was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye).

–It was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder, who would die in 1990.

–And the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first to falter badly in the U.S. market.

Economy Class

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Wilson’s Role

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has been frequently been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept primarily to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its U.S. opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Bond 17’s Fembot

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero that included a deadly fembot. Scripts with other scribes were then written based on that treatment. But that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens until 1995. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters.

And, it needs to be repeated, Bond couldn’t best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which also came out weeks earlier.

In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights. Licence to Kill sold the fewest tickets in the U.S. among James Bond films.

Licence to Kill did much better in other markets. Still, Licence’s in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Some 007 fans blame a lackluster U.S. advertising campaign. However, Michael G. Wilson said in 2015 that Eon “really run the marketing ourselves” and the and the studios involved “execute it.” Did that apply to Licence to Kill? Or was Licence somehow an exception?

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Michael G. Wilson, despite his enormous impact on Licence to Kill, remained in place. Blood (even adopted blood), after all, is thicker than water — or even box office receipts.

MI6 Confidential is out with two new issues

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

MI6 Confidential is out with two new issues, Nos. 49-50, and one of them may be a bit timely.

Issue 49 includes an article about the early drafts of The Spy Who Loved Me.

A number of writers had a go at the 10th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions. Eventually, Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum got a credit although producer Albert R. Broccoli said in his memoir that he ended up putting it all together.

Something similar has occurred with Bond 25 (albeit without as many scribes). It’s a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Other articles in the issue examine Bond’s military pedigree.

Issue 50 includes a look at Licence to Kill ahead of its upcoming 30th anniversary.

Each issue costs 7 British pounds, $9.50 or 8.50 euros. MI6 Confidential also is still taking orders for its 2019 slate of issues.

Bond 25 questions: The new writer edition

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

One of the later questions deal with a possible Bond 25 story line, so consider that a spoiler.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a writer and performer, has come aboard Bond 25 as the newest screenwriter. The story was broken by the Mail on Sunday while The Observer had its own, later story with additional details.

Not surprisingly, the blog has some questions.

What is Waller-Bridge’s background?

She was born in 1985 and acts, writes and directs. One of her prominent credits is the BBC comedy Fleabag.

Why is she being brought on Bond 25?

According to The Guardian’s story, actor Daniel Craig requested her services. An excerpt:

Sources close to the film in the US said that while in the country she discussed with Craig how to improve the script of Bond 25, which the 007 actor felt needed some “polishing”, by introducing more humour and the offbeat style of writing she is best known for.

What’s the significance of this move?

Eon Production recently hired “script doctor” Scott Z. Burns for a four-week stint going over the script. If The Guardian is to be believed, the powers that be felt yet more work was needed.

The Mail on Sunday hyped Waller-Bridge’s hiring as “a comprehensive makeover for the MeToo era.” The Guardian’s story makes it sound like more of a tweaking.

Any plot hints? (here’s the spoiler for the spoiler adverse)

The Mail on Sunday story said one plot “being considered” has a retired Bond while a woman agent now has the 007 code number.

If accurate, that’s the flip side of an idea in Anthony Horowitz’s Forever and a Day 007 continuation novel. It’s set in 1950. Bond gets promoted to the 00 section and opts to take the 007 number, which had been assigned to a murdered agent.

Is it a big deal to hire a woman screenwriter for a Bond film?

It shouldn’t but it probably will be because there have been so few.

Johanna Harwood (b. 1930) worked on the first two films in the Eon series. She shared the Dr. No screenplay credit with Richard Maibaum and Berkely Mather. On From Russia With Love, she received an “adapted by” credit while Maibaum got the screenplay credit.

Dana Stevens took over from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had done the initial drafts of The World Is Not Enough. Bruce Feirstein subsequently took over from her. Purvis, Wade and Feirstein shared in the screenplay credit while Stevens went uncredited.

Robert Sellers coming out with a Broccoli-Saltzman book

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

Robert Sellers, the author of The Battle for Bond, a book about the behind-the-scenes conflict concerning Thunderball, is coming out with a new book about Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the co-founders of Eon Productions.

There is a listing on the U.K. site of Amazon for When Harry Met Cubby: The Story of the James Bond Producers.

According to the listing, the book will be out in September. Here’s part of the description:

Both men were of such contrasting personalities that relations between them often span out of control, to such an extent that they not only fell out with their star, Sean Connery, but ultimately with each other. Loved and hated in equal measure, respected and feared by their contemporaries, few movie people have loomed as large over the industry as Broccoli and Saltzman, yet tragically they would meet very different ends.

During the 1960s heydey of the Bond film series, Broccoli and Saltzman took the industry by storm as 007 became a phenomenon.

In the ensuing decades, a narrative took hold of Saltzman being the more volatile of the two. Some fans (via social media) claim that Saltzman wasn’t really a producer.

On the other hand, other accounts indicate that Saltzman had a major impact on Bond film stories. Richard Maibaum had been a Broccoli man (going back to the producer’s partnership with Irving Allen). Saltzman brought in others (such as Len Deighton, Paul Dehn and John Hopkins) to revise Maibaum’s work.

Regardless, the blog’s guess is the new Sellers book will bring new insights to an old partnership that finally ruptured in the mid-1970s.