Bond 25 questions: The mid-year edition

We’re almost halfway through 2019. That’s as good a reason as any for the blog to ask some new questions about Bond 25.

What do you make of the (apparently) discarded title A Reason to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website sniffed out that A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25. But Eon Productions after conferring with its studio partners decided not to proceed with it the night before an April 25 live stream event from Jamaica.

What the blog wonders is why did it take so long to make that decision? Or, put another way, was the live stream event scheduled before said studio partners (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal among them) weighed in?

Back in 2015, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said the production company devises the marketing while the studios executes those plans.

So, was A Reason to Die an Eon initiative? Were MGM (handling U.S. distribution for Bond 25) and Universal (handling international distribution) not in the loop until the last minute? Or was the situation more complicated?

Where did A Reason to Die come from anyway?

Edward Biddulph of the James Bond Memes website wrote on Twitter the title may stem from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel.

Specifically, in Chapter 5, The Capu, Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond, referring to his daughter Tracy: “Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?”

Is that a big deal?

It’s hardly the most significant Ian Fleming reference available. Fleming short titles (Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, The Property of a Lady and 007 in New York) haven’t been used. However, plot elements from Risico were used for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Ditto for The Hildebrand Rarity in 1989’s Licence to Kill (plus a passing reference to the name Hildebrand in 2015’s SPECTRE). Also, plot elements from  The Property of a Lady showed up in 1983’s Octopussy.

What’s more, there are chapter titles from the Fleming novels that might be worth considering. Still, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are known for mining small details from Fleming. They were the first screenwriters on Bond 25. It’s possible A Reason to Die fits their original script.

So what happens next?

When Prince Charles visited the Bond 25 set at Pinewood Studios earlier this month, Daniel Craig told him that filming on the production was about one-third complete.

There’s no teaser trailer yet, although a promotional video was released this week. A teaser trailer may be out sooner than later and we may get a title — A Reason to Die or something else — at that time. As usual, we’ll see.

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.

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.

007 questions now that Bond 23 is back on

A few key questions have been answered: we know Daniel Craig is coming back for his third 007 film, director Sam Mendes was finally confirmed and the names of the writers were disclosed. That just raises more questions about Bond 23, due to come out in November 2012. Here are some of the most obvious:

001. What’s the title? Remaining Ian Fleming short story titles include The Property Of a Lady (referenced already in Octopussy), Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity and 007 in New York. Few thought that Quantum of Solace would be used as a movie title, so the remaining are fair game, though it’s hard to imagine 007 in New York would be that appealing.

Of course, Eon bosses Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli don’t have to use a Fleming title. Fans have also speculated over the years that chapter titles from Fleming novels might be used. Your guess is as good as ours at this point.

002. Who’s John Logan? He’s a 49-year-old, Chicago-born writer, who has written both movies and made-for-television films, ranging from a genre movie (Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002), to a big costume drama/action movie (2000’s Gladiator, where he was part of a tag team of scribes) to a TV movie about the making of Citizen Kane, RKO 281.

Logan also was nominated for two Oscars, for Gladiator and The Aviator, a film biography of Howard Hughes. So Logan sports a varied resume.

003. Does John Logan have more enthusiasm for James Bond than Peter Morgan did? Some time back, Eon said they’d hired Morgan, a writer of politically themed movies mostly to work with with writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve hung around the 007 series since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.

Given Morgan’s comments after he stopped working on Bond 23, bordering on disdain for 007, it’s hard to imagine Logan has less enthusiasm compared to Morgan. It would be nice if Logan advanced further than Morgan did. After promising a story that would be “shocking,” Morgan never got past the treatment phase (essentially a detailed outline) and never even wrote a draft of a script.

004. Will Logan, Purvis and Wade pick up on that “shocking” story? After Quantum of Solace, we’d settle for an entertaining story. We’re also on record as saying it’d be nice if Bond 23 wasn’t “personal.” Time to give the “this time it’s PERSONAL!” theme a rest.

005. Is Judi Dench coming back as M? No word in the Jan. 11 press release by Eon Productions and MGM. Dench’s status is just one of casting questions, with others including who’s going to be the villain, female lead, etc.

006. What does Mendes coming aboard as director mean? It means that producers Wilson and Broccoli still aren’t giving up on their desire for critical respect after getting a taste of it for 2006’s Casino Royale. The question really is whether Mendes can do a better job that the one Marc Forster did with the muddled Quantum of Solace.

007. But aren’t you glad about this announcement? Of course. This blog has been getting more traffic about the new Hawaii Five-0 series lately than it has about James Bond. All those posts about MGM’s financial ills weren’t very fun. At least there’s something new to talk about.

Playboy, 007’s old ally, may be subject of takeover fight

Playboy magazine and its parent company, Playboy Enterprises Inc., may be the target of a takeover fight. Why should James Bond fans care? Well, the magazine does have a half-century relationship with a certain gentleman agent.

First, the events of July 12 as described by Brett Pulley on Bloomberg.com:

FriendFinder Networks Inc., owner of Penthouse adult magazine, plans to submit a bid for Playboy Enterprises Inc., following a $123 million offer from Playboy’s founder Hugh Hefner.

Things began when Playboy issued a statement. Here’s how Pulley described it:

Hefner plans to offer $5.50 apiece in cash for the Class A and Class B shares, Chicago-based Playboy said in a statement today. Hefner, 84, is partnering with Rizvi Traverse Management LLC for the transaction. The offer, at a premium of more than 30 percent, values Playboy at about $185 million.

It was after that FriendFinder Chief Executive Officer Marc Bell gave interviews (to Bloomberg and elsewhere) that he was looking to counter. To read the entire Bloomberg story, JUST CLICK HERE.

Playboy has had a rough time. Hefner’s daughter, Christie, stepped down as CEO last year and the magazine has had some staff cuts because of declining advertising revenue and circulation. It’s a story that has been repeated at other storied magazines, including Newsweek (currently on the sales block by the Washington Post Co.).

Playboy’s situation is worth noting here because of the ties between the magazine and 007. Playboy published Ian Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity in its March 1960 issue. The magazine later serialized later Fleming Boind novels, including You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The magzine also published THE LAST INTERVIEW WITH FLEMING. And Playboy also had a MEMORABLE 1965 INTERVIEW WITH SEAN CONNERY that demonstrated the star was tiring of the 007 grind.

Bond films acknowledged thre relationship with the magazine. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the George Lazenby version of 007 looks over an issue of the magazine while a device is cracking the safe of a Swiss lawyer as Bond pursues Blofeld’s trail.

Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, we see Bond (Sean Connery) has a membership card at a Playboy club.

Over the years, there were various Bond-related pictorials. But the relationship, at least on the literary side, with Bond intensified during Raymond Benson’s 1997-2002 tenture writing 007 continuation novels. The magazine published Benson’s first Bond work, the Blast From the Past short story as well as another short story, Mid-Summer’s Night Doom, where Bond ends up at the Playboy mansion (strictly in the line of duty) and hanging out with Hefner.

The possible Playboy takeover fight is business, of course. But for Bond fans, there may be a bit more — including fond memories — at stake.

UPDATE: FriendFinder made its bid for Playboy on July 14 15. It’s bidding $210 million, which FriendFinder says is a premium over Hefner’s bid. We’ll see how it turns out.