Marion ‘Oatsie’ Charles, Ian Fleming friend, dies at 99

Marion “Oatsie” (Leiter) Charles

Marion “Oatsie” (Leiter) Charles, a friend of Ian Fleming who helped inspire the surname of Felix Leiter, died earlier this month, according to an obituary in The Washington Post.

She died on Dec. 5 at the age of 99, the newspaper said. The Post described her as “among the last of the grande dames of Georgetown and Newport, R.I.,… She broke bread with President John F. Kennedy and drank with spy novelist Ian Fleming.”

She married Thomas Leiter in 1942, who she later divorced.

Here’s an excerpt from The Post’s obituary about the creator of James Bond.

During World War II, she made a passing acquaintance of Fleming, the future author of the James Bond British spy novels. They met again in Jamaica in the winter of 1949 during the social season there.

“I’d gone to a party, and a great friend of mine was very much in love with Ian, or thought she was,” she recounted to a Fleming website. “And he was treating her in the most atrocious way. And with the arrogance of youth, I walked up to Mr. Fleming when I was introduced to him and said, ‘Mr. Fleming, I consider you’re a cad.’

“And he looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. Leiter, you’re indeed right. Shall we have a drink on it?’ ”

She said she was taken aback by his charm, and they became friends. When Fleming published his first Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” in 1953, he partially named the CIA agent, Felix Leiter, after her husband.

John Cork, director of a number of James Bond documentaries for home video, wrote a story for the website of Ian Fleming Publications (the same one cited in The Post obit) about Charles.

It described Fleming attending a 1960 dinner party at John Kennedy’s home in Washington. The future president invited Fleming after seeing him with Marion Charles. Others present at the dinner party were Joseph Alsop, a columnist “and part-time CIA operative” and John Bross, a future deputy director the agency, according to Cork’s article.

At the gathering Fleming was asked for ideas for how the U.S. might deal with Fidel Castro in Cuba. One of Fleming’s ideas was for the CIA to drop leaflets promoting the notion “that nuclear fallout was collecting in men’s beards” on the island nation, Cork wrote. Men wearing beards would become impotent. That would prompt men to shave their beards, and beards had become part of the image of the Castro revolution.

Marion Charles was interviewed for some of the Cork-directed documentaries.

UPDATE (6:50 p.m. New York time): I rewatched the Cork-directed Ian Fleming biography documentary that’s on the home video release of The Living Daylights. In it, Charles provided this anecdote:

“I think I made Ian Fleming in a curious way. Jack Kennedy rang me up one morning and said, ‘Oats I’m sick. Have you anything to read?’ ‘Yes, so you like spy stories?'”

The book, according to the documentary, was From Russia With Love. That book, in 1961, turned up in a list of Kennedy’s ten favorite books published in Life magazine. That, in turn, greatly helped sales of Fleming’s novels in the United States.

Nancy Wilson dies at 81

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson, an accomplished singer who also was cast in dramatic parts on television, has died at 81, according to The Washington Post.

Wilson’s “beguiling expressiveness in jazz, R&B, gospel, soul and pop made her a crossover recording star for five decades,” The Post said. She died on Nov. 13.

An excerpt from The Post’s obituary:

Jazz historian and critic Will Friedwald, in his volume “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers,” called Ms. Wilson a formidable presence in pop, jazz and blues — “the most important vocalist to come along after these three genres were codified and move freely among them.”

Wilson caught the eye of casting directors, including parts where a character was also a singer.

Among her acting credits were:

I Spy, “Lori”: Wilson played the title character in the episode written by series creators Morton Fine and David Friedkin. Wilson’s Lori was the sister of a man (Greg Morris) suspected of killing members of a team trained in detecting underground nuclear tests. But the situation isn’t as clear as it seems. Wilson was a friend of I Spy star Bill Cosby, according to The Post’s obituary.

Hawaii Five-O, “Trouble In Mind”: Wilson played Eadie Jordan, a singer addicted to heroin. She’s in Hawaii at the same time poison-laced heroin is being circulated. Five-O is trying to find the source of the deadly heroin. The cast included Morton Stevens, composer of the famous Five-O theme, as a musician who dies from poisoned heroin.

The FBI, “The Confession”: Wilson was Darlene Clark, a diva singer. Her manager Abel Norton (Hal Linden) blames her for the death of his son. Norton then kidnaps her daughter. The idea is to force Darlene to publicly confess to a hit-and-run accident years earlier. The cast also included a mustache-less Tom Selleck as an FBI agent.

What critics are saying about Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049 poster

Denis Villeneuve, a potential Bond 25 director, is getting a lot of attention in reviews for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Blade Runner that he helmed.

007 fans are playing a game of “will he or won’t he” regarding Villeneuve, He’s acknowledged being in talks about the next James Bond film while also having other projects on his plate. The Blade Runner 2049 reviews may further boost the interest of Bond fans in Villeneuve.

Blade Runner 2049 currently has a 94 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website that collects reviews.

With that in mind, here are non-spoiler excerpts (focused on Villeneuve) from some reviews.

CHRIS KLIMEK, NPR: “I’m severely restrained in my ability to tell you very much, as the publicity team read to the critics at the screening I attended an appeal from Villeneuve: an exhaustive list of specific characters and plot developments he has kindly asked that we not discuss. I’m complying because he has made a superb movie, one that really is stocked with revelations and counterrevelations worth preserving intact.”

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Like any great movie, Mr. (Ridley) Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ cannot be spoiled. It repays repeated viewing because its mysteries are too deep to be solved and don’t depend on the sequence of events. Mr. Villeneuve’s film, by contrast, is a carefully engineered narrative puzzle, and its power dissipates as the pieces snap into place. As sumptuous and surprising as it is from one scene to the next, it lacks the creative excess, the intriguing opacity and the haunting residue of its predecessor.”

MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: “‘Blade Runner 2049,’ the superb new sequel by Denis Villeneuve (‘Arrival’), doesn’t just honor that (Blade Runner) legacy, but, arguably, surpasses it, with a smart, grimly lyrical script (by [Hampton] Fancher and Michael Green of the top-notch ‘Logan’); bleakly beautiful cinematography (by Roger Deakins); and an even deeper dive into questions of the soul.”

DAVID JENKINS, LITTLE WHITE LIES: “What Villeneuve had presumed in his lightly passive-aggressive memo (asking critics to not include spoilers) is that there would be material in his film that viewers would possess a natural urge to spoil. And yet, to these eyes, there was nothing. This film is little more than a bauble: shiny, hollow and shatters under the slightest pressure. Maybe it’ll be good news for the spoilerphobic among us, but there is little in the film that is actually worth spoiling – at least not without reams of fiddly context and turgid backstory.”

DANA STEVENS, SLATE: “Denis Villeneuve, who made Arrival, Sicario, and Enemy, is a director who enjoys not-fully-solved enigmas, and 2049’s twisty, misdirection-filled story alternates between suspenseful and tediously murky. But Villeneuve is working with the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose mobile yet stately camera provides stunning bird’s-eye perspectives on the bleak urban habitat where these humans and replicants live.”

The stakes for the Wonder Woman movie

Wonder Woman poster

Up until now, the 21st century boom of comic book-based movies has been something of a boys club.

Women super heroes show up as part of groups (The Avengers films, Iron Man II, Captain America: Civil War). But studios haven’t entrusted a woman character to be the unquestioned lead.

That changes early next month with Wonder Woman, with the title character played by Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins.

It’s the latest effort by Warner Bros. to establish its own “cinematic universe” of DC Comics characters. Gadot’s Wonder Woman made her debut in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and was one of the best parts of that often gloomy movie.

Over at Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has been prominent in a number of movies but hasn’t carried one by herself. The studio has a Captain Marvel movie scheduled for 2019.

So for a while, it’s up to Wonder Woman, a character who has been around since the early 1940s. She’s considered one of DC’s “big three” (Batman and Superman being the others), but hasn’t gotten the motion picture treatment the way her other two colleagues have.

The new movie is set during World War I, rather than World War II as in the original comics. Based on trailers and television commercials, it appears Wonder Woman may be lighter in tone than recent Warner Bros./DC films, but that may or may not be misleading.

Some critics are questioning whether Warner Bros. is supporting Wonder Woman enough as her solo film nears.

“Warner Bros. has been weirdly reticent about the marketing campaign for one of the most iconic superheroes in the world,” wrote Donna Dickens in Uproxx.

“So what’s a Wonder Woman fan to do in the face of this deflated balloon noise of a marketing push?” Dickens added. “Be a champion for Diana. Tell your friends the movie comes on June 2, 2017. Buy tickets. Show up. Because right now Warner Bros. is trying — intentionally or not — to bury the Amazon Princess and it’s up to us to make sure they fail.”

The Washington Post this week weighed in on the issue.

“With only weeks remaining until release, more ‘Wonder Woman’ ads should be coming soon regardless,” according to the Post. “Whether you believe the advertising has been plentiful or lacking, one thing hasn’t changed: Many are counting on this movie to bring new life to the future of DC Comics on film.”

So far, the “DC Extended Universe” (or DCEU as its known) have had the kind of box office most other films would love. But they’re expensive undertakings and haven’t gotten the kind of good reviews (and even bigger box office) most Marvel films get.

We’ll see whether Wonder Woman can reverse that trend.

007 meets ‘data-driven’ journalism

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

James Bond, meet “data-driven” journalism.

That term is in vogue these days. It describes journalism that’s more based on data, rather than interviews. Interviews may supplement what the data shows, but the idea is to base stories by analyzing and sifting through data, according to a Wikipedia definition. With data-driven journalism, there’s more of an emphasis on charts to illustrate what the data shows.

On Dec. 7, THE WASHINGTON POST’S WONGBLOG did such a piece on SPECTRE, the new 007 film that begins principal photography on Monday, Dec. 8.

Here’s an excerpt:

There is another James Bond movie in the works, the 24th in the series of gun-slingin’, sex-havin’, Russia-or-whoever-it-is-nowadays-hatin’ flicks to appear on-screen since Sean Connery kicked the whole thing off. But next year’s film, Spectre, features something rarely seen in the Bond world: an age-appropriate co-star.

The so-called “Bond girl,” in this film, is Monica Bellucci, age 50. For a franchise that has been built on the idea that Britain’s most famous spy has no qualms about romantic entanglements with a teenager (Aliza Gur was a teenager while filming “From Russia With Love”), it’s a step forward.

The story, by writer Philip Bump, is accompanied by A CHART showing the different the different Bond actors and how their age varied with their women co-stars.

The story makes it sound as if Bellucci has the primary female part opposite Daniel Craig, 46. Lea Seydoux, 29, also is in the movie and may also be a Bond woman. It’s possible that Craig/Bond might be involved with both. But, of course, nobody really knows outside of the filmmakers. That’s a twist for this example of data-driven journalism.

Bump, in his story, wrote that “some minor love interests (there are so many) may drag the average down. But for now, we’re content with James Bond appearing with the oldest co-star since Maud Adams’ Octopussy.”

The Post’s story isn’t entirely data driven. There’s some commentary. “And let’s just let out a collective ‘ugh’ to that phrase, ‘Bond girl,'” Bump writes at one point.

Nor is this 007’s first encounter with data-driven journalism. On Aug. 13, THE UPSHOT BLOG OF THE NEW YORK TIMES ran a piece how the 007 continuation novels outnumber the Ian Fleming originals. It’s something fans have been aware of for some time but may be new to the general public. The Upshot included the inevitable chart.

The race to do an Edward Snowden movie

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

There’s a race to see who can do an Edward Snowden movie first.

In one corner is Sony Pictures and 007 producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. In the other, according to various stories (including THIS ONE BY THE GUARDIAN) is director Oliver Stone.

Each project is based on separate books about Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked details of NSA surveillance programs to reporters. The Sony-Eon Productions project is based on a book by Glenn Greenwald. The Stone project on a book by Luke Harding.

Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian about Stone’s project. The newspaper may have a bit of a rooting interest.

Stone’s thriller will focus on the experiences of the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency who leaked thousands of classified documents to the former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald back in June 2013. The film is to be produced by Stone’s regular business partner Moritz Borman, with Harding and other Guardian journalists serving as production and story consultants.

“This is one of the greatest stories of our time,” Stone, 67, said in a statement. “A real challenge. I’m glad to have the Guardian working with us.” Stone’s previous films include Platoon, JFK and W. The director has also made documentaries on Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, together with a 2012 TV series, Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.

The Sony-Eon project was announced in May. Greenwald’s work for The Guardian about Snowden earned that newspaper a Pulitzer Prize for public service, which it shared with The Washington Post. The public service Pulitzer is given only to publications, not to particular individuals. Greenwald left The Guardian to start a website called The Intercept.

For now, the question is which project reaches theater screens first. Wilson and Broccoli have been involved in a number of non-Bond movie projects but haven’t had one become reality yet. Separately, Broccoli has been involved as a producer of a documentary (Stolen Childhoods), a made-for-television movie (Crime of the Century) and a public service short film (James Bond Supports International Women’s Day). Broccoli and Wilson together have also been involved in stage productions.

Wilson and Broccoli also have Bond 24, scheduled to start filming this fall for a 2015 release. Can they handle they handle that and get their Snowden project to theaters ahead of Oliver Stone? We’ll see. The Stone movie is supposed to start filming before the end of 2014.

Ian Fleming’s gift to copy editors

For copy editors, a gift that keeps go on giving

The gift that keeps on giving

For copy editors, From Russia, With Love, the title of Ian Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Since the 1957 publication of the book, and its 1963 movie adaptation, From Russia, With Love (with or without comma) has proven irresistible to those who edit copy, lay out pages and write the headlines that accompany stories. Tools of the copy editor’s trade include puns and movie and books titles. They’re ways to grab the attention of readers, to entice the audience to invest their precious time.

As a result, anytime a story concerns anything Russian, copy editors have been known to channel their inner Ian Fleming. A few examples:

— Sports Illustrated, May 6, 2013 issue: The NHL Playoff review includes a feature story about Alex Ovechkin, the Russian-born star of the Washington Capitals professional hockey team. The headline? From Russia With Love.

— The New York Times, MARCH 30, 2003: The paper carries a ballet review written from St. Petersburg, Russia. The headline? From Russia With Love.

— The New York Times, July 4, 2004: The paper carries A TWO-PARAGRAPH LETTER TO THE EDITOR complaining about a monument on the Jersey City waterfront. The headline? From Russia With Love: A Teardrop Memorial.

— The Washington Post, July 27, 2008: The paper has a story about NASTIA LIUKIN, A RUSSIAN-BORN GYMNAST COMPETING FOR THE U.S. The headline? From Russia With Love.

— The Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2006: The paper has a story about “resplendent Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky” performing in Washington. The headline? From Russia With Love and Patriotism.

— Time magazine, Dec. 6, 2010: The publication has a story about a scandal involving a Russian-born aide to a member of Parliament. The headline? From Russia With Love: Could a British Aide Have Been a Spy? Double bonus: it carries a publicity still of Daniel Craig from Casino Royale.