Jack Whittingham’s daughter talks about her father

Cover to The Thunderball Story

Sylvan Whittingham Mason, daughter of screenwriter Jack Whittingham, discused her father and her limited-edition book, The Thunderball Story in an interview with the blog.

Jack Whittingham (1910-1972) was hired to pen a script while Kevin McClory collaborated with 007 creator Ian Fleming to try to launch a James Bond film in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

That initial effort faltered, but was the heart of a 1960s court case that would have an impact on the cinematic 007 for decades.

McClory would gain the film rights to Fleming’s Thunderball novel, written by Fleming after the film project ended. McClory would work in partnership with Eon Productions for 1965’s Thunderball. He’d try to compete with Eon with projects based on his Thunderball film rights. One emerged (1983’s Never Say Never Again) while nothing came of other attempts.

The interview was conducted by email. Some of the answers were edited for length. Thanks to Shane Whaley of the Spybrary podcast and Facebook page for making introductions for the interview.

UPDATE 3:45 p.m. New York time: Readers of the blog have advised the book isn’t available in the United States.

UPDATE 5:45 p.m. New York time: Sylvan Whittingham Mason advises the book can be ordered in the U.S. CLICK HERE for the Kindle version.

SPY COMMAND: Just how did your father come to be involved in the late 1950s/very early 1960s film project?

SYLVAN WHITTINGHAM MASON: In 1959, My father was a writer for hire, having just left Ealing studios to go free-lance, where he had been been part of the Ealing team, and had been writing screenplays for 14 years. Kevin McClory was looking for an experienced screenwriter to work with Ian Fleming on a James Bond movie, and approached MCA agent, Bob Fenn who suggested my father.

SC: How did your father come to be the forgotten man of Thunderball?

SWM: My father was at the height of his career; he had a six bedroom house in a leafy Surrey stockbroker belt, and two children in private education.

However, sometime after proceeding with Kevin McClory as co-plaintiff against (Ian) Fleming and (Fleming friend Ivar) Bryce, and watching the case mushroom out of all proportion, he realised that Kevin, (who had Bobo Sigrist’s Hawker Siddeley fortune behind him should he fail,) had everything to gain but nothing to lose. My father, who had no one backing him, had nothing to gain and everything to lose as he had been paid for the original screenplay and had transferred his rights (of whatsoever nature) to Kevin.

He stepped down as co-plaintiff and became principal witness supporting Kevin completely for the remainder of the proceedings, thus reducing the risk of bearing the potentially enormous cost of a case that could be of no financial compensation to him should they lose.

His own case against Fleming for professional damages and false attribution, etc. was scuppered when Fleming’s final heart attack put an end to it.

SC: The Thunderball affair has been examined in detail, including The Battle for Bond by Robert Sellers. What will readers learn with this new book?

SWM: There are some new quotes and several photographs that have not been widely seen before, but most of the information, as you rightly say, came from ‘The Battle For Bond,’ in which the information for that book (regarding my father and Kevin,) originally came from me, as I hold a complete set of both plaintiff’s court case papers, and so was able to provide absolutely accurate source material to my esteemed friend Robert Sellers.

However, my aim with this small book was to present my father’s enormous contribution to the 007 phenomenon in a simple, concise way that, not just the serious James Bond aficionado who is happy to trawl through some 400 pages of small writing in ‘The Battle For Bond’ could enjoy, but for everybody who finds it hard to grasp this somewhat complex tale.

I have been asked so many times to explain what happened. I always start off by saying, “I’ll try and keep this as brief as I can.” Before I am half way through the story, eyes start to glaze over, and very few people actually “get” that Ian Fleming did not write the THUNDERBALL novel or the THUNDERBALL screenplay, and the character of Bond in his books was not the same character that appeared in the films, though he did bear the same name. One of my closest friends remarked recently after reading my book, “At last I see clearly exactly what happened!”
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SC: What would you say your father contributed to Thunderball?

SWM: My father contributed a screenplay that catapulted a popular set of seven well (but not brilliantly) written books with a rather stuffy Bond character who wore pin striped suits, carried an umbrella and drove a Bentley, and who was somewhat lacking in charm or charisma, into the raised eyebrow, charismatic, charming, suave, tongue in cheek, superstar character we know and love today.

Screenplay title card for Thunderball (1965) that references Jack Whittingham’s earlier script

His professionally written screenplay was the pivot between the books being turned down by all the film studios for being too misogynistic, violent and unbelievable, and a film project that had the top movie makers queuing up.

This very first screenplay was plagiarized on 105 pages in Fleming’s novel of Thunderball, and was the basis for that book and for the final screenplay that emerged from the book that was based on the first screenplay.

Without my father’s first screenplay, it is entirely possible that the film James Bond phenomenon as we know it today might never have taken off at all and would probably have never progressed further than the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.

Jack Whittingham’s daughter publishes a Thunderball book

Cover to The Thunderball Story

Sylvan Whittingham Mason, daughter of screenwriter Jack Whittingham, has published a book about her father’s work on what would become Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film.

The book, which is available on Amazon, is titled The Thunderball Story: The Untold History of the First James Bond Screenplay. Here’s the description on Amazon:

“The story is the most fascinating and controversial in the entire history of James Bond. It began way back in 1958 when maverick Irish producer, Kevin McClory collaborated with 007 creator Ian Fleming and screenwriter, Jack Whittingham on a screenplay that was eventually entitled ‘THUNDERBALL’.” (Robert Sellers – “The Battle for Bond”) Jack Whittingham’s daughter, Sylvan – one of the few people left alive still alive from that time – provides an unique and personal insight into the untold history of the very first James Bond screenplay.

Jack Whittingham (1910-1972) doesn’t get as much attention as the other players in the Thunderball saga. Kevin McClory took on Ian Fleming in court and eventually received the film rights to the novel. An attribution would be added to the book that it was based on a story by McClory, Whittingham and Fleming.

McClory cut a deal with Eon Productions and Thunderball became the fourth film in the Eon series. McClory in the 1970s battled Eon in court as well amid attempts to make a new film based on the novel. Eventually, Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake, was released in 1983.

Some collectors have a copy of an early 1960 draft by Whittingham for McClory. At that point the title was Longitude 78 West. In that script, the villains, led by Largo, belong to the Mafia. Other scripts would be written before the McClory project ran aground. Fleming would use the work as the basis for his Thunderball novel and the legal fights began after it was published. Writer Robert Sellers’s book The Battle for Bond covered that history. (You can CLICK HERE to view a 2015 interview the blog did with Sellers.)

The Thunderball Story is priced at 16.99 British pounds. For more information, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE OCT. 27: The original Amazon description was changed from saying Sylvan Whittingham Mason was “the only person still alive from that time” to saying she was “one of the few people left alive still alive from that time.” So the post has been edited today, Oct. 27, to reflect that. See a comment from another Whittingham below.

1960s meme: The irresistible hero

Publicity still for Dr. No that established James Bond was irresistible to women.

A recurring meme of 1960s entertainment — greatly aided by the James Bond film series — was the hero so irresistible to women they couldn’t keep away.

By the end of the decade, it was so prevalent, it came up on all sorts in places. What follows are some examples — both obvious and one not so obvious. (And no, it’s not a comprehensive list.)

Sean Connery as James Bond (of course): In his first scene in his first movie (Dr. No), the Connery Bond already has the attention of Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) while at a casino. She surprises him at his flat wearing nothing but his pajama top.

Over the course of Connery’s 1960s run, even small-part characters show their appreciation. In both Dr. No and Thunderball, women hotel clerks eye Bond as he walks away.

Film editor Peter Hunt, years later (for the “banned” Criterion commentaries), said Connery  “was really a very sexy man” and that the few stars of his appeal “virtually can walk into a room and f*** anybody.”

Certainly, that’s the way director Terence Young, followed by Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert, staged it with Connery in the part. The success of the 007 films would soon be felt elsewhere.

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was pitched to network executives as “James Bond for television.” Ian Fleming, 007’s creator, was involved for a time, though not many of his ideas made it to the final product.

Vaughn’s Solo was the obvious Bondian figure (although the blog has argued before there are key differences, including Solo having more of a moral streak).

But McCallum’s Illya also proved irresistible to the oppose sex. That included two first-season episodes where the female lead (played by McCallum’s then-wife Jill Ireland) decides Illya is the U.N.C.L.E. agent for her.

Another first-season installment included Susan Oliver as a woman whose uncle has been killed by his pet dog as part of an extortion plot. The Oliver character asks Illya if he is present “to bodyguard me? Uh, should I say guard my body?” In the final scene, they’re walking arm in arm.

Robert Conrad as James West: The Wild Wild West was pitched to network executives as “James Bond and cowboys.” So CBS aired the adventures of James West and U.S. Secret Service partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

West drew the attention of women, especially those working for his opponents. In the first Dr. Loveless episode, West wins over Loveless’ female assistant (Leslie Parrish). She helps him escape, enabling the agent to stop Loveless’ plot.

The producers also took advantage of Conrad’s chiseled physique, so there are a number of episodes where West appears shirtless.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett: In the first season of Hawaii Five-O, McGarrett, too, was intended to draw the attention of women. In the pilot, a graduate student (Nancy Kwan) falls for the lawman after being questioned about what she knows concerning the death of a U.S. intelligence agent.

Later in the first season, the girlfriends of two suspects in a complicated kidnapping case ogle McGarrett as he walks away. And in the two-parter Once Upon a Time, a woman medical quack (Joanne Linville) gets the hots for the Big Kahuna. So does a woman records clerk who helps McGarrett do research.

This sort of thing faded away in future seasons, although there would be occasional episodes where McGarrett became involved with a woman.

Robert Stack as Dan Farrell: At this point readers are wondering if this post has gone off the rails. But bear with us for a moment.

Dan Farrell (Robert Stack) busy researching a story for Crime magazine.

The Name of the Game was a 1968-71 series with three rotating leads: Stack, Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry. It concerned a magazine publishing empire run by Glenn Howard (Barry).

Stack’s Dan Farrell worked at Crime magazine. A first-season stack episode, Swingers Only, reflects how the irresistible hero meme could surface where you didn’t expect it.

A friend of Farrell’s (who’s also a staffer at Crime magazine) has been arrested for the murder of a young women he was having an affair with. Farrell looks into the situation. He has to check out Los Angeles’ “swingers” culture to do it.

The intrepid journalist shows up at a “swingers” pool party to talk to someone. The party is already getting out of control. A ping pong table is thrown into the pool.  A bikini-clad woman quickly gets out of the pool. “Hi! Do you belong to somebody?” She’s quickly disappointed when Farrell says he’s working. She still is making eyes at him as he walks away.

Later, Farrell visits another woman (Nancy Kovack) to follow up a lead. She grabs Farrell and begins making out with him. Farrell, though, keeps his cool. She’s lying to him and he knows it.

Eventually, Farrell gets into a bar fight following up another lead. Later, he solves the case (his friend didn’t do it) and writes a cover story for Crime. All in a day’s work.

About that 500-day countdown to Bond 25

Sean Connery in a publicity still for Goldfinger.

Earlier today, some 007-related Twitter accounts began the 500-day countdown to Bond 25’s Feb. 14, 2020 release date. Among them: the Twitter feed of the MI6 James Bond website and @Bond25Film, which provides Bond 25 updates.

This got the blog to thinking: How did the 500-day mark translate to the earliest days of the 007 film franchise, when installments were made more often? To get the dates, the blog simply used Google.

Dr. No: It debuted on Oct. 5, 1962 in the U.K. Five hundred days before that was May 23, 1961. Richard Maibaum delivered his first draft script — for Thunderball — on Aug. 18, 1961. That would be shelved to make Dr. No instead.

From Russia With Love: Its premiere was Oct. 10, 1963. Five hundred days before that date was May 28, 1962. Dr. No was in post-production. Ian Fleming celebrated his 54th birthday.

Goldfinger: Its debut was Sept. 17, 1964. Five hundred days before that date was May 6, 1963. From Russia With Love was still in production.

Thunderball: Its earliest premiere was Dec. 9, 1965, according to IMDB.COM. Five hundred days before that date was July 27, 1964. Goldfinger was in post-production.

Of course, that was a different era, Bond films are more elaborate to make today, etc., etc., etc.

Still, once upon a time, nobody got excited it was a mere 500 days before a James Bond film came out. Such is life.

UPDATE (4:45 p.m., Oct. 3, New York time): Out of curiosity, the blog looked up what was going on 500 days before the July 7, 1977 premiere of The Spy Who Loved Me. That movie was affected by the breakup of the partnership between Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. That date was Feb. 23, 1976. The Spy Who Loved Me was in pre-production and would be filming later that year.

Less obvious ways of celebrating Global James Bond Day

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Friday is Global James Bond Day, the event that was invented six years ago for the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Dr. No.

There are obvious ways to mark the day, namely watch a Bond film or films, read a James Bond novel, etc.

What follows are some less obvious ways. They involve offerings available on home video with significant 007 connections.

–Watch selected episodes of Hawaii Five-O (1968-80): Series star Jack Lord was the original Felix Leiter in Dr. No. So any episode begins with that. But these episodes have additional Bond ties.

The Year of the Horse (11th season). George Lazenby, a decade removed from his only performance as Bond, gets “special guest star” billing. He’s actually the secondary villain. His character also is considerably scruffier than Bond. But, hey, it’s a pretty major tie to the Bond series. The episode was filmed in Singapore.

Deep Cover (10th season). Maud Adams made her Five-O appearance inbetween her two 007 films, The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy. Here, she’s the leader of a spy ring that’s up to no good. She’s quite convincing ordering people to die.

George Lazenby in Hawaii Five-O’s The Year of the Horse.

My Friend, the Enemy (10th season). Luciana Paluzzi plays an Italian journalist who complicates things for McGarrett (Lord) in a kidnapping case involving international intrigue. This wasn’t the first time Paluzzi was paired with Lord. They acted together more than a decade earlier in an episode of 12 O’Clock High.

Episodes with Soon-Tek Oh. The late actor was in eight episodes, including the pilot. Recommended would be The Jinn Who Clears the Way (fifth season). It’s one of the Wo Fat episodes and his character is a “young Maoist” who’s being manipulated by Wo Fat. It also has a shock ending.

–Watch selected episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The 1964-68 series also has performers who’d play major Bond roles before their 007 appearances.

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair. Luciana Paluzzi figures in here. She plays Angela, an operative for Thrush who can be pretty cold blooded.

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy.

To Trap a Spy is an expanded version of the show’s pilot released as a movie. Paluzzi and star Robert Vaughn filmed additional footage after production of the pilot was completed. The thing is, Angela is a dry run for Paluzzi. The character is extremely similar to Fiona, the SPECTRE assassin she’d play in Thunderball.

The Four-Steps Affair is a first-season episode. It takes extra footage used to lengthen the running times of the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (The Spy With My Face was the other) and combined it with with new material to make a television episode. Obvious difference: Angela sleeps with Solo (Vaughn) in Trap a Spy but doesn’t in The Four-Steps Affair.

The Five Daughters Affair/The Karate Killers (third season). The Five Daughters Affair was a two-part story that was expanded into a feature film for the international market.

At the start, a fleet of mini-helicopters attack Solo and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). This was made after You Only Live Twice but before the 1967 007 film (which included mini-copter Little Nellie) arrived in theaters.

What’s more, the cast includes Telly Savalas and Curt Jurgens in supporting roles. Neither is a villain, though (as they would be in Bond films). The villain is played by Herbert Lom.

Meanwhile, I am aware of episodes of the Roger Moore version of The Saint with David Hedison and Lois Maxwell. I just don’t own copies. The Hedison episode has an especially cute ending.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m. New York time): I got “mansplained” that Danger Man/Secret Agent has Bond actors in it also. Besides the actors this reader named (Bernard Lee and Desmond Llewelyn), there’s also Earl Cameron. Also, John Glen edited a number of episodes.

You could also extend that to The Prisoner, the other major Patrick McGoohan series. Guy Doleman, who played Count Lippe in Thunderball, was Number Two in the episode titled Arrival.

And while we’re at it, I could also mention Donald Pleasance was in Part II of Hawaii Five-O’s The Ninety-Second War. He’s a German scientist who began working for the U.S. with the end of World War II who’s being blackmailed by Wo Fat.

I could also add The Avengers (Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, many character actors and crew members) and various Gerry Anderson shows (Derek Meddings special effects, Shane Rimmer), but I’m not. These are blog posts, not books.

The blog’s list of (really) non-spoilers

The movie came out in 1941. By any reasonable standard, it should be OK to talk about the ending. That’s especially true in this case. It was a joke on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and an Iron Man comic book in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

The blog was reminded while publishing a post about spoiler sensitivity. It’s a subject the blog has written about a number of times including HERE, HERE, and HERE.

In THIS 2011 POST, a reader yelped that a “spoiler alert” should be tagged with a spoiler alert about a movie that had come out years before (seven years at the time of the post, 14 years ago now).

I ended up doing that, but regretted it later. Spoilers should have a sell-by date. But spoiler extremists insist on spoiler alerts on everything, no matter how long ago the film or TV show came out. By that standard, it’s never OK to talk about any movie, now matter how old.

Spoiler police: “That’s a spoiler! You’re spoiling it for the 19-year-old who’s never seen The Great Train Robbery!”

If you suspect the blog is kidding with this example you’d be right. Still, The Great Train Robbery (1903) is considered a major example of early cinema, including the ending above. But if we take the position of the spoiler police to its logical conclusion, the ending would be forbidden to talk about.

More recently, but still back in the “old days,” trailers often gave away the best bits. Example: Trailers for The Spy Who Loved Me showing the ski jump Rick Sylvester performed while doubling for Roger Moore.

For that matter, sometimes soundtracks — which came out before the movie —  had track titles beginning with “Death of” followed by a character name. See the soundtracks for From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice for examples.

At that time, if you were disappointed about a spoiler, you sucked it up. You manned up and moved on. Today, it’s the source of complaining, complaining and more complaining.

I understand the concern about spoilers. You should be considerate, especially before and during a movie’s release. But I do think some people complain too much about them.

The idea of a forever ban on spoilers isn’t reasonable. Nineteen-year-olds have plenty of chances to catch up on classic movies without a gag order on the rest of us. And some members of the spoiler police define a spoiler as saying anything about a film.

So, with that in mind, here’s the blog list of not-really spoilers (but may offend the spoiler police).

Classic Movies

–Rosebud is the sled.
–Rhett breaks up with Scarlett.
–Ranse really didn’t kill Liberty Valance. Though I’m told some film analysts actually debate this point because it’s in a flashback. (Actually a flashback within a flashback, to be precise.)
–Shane decides to ride off.
–“Nobody’s perfect!”
–“WTF just happened?” (audiences at 2001: A Space Odyssey)
–Lawrence went home after the war, shaken and disturbed.
–“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille!”

Genre Movies
–Harry still had a bullet left.
–The money got incinerated.
–The castle blows up.
–The lead character was really dead all this time. (multiple movies)
–Rock lost one leg, but is still alive even if most of his officers aren’t.
–Iron Man wins.
–Captain America wins.
–Batman wins.

James Bond Movies
–Bond wins (multiple films).
–Tracy dies.
–Vesper dies.
–Quarrel dies.
–Fiona dies.
–Aki dies.
–Tilly dies.
–Jill dies.
–Vijay dies.
–Kerim dies.
–Paula dies.
–Plenty dies.
–Scaramanga dies.
–Oddjob dies.
–Goldfinger dies.
–Largo dies.
–Dr. No dies.
–Klebb dies.
–Q gets a laugh from the audience showing Bond a gadget (multiple films).
–Q gets annoyed at Bond. (multiple films)
–Bond has sex with women characters (multiple films).
–Bond flirts with Moneypenny (multiple films).
…..There are many more, but you get the idea.

007 collectibles then and now: From kids to old guys

James Bond lunchbox seen around U.S. school yards, circa 1965-66

In the mid-1960s, there was no doubt. James Bond — suave ladies man with a license to kill — was being marketed to American school children.

Gilbert marketed a series of James Bond figures that included backgrounds based on the 007 films produced by Eon Productions.

Among the figures:

–James Bond being menaced by Goldfinger’s laser beam. Or, as it was phrased on a home video extra, the “most famous near castration in cinema history.”

–M’s desk with a sheet of bullet-resistant glass that came up from the desk, presumably based on Ian Fleming’s final 007 novel, The Man With the Golden Gun, where bullet-resistant glass came down from the ceiling.

–A small model of Dr. No’s “dragon,” a small figure of the Disco Volante from Thunderball.

Some of the 007 Gilbert figures

I know this because I had that Gilbert set. My late father explained the significance of the bullet-resistance glass in M’s desk and how it worked in the novels. The set didn’t survive my childhood. Kids, after all, tend to be destructive when it comes to toys.

There was also, during this time, a James Bond lunch box. I never had that. But I saw it in school.

Almost 60 years later, things have changed. New 007 collectibles aren’t really aimed at kids. They’re intended for middle-aged (or older) men who have enough money to afford them.

The newest example will debut officially later month — a Lego Aston Martin DB5. It’s to be unveiled at a July 18 event at a Lego store in London. Images have leaked out and it may sell for about $170.

People have told me via social media that, of course, Bond can’t be aimed at kids. Bond, after all, has that license to kill and there’s no way it could ever, ever be marketed to young audiences.

Except, of course, it once was. But that’s how it goes.

All this may reflect the aging of the Bond audience. The people most likely to plunk down $170 (or whatever the price ends up being for a Lego Aston Martin DB5) are men in their 50s and 60s with some disposable income.

In any event, things rarely stay the same.