Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

MGM may push for a Best Picture nom for NTTD

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer may promote a Best Picture Oscar nomination for No Time to Die, according to a newsletter by a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

An edition of the newsletter this week outlines various MGM Oscar hopefuls. “And don’t forget No Time to Die, Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie, which I’m told will get a best picture push a la the final Lord of the Rings,” wrote Matthew Belloni, who left THR last year. He is now part of a digital media startup.

A screen capture from the newsletter showed up on the James Bond Facebook group alt.fan.james-bond. Belloni verified on Twitter he had written on the subject of MGM’s Oscar hopefuls.

The Bond series has won five Oscars: sound (Goldfinger), special effects (Thunderball) another sound-related award (Skyfall in a tie with Zero Dark Thirty) and two for best song (Skyfall and SPECTRE). It has had other nominations, including for best song (multiple times), cinematography (Skyfall), art direction (The Spy Who Loved Me) and best score (The Spy Who Loved Me and Skyfall).

Starting with 2009-released films, the Oscars permitted as many as 10 Best Picture nominees, up from five previously. The idea was to make it easier for popular films to be among the nominated movies.

MGM is in the process of being purchased by Amazon.

Nikki van der Zyl, voice of Bond women, dies

Nikki van der Zyl (1935-2021)

Nikki van der Zyl, a German-born actress who provided the voice for various Bond women characters, has died at 85, Her death was disclosed on Twitter by The Bond Bulletin.

Van der Zyl was used to dub over, among others, Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Eunice Gayson in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and Claudine Auger in Thunderball. She worked on various Bond films through Moonraker.

In addition, van der Zyl acted as a dialogue coach for Gert Frobe (who ended up dubbed by Michael Collins) in Goldfinger.

Being a voice actor “is technically exacting work,” van der Zyl said in a 2015 story in The Independent. “The art of such acting is often much overlooked. You have to have to pay attention to the physical appearance of the person to ensure the character has an appropriate voice and actors speak with a blend of dialects, making it quite a challenge matching your speech to their lip movements.”

In a 2015 interview with James Bond Radio, van der Zyl said Goldfinger was her favorite Bond film because she was on the set and present throughout the film because of working with Frobe. “I feel more close to that film than the others.”

Here is the James Bond Radio interview. Van der Zyl appears beginning around the 13:25 mark.

And here is a 2013 video in The New York Times Magazine showing van der Zyl reading some of the same lines she spoke in Dr. No.

If Bond villains had social media accounts

Ian Fleming likely would not image social media, much less how people send out social media posts and videos *while they are committing crimes.* So what would happen if Bond villains used their social media accounts while executing their plots?

@EmiloLargoSPECTRE: Somebody tried to demand more than double what we agreed to pay! I showed him.

@EmiloLargoSPECTRE: This is the high point of my day. What could possibly go wrong? (NOTE: Last entry in account)

@ErnstStavroBlofeldSPECTRE: Feeding my pet fish at the end of a hard day helps relax me.

James Bond, the Doctor Who fan

Thunderball poster in 1965

As it turns out, James Bond was a bit of a Doctor Who fan.

The Writing Bond feed on Twitter (@BondWriting) posted a Sept. 19 tweet with an image from the script of Thunderball dated Jan. 19, 1965.

The image is from the scene where Bond (Sean Connery) returns to MI6 and goes to M’s office. Moneypenny tells Bond that M isn’t in the office and that every 00-agent in Europe has been rushed in and are in the conference room.

In this version of the script, Bond replies: “The Daleks have taken over!”

The Daleks (per Wikipedia) are ” a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants principally portrayed in the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who. The Daleks were conceived by science-fiction writer Terry Nation and first appeared in the 1963 Doctor Who serial The Daleks, in the shells designed by Raymond Cusick.”

Admittedly, this slipped by me at the time I first read the script years ago. So I consulted my copy of the 1965 Thunderball script.

On that copy, the Bond-Moneypenny exchange is dated March 3, 1965. But the Daleks line from Bond is still there.

In the final film, Connery’s line appears to be dubbed and becomes, “Somebody’s probably lost a dog!” Look around the 0:14 mark of the clip below.

The Thunderball script is credited to American writer Richard Maibaum and English writer John Hopkins. My guess (and it’s only that) is that Hopkins supplied the Dalek reference.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Peter Lamont, 007 art department mainstay, dies

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of 18 James Bond films, has died. He was 91.

Reuben Wakeman, a Bond collector, in response to an inquiry by me, said on Twitter he had been informed directly by Gareth Owen of Bondstars LLP, who was also a friend of Lamont’s. Owen also assisted Roger Moore on his memoirs.

Lamont began on the Bond series as a draftsman on 1964’s Goldfinger.

One of his first assignments was to make blueprints for the Ken Adam-designed replica of the exterior of Fort Knox’s depository building.

“There were no measurements, just odd bits of information from the little bits of paperwork that Fort Knox” provided to Adam, Lamont said in the home video documentary Designing Bond: Peter Lamont.

He rose through the ranks to become a set decorator, art director and, beginning with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only as production designer.

“I never got bored of the Bond films,” Lamont said in a special issue of MI6 Confidential magazine in 2019.

“They’re fun, action-packaged adventures, they’ll offer challenges for even the most experienced filmmakers and they never take themselves too seriously.” The issue provided Lamont commentary about working on the last film in his career, 2006’s Casino Royale.

Octopussy set

A Peter Lamont-designed set in Octopussy

Working on Bond films also provided Lamont with other surprises.

“I was sitting in the office one day and the phone went,” Lamont said for the 1995 home video documentary The Thunderball Phenomenon. “A voice said he was Captain So-and-So from the Royal Engineers and did I know anything about Thunderball.”

The inquiry concerned a supposed miniature underwater breathing device used by Sean Connery in the 1965 film. The caller wanted to know how much of an air supply it had.

“‘I can tell you exactly,'” Lamont said, recalling the conversation. “‘As long as you can hold your breath.’ I can imagine this poor fellow going white.”

Lamont was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for 1998’s Titantic, directed by James Cameron. That movie caused him to step aside as production designer for the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Lamont also was nominated for another three BAFTA awards.

Martin Campbell, director of GoldenEye and Casino Royale, praised Lamont in a forward to the 2019 MI6 Confidential issue.

“Peter designed both my Bond films and made my life so simple,” Campbell wrote. “I loved his concepts and, apart from maybe a few technical adjustments, I left him alone.”

The art department of the Bond series was a family affair for Lamont. His younger brother, Michael (who died in 2007), also worked on the series as did his son, Neil.

Peter Lamont’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists credits going back to 1950.

UPDATE (11:47 a.m., New York time): Eon Productions put out a statement on social media.

UPDATE II ( 4:40 p.m. New York time): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out a tribute to Peter Lamont:

TCM to televise Connery tribute Nov. 25

TCM, the U.S. movie channel, said on social media it will show an evening of Sean Connery films on Nov. 25.

The channel will start off at 8 p.m. eastern time with Thunderball, followed by You Only Live Twice at 10:15 p.m.

In a way, that’s appropriate. Connery’s fourth and fifth films for Eon Productions would be shown a number of times as a double feature before the Bond films were broadcast on television.

After that, TCM will televise Marnie, the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock film with Connery at 12:45 a.m., Nov. 26. The Hill, Connery’s first pairing with director Sidney Lumet, will be shown at 3:15 a.m. and The Man Who Would Be King, directed by John Huston, will be telecast at 5:30 a.m.

Connery died last month at the age of 90. TCM already has put out a short tribute video.

Sean Connery, an appreciation

Sean Connery in Thundereball (1965), the apex of the 1960s spy craze

For those of us who were in on the ground floor of the 1960s spy craze, the last decade has been pretty rough.

Actors who were leads in multiple TV shows and movies have passed away during that time.

But the passing this weekend of Sean Connery (1930-2020) was the big one. Connery’s early film performances as James Bond provided the foundation for the spy craze.

You had to be there to appreciate it.

At the dawn of the 1960s, the U.S. had a new president. One of his 10 favorite books was Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. Suddenly, it was a new world.

Bond made his film debut in 1962 (in the U.K., at least). Not long before he was assassinated in November 1963, John F. Kennedy viewed From Russia With Love in the White House, according to a tweet by prominent historian Michael Beschloss.

From Russia With Love was early days for Connery’s Bond career. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice were even bigger film adventures.

Connery, as Bond, was a worldwide phenomenon. Still, for him, it was the early stages of a career that extended decades.

Connery was one of the biggest film stars of the 20th century. Yet, the actor wasn’t afraid to make quirky choices such as Robin and Marian (a re-telling of the Robin Hood story), The Offence, Zardoz, and Time Bandits.

Eventually, Connery came out with his own take on Bond with Never Say Never Again, the 007 film not made by Eon Productions. Personally, I find it uneven. But Connery made the movie on his own terms.

This weekend, millions of people around the globe are in mourning. That’s understandable. The worldwide audience has lost one of its most memorable and durable performers.

Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering a remarkable actor and the work he has left behind.

Earl Cameron dies at 102

Earl Cameron

Earl Cameron, who had a supporting role in Thunderball, has died at 102, according to The Royal Gazette.

The Bermuda-born Cameron ” was one of the first black performers to break into mainstream British entertainment,” the publication said.

In Thunderball Cameron’s Pinder was “our man here” in Nassau, as James Bond (Sean Connery) referred to him while introducing the operative to CIA agent Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter).

Among other things, Pinder arranged for a power blackout at the estate of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo so Bond could attempt to rescue another agent, Paula (Martine Beswick) there. By the time Bond arrives, Paula has committed suicide with a poison pill.

Cameron also appeared in a number of episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent in different roles.

His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 90 acting credits from the early 1950s to as recently as 2013. One of his most recent credits included a part in 2010’s Inception.

h/t MI6 James Bond website for the heads up.