1991: A NYT writer revisits the literary 007

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

While researching another topic, the blog stumbled on a 1991 New York Times Magazine article, “Demigods Aren’t Forever.”

The writer, William Grimes, was born in 1950 and discovered Bond in the early 1960s when Ian Fleming’s novels became a big deal in the U.S. thanks to President John F. Kennedy.

As it turns out, the article is part of the “James Bond is washed up” genre. Grimes also writes about Cambridge (a film reference), rather than Eton and Fettes College.

Still some passages caught the blog’s eye.

Discovering 007

For me, 1963 was the year of Bond. The timing was perfect. I was 13, and Ian Fleming’s slender thrillers had become a national sensation after J.F.K. pronounced “From Russia, With Love” one of his 10 favorite books. On top of that, Sean Connery had just made his first appearance as the British spy in “Dr. No,” and more films were on the way. This cultural ferment helped redefine my goals. Before 1963, I wanted to be my father. After 1963, I wanted to be Bond.

Preference for the literary Bond over the cinema 007

Bond moved easily and masterfully through all situations because he knew things. That was the appeal. Even at 13, the sexual repartee so prominent in the Bond movies seemed a little bogus to me. …In my mind, Bond was a suave intellectual who could slice through life’s difficulties with the ruthless efficiency of Oddjob’s hat.

Living like Bond is harder than it looks

On a pleasant spring evening (during a trip to France), I entered a bistro and, although the place was empty, was immediately shown to the worst table in the place. Fine, all part of the game — advantage France. As Bond Man, I would watch the waiter’s contumely shade into dismay at my effortless French, grudging respect at my daring yet perfect menu selections and frank admiration at my handling of the wine list.

None of this came to pass. Tension caused my French to falter. The waiter merely shrugged at the food order, as though to say, it’s your money, do what you want with it. Ditto the wine.

Disillusionment

Recently I reread most of the Bond books. The casino action held up pretty well. And so did the driving, which I could now, as an actual driver, analyze with a critical eye. But Bond — the Bond of the books much more than the movies — turned out to be not quite as smooth as I remembered. His taste in food runs to enormous slabs of steak and giant lobsters… On wine matters, he patently bluffs. He apparently knows nothing about literature, music or art. The Bond bookshelf contains nothing weightier than Ben Hogan’s “Modern Fundamentals of Golf…The superspy had gotten old, stale. He was no longer up to the job. The time had come to retire 007.

Obviously, your mileage (especially if you’re busy reading the newest 007 continuation novel, Forever and a Day) may vary.

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