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.”

1966: Nancy Sinatra’s first spy craze entry

Poster for The Last of the Secret Agents?

These days, Nancy Sinatra, from a spy craze perspective, is best remembered for performing the title song of the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

As it turns out, she had been at it for a while.

A year earlier, she performed the title song of the 1966 comedy The Last of the Secret Agents? She also appeared in the movie with a less than convincing French accent.

The Last of the Secret Agents? featured the then-popular comedy team of Marty Allen and Steve Rossi. Allen’s hair was teased (or something) so it went out in all directions. Allen was buggy eyed. His catchphrase was, “Hello dere!” Rossi, by comparison was classically handsome. The team, obviously sought to create a visual contrast.

In the film, our heroes are recruited to assist a top secret intelligence agency. (Of course.)

Along the way, Nancy Sinatra performs the title song. But she also acts (I use that term advisedly) as a young French woman.

The crew included director Norman Abbott (who helmed a number of episodes of The Munsters TV series) and costume designer Edith Head (?!).

If you’re really interested, you can see a version of the movie below.

Before you go there, remember this: “Hello dere!”

William P. Cartlidge, crew member on 3 Bonds, dies

William P. Cartlidge (1942-2021)

William P. Cartlidge, a key crew member on three James Bond films directed by Lewis Gilbert, has died at 78, His death was noted by the “Sir Roger Moore (Legacy)” Twitter account maintained by the assistant of the late actor.

Cartlidge was assistant director on You Only Live Twice (1967) and associate producer on The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979).

Cartlidge was an entertaining presence on the home video documentaries about the making of those Bond films. For example, he described how many cars were needed to make the submarine car sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me work. In some cases, one car was needed to capture just one shot.

Also, in another video, Cartlidge described how he attempted to talk down the price of the stunt crew. It didn’t work. In all of those videos, he tells his anecdotes in an entertaining way.

Titles on films and TV shows often don’t describe a crew member’s full contributions. In the case of three Bond films he worked, Cartlidge assisted sprawling productions get completed.

According to Cartlidge’s IMDB.COM ENTRY, his other credits included such diverse projects as the Gilbert-directed Educating Rita (as co-producer) and Not Quite Paradise (sharing the producer credit with Gilbert).

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.

You Only Live Twice’s mysterious credit redux

You Only Live Twice promotional art

Back in 2009, the blog wrote about writer Harold Jack Bloom, the first screenwriter hired for You Only Live Twice.

After all these years, Bloom remains a mysterious figure in the Bond film series. He was an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for The Naked Spur, a 1953 Western film starring James Stewart. But books about the James Bond films gloss that over.

For example, the book Some Kind of Hero mentions Bloom wrote an episode of a television series produced by Harry Saltzman. That book says Bloom “took over writing chores” while retaining elements of a treatment written by Sydney Boehm, himself an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

How did Bloom get involved with Bond? He had a successful career. The Naked Spur put him on the map but he ended up mostly writing for television. He wrote scripts for westerns, crime dramas and medical dramas. However, he didn’t write a lot of spy stories.

The main exception to that was the second episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Iowa-Scuba Affair. The show’s day-to-day producer was Sam Rolfe, who all but created U.N.C.L.E. and had been Bloom’s collaborator on The Naked Spur.

The written history of You Only Live Twice is pretty sketchy. Bloom accompanied key production members to Japan. Then, for whatever reason, he was gone. In came Roald Dahl, an accomplished writer but who had little experience writing TV and film scripts.

Dahl was a pretty colorful character. In the 1960s, a BBC special about the making of You Only Live Twice featured Dahl prominently. Harold Jack Bloom? He was yesterday’s news.

Strictly a guess, but it seems likely Bloom got the job on the basis of his U.N.C.L.E. script. In the 21st century, it’s unlikely that Eon Productions would admit that. Albert R. Broccoli took shots at U.N.C.L.E. in his autobiography.

When legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Now and forever, Harold Jack Bloom will be a forgotten figure in the Bond film world.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

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.

Sean Connery, original film 007, dies at 90

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery, the original film James Bond, has died at 90. His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a post on Twitter.

Jason Connery, the actor’s son, told the BBC that his father “has been unwell for some time.”

The Scottish actor took on the role of James Bond with Dr. No, when he was 31. By doing so, he became one of the major icons of the 1960s, along with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Connery enjoyed a long career, which extended into the early 21st century. His last live-action performance was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery also did voice work for a 2005 video game that adapted the 007 film From Russia With Love and a 2012 animated film, Sir Billi.  The actor’s honors included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s The Untouchables.

Despite all that, his seven Bond films — six for Eon Productions as well as the non-Eon production of 1983’s Never Say Never Again — defined his career and made him a star.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.

Audiences adored the combination. The first four Bond films were mostly faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming novels. For the American market, Connery’s Bond was a more macho hero than audience members probably expected.

The actor stayed busy with non-Bond projects, including The Hill, a World War II drama. But the conversation kept coming back to Bond, like in an Oct. 3, 1965 episode of What’s My Line?

Connery, the first of two mystery guests, was present because The Hill was opening in New York later that week. He was also in New York filming A Fine Madness, directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later work with Connery on Never Say Never Again.

But panelist Martin Gabel, one of Connery’s co-stars in the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie, cited Bond in deducing the actor’s identity.

What’s more, Connery’s relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman became troubled. As the budgets and scope of the movies expanded, Connery felt cheated with his share of the enterprise.

In 1966, Columbia Pictures released The Silencers, a spoofy version of Donald Hamilton’s very serious Matt Helm novels. The producer was Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen.

To secure the services of star Dean Martin, Allen had to make Dino a partner. That ensured the actor, who received a share of the proceeds, would get a bigger payday than Connery got for 007 films. From then on, Connery would be at odds with his Bond employers.

Connery quit the series after 1967’s You Only Live Twice (the first 007 venture than dispensed with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel).

UA, unhappy with the box office of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, lured Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with a big payday, including a $1.25 million fee (which the Scottish actor donated to a trust he founded). Connery also received a percentage of the box office.

After Diamonds, Connery said he was done with Eon for good. But he went back into Bondage one more time with Never Say Never Again.

Connery had more behind-the-camera power than he ever had with Eon. He brought in scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to do an uncredited rewrite of Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script. The actor also recruited Michel Legrand to score the movie.

Both the script and the music would be among the most criticized aspects of Never Say Never Again. But many Bond fans, happy to see Connery one last time, overlooked the actor’s role as de facto producer.

Sean Connery in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Regardless, Connery was the building block for Eon’s 007 film series that has lasted more than a half century.

The series, of course, had many talented contributors including director Young, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry. However, Connery provided a popular Bond for audiences. All future Bond actors would be compared to Connery.

Some fans and critics have argued that Connery has been surpassed in the 21st century by Daniel Craig. But without Connery at the start, that’s almost a moot point. All of Connery’s 007 successors had the opportunity because of the Scot’s original work.

1977: Spoilers? What spoilers?

“Wet Nellie” from The Spy Who Loved Me

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of angst over the reveal of a spoiler from No Time to Die. But, a couple of generations ago, the James Bond film franchise was a lot looser when it came to potential spoilers.

There are multiple examples. Bond soundtracks often came out before the films did. Some tracks had titles like Death of Grant, Death of Goldfinger, Death of Fiona and Death of Aki. So those developments clearly weren’t dealt with as big secrets.

But 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was perhaps the most cavalier in this regard. What’s a spoiler?

Instead of re-issuing the Ian Fleming novel The Spy Who Loved Me, a novelization written by co-screenwriter Christopher Wood reached book stores ahead of the movie (at least here in the U.S.).

On the very first page — before even the title page — there was an excerpt of Bond’s jump with the agent’s Union Jack parachute.

That was just for openers. Wet Nellie was the centerpiece of the Who-Cares-About-Spoilers marketing campaign.

Wet Nellie, of course, was the movie’s central gadget, the Lotus that could convert into a submarine. In reality, multiple cars were used but most Bond fans are familiar with the tale by now.

At the time, I had a mail subscription to the Los Angeles Times. I was studying journalism and the paper was at its peak of excellence and influence. Each day’s paper arrived four days after the publication date.

Anyway, weeks before the movie was out, the entertainment section of the LAT had a detailed story about Wet Nellie. It was the first time I even heard of the Wet Nellie nickname and how it was a takeoff of the Little Nellie name for Bond’s mini-helicopter in You Only Live Twice.

The story described how the version that actually traveled underwater worked, including how it was piloted by guys with scuba equipment. Moreover, the story clearly had been done with the cooperation of the filmmakers. They wanted to be sure everybody knew about Wet Nellie.

As a result, two of the biggest highlights of the movie were pretty common knowledge before its U.S. debut.

To a degree, that was understandable. Eon Productions and United Artists were betting big on Bond after the breakup between producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The budget roughly doubled compared with the previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun.

So there was a lot riding on the 1977 movie. If Bond went down, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort — and publicity about two of its biggest sequences.

That was then. This is now. Fan attitudes change. So do studio publicity strategies.