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A Brief History of James Bond

Submitted by ceo on August 17, 2010 – 12:46 amNo Comment
The James Bond 007 Gun Symbol
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James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, had high hopes from the very beginning that the character would be quickly snatched up by the film or television industry and thus produce the inevitable financial rewards. After the publication of Casino Royale in 1953, he told his friend Roland Dahl (who was to later script You Only Live Twice): “If you get a chance of putting in a word with the TV tycoons for Casino, I shall be very grateful. Money is despicable stuff but it buys Renoirs.” At first it seemed he wouldn’t have to wait long before the “despicable stuff’ started flowing. In 1954, a number of feelers were put out by both the film and television industries toward Bond, not the least being a request from the famous Hungarian producer Sir Alexander Korda to see an advance copy of Fleming’s second novel, Live and Let Die. Three different film companies expressed an interest in the first novel, Casino Royale, and the Columbia Broadcasting System offered $1,000 for the rights to do a special one-hour adaptation of the novel.

By the following year, however, Fleming was feeling discouraged about ever getting Bond onto the big screen—Korda returned Live and Let Die without taking an option and the other three film inquiries also came to nothing. The CBS production of Casino Royale was televised as planned, as a segment of “Climax Mystery Theater,” but heavily toned down and with an American actor, Barry Nelson, playing Bond (interestingly, Peter Lorre played the villain, Le Chiffre). It failed to generate any widespread interest in Bond in America and was quickly forgotten (and, because it was transmitted live, no record remains of the first dramatization of James Bond).

Feeling rather jaded at this point, Fleming recklessly sold the screen rights of Casino for a mere $6,000 to Gregory Ratoff, a Russian actor/director who’d been working in Britain and America since the mid-Thirties. (Ratoff failed to set the picture up; when he died in 1960, his widow sold the rights to American producer Charles Feldman who made the film in 1967, a year before he died.) It seems that Fleming quickly regretted this move, for shortly afterwards, when the actor Ian Hunter inquired in 1955 about buying a six-month option on Moonraker, Fleming said he wanted £1,000 for the option and £10,000 for the film rights, adding: “I have an idea that one of these days the film and television rights of James Bond and his adventures may be worth quite a lot of money and I hope you agree there’s no point in throwing them away.” (Fleming later sold the film rights of Moonraker to the Rank Organization but quickly bought them back again.) He was proved right, of course, but had to wait longer than he expected.

The following year, 1956, Henry Morgenthau III, a producer with the NBC network, proposed to Fleming that he write a half-hour adventure series entitled Commander Jamaica. In the 28-page pilot script that Fleming wrote, the central character bore a remarkable resemblance to James Bond. Named Commander James Gunn, he was based on a yacht moored in a Jamaican harbor, where he received his orders from an Admiral via a hidden loudspeaker. The television project came to nothing but Fleming used the script, which concerned missiles fired from Cape Canaveral, being deflected by villains using remote control, as the basis of his next novel, Dr. No.

In 1958, CBS renewed their interest in Bond by suggesting a James Bond television series. Again Fleming agreed, despite his past experience with television, and wrote six episode outlines. Again nothing came of it, but Fleming retrieved three of the plots and used them in his anthology of short stories, ForYourEyes Only. The same year he was introduced by a wealthy friend, Ivor Bryce, to a young filmmaker called Kevin McClory who had been an assistant to both John Huston and Mike Todd. McClory had just made his first film, The Boy and the Bridge, for which Bryce had provided the financial backing. The idea was for Fleming and McClory to collaborate on an original screenplay for a James Bond film, tentatively titled James Bond, Secret Agent, which would be backed by Bryce. Veteran British scriptwriter Jack Whirtingham (Q Planes, Counterblast, etc.) was also brought into the project and the three of them began work enthusiastically. However, as time passed and nothing definite was achieved, Fleming began to lose faith in his partners’ ability to set the picture up (moreover, McClory’s film, The Boy and the Bridge, hadn’t turned out to be the success everyone had been hoping for). Fleming first suggested that they bring in the famous director Anthony Asquith as co-producer and then, believing that Alfred Hitchcock was interested in filming the Bond books, suggested they do a co-production deal with Hitchcock’s company (Fleming had been particularly impressed with North By Northwest, released that same year, and thought that Hitchcock would be the perfect filmmaker to handle Bond). When Hitchcock declined the offer, Fleming apparently lost interest in the whole enterprise.

In 1960, he made his annual visit to his house in Jamaica to write another Bond novel, which eventually became Thunderbolt. Unfortunately, he used as the basis for this novel the screen treatment that he, McClory, and Whittingham had devised. When the book was published, a legal wrangle ensued that lasted until 1963, when McClory was assigned all the film and television rights to Thunder-ball. McClory was thus free to continue with his plans to put Bond on the screen, but by then the situation had changed drastically due to two gentlemen called Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli.

Broccoli, born in New York in 1909, is actually related to the man who brought the first broccoli seed over to America. In fact, the family name comes from that very vegetable (the family crest even includes a sprig of broccoli). He grew up on Long Island working for various relatives, one of whom was an undertaker (the reason why Broccoli tries to include a joke about coffins or undertakers in each of the Bond films). He decided at an early age that his fortune lay in Hollywood but it took some time to convince Hollywood of this. At first, he worked selling hairdressing materials and Christmas trees

(not at the same time), then managed to become a tea boy at the 20th Century-Fox studio and eventually rose to assistant director. World War Two interrupted his rise up the industry ladder and he joined the Navy for the duration. After the war, he moved to Lon don where he set up a partnership with fellow-American Irving Allen (not to be confused with Irwin Allen) and formed Warwick Films, a company that produced a series of slick and moderately successful adventure films during the 1950s. Beginning with The RedBeret in 1952, Warwick Films produced Hell Below Zero, The Black Knight, Cockleshell Heroes, Zarak, and The Man Inside. Two of them, The Red Beret and Zarak, were directed by former British scriptwriter Terence Young, and several were written by American scriptwriter

Richard Maibaum.

Maibaum, like Broccoli, was born in New York in 1909. After studying law, he started writing for the then-new medium of radio. While still at college, his first play, The Tree, which had an anti­lynching theme, was produced in New York in 1932. He became a member of the New York Shakespearean Repertory Theater in 1933 and played over twenty roles. His play Sweet Mystery of Life was produced on Broadway in 1935, which led to offers of work in Hollywood where he wrote screenplays for M.G.M. and other studios (They Gave Mea Gun, 1 Wanted Wings, etc.) while continuing to write plays. After the war, during which he spent four years as the Director of the Army’s Combat Film Division, he went to Paramount as a writer/producer and made OSS, Now and Forever, and The Great Gatsby (among others). After that, he began his long association with Broccoli when he wrote the script for Hell Below Zero in 1954 (chiefly memorable for casting Jill Bennett as the captain of a Russian whaler).

“Broccoli gave me two of the Bond books to read back in 1957,” said Maibaum, “because he was thinking about doing them even then. Unfortunately, with all their inherent sex and violence, they just weren’t producible at that time.”

That same year, Broccoli tried to interest Columbia Pictures in

Bond. When a Columbia executive asked their story department for information about Fleming, he was told that: “All he writes is travel books,” (Ian Fleming having been confused with his brother Peter).

Broccoli, however, didn’t give up. A few years later, when James Bond had become more popular, he decided to try again, but when he made inquiries with Fleming’s agents he discovered that another filmmaker had taken out an option on all the books, with the exception of Casino Royale. That other filmmaker was Harry Saltzman

Saltzman was born in Quebec in 1915. After a variety of occupations in both Canada and the U.S.A., including working in vaudeville and in a traveling circus, he moved at the end of the Thirties to France where he achieved some success as a theatrical entrepreneur. After World War Two and a spell in the French Army, he returned to France and joined the Ministry of Reconstruction, then worked for U.N.E.S.C.O., specializing in communications. “I had a misguided idea, after six and a half years of war, that my generation had mucked up the world so it was our job to make a better one,” said Saltzman, “but after three and a half years, I realized I was wasting my time … I went back into show business with both feet, and I wish I hadn’t.”

He returned to the United States and soon was flourishing in the television industry, but it was the success of a British play, Look Back in Anger, that subsequently led him into films. During the play’s New York run in 1957, he approached its author, John Os­bome, with the promise that he would raise the money for a film version. Out of this came Woodfall Films, formed by Saltzman with Osborne and the play’s director Tony Richardson. The company later became synonymous with the age of the “new realism” in British films {also known as the “kitchen sink” genre of films). How ever, the film of Look Back in Anger (1959) turned out to be a financial disaster, as did Woodfall’s second production, The Enter tainer (1960). Fortunately for everyone concerned, their third film, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961) proved to be a box office success. After that, Saltzman left Woodfall because he thought their next project, A Taste of Honey, was both too provincial and too English (he wanted the film set in France) to be a commercial success. Besides, he was tired of all that social realism: “All the films were designed to show how the other half lives, but for God’s sake we are the other half,” he said. “I thought it was time to go back to

big entertainment and I saw in the Bonds the bigger than life thing. We live in an age of violence and some of the bad people do very well today.”

Having discovered the Bond novels, he made an approach to their author—Fleming, depressed over the Thunderbolt debacle and recovering from his first heart attack, readily agreed to let him take out an option on all the available books. Amazingly, however, Saltzman couldn’t interest any of the major film companies in Bond and the option had only twenty-eight more days to run when Broc coli reappeared on the Bond scene. Broccoli was at first tempted to wait and see if the option ran out before making his move, but decided not to take the risk and suggested to Saltzman that they enter into a partnership. Saltzman agreed and Eon Films was formed, a company that was to make film history. (By then Broccoli had ended his partnership with Irving Allen who later produced one of the more successful series of Bond imitations—the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin.)

Together, Broccoli and Saltzman approached both United Artists and Columbia with their proposed Bond film which was going to be based on either Thunderbolt or Dr. No. Columbia balked at their request for a budget of $1,000,000 and insisted that they make it for between $300,000 and $400,000, a relatively small amount even in those days. Fortunately, United Artists decided to take on the project under the producers’ terms (though U.A. subsequently lowered the budget to $900,000) and Bond was on his way to the big screen at long last.

Originally, the first Bond film was to have been Thunderbolt but by that time, 1961, the property was in litigation so Dr. No. was selected as the alternative. Pre-production arrangements were soon underway and Broccoli persuaded both Saltzman and United Artists to use three of his former Warwick Films colleagues: Terence Young as director, Richard Maibaum as scriptwriter, and German-born Ken Adam as production designer (Adam had designed the sets for Warwick’s The Trials of Oscar Wilde). The script, incidentally, proved a source of difficulty at first; Maibaum, working with Wolf Mankowitz, produced several drafts that didn’t satisfy either producer. “I couldn’t get it into anyone’s heads,” said Broccoli, “that

Bond was an important character to be taken seriously. I believe one version had it that Dr. No turned out to be a monkey! ‘This won’t do,’ I said, ‘Do it again.’ ” (Today such a denouement wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film.)

While the script was being hammered into shape, the other major problem involved finding someone to play James Bond. When Fleming, McClory, and Bryce had been preparing their own Bond film, it was felt they needed to have a big-name actor in the part. Fleming wanted his friend David Niven, and other names put for ward were Richard Burton (McClory’s choice) and, most strangely, James Stewart (“Uhhhhrr, the name’s uh Bond … emr, Jaaames Bond”). But Dr. No’s small budget meant that it would be more economical to have an unknown in the role and, after interviewing a dozen or so possibilities, the producers had a short list of three actors. Second on the list was Roger Moore. Numberone was Sean Connery.

Thomas Sean Connery was born in Edinburgh in 1930, the son of a truck driver. His early life has more in common with those described on the dust jackets of novels written by northern English authors than with biographies usually associated with British actors. At various times, Sean Connery worked as a paperboy, a milkman, a footballer, a weightlifter, a bricklayer, a coffin polisher (which must have endeared him to Broccoli), an artist’s model, a lorry driver, a cement mixer, and then a merchant seaman before ending up, of all things, in the chorus of the British production of South Pacific.

Not that Connery could really be classified as an “unknown” when he was interviewed by Broccoli and Saltzman in 1961. After all, not only had he been working in the film industry since 1955, but he’d had starring roles in at least three movies—Another Time, Another Place (1958) was the first and represented an attempt by Paramount Pictures to launch him as a big star. But the film, which starred Lana Turner, flopped at the box office and Paramount let his contract lapse, even though its failure could hardly be blamed on Connery—the script and direction were the real culprits. (Connery makes an in-joke reference to this film in Thunderbolt in the scene where he’s saying goodbye to Molly Peters at the health farm.) Connery then found himself frolicking with leprechauns in Disney’s

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), which was a moderate

success but didn’t really further his career at the time. Then, after playing a minor villain in a Tarzan movie, Tarzan’s Greatest Adven ture (1959), he had another starring role in a low-budget thriller called Frightened City (1960), playing a working-class boxer who takes revenge on a group of gangsters after they kill his manager, but again it didn’t seem to affect his career in any favorable way.

Ironically, it was his performance in Darby O’Gill that first attracted Broccoli and Saltzman and led them to look at his other films. “He was dreadful in most of them, we thought,” said Saltzman. “He had suffered a small but fatal miscasting all the way down the line.” But, astutely, both producers decided that he would make a perfect James Bond, despite the Scottish accent. “As he left the office,” said a United Artists executive, “we all went to the window and watched him cross the street.” “What impressed me,” said Saltzman, “was that a man of his size and frame could move in such a supple way.” Or as Broccoli put it: “He looked like he had balls.”

It’s open to debate, perhaps, on how Dr. No would have fared if they’d cast Roger Moore or someone else in the role. With hindsight, it seems obvious that the decision to cast Sean Connery as James Bond was one of the main factors that assured its success and created the beginning of the James Bond phenomenon.

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