Is Anybody There?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh Sabaoth" Zach 4:6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dio di Signore, nella Sua volontà è nostra pace!" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin 1759

Saturday, April 13, 2013

60 Years of "Bond, James Bond"

James Bond as envisioned by Ian Fleming

Today marks the day it all started. On this date in April 1953, Jonathan Cape, a London based publisher, released the 1st James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, Casino Royale.

Original dust cover designed by Ian Fleming

As is the case with all novels, there is a gestation period that includes not only the actual writing of the novel, but the prep work & the inspiration to write it in the 1st place.
In the case of Ian Fleming, his desire to write a spy novel went back to World War II. But what motivated him to actually begin writing was his pending marriage to Ann Charteris with whom he had had an affair. She was awaiting her divorce from her 1st husband. He needed something to relieve his mind from "the shock of getting married at the age of forty-three." So on 17 February at his estate in Jamaica, Goldeneye, he typed out the 1st 2000 words. 
Up until this time Fleming had been known as a journalist. But his experiences in World War II gave him plenty of experience to draw on in writing the story.
In 1939, the director of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral John Godfrey recruited Fleming as his personal assistant. So Fleming became a lieutenant (later commander) in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). His codename was "17F".  He worked out of Room 39 in the Admiralty. Fleming's duties included acting as Godfrey's liason with other government sections like the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Special Operations Executive (SOE) & the Joint Intelligence Committee. 
Fleming never participated in active operations, just the planning. He did go to France in 1940 to report on & help with the evacuation of France by Biritsh citizens. 
In 1941 he went to America with Godfrey to help develop the blueprint for what would become the Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA. He also spent some time in Lisbon with Godfrey before heading to the USA. While there they went to the Estoril Casino. Because Portugal was neutral, spies from many of the warring nations were there. Fleming played Chemin de Fer.
Anyone familiar with James Bond can begin to see the roots of the Bond universe already.
Godfrey is supposedly the basis for M. The time at Estoril laid the groundwork for what happened at Casino Royale. Obviously Bond was a commander in the RNVR because of Fleming's knowledge of how the RNVR worked. Other parts of the story were based on real events. In the case of the failed Bulgarian assassination attempt on Bond, it was based on an identical failed attempted by Bulgarians against Franz von Papen, Vice-Chancellor of Germany.
Fleming's choice of the name James Bond has a much less romantic origin. His eyes lit upon the book Birds of the West Indies by Caribbean bird expert James Bond.  He later told Bond's wife that the name struck him as "unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine", or as he explained elsewhere "the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find."
Bond's looks were inspired in part by those of Hoagy Carmichael.
The book was accepted for publication by Jonathan Cape in October 1952. It came out on this day with a fleming designed dust cover (above) & sold for the price of 10s, 6d. In less than a month the initial run of 4728 copies sold out, as did a 2nd run that May & a 3rd run of about 8000 copies in May 1954.
Casino Royale didn't do so well in the USA. Three publishers turned it down before Macmillan Publishers offered a deal. The book sold only 4000 copies. A 1955 paperback edition renamed You Asked for It & renamed James Bond Jimmy Bond didn't do much better. In the USA Bond didn't take off until JFK listed From Russia With Love as one of his favorite novels.
The book came out to mostly positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1954 CBS paid Fleming $1000 adapt the book as a part of it's series Climax. It aired live on 21 October 1954. Barry Nelson played "Card sense" Jimmy Bond & Peter Lorre played LeChiffre. Bond was an American not British. Instead Clarence Leiter (Felix in the book) was the British agent sent to help him. Two characters were combined, Rene Mathis of the Deuxieme Bureau & Vesper Lynd became Valerie Mathis.
The teleplay focused on the battle in the Casino & what happened immediately after. The  adaptation didn't do very well. While it is obviously not the same James Bond we all know & love, the show was well done for its time. The story does hold up & the actors do a good job with the script despite some weaknesse. It is worth watching, if just to see the original James Bond.
Fleming sold the rights to Gregory Ratoff. After his death Charles K Feldman obtained the rights. After being turned down by Eon Productions to co-produce it, Feldman decided to turn it into a satire. David Niven was hired to play Sir James Bond. Interestingly, in You Only Live Twice, David Niven is mentioned. Also, Niven was Fleming's first choice for play Bond in Dr. No.
Ursula Andress (Honey Rider in Dr. No) played Vesper Lynd. Orson Welles played LaChiffre, Woody Allen played Sir James' nephew Jimmy Bond & Peter Sellers played Evelyn Trimble who impersonated Bond at the Casino. The movie must be taken for what it is, a spoof. Yes, it is overblown, but it does have a plot line, many funny scenes & great soundtrack written by Burt Bacharach, featuring Dusty Springfield & Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass.  What it really makes fun of is not Bond. It mocks all those who tried to imitate Bond & top him.
After Eon regained the rights, a 3rd version of Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig was released in 2006. This movie served as a reboot of the movie series.
So here we are, 60 years later. Casino Royale spawned an addtional 11 novels by Fleming as well as 2 collections of short stories; many continuation novels featuring Bond, a young Bond & even Moneypenny; comic books, a comic strip, a TV production, 25 movies so far; many hit songs & great soundtracks. Bond has become a huge part of our culture. All as a result of Ian Fleming trying to calm his nerves because he was getting married.
So raise a martini, shaken not stirred, to Bond, James Bond. & wish him a Happy 60th Birthday!
As a footnote, IMHO some of the best scenes in the books are those with Felix Leiter. It is clear that they are the best of friends, deeply loving & caring for each other as brothers, carrying on a friendly rivalry as well. Felix is what makes Bond truly human rather than the cold killing machine he usually appears to be. The scenes where they try to one up each other when it comes to food & drink are especially rich.
We are allowed an insight into how much Bond values Felix's friendship in chapter 21 of Diamonds are Forever. Bond has just said goodbye to Felix. We read: "Bond felt a lump in his throat as he watched the lanky figure limp off to his car after being warmly embraced by Tiffany Case. 'You've got yourself a good friend there,' said the girl.
'Yes,' said Bond, 'Felix is all of that.'"
Up to the reboot the only 2 movies that really captured their relationship were Live & Let Die and License to Kill.


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