History, Legacy & Showmanship

007… Fifty Years Strong: An Interview with James Bond Historians

June 10, 2013 - 2:01 am   |   by
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Duncan:  Ian Fleming would have been happy to see that the character he created, which in no small part was based on himself, had been so successful and so universally recognized throughout the world.  It would be interesting to speculate about his role in the development of the character – because surely he would have continued writing Bond – and his input into the film plots and screenplays, but I think ultimately he would be pleased to allow Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to continue making the films as they saw fit.  Albert Broccoli were keenly aware of the audience, and the global reach of the films, so would have been proud of the way that his stepson and daughter have continued his legacy, by developing the character of Bond, and finding new markets for the films.

Helfenstein:  I think both men would be immensely proud of their legacy.  Ian for the fact that his character has become not just a phenomenon but a cultural touchstone, a synonym for cool and high tech.  Cubby for the fact that his children have taken his production company and the Bond series to even greater heights.

Bond 50

O’Connell:  I think Cubby would be most proud of the efforts of his children and the wider creative Eon family.  I am so glad he got to see the revival of the series with GoldenEye as well as the suggestion of a new momentum to the series when Tomorrow Never Dies was in its early stages.  The now oft-overlooked importance of instinct is all over the Daniel Craig films.  That was something Cubby nurtured in the Bond family.  There is a determination to get these films right – from the admin staff via the studio technicians up to the director.  Of course, Fleming would not have recognized how the films evolved, yet the legacy of his creation – the fresh canvas it allows each new film – is testament to the baton of character and storytelling Broccoli, Saltzman and their colleagues then ran with.

Pfeiffer:  I would think Fleming would have been appalled by most of the films that came out after his death in 1964 because of the increasing emphasis on hardware and gadgets.  However, Cubby would have been over the moon.  Back in 1994, most of the pundits thought reviving Bond for GoldenEye was absurd in the post-Cold War era.  But Cubby told me he felt it was time to turn the franchise over to “the kids,” Barbara and Michael.  He had full confidence they could make Bond relevant again.  Although he was very ill, he did have the satisfaction of seeing his prediction come true.  I think he would be overjoyed at seeing how popular Bond is with the younger audiences.  This man lived and breathed 007 and was always eager to talk about the series. 

Rubin:  Ian Fleming would be absolutely stunned that the series has lasted this long, after all his book titles ran out in the 70s.  He would be happy for his heirs, but seriously surprised that Bond could endure.  Cubby wouldn’t be surprised, because he knew how the business worked.  Give the public what they want, and they’ll keep coming.  He would be very happy with Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson’s stewardship.  Come to think of it, if he took a look at the price tag, he would be stunned, as would most producers from his era.  Hard to believe that a film like Dr. No cost $1 million, the price of craft service and lunch on the last film.

Scivally:  Almost immediately after creating 007, Ian Fleming set about trying to interest producers in bringing James Bond to movies or TV.  I believe he would be delighted that the film series has carried on for so long, and kept interest in his original novels alive.  And I’m sure Broccoli would be very proud that, under the stewardship of Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the series has not only continued but thrived.

Worrall:  I think Fleming would be amused, and Cubby very proud.

Coate:  Which was the first James Bond movie you saw and what was it about it or subsequent films that made you a fan?

Burlingame:  I saw Thunderball and You Only Live Twice at a drive-in, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in a theater, in the late 1960s.  I was hooked on the music even before seeing the films, however, as the title songs were playing on the radio and I was already a fan of composer John Barry.  I bought the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service album immediately and the other Bond soundtracks soon after.  Plus, I had been a spy-TV fan from 1964, having watched and adored The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from the very beginning, so I was primed for the big-screen experience fairly early.

Cork:  The first film I have any memory of seeing in any movie theater anywhere was From Russia With Love.  I was three.  I didn’t become a real fan until I saw Live and Let Die when I was eleven. 

Desowitz:  I remember my parents taking me to see Goldfinger in ‘65 in the [San Fernando] Valley and it was one of my most memorable childhood filmgoing experiences.  I found it uniquely fun and exciting.  I even whispered that Bond should grab the cable during his fight with Oddjob.  That same year I caught up with Dr. No and From Russia With Love at a drive-in double-bill.  I was pretty much hooked.

Duncan:  My first Bond film was Sean Connery’s Diamonds are Forever whilst on holiday in Ilfracombe in Devon.  I got the Corgi Aston Martin DB5 as a present for my birthday, and then my dad took me to see a double bill of Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  I loved the cars, the stunts, the exotic locations, but most of all I loved the confidence and humor of James Bond.  As I grew older, from The Spy Who Loved Me onwards, I made sure that I saw the films when they were released.  As each new actor was introduced as Bond, it seemed to rejuvenate the character, and the series.

Helfenstein:  My first memories of Bond films were from watching them on TV, sadly the butchered ABC versions.  But I was hooked.  The first Bond film I saw in the theater was Moonraker.  While its fidelity to Fleming’s work is, shall we say, lacking, it is still an entertaining film, and quite a thrill for a nine-year-old.  I wanted his wrist dart gun SOOO badly!

O’Connell:  On one of our Divorced Parent Sundays my Dad took a very reluctant me to the Guildford Odeon to see Octopussy upon release.  But I wanted to see Return of the Jedi again and had quite an anti-Bond tantrum in the cinema’s foyer and got wedged in the turnstiles trying to push my way out.  But Dad quite rightly stood his parental ground – something which made absolute sense in the months and years that followed.  As Cubby Broccoli’s sex and sari actioner unfurled before me I became instantly infatuated with Bond.  All the facets that some sniffy fans dismiss – the tuk-tuk chase, the gymnastic assault, the crocodile and fold-up jet – were perfect filmic fodder to get a seven year old hooked on a series.  It was not long after I fully fathomed that my grandfather Jimmy had worked with Cubby Broccoli and the Eon family for years.  I was then drip-fed nuggets of news, posters and merchandise from A View to a Kill which ramped up my anticipation.  It was – and still is – the traditions of a Bond film’s genesis that reminds me why I am a fan.  The announcement of a title, the first poster, the first photograph, the first play of the song… the Bond machine has rarely changed in how it fanfares itself.  And Skyfall was such a reminder of the global pull and weight of a new Bond film.  What other series of films makes BBC News headlines with the launch of a title song or first trailer?!

Pfeiffer:  The first Bond movie I saw was From Russia With Love in 1963.  I didn’t want to see it; I thought it was a love story.  As an eight-year-old boy, I was only interested in the second feature, Twice Told Tales starring Vincent Price, who I always admired.  By the time Bond unspooled, I was hooked and very frustrated when I found out there had been an earlier 007 movie that I didn’t see.  I finally caught Dr. No when it was released in ‘65 as part of a double feature.

Rubin:  I saw Goldfinger at Christmas 1964 after reading the book – a time when I first started to see movies based on books I read.  At that time, those little colorful Signet paperbacks were on everybody’s desk in my junior high.  Goldfinger was just the coolest movie to see and it delivered big time.  Sean Connery was terrific with those throwaway lines, Shirley Eaton and Honor Blackman were sexy as hell, and Goldfinger himself was a bigger than life villain with a totally wicked henchman in Oddjob.  Plus the car, oh yeah, the car.

Scivally:  The first 007 film I saw was Goldfinger, which I watched on television.  Bond’s cool, his way with women, and his Aston Martin made an indelible impression, especially since I was just entering puberty and Bond is the ultimate male power fantasy figure.

Worrall:  Goldfinger.  It was the sense of the fantastic made to feel as though it was realistic.  Never once, when I watched You Only Live Twice for the first time did I feel as though the plot was outlandish.  It was played seriously and meant to be plausible.  Today, of course, it would be classed as over the top.

Coate:  What compelled you to write your 007 books?

Burlingame:  The one aspect of Bond that has never been properly, or thoroughly, chronicled was the creation of the songs and scores that made such an indelible contribution to the series.  I knew all of the composers and many of the songwriters, having written about film music for over twenty-five years, and the 50th anniversary of the franchise seemed like the right time to tackle the subject.

Cork:  I was very fortunate.  I got a call asking me if I would be interested.  Working with Bruce Scivally, Maryam d’Abo and Collin Stutz on the books I worked on made the jobs all much more enjoyable!

Desowitz:  I had the unique opportunity to interview all six Bond actors, beginning with Brosnan for a piece about The World is Not Enough, paired with Michael Apted.  For the 40th, Variety assigned me to interview other actors, so with a lot of patience and persistence, I snagged Sean Connery by phone on the set of his last film, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, which is the last in-depth interview he’s granted about Bond.  After that, nothing stopped me from getting George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, and Roger Moore, as well as more time with Brosnan at the Die Another Day junket.  Then, at the last moment, I scored a USA Today assignment to interview Craig at the Casino Royale junket, and I re-purposed some of my interview material with the other five for the first and only piece featuring all six actors.  I subsequently interviewed Craig again at the Quantum junket.  Interviewing all the Bonds has been a journalistic highlight: they were all friendly and gracious with their time, and I learned a lot about their individual approaches and challenges and highlights.  So, with the 50th anniversary approaching, I thought it would be fun and instructive to use my interview material as the basis of a book-length exploration of how Bond has evolved, so that’s how I came to write James Bond Unmasked, using my interview material combined with blow by blow plot synopses and commentaries about each film.  I thought it would be a handy reference for the casual fan and I’m grateful that Charles Helfenstein (The Making of The Living Daylights and The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) agreed to publish the book.  I’m currently working on a Skyfall chapter for an updated e-book edition that will be available on Amazon in the fall.

Duncan:  Twelve years ago in my job interview with publisher Benedict Taschen, he said, “I’ve always wanted to do a big James Bond book,” so it was an idea that had always been there.  Then over three years ago he brought it up again, and a couple of months later I got a call from Eon asking if we’d like to do the book for the 50th anniversary of Bond.  I said, “Sure, when did Benedict contact you?”  But he hadn’t.  Taschen and Eon had the same idea at the same time.  It was one of those great moments of synchronicity.  There have been hundreds of books published about James Bond, and I thought that maybe the world did not need another one.  But Eon said that we could have complete access to their vast archive – over a million photos, and over 100 filing cabinets – so I thought that maybe I could find something new for fans to read.  I spent thirty months researching the archives, and decided to present the book as an oral history of how the films are made.  I think the resulting book, The James Bond Archives, gives an accurate picture of the inventiveness, perseverance, and humor the cast and crew needed to employ to get the movies onto the screen, on schedule, and hopefully under budget.  Although James Bond is the figurehead of the series, he is supported by a vast number of people, and I wanted to explain how the series works, and why it works.  

Helfenstein:  I suppose the polite word is passion.  More accurately obsession.  I wanted to research my favorite Bond films in extreme detail – from the story’s origin in the notebooks and manuscripts of Ian Fleming, through to the screenwriting stage, including the many interesting alternate scripts that were written but not filmed, through the casting and pre-production, the location and studio filming, on through post-production, release and marketing, and finally how the film altered the Bond series history.  When we “consume” a Bond film as viewers, we have a finished product.  All the creative decisions have been made.  I wanted to shine a spotlight on the remarkable journey a Bond film takes to the screen, and the reasons and influences behind those creative decisions.

O’Connell:  I had been toying with writing a reappraisal of the series.  But that could have been a very dry opinion piece and no one wants that.  So when I bit the bullet and saw the personal story of a pop culture childhood flanked by 007, dads, sons, chauffeurs, the Broccolis and a Roger Moore fixation staring me in the face it suddenly fell into place.  Of course the fiftieth anniversary presented a publishing window, but my publishers and I always said that need not be make or break.  In the end, it proved perfect timing.  But you cannot plan for that.  Finally, I believe the number of films in the Bond series greatly supports people’s fascination and fondness for them.  It is easy to become a fan of a series that has so many episodes to discover.  I wanted to write a book that looked at the life of being a fan from the perspective of each film, hence the title Catching Bullets.

Pfeiffer:  I actually wrote two official Bond books.  I had become friendly with Cubby in 1989 and he was eager to read a book about John Wayne that I had done, as he liked Duke very much.  Upon reading it, he asked me to write a history of the 007 films.  It was quite an honor.  I asked my friend Phil Lisa to co-author with me and the response to the book was very good.  It was titled either The Incredible World of 007 or The Incredible World of James Bond...believe it or not, I can’t remember.  But it was a great deal of fun to do.  We went to Cubby’s house in Beverly Hills to interview him and spent a wonderful afternoon there.  The second book, The Essential James Bond, was done at the suggestion of myself and Dave Worrall.  I think it came out in the late 1990s but it was reprinted and updated after that.  It was phenomenally successful and actually made the bestseller list in the UK.  Due to some rights issues between Eon and the publishing company, it hasn’t been updated since but I probably should pursue having a new edition put out at some point in the future.  Dave and I don’t do many books any more because our magazine, Cinema Retro, takes up so much of our time.

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