Fifty years ago, at the dawn of the commercial-jet age, James Bond strode into movie history, to show audiences how stylish and thrilling life could be. But creating the cinematic Bond was fraught with peril, as best-selling author Ian Fleming discovered when he first tried to take his hero to the screen. David Kamp recalls the unlikely team—two small-time producers, a journeyman director, and a “rough diamond” of a star—behind 007’s film debut, Dr. No, the beginning of a $5 billion franchise.
BOND. JAMES BOND. Right, Sean Connery on the set of Dr. No, 1962. Left, in the Alps during the filming of Goldfinger, 1964.
Enter Sean Connery, dark hair slicked with pomade, eyes locking hungrily upon a beautiful green-eyed girl. Her return glance leaves no doubt—the feeling is mutual. His slouch and casual banter exude languor and nonchalance, but there’s an undercurrent of coiled menace to this man, as though he might, at any moment, spring into table-overturning, crockery-shattering action.
Except nothing of the sort happens. Instead, the other fellow in the scene cuts the tension by taking out his fiddle and favoring the room with a jaunty tune learned, he says in a stagy brogue, “in the old ruins on the top of Knocknasheega!”
This isn’t a James Bond picture. It is 1959, and Connery is putting in time in a cornball live-action Disney feature called Darby O’Gill and the Little People. He’s the second male lead, billed beneath not only Albert Sharpe, the elderly Irish character actor in the title role—a kindly farmhand who sees leprechauns—but also the green-eyed girl, the ingénue Janet Munro. Though verily pump-misting pheromonal musk into the air, to a degree unmatched before or since by any actor in a Disney family movie, Connery is still a jobbing scuffler, not a star. He has no idea of what lies in store for him.
The seventh of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, Goldfinger, has recently reached the shops. But there are no Bond pictures yet. In London, a Long Island–born film producer named Albert R. Broccoli, known as Cubby, is still lamenting that he blew his chance with Fleming. The previous year, Broccoli had set up a meeting with the English author and his representatives to talk about securing movie rights to the Bond series, only to miss the meeting to tend to his wife, who had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In Broccoli’s absence, his business partner, Irving Allen, let Fleming know that he didn’t share his colleague’s ardor. “In my opinion,” Allen told Bond’s creator, “these books are not even good enough for television.”
This is an older, stiffer world, with Britain just five years removed from food rationing and America still in an era of Kramdens, Eisenhowers, and finned Caddies. It is a world unfamiliar with the catchphrases “Shaken, not stirred” and “Bond, James Bond,” where no ears have ever heard Monty Norman’s four-note Bond motif and no eyes have ever taken in Maurice Binder’s amniotic credit sequences of lissome women undulating in silhouette to lavishly charted John Barry arrangements.
But it is also a world in transition. Transatlantic jet service is newly available to commercial passengers, thanks to the carriers B.O.A.C. and Pan American. G. D. Searle & Company, a pharmaceutical concern, is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market one of its products, Enovid, as a birth-control pill for women. A scrubbed, fit group of U.S. military test pilots has just been introduced to the public as the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronauts. And the undeclared Democratic front-runner in the next presidential election is only 42 years old.
In March 1961, when he actually is the president, John F. Kennedy lists Fleming’s fifth Bond novel, From Russia with Love, as one of his 10 current favorite reads in a Life-magazine article. That same year, Broccoli, having parted ways with Allen and joined forces with another producer, a Canadian by the name of Harry Saltzman, finally gets the rights to turn Fleming’s books into movies. After an arduous and seemingly fruitless search to find a lead actor mutually agreeable to the two producers and their studio benefactor, United Artists, Broccoli circles back to one of the lesser-knowns among the candidates: Sean Connery. To confirm his hunch that this tall, handsome Scotsman could be the guy, Broccoli, while in Hollywood, arranges for his new wife, Dana, to join him in a screening room at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio. There they watch the only Connery footage that Cubby has been able to rustle up: Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Dana Broccoli’s response is instantaneous: “That’s our Bond!”
And so on October 5, 1962, at the London Pavilion theater, in Piccadilly Circus, Connery joins Fleming, Broccoli, and Saltzman on the red carpet for the world premiere of the first Bond film,Dr. No.
Fifty years later, even in an era inured to skin, gunplay, and wide-screen shots of tropical waterfalls, Dr. No remains exhilarating to watch. The azure brightness of Jamaica, with Connery striding purposefully through it; the seawater-salted flesh and ounces-light wardrobe of Ursula Andress; the modernist bachelor-pad fantasia that is the undersea lair of the titular doctor, played with cool reserve by Joseph Wiseman—it’s all so fantastically stylish, racy, and forward-looking. So imagine what it must have been like for the people who actually saw the picture in a theater when it first came out.
Dr. No took just a few months in the U.K. to recoup its $1 million budget and ultimately made 20 times that amount in its initial release. Theater bookers in the U.S. hedged their bets at first, putting out the film “in the sticks,” as a chagrined Broccoli noted, before allowing the sophisticates in New York and Los Angeles to see it. Nevertheless, the drumbeat had already begun, with North Carolina’s Rocky Mount Telegram, for example, relishing how Connery “twists his supple body through a tiny aperture to potential freedom.” The syndicated entertainment columnist Erskine Johnson suggested that “tawny 26-year-old Ursula Andress should have been billed not by her last name, but as ‘Undress.’ ”
As it turned out, the coastal intelligentsia were pretty easily won over, too. “Oh, it was dazzling: Ursula coming out of the ocean, the brilliant art direction, straining your eyes to see the almost-nude women in the opening credits. They were cheap tricks, but good tricks,” says Buck Henry, who, with Mel Brooks and the TV producer Daniel Melnick, was inspired in ’65 to create the sitcom spoof Get Smart in homage. “It wasn’t Brueghel,” Henry says of the early Bond films, “but it was like the stuff that Lichtenstein and those other guys were doing—great Pop art carried into another medium.”
Dr. No and its two follow-ups, From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964), are the cornerstones of Bond-mania. Like the early Lennon-McCartney singles that spurred Beatlemania, they augured bigger, more elaborate things to come, but the sheer excitement they generated remains unsurpassable. Not only were these movies terrifically entertaining, they also delivered a sort of jet-age holodeck experience, granting regular folk an opportunity to glimpse the future awaiting them. As of 1960, fewer than 2 percent of all Americans had traveled internationally by air. So both Dr. No and From Russia with Love include what are essentially fetish shots of Pan Am jets landing on runways as air-traffic controllers announce their arrival. (“Hello, London, your flight PA1 just landed in Istanbul.”)
“It was a sense of ‘Buy your ticket—we’re going to take you places!’ ” says Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger. He recalls the Broccoli-Saltzman attitude toward Bond transport as “Don’t take a train when you can take a plane, and if you’re going to take a plane, take the newest one around. And if you give Bond a car, don’t show what’s been seen—show what’s not out yet.” This is why, while Bond drives an Aston Martin DBIII in Goldfinger the novel, he drives a DB5 in Hamilton’s movie, made five years later. It’s also why, when Bond comes to after being knocked out with a tranquilizer gun in the same film, he is told, by no less than Honor Blackman’s knockout aviatrix, Pussy Galore, that he is aboard “Mr. Goldfinger’s Lockheed JetStar”—this at a time when the very concept of a private business jet was virtually unheard of. Even Bond’s room-service breakfast order in From Russia with Love—“Green figs, yogurt, coffee, very black”—sounds ahead of its time.
Beyond the travelogue aspect, there was the sex aspect—another way, as it were, to hitch a ride with James Bond. “The actual film, to film, was sexy,” says Shirley Eaton of her scenes with Connery in Goldfinger. Eaton is famous for being the blonde girl whose body is discovered nude, lifeless, and coated in gold paint—her death (by “skin suffocation,” not a medical possibility in real life) a punishment by her boss, Auric Goldfinger, for switching to Bond’s side.
But it’s Eaton’s first scene with Connery that packs the erotic wallop. Bond, poolside at Miami’s Fontainebleau hotel, has worked out from which room Goldfinger’s accomplice is spying on his opponent’s cards, thereby allowing Goldfinger to cheat at his alfresco games of high-stakes gin rummy. Letting himself into the room, Bond discovers Eaton’s Jill Masterson lying stomach-down in a black bikini on a balcony lounger, using binoculars and a radio set to convey the card info into Goldfinger’s earpiece. Wearing a shorty jumpsuit of pale-blue terry cloth that only someone as masculine as Connery could pull off, Bond, grinning, simply lowers himself gently onto Jill, shrewdly opting for horizontal bodily contact rather than force to accomplish his mission.
Eaton, then 27, had been acting in movies since her teen years, “always playing the girl next door,” she says, or a pretty thing to be ogled in one of Britain’s low-budget Carry On comedies. “But this was entirely new,” she says. “It was grown-up sexuality. Sean and I just fell into our natural sensuality without any rumpy-pumpy, and I think that’s what made it so exciting.”
Honor Blackman, likewise, had already established herself as the judo-chopping, leather-clad Dr. Cathy Gale on the British TV series The Avengers, but found the Bond universe to have an altogether different dynamic. “Cathy Gale was a very proper lady, with collars up to the chin,” she says, “whereas Pussy was supposed to match Bond’s sexuality. She was a tough broad who also showed a fair amount of bosom.” Johnny Carson, just a few years into hosting The Tonight Show, was so taken with the scene in which Pussy finally surrenders to Bond’s charms (they trade martial-arts body flips in a hay-filled barn before falling into a love clutch) that “he badgered and badgered me—would I show him how it was done?” she says. Blackman feared injuring Carson, but she flew to New York to rehearse the bit with him, and when they performed it live “he passionately kissed me at the end, which wasn’t planned. It was funny, but it also showed how much even someone like Johnny Carson wanted to be James Bond.”
Ian Fleming had long been alert to the screen potential of his books, but realizing this potential proved to be something of a chore. Twice in the late 50s, Fleming worked with American networks to develop a TV series, first with NBC on a Bond-inspired spy show provisionally titled Commander Jamaica, and then with CBS on what would have been an explicitly Bond-based weekly drama. Neither show made it to the pilot phase. A little earlier, in 1954, CBS had aired an anemic one-off adaptation of Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in which the character had been Americanized into “Jimmy Bond” and been played by a miscast, chipmunk-cheeked actor named Barry Nelson. Fleming then sold the book’s movie rights to the actor Gregory Ratoff, who died before coming close to getting a movie produced. These rights, unbundled from rights to the other Bond books, eventually fell into the hands of Ratoff’s agent, the Hollywood macher Charles Feldman, who, after Bond-mania took off, produced the abominable meta-parodic version with David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen that came out in 1967. (Only in the last decade was Casino Royale the novel reeled into the hands of the “official” Bond producers—Broccoli’s heirs—the result being the 2006 franchise reboot starring Daniel Craig.)
Fleming had higher hopes for a treatment he worked on in 1959 for a film to be called James Bond, Secret Agent. It was not an adaptation but a new Bond story, and his collaborator was Kevin McClory, an up-and-coming Irish screenwriter. But this project, too, foundered. Fleming, unbowed, folded his ideas for the shelved movie into the next Bond novel. Not long before this book, Thunderball, came out, in 1961, McClory got hold of an advance copy and was angered by its resemblance to the story treatment he’d labored on with Fleming and another writer, Jack Whittingham. McClory filed suit, and, while the book’s publication was allowed to go forward, the issue of its film rights would take another three years to resolve.
In the movie industry, Fleming had at last run into a thickety, double-dealing milieu that he, a suave operator his entire adult life, was ill-prepared to contend with. Before that, to all appearances, he had been Mr. Smooth. It has often been said that James Bond was Fleming’s fantasy version of himself, while Fleming declared that Bond was “a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met” during World War II, in which he served in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division. Whichever way it was, Fleming had certainly known Bondish people and lived through Bondish episodes of his own by the time he sat down in 1952 and created the character at his typewriter.
In his youth, Fleming, born in 1908, had been a rascally, athletic ne’er-do-well who attended but did not graduate from Eton and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, distinguishing himself more as a trainee roué than an officer candidate. In the 30s, he finally found some measure of professional fulfillment, first as a journalist working for Reuters, the news agency, and then, as war broke out, as an aide to Rear Admiral John Henry Godfrey, Britain’s director of naval intelligence.
Godfrey, brusque and imperious, became the model for 007’s superior, M. He took to Fleming, inviting the younger man to accompany him to overseas meetings with J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. chief, and William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, the founder of the Office of Strategic Services, the Central Intelligence Agency’s precursor. Godfrey also granted Fleming significant leeway to conjure imaginative schemes to trip up the Nazis. One of these, Operation Mincemeat, is among the more celebrated in the annals of British espionage. In 1943, British intelligence officers took possession of the corpse of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless Welshman who had recently died by his own hand. After dressing Michael’s body in the uniform of a major in the Royal Marines, stuffing his pockets with phony identification materials, and chaining to his wrist a briefcase containing a letter labeled personal and most secret, they dumped him off the coast of Spain, creating the impression of an officer who had died in a plane crash. Spain was infested with Nazi spies, and the hope was that one of them would inevitably get his hands on the letter and pass it up the chain of command. It worked. Hitler was fooled by the documents, which indicated that the Allies were about to invade Greece, and hastily moved a division of 90,000 troops there. The Allies, with considerably less resistance than they would have encountered otherwise, proceeded to take their true target, Sicily.
After the war, Fleming landed a job as foreign-news manager for Kemsley Newspapers, which owned, among other publications, The Sunday Times—a cushy assignment that allowed him to spend every winter season in Jamaica, a place he’d first visited during his naval-intelligence years. In 1946 he built a home on the island’s north shore that he called Goldeneye, after the code name of an Allied plan to defend Gibraltar against seizure by the Axis powers. From ’52 onward, Fleming used Goldeneye as his writing roost, banging out one Bond novel a year. Nevertheless, by the beginning of 1961, he had still had no luck with Hollywood, which he described to a friend as “a hell of a jungle” and full of “specious promises.”
It was at this time that, for $50,000, he granted Harry Saltzman a six-month option to put a film deal in place for the Bond books. A stout, hedgehoggish man born in 1915 to Jewish immigrants living in Quebec, Saltzman had hustled his way into the American movie industry, eventually venturing to England to take advantage of the tax breaks the U.K. afforded filmmakers. On the face of it, Saltzman was a peculiar deal partner for Fleming. While he had achieved modest success producing film adaptations of John Osborne’s table-thumping social-realist plays Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer, he was decidedly small-time compared with previous suitors.
Saltzman’s children have long puzzled over how their father, who died in 1994, managed to secure the option. One of his daughters, Hilary Saltzman, stumbled upon some revelatory clues when, in 2003, she decided to relocate with her children from Los Angeles to Quebec. Having let her Canadian passport expire, she ran into a hitch while getting her citizenship papers in order: the Canadian government required documentation of her father’s reasons for immigrating to the United States. The next surprise she encountered was that her request to pull her father’s U.S. records, a process she expected to be routine, set off alarms at the State Department. When, after more than two years of petitioning, Hilary finally received the documents she needed to satisfy the Canadian government, she also received a bonus: reams of material revealing that her father, who she knew had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early years of World War II, had subsequently worked for the U.S. Office of War Information, specifically its Psychological Warfare Division. The senior Saltzman had never been forthright with his children about how he spent his war.
“I’m reading these letters of Robert E. Sherwood, the O.W.I.’s director of overseas operations, about my father,” Hilary says. “The countries he was to visit overseas: ‘Confidential.’ Nature of business: ‘Confidential war mission for O.W.I.’ I’m stunned. It just blew me away that, finally, I understood what my father had done in the war. Finally, I understood his fascination with the spy genre of films.” (In the 60s, Saltzman also produced a trilogy of films starring Michael Caine as Len Deighton’s spy Harry Palmer, based on the Deighton novels The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain.)
One of Sherwood’s unredacted letters, from 1943, informs G. Howland Shaw, assistant secretary of state, that “Mr. Saltzman will be assigned to the North African theater of war to serve on the staff of Mr. C.D. Jackson.” Jackson was a noted psychological-warfare expert and propaganda mastermind who was then working for the O.S.S. and later served as a Cold War adviser to President Dwight Eisenhower. His base, Algiers, to which Saltzman was sent, was also one of Fleming’s wartime destinations.
Hilary Saltzman and her brother, Steven, have yet to turn up evidence that their father and Fleming met before 1961; it’s possible, even probable, that they did not. But Hilary posits that “because they had a similar background during the war, which was in confidential missions, they had a mutual understanding. Even though they couldn’t publicize it, I really think Ian felt that this series was safe in my father’s hands.”
“A Wonderful Double Act”
Yet by mid-1961 the Bond option was about to slip through Saltzman’s fingers: he was five months into his six-month option and hadn’t put together any backing. By happenstance, Cubby Broccoli was working with a screenwriter, Wolf Mankowitz, who not only knew Saltzman but was aware that he held the Bond option. Broccoli wasn’t pleased with the script for an Arabian Nights–themed movie that Mankowitz had pressed upon him, and when Mankowitz asked Broccoli what he’d rather be producing, Broccoli brought up his long-held desire to make films of Fleming’s books. Mankowitz agreed to introduce Broccoli to Saltzman. Though Broccoli, having just shed his old partner, Irving Allen, hoped to buy the option in its entirety, Saltzman insisted on maintaining his piece of the action—and, in fact, had already drawn up a document for Broccoli to sign, affirming that “you and I have mutually agreed that we shall equally share” the film rights to all the Bond books save Casino Royale. And so, in June 1961, was born what Guy Hamilton calls “a wonderful double act”: Broccoli, affable and teddy-bearish, serving as a tempering counterpoint to the volatile and argumentative Saltzman. They named their venture Eon Productions.
Broccoli was born in 1909 to an Italian-immigrant family from Calabria. His father, Giovanni Broccoli, and great-uncle Pasquale de Cicco were Long Island truck farmers who sold their goods in New York City and were actually instrumental in popularizing the vegetable broccoli in the United States. Notwithstanding his humble family roots, Cubby was better connected than Saltzman. In the 30s, through his sharpie cousin Pat de Cicco, Pasquale’s son, a Hollywood playboy and the first husband of Gloria Vanderbilt, he had gained a toehold in the film industry, landing an assistant job on a Howard Hawks picture and later becoming close to Alan Ladd, the matinee-idol star of Shane and The Great Gatsby.
Taking advantage of the same tax breaks that had lured Saltzman to England, Broccoli and Allen had founded a British company, Warwick Films, that made its mark in the 50s with such war and adventure pictures as Paratrooper, Hell Below Zero, and The Cockleshell Heroes, the first two starring Ladd. In 1961, Broccoli worked his connections to secure a meeting in New York with Arthur Krim, the head of United Artists. Krim agreed to a budget of just over a million dollars for a James Bond movie. At last, a deal had been done.
Broccoli and Saltzman were keen to begin with the latest Bond novel, Thunderball. But in light of Kevin McClory’s pending lawsuit, they opted instead for Fleming’s sixth book, Doctor No, from 1958, which offered both a cinematically picturesque Jamaican setting and a sinister Eurasian villain who, on his private Caribbean island, Crab Key, plotted to sabotage U.S. rocket launches from Cape Canaveral—a story line that presciently anticipated the Cuban missile crisis, which unfolded the very month that Dr. No (as the film version was titled) was released in Britain. To ensure that things would run smoothly, Broccoli brought in a pair of trusted veterans from his Warwick days, the British director Terence Young and the American screenwriter Richard Maibaum. Maibaum was paired with Wolf Mankowitz to come up with a script.
Young, like Fleming, was a tall, rakish character of privileged background: educated at Cambridge, a tank commander in the Irish Guards during World War II. Maibaum, a native of the Bronx and frequent collaborator with Ladd, served in the war as director of the U.S. Army’s Combat Films Division, handling footage both for classified use and for dissemination to the public through newsreels. The first screenplay he wrote after the war was for Ladd’s film O.S.S.: a 1946 dramatization of the wartime work of the Office of Strategic Services that featured such proto-Bond touches as a clever espionage gadget (a Minox mini-camera) and a comely lady spy (Geraldine Fitzgerald).
In Young, Maibaum, and Saltzman, the Bond-movie team had a group of World War II vets who, like Fleming, were well versed in matters of military intelligence and would bring a level of vérité and nuance to what were otherwise playfully escapist entertainments. In Broccoli, who did his wartime bit as an ensign in the navy and a wrangler of Hollywood talent for morale-boosting shows for the troops, the Bond pictures had their great showman and salesman.
Fleming’s books are at once grittier and more preposterous than the Bond movies. His Bond registers fear and panic and has hangovers. But he’s also something of a bizarre, half-mad sociopath, at times evoking Patrick Bateman, the vain, self-assured brand-name dropper of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and Jean des Esseintes, the debauched hyper-aesthete of J. K. Huysmans’s À Rebours. Here is how Fleming, through Bond’s eyes, rather creepily describes Vesper Lynd, the first Bond girl (in print, anyway), in Casino Royale: “Her medium-length dress was of grey soie sauvage with a square-cut bodice, lasciviously tight across her fine breasts. The skirt was closely pleated and flowered down from a narrow, but not a thin, waist. She wore a three-inch, handstitched black belt.” In Goldfinger the novel, Bond, while tracking the villain through France, stops in Orléans—a place he dislikes, “a priest and myth ridden town without gaiety”—and takes in “one of his favourite meals: two oeufs cocotte à la crème, a large sole meunière (Orleans was close enough to the sea. The fish of the Loire are inclined to be muddy) and an adequate Camembert. He drank a well-iced pint of Rosé d’Anjou and had a Hennessy’s Three Star with his coffee.”
Clearly, the filmmakers were going to have to tamp down the soie-sauvage-noting and muddy-fish-despising aspects of the character to make him more sympathetic and relatable to audiences. At the same time, Cinema Bond would have to maintain the man-of-action toughness that warranted his Double-Oh status—his license, as granted by M.I.6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence service, to kill. This is why the casting of Connery was a masterstroke. Alone among actors, “Sean was able to suggest that dichotomy,” said Maibaum in an interview with the film historian Patrick McGilligan. “Fleming thought David Niven would have made a great James Bond,” Maibaum said, “but David Niven wasn’t all that physical. Originally, Roger Moore was considered for Bond, you know. Then Cubby saw something in Sean which he thought was what they wanted. They took a gamble with Sean; they would have been much safer with Roger.”
There is a phrase used almost universally by those involved in the early Bond films to describe Connery circa 1962: a “rough diamond.” He was born in 1930 in Edinburgh to a truckdriver and a charwoman. As a young man he worked a variety of menial jobs in Scotland, including driving a milk truck—a detail that seems to captivate biographers and associates (“He was a blasted milkman!” says Honor Blackman)—before traveling to London to compete in a bodybuilding contest, in which he finished third. When he was 22, he landed his first acting job, an ensemble part in a London production of South Pacific.
Connery’s looks and muscular build led to a middling early film career that showcased how attractive he was but little else. Moore, three years his senior, had the better track record and was on the verge of television stardom as the noble thief Simon Templar in The Saint. But Broccoli found Moore, at the time, to be “a shade too pretty” for Bond, and even when Moore finally assumed the role, in 1973’s Live and Let Die, his light touch and fundamental lack of menace required a recalibration of the Bond character.
Connery’s rough-hewn background served Cinema Bond well—it made him a more plausible creation than Fleming’s Bond. Whereas the latter is a roguish posh boy, steeped in the finer things in life, who just happens to be a cold-blooded assassin, the former is not unlike Don Draper as portrayed by Jon Hamm in Mad Men: a mysterious self-creation whose virile good looks opened doors in his young adulthood, and who seized upon these openings to learn the ropes as a gentleman, connoisseur, and lover, transforming himself into a convincing but dangerous facsimile of all of the above.
Not that anyone, Broccoli included, had any certainty of how well Connery would come off. Fleming was known to have his doubts, and Young, who had worked with Connery on one of the actor’s uninspiring 50s films, Action of the Tiger, made no bones about his feelings when Broccoli told him that Connery had been signed. “Oh, disaster, disaster, disaster!” he said.
But Young overcame his initial misgivings, becoming, in fact, the man most readily credited with shaping Connery’s Bond persona. It’s a disservice to Connery’s acting skills to say that he was simply doing his best Terence Young impression, but “Terence taught Sean, who was very basic in those days, a lot of good manners, and Terence felt himself like a James Bond–like person,” says Ken Adam, the production designer on nearly all of the Connery-era Bond movies. Young, who died in 1994, took Connery out to restaurants in Mayfair and introduced him to his bespoke tailor, Anthony Sinclair. While the oft told tale that Connery acclimated to his new handmade suits by sleeping in them is possibly apocryphal, Sinclair took pride in how his clothes functioned like a second skin on the star. “Any well-made suit,” he told an ABC News interviewer in the 60s, “you should be able to take it, roll it into a ball, crush it, stamp on it, sleep in it, and then”—smoothing the narrow, impeccably draped lapels of the Sinclair suit he himself was wearing—“there you are, you’re back again, you see?”
“Wow, This Is a Hit”
Dr. No’s gestation was not without its problems. Sometimes a sentiment prevailed, perhaps as a hedge against failure and ridicule, that the movie was just a bit of nonsense, a B picture. Adam, whose work on the film is absolutely masterful, remembers his wife telling him before the shooting began, “You can’t do this film—you’re prostituting your art!” Maibaum and Mankowitz were dissatisfied with Fleming’s conception of Dr. Julius No, considering him a tired Oriental baddie, a Fu Manchu stereotype, and the screenwriters’ first crack at a work-around was to turn the character of Dr. No into a corrupt English-Creole merchant shipper named Buckfield who conceals his identity, Scooby-Doo-ishly, under a rubber mask with an Asian man’s features. (In Broccoli’s telling of the story, Maibaum and Mankowitz had turned Dr. No into a monkey, which isn’t quite true; Buckfield kept a capuchin monkey as a sidekick.) Wisely, Broccoli and Saltzman steered the writers back to a conception of the villain closer to Fleming’s, but, still, Mankowitz was so mortified by the final script, which he deemed “crap,” that he successfully petitioned to have his name removed from the credits.
This sense of doubt recalled Fleming’s own insecurity-born deprecations of his books, which he referred to as “oafish” and “the pillow fantasies of an adolescent mind.” Nevertheless, Dr. No began to take shape as Broccoli and Saltzman had hoped it would, particularly in the scene that motivated them to choose this particular novel when their Thunderball plans fell through: the entrance of Ursula Andress’s character, Honey Ryder. “I remember when the rushes came back from Ursula coming out of the water. That was a big perk-up. Everybody thought, Wow, this is a hit,” says Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, then a 24-year-old aspiring entrepreneur who helped out the production as a location scout and factotum, bringing in some of the artists on his fledgling music label to work as grips.
In the book, the character is given the name Honeychile Rider, and she is first seen from the aft rather than the fore, utterly naked apart from the belt that carries her hunting knife. “The belt made her nakedness extraordinarily erotic,” Fleming writes. In the film, Andress emerges from the sea in a propped-up diving mask, a cream-colored belted bikini, and the knife—the effect no less erotic. Blackwell surmises that Honey was based on his mother, Blanche Lindo Blackwell, the daughter of a Jamaican sugar baron and Fleming’s extramarital lover in his later years. “She was a sort of macho female,” he says. “The relationship they had, how she and Ian bonded, was that they were both into doing things: climbing these falls, going into those caves, swimming here, snorkeling there.” (Blanche will turn 100 this December. Blackwell now owns the Goldeneye property, which he has expanded and turned into a resort.)
Andress’s was the last major part cast for Dr. No, just two weeks before shooting began. Broccoli and Saltzman, in their zeal to procure the absolutely most perfect woman possible for the role, had sifted through stacks of photos before happening upon hers. Their casting agent, Max Arnow, vouched that Andress, the Swiss wife of the heartthrob actor John Derek, was even more beautiful in real life, but that she had “a voice like a Dutch comic.” No problem; the producers hired her anyway, content to have another actress dub over her lines during the editing process. In so doing, Broccoli and Saltzman set a precedent for looks-first casting that would carry over into their future films. For the role of Tatiana Romanova, the Russian agent in From Russia with Love, their worldwide womanhunt brought them the pale and ravishingly cheekboned Italian beauty Daniela Bianchi, whose heavily accented English also had to be dubbed.
This casting philosophy applied to villains too. Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson (and later a collaborator with Maibaum on Bond screenplays), recalls watching the screen test of Harold Sakata, the Japanese-American pro wrestler who won the part of Oddjob, Goldfinger’s mute Korean henchman. “Guy Hamilton first instructed him, ‘Look mean,’ and then said to him, ‘Now, smile,’ ” Wilson says. “And it was the same expression!”
Similarly, Hamilton remembers watching, with Broccoli, a reel of a German film sent to them by an agent representing Gert Fröbe, the heavyset German actor who ended up playing Goldfinger. “The scene was Gert sitting on a park bench next to a very small boy and lasciviously offering sweets—this jolly, smiling pedophile,” Hamilton says. “Cubby was aghast. He said, ‘I’ve never seen someone seem so evil in my life!’ ” Assured that Fröbe spoke English, they signed him up. “A week before shooting, Fröbe arrives,” Hamilton says, “and greets me with ‘Mr. Hamilton, I look forvard to verking vit you.’ I say, ‘So, how is your hotel?’ And he says, ‘Mr. Hamilton, I look forvard to verking vit you.’ Obviously he couldn’t speak English. But he was splendid in the end”—with the help of some postproduction dubbing.
Dr. No’s visual maestro was Ken Adam, who worked wonders with a tiny production budget. Adam is proudest of a set he had in fact forgotten to factor into his budget or to schedule: the room where Dr. No, unseen, his voice piped in through a speaker, interrogates Professor Dent, the evil geologist (only a Bond film would have an evil geologist) who has fumbled his assignment to kill 007. When Young reminded him of the scene, Adam, in haste, drew up a large, stark room with a circle cut out of the ceiling and a metal grid in the circle, casting a web-like shadow upon Dent (Anthony Dawson), who cowers in an uncomfortable chair, while, in the foreground, a deadly tarantula creepy-crawls in a cage upon a table—the tarantula that Bond, foiling Dent’s murder attempt, will later whack to death with his shoe. “We did that whole set for, I believe, five or six hundred pounds,” Adam says. “That was the set that started, really, the whole ‘Bond-set feeling.’ ”
If the Bond-mania-era films have an unsung hero, it’s Dick Maibaum, the man who gave 007 his wit. Not only was it he who came up with the lighthearted zingers that Bond deployed after his enemies met their grisly ends (e.g., “Shocking, positively shocking” and “I think they were on their way to a funeral”), but Maibaum was also the Bond team’s foremost problem solver. While the conventional wisdom is that the movies are more fanciful and silly than the novels, Maibaum often found himself laboring to fix plot holes in the books that wouldn’t survive big-screen scrutiny and cleaning up Fleming’s sexual content, which ranges from unevolved to just plain dirty.
Fleming seems to have been especially obsessed with lesbianism, particularly lesbianism as a marker of derangement or criminality. Rosa Klebb, the Soviet villainess in From Russia with Love, has a grotesque scene in the book where, a moment after sternly lecturing the beautiful, terrified Tatiana Romanova on her mission to seduce Bond, Klebb briefly disappears and then reappears having slipped into something more comfortable: “a semi-transparent nightgown in orange crêpe de chine…. One dimpled knee, like a yellowish coconut, appeared thrust forward between the half open folds of the nightgown.” Pouring it on, Fleming concludes, “She looked like the oldest and ugliest whore in the world.” In the film, the hungry longings of Klebb (played with camp ferocity by Lotte Lenya) are more discreetly handled: a hand on Tatiana’s knee and some inappropriate hair touching. And in Goldfinger the novel, Pussy Galore hails, oddly, “from Harlem” and runs a lesbian crime ring that calls itself the Cement Mixers. Maibaum excised this ridiculous backstory and simply gave Pussy a serene hauteur and such lines as “You can turn off the charm: I’m immune.”
“I’ve kept the Lesbian angle,” Maibaum assured Broccoli and Saltzman in a letter, “but played it as ‘man-hating,’ a perfectly acceptable, recognizable proclivity.”
The consummate trouper, Maibaum persevered as Broccoli and Saltzman kept bringing in other writers to do polishes on his scripts and then asking him to polish these other writers’ polishes. Uncowed by his bosses’ bossiness, he was willing to confront them when he felt things were going too over-the-top, as when he read the British screenwriter Paul Dehn’s re-write of his Goldfinger first draft. “I feel that the whole tone of the script is unlike the previous Bond films,” Maibaum wrote in a memo (his papers are held by the University of Iowa). “It’s overboard on gags and gadgets, which are good in reasonable measure, but not at the expense of character. Bond emerges as a real horse’s-ass. First he is helpless in Oddjob’s hands, then he is bounced around by Pussy. This isn’t Sean Connery, it’s Bob Hope.”
Maibaum also conceived a better high-suspense set piece for Goldfinger than Fleming’s, which found Bond tied to a table and spread-eagled as a circular saw slowly approached his crotch. Having recently read a Life-magazine article about “an extraordinary kind of light, never found in nature,” Maibaum informed Broccoli and Saltzman, “I am dreaming up a machine which utilizes the new laser beam.” He described a “fiery red concentrated thin long blade emerging straight down from the contraption overhead, coming closer, closer, closer. With the same electrical whine the saw would have. This out-Flemings Fleming. Using the very latest scientific discovery in the old proven way of scaring the wits out of people.”
As the capper, Maibaum came up with what remains the most famous exchange in the Bond-film canon, in which Bond, on the table, desperately trying to buy time, says, “Do you expect me to talk?”
To which Goldfinger, in dinner jacket and bow tie, blithely responds, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
Like the quintessential single of the Beatlemania era, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Goldfinger was expressly conceived to break the American market big-time. In this regard it succeeded beyond expectations, earning $46 million worldwide in its initial box-office run ($23 million in the U.S.) and, for a time, holding the distinction of being the fastest-grossing film ever. Goldfinger took its place as the ultimate Bond film precisely because it goosed up the formula, with more girls, more locations, more quips, more gear, the first great Bond theme song (courtesy of Shirley Bassey), and that tricked-out Aston Martin DB5 with the tire slashers, machine guns, and ejector seat.
Ian Fleming, who visited the film’s Pinewood set in 1964, visibly unwell, did not live to see Goldfinger, dying of a heart attack a month before its London premiere, that September. He was only 56. His death occurred at the very moment when Cinema Bond had begun to transcend the literary creation, taking root not just as a popular movie character but as a totem of Western culture.
Connery tired long ago of talking about James Bond. He is 82 years old now and makes only the occasional public appearance in support of causes related to his beloved homeland, Scotland. As early as April 1964, when Goldfinger was in production, he was playing down the Bond-movie mystique, telling an interviewer that the pictures were largely celluloid confections that had little to do with him. “Remove the exotic touches and what have you got?” he said. “A dull, prosaic English policeman.” Whether he was being modest or disingenuous, he could not have been, to his enduring credit and that of all his collaborators, more wrong.