CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 8, 2018 – James Bond fans, take note. Fifty-five years ago, American movie goers were introduced to one of the most iconic names in motion picture history. His name: James Secretan.
As his creator confessed, “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find. Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.”
The author who spoke those words was Ian Fleming. His character later became known as James Bond, the secret agent who spawned the fourth largest movie franchise in cinema history.
James Bond once fancied a very different kind of bird
Fleming, an avid ornithologist, arrived at the name “James Bond” from a fellow birdwatcher. Author James Bond wrote the definitive book on Caribbean birds titled “Birds of the West Indies,” and his name fit the parameters of Fleming’s imagination perfectly.
Fleming later added that, the name “‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.” But for all the critical and media verbiage expended on Britain’s super-spy, there remain countless bits of information about the character that remain lost or ignored even as we celebrate the 55th anniversary of his U.S. film debut in “Dr. No.”
Sean Connery does it better
Most Bond lovers have long rated Scottish actor Sean Connery, the first James Bond, as the quintessential embodiment of the character envisioned by Ian Fleming.
Oddly enough, Roger Moore, the second person to appear in the lead role, became an early favorite to play Bond. But the filmmakers eliminated him at the time because they regarded him as too young for the part.
Another popular choice was Cary Grant. But the producers and filmmakers balked. They wanted to perpetuate the franchise and they knew Grant would only commit to one film.
James Mason was also said to be under consideration.
Fleming’s candidate was supposedly British actor Richard Todd, followed closely by David Niven. Eventually, Niven did play the role in Woody Allen’s 1967 spoof of “Casino Royale.” But critics don’t consider that strange cinematic trifle as part of the James Bond franchise.
In the end, it was Connery’s interview with producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that won the day. And Connery hit the jackpot as well. By the time he appeared in “Goldfinger,” the third film of the series, he had evolved into a major international film star, largely thanks to his portrayal of James Bond.
Who was James Bond, really? Why, Sean Connery, of course
Though Ian Fleming’s Bond had a 3-inch vertical scar on his right cheek, none of the actors who have played in the 24-films to date feature that characteristic.
Fleming based the looks and image of his character upon the traits of several individuals he encountered during his time in Naval Intelligence in World War II. Not the least of Fleming’s Bond “types” was his brother Peter, who had spent time behind the lines in Norway and Greece during the war.
In Ian Fleming’s imagination, the author wanted his character to resemble a combination of himself and singer/actor Hoagy Carmicheal only with a “cold and ruthless” demeanor.
At the time of Ian Fleming’s first book-length Bond adventure “Casino Royale”(1952), the spy novel had become widely scorned in British literary circles. By re-inventing the genre to fit postwar Britain, Fleming proved he had the magic touch, capturing the imagination of his audience with a jet age version of Bulldog Drummond. The rest is history.
As for Connery, he had earned his keep in some small television roles. He also played bit parts in a few films as well as hitting the boards in repertory theater.
That was before he gained notice acting opposite glamor queen Lana Turner in “Another Time, Another Place” in 1958. The following year, Connery appeared in “Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure” as well as Walt Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” But it was his portrayal of James Bond that turned him into box office gold.
Those “other Bonds”
There have been five other Bonds since Sean Connery initiated 007’s run at the start of the series’ 55-year run. Namely Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, currently, Daniel Craig. Oh, and let’s not forget that one-hit wonder, poor, long-forgotten George Lazenby.
Today, many critics consider Craig’s version of “Casino Royale” to be the best picture of the franchise. Quite an accomplishment considering Sean Connery had long been regarded as everyone’s favorite actor portraying James Bond.
Finding 007 and tracking “Dr. No”
One particularly interesting aspect of the James Bond mystique is the origination of his famous number: 007. Fleming got the idea from a major British code-breaking success during World War I. Something called the “Zimmerman Telegram” was cracked using the code “0075.” Britain’s accomplishment is said to have been one of the primary factors leading to the United States to enter that war.
James Bond, Fleming’s first and only 007 debuted in the cinematic universe in October 1962 at the world-premiere showing of “Dr. No” in London. That very first Bond flick did not reach North America until May 8, 1963. Opening in only 450 U.S. theaters initially, it wasn’t until May 29, 1963 that “Dr. No” was seen in Los Angeles and New York.
Despite the now five-decade run of this classic spy series, that first Bond movie, “Dr. No,” got mixed reviews in the U.S. “Time” wrote that Bond was a “blithering bounder” and “a great big hairy marshmallow” who “almost always manages to seem slightly silly.”
As is often the case, however, those nay-saying critics proved less than brilliant in the long run. In 2005 the American Film Institute recognized the character of James Bond as filmdom’s “third greatest hero.” “Empire” ranked him 11th and “Premiere” rated Bond as the “fifth greatest movie character of all time.”
To CDN readers, “with love”
One final note: The famous scene in “From Russia with Love,” where Bond discovers the lovely Tatiana provocatively lounging in his hotel bed was initially used as the screen test for that picture’s lead female role.
Ever since, re-enacting that scene has become the traditional screen test for auditioning prospective James Bond actors and co-starring Bond girls alike.
In and of itself, that screen test routine is quite sufficient enough to keep prospective leads both “shaken” as well as “stirred.” It also helps insure that no matter what the adventure, James Bond and his latest Bond Girl will always have the right kind of chemistry to drive each Bond film’s roller coaster ride of thrills, chills and over-the-top spy romance.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.