Nobody Does it Better

Thursday, November 8, 2012

He's shaken us, he's stirred us - and after 50 years, he's still as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Almost lost in the political rigamaroar of the season is the anniversary of the most successful character in the history of film, James Bond. Only fellow Brit evil-fighter Harry Potter comes close.

When "Skyfall" breaks Friday, it will be the 23rd Bond movie since 1962.

Here's a bit of Bond trivia that I've dug up for the occasion:

* Author Ian Fleming was an intelligence officer himself (Code name 17F) involved in the planning stages of Operation Mincemeat and Operation Golden Eye during WWII, and his experience provided much of the detail and depth of the James Bond novels. Although he was the wealthy son of a member of Parliament, he failed as a banker and as a stockbroker, and turned to writing to distract himself from nerves over his upcoming marriage to a pregnant girlfriend.

* The first movie James Bond was supposed to be Richard Burton in 1959, and horror legend Alfred Hitchcock was supposed to direct. Both dropped out as did financial backers and the script written by Bond author Fleming was hastily reworked and published as his novel "Thunderball."

* Think the first Bond was Sean Connery? Think again. Fleming's first Bond book, "Casino Royale," was worked into a TV episode in 1954 starring American actor Barry Nelson as "Jimmy Bond." Just doesn't have the same ring.

* For the first Bond film actually produced, Cary Grant was first choice to play Bond, but he was only willing to sign for one film. A male model was recruited, but couldn't pull off the role. Connery, who had been rejected because of his non-English accent, was given the job. "I wanted a ballsy guy," the producer said. "Put a bit of veneer over that tough Scottish hide and you've got Fleming's Bond instead of all the mincing poofs we had applying for the job."

* Daniel Craig is officially the sixth actor to be Bond - although two independent films stealing the character would up the total to eight, and several others played the superspy in TV and radio incarnations.

* The name "James Bond" was borrowed from an American author of a book on birwatching - a favorite hobby of Fleming's. "When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument," Fleming said. "When I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard."

* Fleming always maintained that the character of Bond was a mishmash of all the espionage types he met during the war, but many believe it is actually the persona of Fleming's brother Peter, who he worshipped, a secret operative behind the lines during the war. Traits from several of quirky top spies of the Allies were intentionally included. Bond inherited Fleming's own golf handicap, gambling habit, fascination with gadgets, preclusion for affairs with married women, and taste for eggs.

* Fleming envisaged that Bond would resemble the composer, singer and actor Hoagy Carmichael, although biographers say aspects of Fleming's own looks are included in his description of Bond - "dark, rather cruel good looks." (Above is Fleming's original sketch of the character he planned.)

* Many of the villains in Bond books and movies were named for actual people Fleming knew and disliked, including a boy he had fought with as a child.

* Fleming was one of President John F. Kennedy's favorite authors, and the two spent time together in Washington.

* Fleming suggested the names for the characters in the TV spy spoof series "Man From U.N.C.L.E." and wrote the children's story "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" that was made into a Disney movie.

* A heavy drinker and smoker, Fleming died after a heart attack in 1964. His last words, in the true style of an unflappable British gentleman, were to apologize to the ambulance driver for the inconvenience. "I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don't know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days."

* Fleming's last books, "The Man with the Golden Gun" and "Octopussy and The Living Daylights" were published posthumously despite being only half finished.

* A literary device is named for the author - the "Fleming Sweep" - a "hook" at the end of each chapter to heighten tension and carry the reader into the next.

* The biggest goof in Bond history - Australian actor George Lazenby appeared as Bond in just one movie - "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." He was offered a seven-film deal, but left the role after his agent convinced him that the Bond character was outdated and no one would go to see those movies.

* To escape comparisons with the brutal, womanizing portrayal by Connery, the next Bond, Roger Moore, intentionally went for a more comedic, deboniare, and graceful portrayal, which he continued to age 57 in a dozen flicks. He had Bond quit smoking and exchange martinis for bourbon. Later, Pierce Brosnan sought to recapture the Moore-era Bond, while Daniel Craig is a throwback to the darker, muscular portayal originated by Connery.

* Bond films are known for some of the best original film songs by major stars and have won many Academy Awards - Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die", Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better," Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only" Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love."

* Among the "Bond Girls," is Queen Elizabeth, escorted into the Olympic stadium last summer by Craig in his superspy role.

In a world of terrorism, mass murder and nuclear weapons, Bond persists, ever the stylish, sexy, witty gallant, moving effortlessly though time. In another 50, I'm guessing, he will still be here.