The release of “Skyfall” marks the 50th anniversary of Sean Connery’s dashing turn as the world’s most famous spy in the first James Bond film, “Dr. No.” Since then, 25 movies (six more with Connery) have been made from Ian Fleming’s 21 pulpy, chauvinistic and unashamedly sadistic novels and short stories that feature the secret agent. But perhaps more gripping than any single 007 adventure might be the saga of how an aristocratic playboy created a character that grew to become the most profitable franchise in international cinematic history. Did Fleming’s brief espionage career directly inspire the books? Or did he base Bond on a Serbian double agent famous for his powers of seduction? And what about the plagiarism suit brought against Fleming in the ’60s, which his heirs suppressed for decades? These books take us deep into the secrets and lies behind Fleming’s man of mystery.
The Origin Story
Since the character’s birth, Bond fanatics have scoured Fleming’s life for the inspiration–the one man, or perhaps the death-defying World War II mission–that may have directly inspired the creation of the character. A good place for them to start is with Andrew Lycett’s exhaustive biography, “Ian Fleming,” which takes readers from the author’s birth to his unfocused school days at Eton Prep, on through his short-lived stint in World War II espionage as an Admiral’s assistant in Naval Intelligence and into his lucrative writing career. Lycett provides plenty of possible Bond origin anecdotes that provide fodder for connoisseurs and amateurs alike. Hollywood luminaries from Leonardo DiCaprio to, most recently, David Bowie fils and “Source Code” director Duncan Jones have announced film adaptations of Lycett’s tome, though the full story has yet to be put to screen.
Ian Fleming, Plagiarist?
The blackest eye on the Bond franchise is the 1961 plagiarism suit brought against Fleming. Before Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman bought the rights to the books and made “Dr. No,” Fleming developed a Bond screenplay called “Thunderball” with producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham. When this project failed to get off the ground, Fleming turned the script into his next Bond novel–without crediting his collaborators. The series of legal actions chronicled in Robert Sellers‘ book ultimately culminates in McClory winning producer credit on the fourth Sean Connery film and, bizarrely, remaking the film in 1983 under the title “Never Say Never Again” (which, despite the return of Connery, lost at the box office to the “official” series entry, “Octopussy”). Nine months after appearing in court, Fleming was dead, the victim of a heart attack. Scarred and embarrassed by this greatest blot on his reputation, Fleming’s heirs successfully kept Sellers’ exposé out of stores by arguing he had reprinted personal correspondences without permission. Luckily for Bond fans and copyright law scholars, Tomahawk Press removed the material in question and reprinted.
The Spy Who Shagged Them
Dozens of books over the last five decades have purported to shed light on the one, true Bond inspiration, but “Spy/Counterspy” is easily the most fun, a brash autobiography of a Serbian double agent code-named “The Tricycle” for his talent for luring two women into bed simultaneously. Dusko Popov took to the talk-show circuit in the ’70s to boast that Fleming had based Bond upon his life–a claim Fleming could neither refute nor confirm from the grave. Though Popov might be more famous for allegedly warning J. Edgar Hoover about the Pearl Harbor attack months in advance or his role in feeding the Nazis false Allied D-Day attack plans (he is a key character in Ben MacIntyre‘s recent “Double Cross”), the highlight of this book for 007 fans will undoubtedly be the Baccarat tableside encounter with Fleming that clearly planted the seed that would spawn “Casino Royale” a decade later.
Bond Author as Secret Spy
Fleming conspiracy nuts will enjoy hunting down this out-of-print gem: “17F: The Life of Ian Fleming,” by Donald McCormick. A WWII military man turned postwar journalist like Fleming himself, McCormick idolized his fellow Brit’s immense success in these endeavors, and his writing is filled with awe and reverence. Unlike the down-to-earth Lycett, McCormick throws in with the sexier pop theory that Bond is very much based on Fleming himself, hinting at connections with the Nazis who attempted to assassinate Hitler, an affair with perhaps the most famous female spy of the war and even insinuating that Fleming couldn’t have written such true-to-life tales without continuing his own career in espionage long after the fighting ended and deep into the Cold War era.
Bond Movies Behind the Scenes
Planning on celebrating Bond’s 50th anniversary by watching all the movies back to back? The Syfy channel’s annual Bond marathon is just before Thanksgiving, and veteran film journalist Bill Desowitz‘s film-by-film analysis, “James Bond Unmasked,” is your perfect guide. Replete with quotes from both actors and behind-the-scenes craftsmen, the book reads like a deluxe DVD extras reel. Desowitz’s commentary especially succeeds in putting each film in context within the series as a greater whole. But the true highlights of this work are the one-on-one interviews with each of the six Bond actors. Before you turn up your nose at actor interviews as just press-junket fluff, keep in mind that the author’s interview with Connery is the only time the surly Scot has broken his moratorium on Bond-related interviews since the ’80s, and Desowitz’s sit-down with Timothy Dalton is one of only two that actor has given since being unceremoniously replaced by Pierce Brosnan after only two films.
Take It From an Expert Drinker
Sir Kingsley Amis (father of Martin, a literary lion himself) is one of the few writers whose fame might have been on par with Fleming’s own in the years he was penning the 007 novels. So it was more than noteworthy when, shortly after Fleming’s death, Amis declared his intention to write a 5,000-word essay defending Her Majesty’s Secret Servant from the barbs of critics–an essay that soon blossomed into a 100-plus-page book. The “Dossier” reads like the transcript of a silver-tongued, powdered-wig defense attorney. Amis explains that Bond works hard at honing his near-superhuman skill set, never hits or abuses women and, defying his misogynistic reputation, even develops real feelings for a handful of them. At one point, Amis goes so far as to compare Fleming’s works to “The Odyssey.” But most notably, legend has it that this book marks the coining of the term “Bond-girl” (as Amis writes it). Fleming’s heirs were so touched by Amis’ work, that he would be the first author they would ask to write a post-Fleming Bond novel: “Colonel Sun,” in 1968.
Bond in Pictures
Though short on words, this series from the official Bond set photographer gives the reader more of the feeling of being on location with the cast and crew than any diary ever could. Greg Williams has published his photos for every 007 since “Die Another Day”–but “Casino Royale” is the most exciting, not only capturing the nervous tension of restarting the series anew with a first-time Bond, but also reminding the reader how daring a film this really was, with numerous key scenes choreographed around complicated Texas Hold ‘Em stand-offs. Behind-the-scenes highlights include Daniel Craig familiarizing himself with the feel of several different guns at a shooting range, a henchman posing with his own life-sized dummy (which Craig was about to throw down a staircase) and the effervescent smile of Eva Green lighting up the lens despite the heavy subject matter she’s tackling when the larger cameras roll.