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Talking Bond

By tomsoterwriting - Posted on 21 October 2015


            There was no Incredible World of 007.No James Bond Bedside Companion. No Official James Bond 007 Movie Book. There was no James Bond: The Legacy or All About Bond. There was no The Art of Bond or The James Bond Poster Book. There was no Licence to Thrill or The Politics of James Bond.

It was 1979, and there were only three, maybe four, books about James Bond, and only two specifically about the Bond films, perhaps the most successful cinematic series in history. (There was the hardcover James Bond in the Cinema, which offered plot synopses of the Bonds from 1962 to 1979, and For Bond Lovers Only, a hard-to-find paperback from 1965 that featured reprints of magazine articles about the series.) Produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the movie franchise about the secret agent with a license to kill had, between 1962 and 1979, grossed a fortune – and yet, when I approached numerous publishers with the idea of a book on the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the Bonds, I was turned down flat, with each company saying the same thing: “No one is interested in a book on the Bond moies.”

I was flabbergasted.

I was sure there was a book in it. I wrote a proposal that included a sample chapter about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, (primarily because I had an issue of American Cinematographer that covered the behind-the-scenes story of the movie). The proposal was vetted by Jim Kotsilibas-Davis, my boss (and also my mother’s cousin) at Firehouse magazine. With one published book and another on the way, he would be a good person to advise me, or so I thought. In any event, he copyedited my book proposal and gave it the odd title of The Film Bond, which to me sounded like an esoteric volume on foreign art films. But, hey, he was the expert.

That proposal made the rounds of the publishers. It even snagged me an agent. But no one was interested.

Then, I heard that the producer Cubby Broccoli was scheduled to speak at an event at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which was paying tribute to the series by displaying posters, props, and other memorabilia from the series. “Here’s your chance,” said Jim at Firehouse. “Go meet him at the event and get him to write an introduction to your book! That’ll be a selling point to a publisher.”

I dutifully went, I dutifully watched a Bond film (You Only Live Twice) presented there, and then I dutifully ran up to the bulky producer as he was walking away with a crowd of followers.

“Mr. Broccoli, Mr. Broccoli,” I said breathlessly. “I’m writing a book on the Bond films, and I wonder: would you write the introduction?”


He paused for a moment, digesting what I had said and staring at me with a withering look. “I don’t mean to be rude, but you can’t write a book about the Bond films.”

Was that a threat?

So much for the Albert R. Broccoli endorsement as a selling tool.

It was 1980, and I’d spent at least a year on this project. I was depressed and discouraged – and then, out of nowhere, I received a call from Thomas Yoseloff. He told me he was the publisher of A.S. Barnes & Co. books in San Diego and The Tantivity Press in London. He wanted to meet me to talk about my Bond book.

I had seen (and even owned) some A.S. Barnes film books (which is why, I guess, I had sent the company my proposal), and I was thrilled. We met at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, where Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and other literary lights had gathered in the 1930s, trading quips at the famous Algonquin Round Table.

Yoseloff, a short, white-haired man with wire-rim glasses, seemed more like an insurance salesman than a publisher. We sat down for lunch at an elegantly appointed table and talked about the book, which he envisioned as a hardcover with some color pictures. That was all very exciting, I said to him, but if Broccoli wasn’t going to cooperate, how could we proceed? How would we get rights to the photos and other artwork from the movies?

He brushed aside my worries as though they were a fly buzzing around his shoulder. “What we always do in our movie books is to use the photos without permission and thank the film companies for the photos in the acknowledgments section,” he explained. “These are big companies and they often don’t bother to check, so when you acknowledge them, they assume you’ve got permission.”

This was the sort of logic that got you into jail – or at least into a lawsuit, but I was twenty-four, and to paraphrase The X-Files’ Fox Mulder, “I wanted to believe.”

That eagerness to write this book was a driving force. Certainly, it wasn’t the money. He offered me $1,000 for the book, $500 when I signed and $500 when I finished. And I would have to pay my own expenses. Like a rube bewitched by a carny act in which he pays to have water balls thrown at him, I thought, “What a deal!” Against the advice of some friends, I signed a contract for The Film Bond and in late 1980, I began working on the book.

In those pre-internet days, I did much of my research at the Lincoln Center branch of the public library, where I printed out copies of articles from the 1960s and 1970s about the Bonds.

I also had an exciting breakthrough. Alan Saly, a friend of mine who worked in the archives at CBS News Radio, had come across the script to a 1954 episode of the anthology series Climax that was an adaptation of the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. It had featured Barry Nelson as the first Bond (eight years before Sean Connery starred in the first film), Linda Christian as the first “Bond Girl,” and Peter Lorre as the first Bond villain, Le Chiffre. The program had been shot live and no kinescope was then known to exist – one was found much later – so this was a real coup. (I used material from the script to prod the memories of Barry Nelson and producer Harry Ackerman.)


After that, I wrote to as many people involved in the Bonds as I could, with Roger Moore expressing some interest, and other participants actually giving me interviews. For some reason – perhaps because we were fellow writers – those who wrote the screenplays (Wolf Mankowitz, Roald Dahl, Ken Hughes) were the most willing to talk. But the most gracious and forthcoming scenarist of all was Tom Mankiewicz, son of the famous director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve). He was warm, witty, and wise about the Bonds, and in 1980, shared his memories and insights on Connery, Moore, and the three films he had written or co-written in the 1970s: Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun. (He also  contributed uncredited material to The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.) At the end of the ninety-minute interview, I thanked him for the time he had spent with me, and he said, “I appreciate your affection for the pictures.” I replied: “I know you might not believe this but I actually did see Diamonds about fourteen times.” “Oh, so you’re the one,” he said with a laugh. “That’s terrific.” He died in 2010, at age sixty-eight. Some excerpts from our talk can be read in my new book, DRIVING ME CRAZY.