Those of you who watched the Oscars a few weeks ago probably share with me a bit of nostalgia as they romped through what they called “Fifty Years of Bond”. For me the memories were especially sweet because Mary and I were in from the beginning.
We had been married only a short time when someone leaked the news that one of JFK’s favorite books was From Russia with Love. Of course if someone famous, especially someone with the name FitzGerald buried in there somewhere, liked a book, nothing would do but that we read it. And, being pretty voracious readers (I used to put how many books a year I read in my resume), we started and ended up reading all the Bond books Ian Fleming wrote and several written after his death.
Fleming has been criticized for depicting English bullying and snobbery as admirable traits. I am unsure of any attraction bullying had for me, but being a military officer with less money than would support my wishes and, finding myself in the Philippine Islands at a time where the dollar was exceptionally strong, and having access to Hong Kong which at the time was steeped in English heritage, Bond became my alter ego.
Me and many others. To date the Fleming books have sold more than 100 million copies. Although only about twenty per cent as many as Harry Potter’s, J. K. Rowling, many more were sold than those by Beatrix Potter. And almost all of his books have been made into films. The first was Dr. No, which coincidently had just opened worldwide in 1962, when Mary and I were visiting Hong Kong. While it may seem prosaic to go to a movie while visiting one of the most interesting cities in the world, it fit our budget and it was showing without subtitles.
The scene I remember was the famous one in which Ursula Andress, as Honey Rider comes out of the sea in a white bikini. I’ve always felt she was the inspiration for the joke where the man is marooned on an island for years without company. A beautiful woman comes ashore in a wet suit and proceeds to give him first, cigarettes, then whiskey and finally asks if he wants to Play Around”. He misunderstands the phrases and asks, “You mean you have golf clubs in there?”
Bond, played by Sean Connery responds to Honey’s question, “Are you looking for shells?” Responding, “Just looking.” The first of many double entendres weaving their way through the rest of the Bond films.
Much of Bond in the books was autobiographical or at least was based on people and experiences of which Fleming had firsthand experience. Books written after Connery began to give Bond more nuance in his personality showed more humor and love of gadgetry, which is probably responsible for the great attraction the films and books have enjoyed over time.
Some of the original traits still remain. Fleming took his martinis seriously and very well might have preferred “shaken not stirred”. He also was a gambler and Bond’s method for staying inconspicuously at the roulette table for long periods by alternatively betting red and black, and avoiding the more risky system of betting numbers, is one I have used successfully through the years.
As I prepare to watch Skyfall 007 on my Apple TV from my iPad I can’t help but reflect at how, although many things have changed in the last 50 years, much has remained the same.
At least as Bond goes.
In my next post I’m going to hop on the Pope bandwagon, or more accurately the Pope-mobile, and give my observations on the new selection. I promise some secular interest and hope you’ll join me.