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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Nobody Does it Better

The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond

Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross

Forge Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

JUST SAY (DOCTOR) NO.…


“Why is it that people who can’t take advice always insist on giving it?”

BY Mark A. Altman

If you’re someone like me who plays “Arrival in Miami” on their iPhone blasting through earbuds as they come in for a landing at Miami International Airport or insists on staying at the Hotel Fontainebleau because that’s where Bond first tangled with Auric Goldfinger and drank Dom Pérignon ’53 at 38 degrees Fahrenheit with golden girl Jill Masterson, then this book is definitely for you.

And it’s decidedly not just “man talk.”

There have been a myriad of truly spectacular books written about the only gentleman secret agent with a license to kill—and thrill—over the years (and my bookshelf is filled with them), but for Ed Gross and me, we wanted to do something different and unique in examining the 007 oeuvre, to not only explore the making of these seminal films but also examine why they have had such an incredible impact and enduring appeal for fans as well as an entire generation of contemporary filmmakers who grew up on these movies.

Full disclosure: the first 007 movie I ever saw in a theater, which inspired my lifelong obsession with James Bond, was quite improbably The Man with the Golden Gun (although you could argue it was North by Northwest, really, which I saw at the wonderful Thalia revival house in Manhattan with my mom, that inspired my obsessive devotion to cinema ever since), which my parents took me to see when I was seven years old. To say it was a life-changing experience would not be an overstatement. Ironically, the film that inspired my passion for 007 is probably now one of my least beloved installments, but I will forever be grateful for its lighting the spark of my imagination as well as immediately sending me to the library, where I began haunting the stacks to check out all the Ian Fleming novels as well.

My story is similar to many of the others you will read about in this book. From then on, it was years of watching the movies, often truncated and out-of-sequence, on the still justly beloved ABC Sunday Night Movie. There was something truly magical about Ernie Anderson’s stentorian voice announcing, “Tonight, Sean Connery is James Bond, 007, in the one that started it all, Dr. No.” To me, the famous star tunnel and opening strains of The ABC Sunday Night Movie theme are as indelibly a part of Bond lore as anything in the films themselves. Strangely enough, I can still remember how they banished On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (or as Bond aficionados and typesetters know it best, OHMSS) to Friday nights and was amazed to see the pre-title teaser of Goldfinger for the first time on VHS (incongruously following a Pink Panther cartoon) since it had been routinely excised on ABC to make the film fit a two-hour time slot with commercials.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the Seventies, there were a few arguments that one routinely had in the schoolyard: Mets or Yankees (Mets!), Star Trek or Star Wars (Trek!), Giants or Jets (I don’t care!), and, most importantly, Sean Connery or Roger Moore. I have to admit, I loved them both. As much as Connery was and always will be the most iconic 007, Roger Moore crafted an equally memorable, albeit far different, take on Bond as a debonair gentleman spy. (Other than me, I don’t think anyone else in middle school actually knew who George Lazenby was, BTW.)

Of course, I was the proud owner of a Corgi DB5 silver Aston Martin and most of the soundtrack albums, some of which I covertly purloined from my parents’ stereo rack, and would religiously buy the Best of Bond LPs, which inevitably would be updated every time a new 007 movie came out with the latest title song. I often wondered what would happen when there would be too many songs to fit on one record, failing to anticipate the arrival of the compact disc or MP3s, which allowed you to have both Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” and k.d. lang’s “Surrender” in your Bond songs compilation without ever risking running out of space.

In the following years, I’ve probably spent the equivalent of a small mortgage payment on buying and re-buying all the films on VHS, then laser disc, then laser disc box set, then DVD, then Special Edition DVD, then Ultimate Special Edition DVD, to be followed by Blu-ray, 50th anniversary Blu-ray box set, SVOD, and inevitably 4K UHD.

Watching the opening of any Bond movie is special, its always holding the promise that it will be the best one yet; the strains of the “James Bond Theme,” the gun barrel logo, the hint of nudity in the always spectacular opening credits. But if The Man with the Golden Gun had proven to be my gateway drug into the incredible world of 007, it was seeing The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 at a multiplex in Valley Stream, Long Island, that would make me a lifetime member. In my opinion, the best of Roger Moore’s films, Spy had it all—except anything lifted from the novel, of course. It was the one book that Ian Fleming demanded the producers not adapt (although there are small vestiges of two of the characters in the film that remain). I never missed the arrival of a James Bond film, and I could tell you every theater I ever saw them at. I vividly remember, on my very first book tour, I played hooky from a book signing while in San Francisco to go see GoldenEye opening day at the Castro. As my coauthor Ed Gross once joked in a moment of gallows humor uncharacteristic of him, it’s disappointing to know that one day we’ll be dead, but they’ll still be making James Bond films we’ll never get to see. That said, it kind of bummed us both out.

And speaking of bummers, I recall being particularly agitated over a decade ago when it was first announced Daniel Craig had been cast as James Bond. I just couldn’t square the craggy-faced star of Tomb Raider as my favorite gentleman agent with a license to kill. Sure, I loved him in Layer Cake and Munich, but the rotten son in Road to Perdition was no 007. I remember being so irate, and perhaps a tad inebriated, while attending the Sitges Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain, moments after the announcement had come out that I began to ask every British tourist I could find what they thought in the hopes it would buoy my spirits, only to find they were as flummoxed and gobsmacked as I was about this rather odd casting choice. But leave it to Barbara Broccoli to make us all look like complete fools in what proved to be perhaps the most inspired, original, and savvy casting choice since Sean Connery himself was first hired by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

It’s a testament that over the course of more than five decades, this unique family business, first under the aegis of the late, great Cubby Broccoli and later daughter Barbara and Michael Wilson, has managed to never miscast a Bond. Sure, there have been better Bonds and worse, but none of them have ever been irredeemably awful or miscast. Every one of them has earned the right to wear that tuxedo and intone, “Bond, James Bond.” They left us both shaken and stirred and it’s comforting to know that they will for many, many years to come.

And the Broccoli family has given my family a great gift as well. In the last few months of finishing this exhaustive tome, I was forced to give up my prized Sideshow James Bond action figures to my ten-year-old son, Isaac, who has become as obsessed with the films as his father. Like my amazing dad, Michael, before me, I am now passing on 007 to the next generation of Bond fan. When he looked up at me after studying a photo of the ornate conference room in Thunderball and said, “Do you notice in the briefing that Bond sits in the seventh seat for 007,” I couldn’t have been more proud. He’d unearthed something even I had never realized. And to listen to him do a mean Donald Pleasence as he returns to his room saying, “We heard you were assassinated in Hong Kong … well, you only live twice, 007,” made it clear he deserved every one of those action figures, from Dr. No to Oddjob to Pussy Galore to, gulp, Jaws, as painful as it might have been for me to part with them.

So this is not a “making of” book you’re now holding in your hands (or tablet). You’re going to read a lot of commentary and opinions that will infuriate you, excite you, and absolutely baffle you. That’s part of the fun of being a Bond fan, and we wanted to bring those conversations to these pages, the same ones you and your friends have over martinis at the local watering hole or over a pint at a nearby pub; we wanted to create a fresh, new take on the 007 films by not only chronicling the making of these movies, but allowing other filmmakers, critics, and fans to share their thoughts about these movies and their impact over the decades.

While you may disagree with a lot of what you read in these pages, we hope the one opinion you will share when all is said and done is that “this is the big one, 007.” It was for us. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Ejector seat not included.

Maybe Christmas does come more than once this year after all.

Mark A. AltmanOctober 29, 2018


TOMORROW NEVER LIES


“I’m putting on a little scientific demonstration in Iceland this weekend. Perhaps you could join us?”

BY Edward Gross

James Bond wielded the knife with obvious skill. He approached, blade barely glinting in the light, and pounced, the knife coming down to join the awaiting fork. “I usually eat fruit,” he said simply, “but today I’m in the mood for a good English breakfast.” And with that, he began his meal.

Admittedly it’s not stopping Ernst Stavro Blofeld from stealing space capsules, weaponizing diamonds, and authoring all of Bond’s pain; preventing Auric Goldfinger from radiating the gold in Fort Knox or having Karl Stromberg and Hugo Drax threaten humanity with extinction, but it was my experience with Agent 007 back in 1994.

At the time, I was senior editor at Cinescape magazine and writing a cover story on the 17th James Bond movie—and the first one to star Pierce Brosnan—GoldenEye. Even more incredibly, I was flown to England to spend a few days on the set at Leavesden Studios, later to be home to the Star Wars prequels and Harry Potter films.

Back in the day, a set visit was an entirely different experience than it is now. For the most part, these days, whenever you’re invited to a movie set it’s usually as a part of “genre day,” where upwards of 30 entertainment journalists are brought in at exactly the same time to speak to exactly the same people and get exactly the same quotes. But in 1994, I was one of only two journalists who came to the GoldenEye set on those select days, and while being ushered around from interview subject to interview subject, was allowed free rein to walk around and take things in while being sure not to interfere with filming.

Oh, okay.

You have to understand how mind-blowing a situation this was for a guy who grew up on the Bond films, and whose earliest “movie memories” include Sean Connery as Bond, trapped on that traction machine in 1965’s Thunderball. From there, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I became obsessed with all things 007. Either my parents brought me or I went with my friends (and bear in mind that we weren’t even 10 years old—times were definitely different) to the movies to see You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Thunderball and You Only Live Twice; Diamonds Are Forever and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and Diamonds Are Forever (thank God for double-feature rereleases). Then, one day in 1971, my friends and I went to a matinee at the Marine Theatre on Flatbush Avenue to see a triple feature of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger—the first time I had seen any of them, so they were like brand-new Bond adventures to me.

We moved to Long Island in 1972 (on the night, coincidentally, that ABC ran Goldfinger for the first time on The ABC Sunday Night Movie). While I had to leave my life in Brooklyn behind, I had taken James Bond with me on the trip, and he’s never left. Roger Moore is James Bond? Okay, no problem. He wasn’t the same as Sean Connery, but this was James Bond and I wasn’t going anywhere (although The Man with the Golden Gun seemed to do everything it could to push me away). I saw The Spy Who Loved Me at the former Meadowbrook Theatre in East Meadow, New York, the lobby of which was adorned with not only a wide variety of stills, posters, and banners for the film, but had the Lotus Esprit right there to be gawked at. Two years later, I was in Manhattan at the Rivoli Theatre, watching Moonraker in 70mm, and remember to this day my stunned joy at the pre-credit sequence, which had Bond thrown out of a plane without a parachute, and having to catch up to the baddie who had one to wrestle it away from him.

By the time For Your Eyes Only was released in 1981, I was attending college and on the school newspaper, and came into New York to interview producer Michael G. Wilson—and it was pretty amazing to me to be sitting there talking to someone actually involved with the James Bond films. Two years later, history would repeat itself, in that I would go and meet with director John Glen for Octopussy. Jump ahead two years and I was interviewing screenwriter Richard Maibaum regarding The Living Daylights; two years after that I was conducting interviews at the press junket for Licence to Kill, sitting right next to Timothy Dalton and asking him questions about his approach to Bond (he was serious) and how his take was different from Roger Moore’s (he was serious). Things went on from there as I embarked on my journalism career, once again bringing 007 with me as I conducted various interviews over the years.

Which brings me back to Pierce Brosnan’s trailer, chatting with him over breakfast—though it actually wasn’t the first time I’d spoken to the actor about James Bond. Back in 1986, while he was promoting his first starring role in a feature film, Nomads, there were rumblings aplenty that he would be offered the role, as Roger Moore had wrapped up his time with the character.

“There’s no truth,” he responded in that first conversation. “I’ve never been asked to play James Bond. Next question is, would I like to play James Bond? Well, I suppose I would like to have a crack, yes, but it hasn’t been a lifetime ambition to play James Bond. But the last year and a half I wish they would make up their minds one way or another, either cast somebody else or go ahead and offer me the damn part, because not a day goes by now without someone saying, ‘You’re going to make a great James Bond.’ ‘When are you playing James Bond?’ ‘We hear you’re playing James Bond.’ But no one has ever come to me and said, ‘Pierce, my dear boy, we’d like you to play Jimmy Bond.’ And so that may knock the rumor on its head, but I’ve said that before and the rumor seems to keep going round.”

For the record, he would be offered the role shortly thereafter, and signed, but released from his contract when NBC screwed him over by renewing his canceled series, Remington Steele, at the last possible moment, hoping to cash in on the Bond films’ popularity. The Bond people were having none of that, so Pierce was released and Timothy Dalton took on the part in 1987’s The Living Daylights.

In any case, I sat there with Pierce in his trailer for about 30 minutes, barely concealing my excitement as I hit him with what I wanted to be riveting questions. Instead, I came out with the most obvious one you could imagine: “So, how does it feel to finally say for the camera, ‘My name is Bond. James Bond’?”

“I suppose,” he replied between bites of breakfast, “it’s like it would be for any guy in a play. It’s not quite on par with Shakespeare, but nevertheless, it is known by the man in the street. The whole world knows it. Perhaps more than ‘To be or not to be…’ Yes, I find myself brushing my teeth in the morning, kind of mumbling the lines. Of course I do. I just practice it, I say it and I crack myself up. It’s quite funny, just a breath away from parody, really. I just kept it as simple as possible because I’m very aware that the audience is waiting for me to say it, so I share the moment with them.”

I also mentioned that the impression I have is that his Bond will be a hybrid of Sean Connery’s and Roger Moore’s, humor coupled with ruthlessness.

“I agree with that,” he said, hopefully not noticing how cool I thought it was that James Bond agreed with my theory. “It really should be pointed out that Roger made the part his own. There’s a generation out there that was brought up only with Roger. They didn’t know who the hell Sean Connery was, and Roger’s films did make a lot of money. First impressions, of course, were Sean. There will be people who accept me and those who say, ‘He’s not Roger. He’s not Sean.…’”

“He’s not George Lazenby,” I piped in, being a wiseass regarding the actor who had a one-shot as 007 in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

“Right,” Brosnan laughed, “he’s not George Lazenby.”

Things went on from there.

Later, special effects supervisor Derek Meddings took me around the area, explaining and demonstrating the virtues of using models over computer effects, giving me a tour of miniature buildings, including the nerve gas facility that opens the film. In mid-sentence, though, Meddings paused, a look of concern crossing his face.

“Oh, dear,” he said in his natural British tongue, “you seem to have burst your zipper.”

I looked down and, sure enough, the zipper on my jeans had snapped off, revealing my underpants. I immediately looked up, embarrassed, and commented, “My wife told me I’d be so excited, something like this would happen.”

He seemed to enjoy that one as we proceeded to the newly added next stop, the costume department, where James Bond’s costume designer pinned me up. Hey, can you say you were pinned up by James Bond’s costume designer?

The following day, I sat down with producer Michael Wilson, who asked me if I wanted to watch the first teaser trailer for the film. Mikey, are you friggin’ kidding me? (I didn’t actually say that, but I thought it.) He brought me into his office and played the trailer that wouldn’t be hitting theater screens for another month or so. Needless to say, I was pretty blown away by the fact that Bond was back … big time!

Between takes, I interviewed director Martin Campbell, director of photography Phil Méheux, leading lady Izabella Scorupco, and various behind-the-scenes personnel about the film and Bond’s place in the modern world of the mid-’90s. Through it all, I was no doubt smiling like a kid in Q’s workshop.

Over the course of my few days on the set in England, I managed to travel quite a bit of the globe with the new Mr. Bond. We began in Cuba, at the brim of a secret satellite dish that the film’s villain intended to use to destroy society. From there it was about a five-minute walk to Saint Petersburg, Russia, where the bad guys were fleeing in a car, with Bond chasing them in a state-of-the-art tank(!).

Which is about where I left 007—after watching Bond zoom through Russia, I had to catch a cab to Heathrow Airport for my return flight to the United States. But as a parting shot, if you will, through the side window of the cab I was treated to the sight of an explosion in their version of Saint Petersburg, and one thought instantly flashed through my mind: I had survived my tour of James Bond’s world. Shaken, perhaps, but not stirred (sorry).

No surprise here, but my passion for Bond would continue through the four Pierce Brosnan films, and then the Daniel Craig efforts, that actor, despite early misgivings, proving himself to be a really close second to Connery. My interviews with various people involved with the films, both from the past and in the present, continued, and I even developed a fun rapport with Michael Wilson, stemming from a comment I made to him on GoldenEye regarding the fact it felt like it was going to be pretty radically different from what had come before.

“It’s not like the bad guy has a scar,” I said, to which he replied, “Well, he does have a scar.” “Okay, but it’s not like there’s a countdown to destruction at the end,” resulting in a sigh and him noting, “There is a countdown.” At that point, he let out a chuckle and said to no one in particular, “I’m trying to tell this guy how different the movie is, and it’s not working out so well.” That joke continued over the next couple of films. Then, when Skyfall was opening, I was doing a phone interview with him and said, “C’mon, Michael. Make me a happy man. Tell me I’ve got my gun barrel back at the beginning of the film.” “Ed,” he said, “you’re not going to be a happy man,” which led to him telling me why there was no gun barrel sequence. I’m still not happy about it.

Cowriting Nobody Does It Better with Mark has been an amazing experience, and, fueled by our mutual lifelong passion for 007, the definition of a labor of love. As I approach my sixth decade of life, there’s something comforting in knowing that the James Bond films are close to doing the same. Our journey together will continue.

Edward GrossJanuary 5, 2019


Copyright © 2020 by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross