A history of one of the most popular and widely recognized characters in cinema: James Bond

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Daniel Craig portrays James Bond in a scene from "Skyfall."


Since his first appearance in 1962's "Dr. No," James Bond has become one of the most popular and widely recognized characters in cinema.

It's estimated that half the world's population has seen at least one Bond film, and this weekend's release of "Skyfall" will mark the 23rd entry in what is the longest continually running — and, after "Harry Potter," the second-most-lucrative — franchise in film history.

Almost as fascinating as any Bond film, however, is the complex history of a cultural icon that has grown bigger than any of the six actors who have portrayed him over the past 50 years.

The world is not enough

Ten years before Sean Connery put on Bond's ad hoc uniform, a perfectly tailored Anthony Sinclair tuxedo and bow tie, Ian Fleming's roguish MI6 agent took shape on a typewriter at the British author's Jamaican bungalow, a place nicknamed "Goldeneye."

As Fleming would later describe him, Bond was a "compound of secret agents and commando types" that the author himself had known or heard about during his time as an intelligence officer during World War II.

"Everything I write has a precedent in truth," Fleming once said.

For some of the most unbelievable elements of his novels, he looked to the exploits of real-world superspies like Wilfred "Biffy" Dunderdale, Conrad O'Brien-ffrench, William Stephenson and even his own brother, Peter Fleming.

The British author also drew on historical sources. Bond's iconic code name, 007, is thought to have originated with the 16th-century secret agent, occultist and polymath John Dee, who used the three-digit cipher to sign all his correspondences with Queen Elizabeth I.

But nobody resembles James Bond more than the author himself. As Ben Macintyre writes in his book "For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond," "The exploits of 007 grow directly out of Fleming's knowledge of wartime intelligence and espionage; they shared similar tastes and even attitudes towards women; they even look similar. … But Bond was also … the fantasy of what Fleming would like to have been … a grownup romantic fairy tale."

After the publication of his first Bond story, "Casino Royale," in 1953, which sold nearly 5,000 copies in a single month, Fleming went on to write 11 more novels. From early in his new career as a novelist, however, Fleming set his sights on bringing his "oafish opus," as he called Bond's globe-trotting adventures, to a larger audience.

Bond … James Bond

Even for the world's most famous secret agent, the path to Hollywood turned out to be a bumpy one.

After multiple failed attempts to get his character onto the big screen, including a 1954 CBS version of "Casino Royale" starring Barry Nelson as an Americanized "Jimmy" Bond, Fleming finally sold an option to a relatively inexperienced producer named Harry Saltzman.

Teaming with another Bond fan, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli (whose family's previous claim to fame was bringing a certain green vegetable to the U.S.), the two producers began a search for the perfect actor who could capture Bond's unique mix of class and callousness — the type of man who looked equally at home sipping vodka martinis, driving sports cars, seducing women and breaking people's necks.

A number of actors were considered for the role, including Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan and Fleming's first pick, David Niven. Ultimately, the choice came down to two young actors: Roger Moore and Sean Connery.

In an interview with film historian Patrick McGilligan, Richard Maibaum, who co-wrote the script for Bond's first onscreen adventure, "Dr. No," said of the choice, "Cubby saw something in Sean which he thought was what they wanted. They took a gamble with Sean; they would have been much safer with Roger."

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