Presidents and plebes alike have coveted the spy's toys and lifestyle
There’s been nothing secretive about Ian Fleming’s creation since the unflappable character first appeared on the bigscreen in “Dr. No” in 1962, launching the longest-running film franchise in history.
But with more than half of the world’s population having seen at least one of the nearly two dozen Bond adventures, 007 has influenced everyone and everything from presidents, notably John F. Kennedy, to what consumers aspire to drive, drink or wear.
And even a half-century after his first screen adventure, he’s not showing any signs of age, with Daniel Craig having helped successfully reboot the series in 2006 with “Casino Royale.” He reprises the role in “Skyfall” on Nov. 9, his third outing.
If James Bond were a real spy, he’d be one of the worst in the business.
Since Sean Connery started delivering quippy one-liners while battling baddies in 1962’s “Dr. No,” Bond has been a constant: An unflappable, suave, sophisticated woman-magnet with an appetite for the finer things in life. Two generations of men have wanted to be him, and women have wanted to be with him.
Britain has embraced Bond as its unofficial ambassador of cool, with the character wearing tailored Savile Row suits, outracing his enemies in Aston Martins, jetting around the world on British Airways (and later, Virgin Atlantic), playing “God Save the Queen” and proudly displaying the Union Jack when opportune — including, on one occasion, on his parachute after skiing off an Alpine cliff to escape KGB killers.
No wonder then that Bond’s watchmaker, the tailor of his tux, the distiller of his vodka, the location of his latest adventure, the makers of his sunglasses, his phone and car — and songs that play during opening credit sequences — have been scrutinized by millions for half a century.
Bond convinced millions to sip martinis, but at the start he needed an endorsement from a fan in high places to kickstart his popularity in the U.S. For years, the Bond novels were more popular in England than the U.S., only catching on when Kennedy endorsed the novels in Life magazine.
After JFK saw “Dr. No” in a private screening in 1961, “From Russia With Love” was chosen as the next pic because of the president’s suggestion; it was his favorite Bond novel. A pre-release print was rushed to the White House for a private viewing in fall 1963.
Kennedy must have seen much of himself in Bond. Both had seen naval combat in World War II. Both were determined Cold Warriors.
But in retrospect, JFK’s identification with Bond had a dark side. Kennedy-era plans to take down Cuba’s Fidel Castro with poisoned or exploding cigars, revealed years later, sound like something from the Fleming books.
Even Kennedy’s promiscuity was Bond-like, but what was fun for a fictional spy was reckless for a real-life military officer and politician. His lovers included a German spy during WWII and a Mafia moll during his presidency.
Legions of imitators
Once established, Bond kicked off a spy craze, starting in England on the smallscreen with “The Avengers.” (This “Avengers” featured stylish spies, not superheroes, and featured future Bond girl Honor Blackman in its first seasons.)
American TV followed with “I Spy,” “Get Smart,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Man From UNCLE” and even “The Wild, Wild West,” which amounted to a James Bond/Western mashup.
In features, the Bond recipe for action movies — a jigger of danger, a shot of sex, a dash of international travel, shake with great stunts, serve cool — has been borrowed liberally by all manner of filmmakers.
John Glen, who helmed eight Bond films (including all from the 1980s), told Variety at the Consumer Electronics Show in January he often sees references to his own action sequences in commercials, TV shows and other movies.
Comedy has felt the Bond influence as much as action. Fox spoofed Bond in 1966 with “Our Man Flint,” in which James Coburn’s eponymous superspy even has a fight scene with agent “triple-O-eight,” played by a Sean Connery look-alike. Pic was popular enough to spawn a sequel; the spy series sired a spoof series. Then there was “Bonditis” in 1968.Decades later, 007 inspired another generation of laffers: the “Austin Powers” and “Johnny English” pics.
Bond’s action descendants include “XXX,” “Spy Kids,” and Universal’s Jason Bourne series, whose success wound up encouraging producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli to return Bond to the edgier tone of Fleming’s books. Even David Fincher’s opening sequence for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” pays tribute to Maurice Binder’s iconic title sequences.
Among recent homages to Bond are Matthew Vaughn’s slick 1960s-themed “X-Men: First Class” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” For Nolan, who grew up watching the Bond films, they always “stood for the promise of being taken to someplace bigger than you could have imagined” and “grand-scale action,” the helmer said while promoting “Inception.”
In fact, Nolan is such a big Bond fan that a Hong Kong-based action scene in “The Dark Knight” references the “Sky Hook” ending of “Thunderball,” and the opening plane-hijacking sequence in “The Dark Knight Rises” also was heavily influenced by the spy series, he told Variety when footage was screened in December.
Bond’s history of product placement reads like a roll call of luxury brands: Rolex watches, Brioni tuxedos, Bollinger champagne, Coke Zero and 7 Up soda, Finlandia vodka, Perrier water and Marlboro cigarettes. Smirnoff paid to be appear in “Dr. No” and returned for most of the other Bond outings, with Finlandia also landing placements.
As long as Bond stays popular, marketers remain eager to associate their products with him. Automakers in particular love getting Bond behind the wheel of one of their models. Besides Aston Martin, returning brands in the upcoming “Skyfall” include Sony (electronic devices), Omega (watches) and Tom Ford (suits).
But there are some deals that risk tampering with what makes Bond, well, Bond, — at least as far as fans are concerned.
When Heineken announced in March that James Bond would drink its beer as part of a pricey product placement and promotional deal with “Skyfall,” fans flocked to the Internet to fret that 007 would no longer sip his signature vodka martinis.
In fact, Bond will still quaff his cocktail in the pic, not just beer, but the Heineken deal secured $45 million for the producers and Sony Pictures to offset production costs. Such pacts go back as far as “Goldfinger,” which featured Gillette and Miami’s Fontainebleau resort.
As part of the deal, Craig will appear as Bond in a commercial “Skyfall”-helmer Sam Mendes will direct, while lending his likeness to packaging.
Craig has defended Bond’s product placement deals, recently telling Moviefone, while shooting “Skyfall,” that they are an “unfortunate” part of today’s film biz.
“We have relationships with a number of companies so that we can make this movie. The simple fact is that, without them, we couldn’t do it. It’s unfortunate but that’s how it is.
“The great thing is that Bond is a drinker, he always has been, it’s part of who he is, rightly or wrongly, you can make your own judgment about it. Having a beer is no bad thing. In the movie it just happens to be Heineken.”