On June 28, 1961, Variety ran a three-sentence news story: “A.R. (Cubby) Broccoli and Harry Saltzman have joined forces in a production setup. As a start, they have acquired screen rights to all the Ian Fleming yarns on James Bond, and plan to put the first into production in Britain this fall. Initial one will be ‘From Russia With Love.’”
And 54 years and several billion-dollars later, No. 24 in the series, “Spectre,” opens in the U.S. on Friday, after breaking box-office records in the U.K. with an $80.4 million launch.
Four months after the initial Broccoli-Saltzman news, the producers announced they had signed Scottish-born actor Sean Connery to play the lead. They also changed plans, inaugurating the hoped-for franchise with “Dr. No,” which had most (but not all) of the Bond trademarks — lush scenery, wry humor, a diabolical mastermind and plenty of sex.
In April 25, 1962, “Dr. No” had competed filming in Jamaica and at Pinewood Studios on a budget of $1 million. The producers were trying to decide which would be the second Bond film: “Goldfinger” or “The Spy Who Loved Me.” According to the Variety archives, “Both yarns are now in the scripting stage. The choice will be made when the screenplays are complete.” The story added that James Bond’s code number 007 had been adopted by Eon as the peg for publicity.
Sometimes in retrospect reviewers can seem painfully be off-base, but Rich Gold was right on the money in his Oct. 17, 1962, review of “Dr. No,” praising it and predicting the series of 007 films would be “both popular and profitable.”
He added, “Picked to portray Bond is a rugged Sean Connery, a stalwart, confident actor who looks as if he may have landed himself a career as Bond. He excellently puts over a cool, fearless, on-the-ball, fictional secret service guy.” Gold concluded, “As a screen hero, James Bond is clearly here to stay. He will win no Oscars but a heck of a lot of enthusiastic followers.”
The film was a big hit, the 1963 “From Russia With Love” was even more popular and “Goldfinger” (1964) turned Bond into a global phenomenon.
Several decades later, in September 2005, Cubby Broccoli’s daughter Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother Michael Wilson confirmed “Casino Royale” as the next in the series; as usual, the guessing game began as to who would play the secret agent. Among the leading contenders: Daniel Craig, Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, the 22-year-old Henry Cavill and Colin Salmon (showing that a black James Bond was a possibility years before the Idris Elba rumors started).
Other movie franchises have come and gone, but nobody can match the longevity of James Bond. Like Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along.