An Examination of the Legacy of the James Bond Films
On the eighth day of May, in the year 1963, the sanctity of American cinema was infiltrated by a British secret agent. The infiltration was unexpected and its effects were immediate. Even today, almost fifty years later, the impact of this secret agent’s presence on America’s silver screen is still being felt and continues to influence American popular culture.
So, who is this secret agent and how is it that his films have come to dominate American cinema? His name is Bond, James Bond, and in order to understand his history, it is important to understand that of his creator, Ian Fleming, as well.
Ian Fleming created James Bond while on vacation in Jamaica in January of 1952. He stayed on an estate owned by the Bond family. On a nightstand in the room in which he slept was a field guide to birds of the Caribbean written by the proprieters’ son, an ornithologist named James Bond. In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Fleming is credited as explaining his character’s name: "I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, 'James Bond' was much better than something more interesting, like 'Peregrine Carruthers.' Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department." (Lycett, 1995).
An examination of Ian Fleming’s life prior to Bond’s creation sheds further light on the character’s creation. Fleming served as the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy during World War II. He was first commissioned as a lieutenant, then as a lieutenant commander and finally a commander. His expertise led to him being given control of 30 Assault Unit and later T-Force, two British special commando units. His experiences within these units provided the background for his spy novels. The men he met would provide the inspiration for his most famous character, Commander James Bond: Agent 007 (Lycett, 1995 and Winder, 2006).
Prior to his military service, Fleming worked as a journalist and a stockbroker (Lycett, 1995). He didn’t publish his first novel, Casino Royale, until 1953, the same year Elizabeth II was crowned Queen. In it he introduced his character James Bond. He would go on to write 12 more Bond novels as well as 2 books of Bond short stories. In addition to the James Bond series, he wrote the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two nonfiction books: Thrilling Cities and The Diamond Smugglers.
In April, 1953 when Casino Royale was first released in Great Britain, it was not much of a success. Reviews in The Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator were lukewarm and claimed that it was nothing more than an entertaining read. It did not attract the sales that the publisher, Jonathan Cape had hoped for (Lycett, 1995).
The United States was even less welcoming at first. In fact, Casino Royale was rejected by three publishers before being picked up by the publishing company Macmillan (Chapman, 2000). Not even Macmillan could get the American public to care for the book. Regardless of the setbacks, for the next three years, Fleming continued to write and put out three more Bond novels: Live and Let Die in 1954, Moonraker in 1955, and Diamonds Are Forever in 1956.
During this same time period, inexpensive paperback books were being consumed by middle- and working-class readers who were enjoying a period of prosperity in Great Britain. Two of the major publishers of the cheap books were Penguin and Pan. In 1956, Pan published Casino Royale as a paperback. In competing with Penguin, they took advantage of the James Bond novels’ promise of intrigue, sex and violence (Chapman, 2000). It worked and the James Bond phenomenon had begun.
Readers began flocking to the affordable escapist adventures provided by Agent 007....