It’s a little hard to believe, but the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” was released more than a half-century ago, on October 5, 1962. At that time, Ian Fleming, the writer of the James Bond novels, was fifty-three. In April of that year (when Daniel Craig, it’s worth pointing out, was negative five), The New Yorker’s Geoffrey Hellman met Fleming for lunch at the Pierre (now the Taj). Fleming was in New York to visit his publishers. He’d stopped en route between his vacation house, in Jamaica (where Dr. No also has a hideaway) and his home in London. You can read the whole conversation here, in the archive.
Or, if you’re too impatient, here are the key points: What did they eat and drink? Each man started with “a prefatory medium-dry martini of American vermouth and Beefeater gin, with lemon peel.” Then they both had a second martini. Then Fleming ordered a dozen cherrystones and a Miller High Life. (“I like the name ‘High Life,’” he said. “That’s why I order it.”) Then they had coffee and Camembert. Where did Fleming get the name James Bond? He borrowed it from an ornithologist. “When I wrote the first one, in 1953,” he explained, “I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened…. One of the bibles of my youth was ‘Birds of the West Indies,’ by James Bond, a well-known ornithologist, and when I was casting about for a name for my protagonist I thought, My God, that’s the dullest name I’ve ever heard, so I appropriated it. Now the dullest name in the world has become an exciting one. Mrs. Bond once wrote me a letter thanking me for using it.” What did Fleming do in New York? He walked to Central Park: “I went there to see if I’d get murdered, but I didn’t.” He watched the girls at the skating rink, and came up with a possible scenario for a James Bond novel: “What a wonderful place to meet a spy! A spy with a child. A child is the most wonderful cover for a spy, like a dog for a tart. Do tarts here have dogs?”
What did Fleming do for a living before writing the James Bond novels? He went to Eton and Sandhurst, served in the Army, worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, became a stockbroker (“Those financial firms are tremendous clubs, and great fun”), and then, during the Second World War, was personal assistant to the director of naval intelligence. After the war, he wrote for the London Times. What did he think of his own books? “I don’t regard James Bond precisely as a hero, but at least he does get on and do his duty, in an extremely corny way…. My books have no social significance, except a deleterious one; they’re considered to have too much violence and too much sex. But all history has that.” His favorite fan encounter? He was in Washington, D.C., driving with a friend. “She spotted a young couple coming out of church, and she stopped our cab. ‘You must meet them,’ she said. ‘They’re great fans of yours.’ And she introduced me to Jack and Jackie Kennedy. ‘Not the Ian Fleming!’ they said. What could be more gratifying than that?…. I think the President likes my books because he enjoys the combination of physical violence, effort, and winning in the end—like his PT-boat experiences.”
The next year, “Dr. No” was released in the United States. Brendan Gill started his review, “Yes to ‘No,’” on a grudging note: “The two qualities chiefly required to write a thriller on the order of Ian Fleming’s famous ‘Dr. No’ are hard to find — at any rate, they’re hard to find in a grown man,” he wrote. “The first of them is the overwrought imagination of a sex-starved schoolboy, and the second is an almost total ignorance of the real world and how it works.” And yet, he admitted, even if “Dr. No” the novel was a “trashy failure,” “Dr. No” the movie was a “trashy success”; Sean Connery, he felt, made such an “admirable Bond” that “on the strength of his triumph here … he could go on starring in Fleming decalomanias until his legs give out.” Gill’s reaction would be the reaction of pretty much everyone, for the next fifty years. The Bond movies are trashy, and yet good. In the days before reality television, that was a surprisingly rare combination. For more James Bond, read Anthony Lane’s “Mondo Bond,” from 2002, and “Of Human Bondage,” from 2006. Illustration by John Ritter. KEYWORDS JAMES BOND Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/backissues/2012/11/lunch-with-ian-fleming-bond-at-fifty.html#ixzz2BrmoM3GR