Long time JBR listener, Matthew Grice gives us a little fictional taste of what might have happened had the Kevin McClory/Ian Fleming dispute turned out a little differently.
In January 1959 an Irish filmmaker called Kevin McClory was introduced to a secret agent. This secret agent was called James Bond and had appeared in six novels by the author Ian Fleming. These novels were ‘fairy tales for adults’ claimed Fleming and were stories that no one had ever read before. They featured exotic locations, gambling, sex, violence, fast cars and a large amount of luxury wining and dining. James Bond was clearly a man of taste.
His business partner Ivar Bryce asked McClory if he had ever read any of Fleming’s novels. McClory said no, and Bryce said “then why don’t you, and tell me what you think.” Between them they had formed Xanadu productions and produced ‘The Boy And The Bridge’ in 1957. The film wasn’t a huge success but it didn’t dampen their confidence in making more films.
Ivar Bryce who was married to Josephine Hartford, the sister of Huntington Hartford of American A+P outlets, was a great friend of Fleming’s and they had known each other since their childhood.
Upon Bryce’s request, McClory bought copies of ‘Moonraker’, ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘Casino Royale’. Once McClory had read them he told Bryce that he had “enjoyed them, but didn’t think they were particularly visual.” He later claimed that they would have to be rewritten for the screen.
With Bryce being friends with Fleming he knew how desperate he was for Bond to reach the big screen. In 1955 Fleming sold the film rights for his first Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’ to producer Gregory Ratoff for $6,000. It wasn’t until seven years later that ‘Casino Royale’ would hit the big screen.
Even though McClory liked the concept and character of James Bond, he strongly believed that an original story should be written if Xanadu was to make a James Bond film. McClory felt that the novels were ‘steeped in sadism’ and wouldn’t make the best viewing.
With Bryce having a home in the Bahamas and McClory having this urge to produce a film with magnificent underwater photography, the ingredients were set for ‘Longitude 78 West’.
After eighteen months of discussions between Bryce, McClory and Fleming and the introduction of Jack Whittingham to write the final script, filming began in June 1960 under the direction of none other than Alfred Hitchcock. Having seen Hitchcock’s latest adventure ‘North By Northwest’, Fleming, Bryce and McClory immediately decided that he was the man to helm the film.
However, during January of 1960 Fleming went to his Jamaican retreat ‘Goldeneye’, as he had done every January for the past fourteen years, to write his Bond thriller. This time he decided to simply adapt the screenplay that he, McClory and Whittingham had worked on into a novel and rename it ‘Thunderball’.
Hitchcock was a big name in the American film industry during the 40’s and 50’s and people wanted him. He had his own team during a production and that was how he operated. After the first few months of filming, McClory had lost his title as producer and felt somewhat angry and bitter. “After all it was my idea, my project to bring this James Bond character to the screen, and now my opinions and level of authority are completely ignored” he said.
Hitchcock usually took control of the picture by directing, producing and getting heavily involved with the script. To his wife Alma’s surprise, she would always collaborate on the scripts with him, Hitchcock remarked that the script was good, strong and he could easily work with it. “It is the most exciting script I have ever read” he claimed. The only objection he had was the exotic locations and underwater scenes. Hitchcock always preferred to work in a studio because ‘you can control the lighting more’ and insisted that the underwater scenes were to be filmed in front of a projection. McClory instantly objected and said “the whole point of the film was for it to be filmed underwater or why bother”. In the end Hitchcock reluctantly agreed and was happy to allow Ricou Browning photograph the underwater scenes. The closest Hitchcock had ever got to water was for a paddle in the Caribbean Sea, with his trousers rolled up.
During filming tension rose between Hitchcock and McClory. McClory had been pretty much pushed to the back, as he, according to Hitchcock “wasn’t acting up to my standards of film making”.
By this time Bryce was just financing the film and simply letting Hitchcock get on with it. On the other hand Fleming had found the eighteen months of discussions and several attempts at screen treatments, somewhat tiring and exhausting. He would however, be on location in the Bahamas whilst the filming took place. Whilst Hitchcock had now taken over as producer, Bryce kept reassuring McClory that Hitchcock was the best man for the job and ‘he knows what he’s doing’. McClory felt that Xanadu Productions was now just a bank for the film.
Fleming and Hitchcock liked each other and shared the same taste in style, food and drink, and Fleming liked his dry sense of humour. In true Hitchcock style, there had to be a leading lady, who was blonde. Fleming had his leading lady down as a brunette. Hitchcock always felt that a blonde haired girl would show innocence and the audience would not suspect them. Fleming had to remind Hitchcock that the girl in this film is the hero and it is she who saves Bond. Hitchcock argued that the girl commits murder, because she kills Largo the villain.
The case was finally resolved when Audrey Hepburn was cast as Domino Petachi opposite Richard Burton as James Bond 007. In April 1961 Fleming returned to the UK with his latest manuscript for a new Bond thriller ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. He was getting prepared for the release and marketing of his 9th Bond thriller ‘Thunderball’. However, at that time Fleming had no idea how much trouble this would cause in months to come. To add to the anger and frustration that McClory was literally drowning in, after ‘being kicked off his own film’ he was fuming to discover that ‘Thunderball’ was nothing but ‘Longitude 78 West’ that both he, Fleming and Whittingham had worked on together. Now Fleming was stating that he was the sole author.
McClory took his anger out on Fleming and filed a lawsuit against him for plagiarism. It would be no surprise then that McClory would try and do everything to boycott the film, as he clearly disliked Hitchcock, and what had meant to be his film, now appeared not to be. According to Bryce, ‘McClory was like a baby who spat his dummy out when he didn’t get his own way’. The judge claimed that it was too late to stop the production of the film. By this point the film was in postproduction and was being scored by Bernard Herman who was Hitchcock’s in house composer.
In the end it was agreed that the novel ‘Thunderball’ was to be withdrawn from the shelves and no more issues were to be sold until ‘Longitude 78 West’ was released. The novel was to be called ‘Longitude 78 West’ and was to have both McClory and Whittingham’s names alongside Flemings. Also McClory was to get a certain amount of profit from the sale of the book and an agreed share of the profit that the film made. It was also ruled that Fleming must pay both McClory and Whittingham, £10,000 each for damages. Whittingham refused the money as he had become good friends with Fleming and didn’t want to hurt him. Whittingham knew how ill the whole court case had made Fleming, and writing novels and working on a film at the same time exhausted him. Additionally the judge gave McClory the right to make any James Bond film based on ‘Longitude West 78’ in the future, but not for fifteen years.
With 1961 being a very unhappy year for Fleming, things did look up. Firstly ‘Longitude 78 West’ was close to being in the can and then in July, American film producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli bought the film rights to all the James Bond novels, including future ones written by Fleming, apart from ‘Casino Royale’ as that had already been sold. Both Saltzman and Broccoli were fully aware of the production of ‘Longitude 78 West’ and were familiar with the recent court case involving Fleming but they also knew how eager Fleming wanted to sell his existing material. Unlike McClory, who Broccoli had worked with back in the early 50’s, Broccoli and Saltzman said that they could easily adapt the novel for screen without the process of making an original one.
Fleming had telegrammed Bryce, who was at his resort in the Bahamas (where else), the brilliant news that he had sold the rights to his novels and that production would begin with ‘Dr No’. Fleming also wondered if Richard Burton be interested in playing Bond once again. Sadly Burton wasn’t and nor was Hitchcock interested in directing. Bryce then spoke to Broccoli and Saltzman and said that Xanadu would be more than happy to finance the film.
With McClory being a shareholder in Xanadu, Broccoli did not want anything to do with Xanadu. He had worked alongside McClory a few years ago and the two had simply not got on. Broccoli didn’t trust McClory. Plus his previous film ‘The Boy And The Bridge’ had been a complete failure. Broccoli later claimed that “the only reason ‘Longitude 78 West’ was a success was solely down to a final script written by Whittingham and directed by Mr Hitchcock”.
In October 1961 a little known Scottish actor and former Mr Universe, Sean Connery was announced as ‘Another James Bond’. Initially Fleming had wanted David Niven or Roger Moore to play the lead role, but both were unavailable at the time.
‘Longitude 78 West’, not to be confused with Hitchcock’s previous film, ‘North By North West’, starring Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn and George Raft as Largo, was released in January 1962 and was huge success. Mainly due to its vast underwater sequence that cost $8,000 alone. Overall the budget for the film was $2,225,000 with Hitchcock costing $450,000. At the box office it made $70,000,000.
Even though McClory and Bryce had $150,000 in their back pocket and Fleming had $200,000, plus more from recently selling his film rights, McClory still felt angry. He simply wanted to make a name for himself. His involvement in the film during production had been very little and he knew it. Hitchcock also made this fact known. What exactly was going through McClory’s mind when he knew there was another Bond film in production, one can only wonder, but as Bryce recalled “he simply couldn’t see them being fit for an audience”.
Fleming was happy with the overall outcome of ‘Longitude 78 West’ but was regretful that Hitchcock had turned down the offer to direct another film, and that Richard Burton wouldn’t reprise his role. Hitchcock was to take a year off before beginning production on his next thriller ‘The Birds’. Fleming’s view of Connery wasn’t good and he was fretful as to what Broccoli and Saltzman would do to the character he had created a decade ago.
Even though Fleming’s health wasn’t great he didn’t seem as stressed and tired as he had been when he was planning ‘Longitude 78 West’. “With me not being bored at writing ghastly screenplays which are based on original ideas I found the production of ‘Dr No’ a lot easier. This is simply a walk in the park as opposed to a minefield. And that is simply because the story is already there, and I am not spending a further eighteen months discussing and corresponding to telegrams and letters, writing an original story with two other people. I find writing stories and plot planning a whole lot easier when one is alone. The whole ‘Longitude 78 West’ affair has taken a lot of life away from me.”
Fleming again was on location for ‘Dr No’ whilst they filmed in his back garden in Jamaica. At the same time he would be working on his 11th Bond novel ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ in which he gave the leading lady in ‘Dr No’, Ursula Andress, a cameo.
Broccoli and Saltzman had set up their independent production company known as EON Productions. It has always been said that EON stands for Everything Or Nothing. EON had brought director Terence Young and production designer Ken Adam on board, both of whom Broccoli had worked with previously, and Richard Maibuam, who adapted the novel of ‘Dr No’ into a screenplay.
Unlike ‘Longitude 78 West’, ‘Dr No’ was to be financed and distributed by United Artists and was to have a budget of £1,000,000. However, this was a million and a quarter less than Xanadu had budgeted for ‘Longitude 78 West’. United Artists hadn’t wanted to invest too much in case the film turned out to be a flop. Plus there was no big name director, nor star, and no spectacular underwater photography. ‘Dr No’ was low budget in comparison. United Artists saw ‘Longitude 78 West’ as a typical Hitchcock film not a Bond film. EON wanted to put their own mark on the Bond films.
‘Dr No’ was released to the world in October 1962, and it had a totally different look to the previous adventure. The feel and style was out of this world thanks to the futuristic set designs created by Ken Adam. The opening titles designed by Maurice Binder were completely different to those of Saul Bass, and Monty Norman’s ‘James Bond Theme’ had given this new Bond film a completely different tone to the previous. Bernard Herman hadn’t given James Bond his own theme tune but provided a dramatic and daunting sound for ‘Longitude 78 West’. The film made $59,00,000, which was less than the previous film, but United Artists gave the go ahead for the next Bond adventure.
After John F Kennedy had admitted that ‘From Russia With Love’ was one of his top ten favorite novels, EON quickly jumped at the chance for this to be the next film to star Sean Connery as agent 007. The novel again was to be adapted by Richard Maibuam and directed by Terence Young.
United Artists had given EON a $2,000,000 budget this time, which was a quarter less than had been allocated to ‘Longitude 78 West’. In comparison to ‘Dr No’, ‘From Russia With Love’, the third Bond film, went back to its Hitchcockian style of suspense that featured in the first film and didn’t seem as modern as ‘Dr No’. Firstly, Ken Adam wasn’t available, and there were no silhouette girls dancing during the titles. Instead the credits were projected onto a stomach of a belly dancer. This same effect would be repeated for the next adventure as well.
What had changed, however, was that the enemy was now referred to as ‘SPECTRE’ as opposed to ‘SMERSH’ which was in the novels. ‘SPECTRE’ (an acronym for Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Torture, Revenge and Extortion) was first introduced in ‘Longitude 78 West’ and also appeared in Fleming’s latest novel ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.
From ‘Russia With Love’ had seen its premiere in October 1963 and made $78,000,000 at the box office. This was $8,000,000 more than ‘Longitude 78 West’. EON and United Artist were pretty much laughing all the way to the bank and were very happy to start the next adventure.
The Battle For Bond by Robert Sellers ISBN 10: 0-9531926-3-6
Wikipedia – James Bond Box office
By Matthew Grice