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Book looks at 50 years of Bond

Gene Triplett Published: December 1, 2012

For the 50th anniversary of Bond-James-Bond’s big screen debut, the editors of Life magazine have assembled a commemorative guide to the movie franchise that’s a must

for the coffee tables of all 007 fanatics.

The 176-page hard-bound “50 Years of James Bond” (Life Books, $27.95), loaded with color and black-and-white studio-issue and behind-the-scenes photos — many shot by Life’s ace photographers — covers the history of author Ian Fleming’s British superspy from his first appearance on the printed page in the 1953 novel “Casino Royale” to Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the debonair danger-man in the 23rd “official” Bond feature film, “Skyfall,” currently a distant No. 1 at the box office.

The book is also packed with fascinating commentary on each of the films — including two “unofficial” Bond films and a 1954 television adaptation of “Casino Royale.” That TV version — a segment of the CBS anthology series “Climax!” — was an Americanized version of Fleming’s creation starring Barry Nelson as CIA agent “Jimmy” Bond and a heavily perspiring Peter Lorre as sadistic arch criminal Le Chiffre. The live telecast was laughably low-budget, with misfiring gunshot effects and wobbly sets, and it’s a hoot to watch on kinescope today. But the result was that, for years, “Casino Royale” was the only Bond property not owned by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli of Eon Productions. That explains why others were free to turn it into the ridiculously campy 1967 spoof starring Peter Sellers, David Niven, Woody Allen and an all-star supporting cast, and directed by John Huston, Ken Hughes, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath and Val Guest.

Another non-Eon Bond film, 1983′s “Never Say Never Again,” with an aging Sean Connery returning as Bond, but it was essentially an inferior remake of 1964′s “Thunderball.”

The book reveals how Fleming’s wartime role in British intelligence informed his fiction, and profiles each of the six actors who’ve portrayed Commander Bond in the Eon Productions series, revealing little-known facts about each of them. For example, one-shot George Lazenby, star of 1969′s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” is described by leading lady Diana Rigg as arrogant and “really difficult … just difficult offstage.” She adds that Lazenby “was the architect of his own demise as a film star.”

It’s also little known that Fleming didn’t care for Sean Connery, a relative unknown in 1961, as the producers’ choice to play the first big-screen Bond, preferring the more poised and refined David Niven. His other choices were Cary Grant, Richard Burton or Jimmy Stewart. Connery on the other hand was reluctant to commit to a series. But the producers won out over the writer and the actor, for which all Bond fans can be forever grateful.

- Gene Triplett