Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Today would be Ian Fleming's 100th birthday, so it's a good day to celebrate the creation of spy James Bond.

I discovered Bond, first, at the movies. It was called Dr. No and one of the photos inside the theater lobby featured Ursula Andress rising from the sea in a teeny bikini. I was in high school; I had to see that film. And I was not disappointed, either by Ms. Andress or the adventure plot.

With my hormones up and running, Ian Fleming/James Bond became an obsession. I began reading the books. I was not alone; we all read them. (And then along came I Spy, The Man From Uncle and Danger Man to satisfy our burgeoning habit, and Get Smart to laugh at it. And let's not forget to mention infusions of Our Man Flint and Matt Helm. By the late '60s, spies were everywhere.)

There was much to please a high school boy in the Bond oeuvre of girls, guns and a disdain for authority. Bond even trumped the American government, and poor Felix Leiter, Fleming's cardboard cutout stand-in for American authority, became shark bait while the brash Brit bagged the bird.

While I loved the names of the women Bond bedded from Honey Rider to Pussy Galore, I had (barely) matured in unenlightened times (this was 1962, well before the Summer of Love) unaware of the sexual undertones throughout. Galore, it turns out, was more interested in women than in men, yet she succumbed to Bond's masculine prowess.

And Fleming threw us some real curves: Honey Rider (Andress' character in Dr. No) had "a beautiful back... and the behind was almost as firm and rounded as a boy's." Meanwhile Tatianna Romanov's backside (in From Russia With Love) is described as so "hardened with exercise that it had lost the smooth doward feminine sweep, and now, round at the back and flat and hard and the sides, it jutted like a man's." Say what?
(For more information on Fleming's proclivities, see "That License to Kill Is Unexpired," an article published in Sunday's New York Times [there are also sundry other articles about 007 here] at: )

And Bond had a tendency to force sex, even on a willing woman. He had a bit of the brute about him, but then you can't blame Bond because he had other issues: Bond villains had a preoccupation with genital torture, so maybe Bond had to work up a head of steam just to get his engine revved. Still, even as a teenager, some of this seemed...well, unhealthy.

But Bond was raw and unexpected, providing a jolt out of our black-and-white post-war complacency. He smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and still managed to make it to live another day. (Fleming made it to age 56; so much for real life.)

Then Hollywood smoothed out 007's rough edges and gave us an icon instead of a man. Connery turned him into a god, Lazenby wasn't given a chance; Moore was insipid, Brosnan was Remington Steele; Dalton was too dark and dangerous as escapist movie material. The jury is still out on Daniel Craig.

So we have two Bonds: the first in print and the second, ever evolving, on film. The latest incarnation in print (and there have been many) is Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care. It is set in the Cold War and the reviews, so far, are good.

So Bond is back, but I wonder if he will be able to pass his greatest test -- fulfilling the puerile fantasies of high school boys.

Also see Ursula Andress in the Dr. No bikini at:

Ursula Andress Dr. No bikini scene at:

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