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James Bond, Built to Last

/ 12:02 AM December 06, 2015

On March 14, 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras completed their manuscript for “Built to Last,” a book about building organizations of intrinsic excellence. They believe that building something that endures, one worthy of lasting, is a noble cause.

Collins and Porras wrote about visionary companies that continue to serve as models for great organizations today. If they were to write about lasting icons, real or fiction, James Bond would likely top their list.


The birthing

On May 25, 1951, British diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess went missing. They were proved to spy for the Soviet Union during the cold war. Six months later, WW II British Naval Intelligence operative Ian Fleming started writing his first novel, CASINO ROYALE. Fleming appropriated the name James Bond from an ornithologist who wrote “Birds of the West indies.” As he was reading that book in Goldeneye, his Jamaican home place, Fleming thought that the name sounded so colorless and flat that it could make a good name for his novel’s hero.


Starting July 7, 1957, the James Bond comic strip serialized Casino Royale in the London Daily Express. This was after Fleming published his fifth novel, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. A few months later, then Senator John Kennedy had a severe cold, stayed home and asked a friend, Marion Leiter, for something to read. She gave Kennedy the Fleming novels to read. In 1960, Fleming met Senator Kennedy in Washington. Kennedy later became President and avid fan of Fleming and James Bond.

Before Bond

Even before Bond, there were spy movies. In 1934 B.B. (Before Bond), Alfred Hitchcock broke new ground with “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” followed by “The 39 Steps” and “The Lady Vanishes.” Hitchcock continued to direct other spy movies, “Foreign Correspondent” and “Notorious.” In 1945, Henry Hathaway directed “The House on 92nd Street” that spawned several other spy films, among them OSS, which starred Alan Ladd. James Mason also starred in the stylish spy film “Five Fingers.”

In 1960, Fleming wrote THUNDERBALL, and offered the film rights to Harry Saltzman. Later Saltzman would collaborate with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli to make one of the most successful partnerships and produce Bond movies.

Cold war

In 1960, the ideology of the West was in trouble. While the Soviets berated the “materialistic, capitalistic, decadent West”, Fleming made his readers feel good about his hero. He said, “Bond was a healthy, violent, non-cerebral man in his middle thirties, and a creature of his era. I wouldn’t say he is typical of our times, but he is certainly of the times.”

After 15 years into the cold war, it seemed that Communism was expanding around the globe. Russia sent the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into outer space on April 12, 1961. Human rights tragedies were documented in South Africa, Algeria, and South America. The West needed an icon of its own values, no matter how confusing or complex they might be. Cubby Broccoli knew the answer – James Bond.


Cultural rebirth

Whatever the West lost in the 1950s to the early 1960s, it gained back in cultural impact in the next decades. Fashion, music, film, architecture, design, literature and art were cutting edge. James Bond somehow represents this cultural rebirth.

Bond enthusiasts John Cork and Bruce Scivally wrote, “He would dress in the best clothes, be accompanied by a sophisticated musical score and walk through some of the most brilliantly designed sets ever created for film. His literary adventures would outsell the Bible during the early to mid-1960s, and his cinematic exploits would change the way films were made, watched and marketed.”

Relevant Bond

One reason why Bond movies are popular and relevant is their cunning ability to web into their plot the current realities in the world, from Dr. No to SPECTRE. Other reasons are its focus on good versus evil, being apolitical, novel gadgets, the leading ladies, the villains, the cars, and the enormous set all around the globe. It’s also about the romance, the fantasy, and the hero it brings out in every viewer.

In August 1961, Broccoli commissioned Richard Mailbaum to write the script of Dr. No. In Fleming’s novel, Dr. No works for SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the villainous organization first featured in the novel THUNDERBALL.

Dr. No said, “East – West. Points of the compass. Each as stupid as the other.” The Bond franchise was clear – James Bond would stay clear of politics. Bond simply fights evil.

Saltzman and Broccoli next chose the director. Cambridge-educated Terence Young was a clear choice. His Valley of the Eagles, Storm Over the Nile, and Safari were great films. Later, Young was quoted as saying about the Bond films, “I am arrogant enough to claim that these films have made one of the greatest contributions to the cinema in 50 years.”

The Bond

In June 1961, the search for James Bond hit the press. There were speculations – Patrick Allen, Michael Craig, and Patrick McGoohan. Saltzman said, “I’d prefer to use an unknown.” After auditions, the 28-year old Peter Anthony was chosen. Later, he couldn’t cope with the demanding part.

Months later, Broccoli watched “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” which starred Sean Connery. Cubby asked his wife Dana Wilson if Connery had sex appeal. Dana confirmed the obvious. In 1990, People magazine named Connery Sexiest Man Alive, and much later Sexiest Man of the Century.

Connery and Bond had similarities – Scottish heritage and service at the Royal Navy. Bond studied at Fettes (Tony Blair’s alma mater, while Connery delivered milk to school as a youngster. After the screen test, the producers watched Connery cross the street. Saltzman observed that Connery “walked like a big jungle cat.” Perfect. Bond films have a “formula of blood, sex, and thunder.”

Bond and beyond

Dr. No premiered on October 5, 1962 at the London Pavilion and grossed $59.5 million, with a budget of less than $1 million. After 53 years, the 24th James Bond film, SPECTRE, was released October 26, 2015. By November 20, it has grossed $557 million, from a $245 million budget. Perhaps, no other film series can rake in billions of dollars like James Bond.

James Bond inspires heroism in the viewers, no matter who the villain is – Dr. No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a.k.a. Franz Oberhauser), Rosa Klebb, Auric Goldfinger and Odd Job, Emilio Largo, Le Chiffre (of Smersh), Mr. Osato, Irma Bunt, Mr. Big or Dr. Kananga, Francisco Scaramanga and Nick Nack, Karl Stromberg, Hugo Drax, Kristatos, Kamal Khan, Max Zorin, and a host of other evil operatives of SPECTRE and SMERSH.

But Bond is just human, aside from being fiction. Perhaps, he’s simply lucky to have M, Q and Eve Moneypenny on his side.

After 24 movies based on 11 Fleming novels and a few short stories, James Bond continues to reign supreme – almost. The seventh Bond movie, starring George Lazenby, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, barely topped Dr. No’s revenues.

An observer said of Lazenby’s director, “Peter made Bond more human, more ordinary. Well, we don’t go to the cinema to see ordinary people. We go there to see things that are larger than life. We go there to see the gods, the heroes.”

In business, organizations built to last have big, hairy audacious goals. This is why James Bond is built to last. James Bond is big, hairy and audacious.

(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He also chairs the Accreditation Council for the PMAP Society of Fellows in People Management. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at [email protected])

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TAGS: capitalistic, Career, cinema, cold war, Communism, Culture, decadent West, James Bond, Jerry Porras, Jim Collins, materialistic, Model, movies, Spectre, Working People
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