Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bond, Jimmy Bond

I suppose that you know by now of my interest in history.  Film history is only one area of research for me.  My wife and I have been studying all sorts of history.  We even had our honeymoon in Gettysburg, PA.

A film series as popular and successful as James Bond had to have a history.  Everyone knows that Ian Fleming (1908 - 1964) wrote the stories about the British super secret agent known as 007.  It is fun to dig a little further.

Fleming wrote 13 novels and two story collections about James Bond.  According to Wikipedia, there have been 22 Bond films released, with a 23rd in the works for release next year.  They also state that the total box office take (so far) has been over $4.8 BILLION.  I'd call that successful.

The very first Bond novel was Casino Royale, written in 1952.  It is also the very first story used for a screen appearance of Bond, but here is where history gets to be fun.  In 1954, Casino Royale was presented on live television, making it Number One of the complete set.  I saw it for the first time this week.

Fleming reportedly sold the story rights for $1,000.  The story was then Americanized.  James Bond became Jimmy Bond, played by Barry Nelson (1917 - 2007), and he was an American spy.  He receives additional help from Clarence Leiter (name changed from Felix Leiter) who was a British spy.  In the later movies and the books, Leiter is American.  You can read my post about Leiter here.

The first Leiter was played by Michael Pate (1920 - 2008), and they spelled his character's name wrong in the credits, as Clarence Letter!  We also see the wonderful Peter Lorre (1904 - 1964) as Le Chiffre, our ruthless villain.  Nelson only took the role as Bond so he could have a chance to work with Lorre.

The female lead was played by Linda Christian (b. 1923).  She gets to kiss Bond, but there is no other hanky-panky.  It was only a one hour program!  She was good in the role as a double agent who lets emotion get involved in her character.  Well done for 1954 television.

Le Chiffre's henchmen were played by Gene Roth (1903 - 1976) who has 267 acting credits, and Kurt Katch (1896 - 1958) with 88 titles.  I suppose I have two more Bit Actor names for research!  These guys and the unidentified third bad guy were nasty!

The special edition set shown in the Amazon link above includes the 1966 spy spoof, Casino Royale, and also the 1954 TV presentation.  It is well worth owning.  It also has an interview with director Val Guest (1911 - 2006) who tells about the confusion of making the psychedelic movie.

In 1954 we had a lot of teleplays presented, and they included some big stars from Hollywood.  "Casino Royale" was one presentation of a series called "Climax!" which aired from 1954 to 1958.  The only problem is that video tape wasn't perfected yet.  Shows were either filmed for later editing and then broadcast, or they were presented live.  Most live shows were recorded on kinescope.  It is a rather crude process where a film camera is aimed at a television monitor.  The results are usually contrasty and have dark halos around some subjects.

The kinescope of this teleplay was lost until 1981 when Jim Shoenberger found it in his collection.  It was labeled "Casino Royale," but he thought it was the 1966 film.  When he saw it was black and white film, he looked more carefully.  Lucky for us this piece of history was re-discovered.

The copy has been released and is worth watching.  The story moves quickly, and it has the telltale signs of being a kinescope, but I enjoyed seeing it.  It is typical of teleplays in the 1950s.  You can tell that the sets are small and whenever you have something live on TV, someone will drop a line or fumble a word.  That's what makes it all so special.


  1. As usual, Allen, I learned a few things from your post. I'd heard of a TV version of "Casino Royale," but didn't know the details. JIMMY Bond...the mind reels. Hope to have a chance to see this early take on Bond someday. One piece of information I should have but didn't know is what kinescope was. No wonder the image was so poor! Thanks for another informative post!

  2. Aw, shucks! Thanks, Eve. Maybe we should talk about the technical processes used to make movies. How about the difference between Vitaphone and Vitagraph? I'm thinking about a topic for a post!

  3. Allen, I always enjoy reading about 007 (a fellow contributor does a monthly Bond review at the Cafe). I can't imagine Barry Nelson as Bond! By the way, I think Linda Christian was something of a protege of Errol Flynn's.

  4. Thanks, Rick. I couldn't find anything quickly that linked Christian to Flynn, but she was married to Tyrone Power for over five years, and her career had a big boost from that.


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