He's the writer who has pulled the strings on nine superspy adventures from "Dr. No" to "Goldfinger" to "Octopussy"— and on three Bonds from Connery to Lazenby to Moore.
By LEE GOLDBERG
You would think even James Bond would grow weary of battling megalomaniacs bent on destroying the world. But, he won't—not as long as Richard Maibaum keeps creating new ways to prevent 007's Licence To Kill from expiring.
"The most difficult thing," says Maibaum, who has had a hand in writing nine of the 007 escapades, "is coming up with a great caper for the villains. That's the thing that just drives us up the wall."
But with Octopussy, the latest Roger Moore 007 film and the 13th in the United Artists series, Maibaum thinks he has surmounted the obstacles. "I can't tell you much about the story. It's a state secret, what with the other James Bond film and all. But, it's not a far-out kind of thing, though there are some marvelously unusual action sequences. There's none of that space colony crap like they had in Moonraker."
Maud Adams, returns to the series for a second time, joined by Kristina Waybom and Louis Jourdan. "Octopussy owes very little to the book and it's the least gadgety of any of the films. We have a most unusual caper this time and the most exciting Bond ending ever. And several other action sequences are just great. It's nothing like anything ever written by Ian Fleming."
That's no surprise. Little of Fleming's stories, except their titles, have made the transition to the screen for several years. The screenplay is based on two treatments Maibaum wrote with producer Michael G. Wilson and a rejected script by George MacDonald Fraser, screenwriter of The Three and Four Musketeers and the author of the Flashman series. (Maibaum declined to go into any detail about the Fraser draft, its incorporation into the final script, or reasons for its rejection.)
Photo: "The name is Maibaum, Richard Maibaum."
The story will have to be as good as Maibaum says it is because, for the first time, as showcased this issue, James Bond has some equally tough competition: James Bond.
Roger Moore will be vying for this summer's box office dollars with Sean Connery, who is packing a Walther PPK once more for the Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again (see page 35).
The Connery film, Maibaum concedes, may have an edge. "We know that for the last four or five pictures, the overseas audiences have preferred Roger to Sean, if grosses are any indication. But Sean may have an edge in the U.S. because he's less English. It will all depend on which picture is actually the better picture. Never Say Never Again has a good writer [Lorenzo Semple, Jr.], a good director [Irvin Kershner], and a good star. It should be a good film."
Albert R. Broccoli, who owns the rights to the 007 character, will be watching Never Say Never Again very closely (remake rights to Thunderball were awarded to Kevin McClory in a court battle and later packaged for this project by producer Jack Schwartzman)."If they deviate too much beyond the limits of a remake," Maibaum warns, "there will certainly be legal action."
Rumors had surfaced that Moore would not be returning for Octopussy, and at one point, actor James (Marcus Welby) Brolin reportedly tested for the superspy role. "It was desperation time," Maibaum admits, adding there never really was much doubt that Moore would return. Or that he will be back yet again.
photo: A vintage example of Bondage: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) questions Agent 007 (Sean Connery) in Goldfinger.
"For three million dollars or whatever the hell he's making, he'll do another one," Maibaum maintains. "By the way, I hear that Sean is making six million dollars."
Can Moore compete with Connery head-to-head, theater marquee-to-theater marquee? Maibaum thinks so: "Roger Moore looks better in this film, somehow, than he's looked in any of the others. My only objection is that he fools around with the lines. He fancies himself a great wit."
Richard Maibaum never intended to write witty spy dramas when he began. His roots are in Broadway, where he had his first play produced while a 19-year-old student at the University of Iowa. After several plays and a brief acting stint with the Shakespearean Repertory Theatre, Maibaum journeyed to Hollywood, where he would eventually write such films as O.S.S., The Great Gatsby, and Captain Carey, USA. During their making, he cultivated a close friendship with the late Alan Ladd, which led Maibaum, in turn, to London in 1951. Ladd had been signed by Broccoli for three movies Maibaum would later be hired to script.
A few films later, Maibaum was back in the United States and working for MGM-TV. Broccoli and his then-partner Harry Saltzman made him an offer: would he write the first in a series of James Bond motion pictures, Thunderball!
Complications (legal and otherwise) shelved Maibaum's script and the producers selected another Ian Fleming novel, Dr. No, for their maiden effort. Cameras started rolling on Dr. No in 1961, with a virtual unknown, Sean Connery, as the sexy superspy.
The Connery Era
"Sean was nothing like Fleming's concept of James Bond. If we had chosen somebody like David Niven, that was more like the way he wrote it," says Maibaum, grinning. "But the very fact that Sean was a rough, tough, Scottish soccer player made him unlike the kind of English actors that Americans don't like. In other words, Sean Connery was not a gourmet, not a suave, cultured gentleman of the Cambridge/Whitehall type—he was a down-to-earth guy. The fact that we attributed to him such a high-style epicure was part of the joke.
"We were not aware of it at the time, but, in retrospect, I'm quite convinced that the image had a great deal to do with the films' success and the success Sean had in the role," he continues. "It enabled the ordinary guy and girl to look at the screen and say, 'That's me, I could do all those things.' It was a slight takeoff, not belabored or done consciously. But it came off as if it was planned and was a great, great plus."
Dr. No was a hit and became the blueprint for the entire series. Joseph Wiseman, who played the cold-eyed villain, served as the mold from which future Bond foes were cast. Maibaum believes Wiseman's portrayal was responsible for "the elegance of many of the Bond villains."
Dr. No also delivers one of the writer's favorite lines in the whole series, telling 007, "You disappoint me, Mr. Bond. You are nothing but a stupid policeman."
"That was a funny line," Maibaum says, "but the way Joe read it was delightful." However, the film's most quoted dialogue —now almost a cliche—was far less creative. "When Sean, in the beginning of the picture, said, 'The name is Bond, James Bond,' if you didn't believe it, there would have been no series. Now, the line seems like the understatement of all time because, of course, this is James Bond, and everyone knows it. They just get a kick out of hearing it anyway." From Russia With Love followed Dr. No and is considered by many Bond fans as the best in the series, an assessment Maibaum shares. "I think it was the most successful artistically."
The 007 series, however, hit its stride with Goldfinger. With this adventure, many Bond signatures became etched into cement: The double entendres. The suggestive character names. The bizarre henchmen. The amazing stunts. The outlandish capers. The stylish deaths. The eccentric villain. And above all, the Aston-Martin.
The car was more than just another catchy gimmick; it was a spectacular vehicle driving on the treacherous road dividing comedy and drama. Maibaum points to it as an example of how the James Bond films—Goldfinger in particular—revolutionized the telling of action/adventure stories.
"We took into consideration the audience's growing sophistication," he says. "We dared to do something seldom done in action pictures: we mixed what was funny with what was serious."
"In nine pictures, not everything you do will be Shakespeare."
Jack (Hawaii Five-0) Lord was asked to recreate his Dr. No role as Bond's CIA liason friend Felix Leiter in Goldfinger, Maibaum says, but he demanded co-star billing, a larger part in the film, "and a great deal of money. I've never liked another Leiter, and as time went on, they hired older and fatter men to play the part in order to make James Bond look younger and more handsome."
Maibaum finds the notion of a black Felix Leiter, as portrayed by Bemie Casey in Never Say Never Again, "certainly an interesting idea."
Shirley Bassey's rendition of the Goldfinger theme (Maibaum says the musicians called it "Moon Finger" because it sounded so much like "Moon River") and Maurice Binder's sensual title sequence featuring lithe, silhouetted nudes, became two other Bond motifs continued in subsequent adventures.
"I must say," he admits, "there have been times when we have not been bright enough to make the villain different and interesting enough from what has gone before. In Thunderball, the next film, Largo was a disappointment, partly because it was played by an actor who I thought was miscast. I had to invent other people to augment his villainy."
Maibaum was unavailable for 1967's You Only Live Twice, which was penned by Roald Dahl and overshadowed by Sean Connery's intention to leave the role.
At the film's end, James Bond faced a more deadly challenge than Spectre had ever tossed his way: an identity crisis. It was time for a new 007.
The Literary Bond
Photo: A paperback cover gallery showcases examples of 007 art.
Ian Fleming always imagined that James Bond would be a success on television or in the movies. Ever since the first novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, Fleming tried to sell his superspy to somebody. He went through a legion of studios, directors and producers before Albert Broccoli optioned the books for United Artists.
After serving as a journalist in World War II, Fleming bought some property in Jamaica and spent an annual two-month vacation there, turning out a novel each year. When Fleming wasn't chronicling Bond's escapades, he was Foreign News editor for a British newspaper chain. Following Royale, the Bond books were almost all that Fleming wrote until his death in 1964 Several Bond novels actually evolved from failed attempts to bring 007 to a larger audience. One film project was already underway when Ernest Cuneo's treatment was forwarded to Fleming who disliked the absence of a Bond-heroine and the presence of Russian antagonists. He reworked many of its elements, including the introduction of Spectre. Rather than the extensive spy network which appeared in most Bond films, Fleming designed the organization as a small group led by Ernst Blofeld, who was killed in You Only Live Twice.
Broccoli and screenwriter Richard Maibaum picked up Spectre for the first 007 movie, Dr. No, reusing it time and time again as Blofeld appeared frequently and always narrowly escaped death at each feature's climax.
After Kevin McCIory and Fleming developed a potential Bond feature in the late 1950s, Fleming took many of its major plot elements and transformed the project into Thunderball. An ensuing lawsuit between Fleming and McCIory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham was eventually resolved; the court allowed Fleming the rights to the novel, although Whittingham and McCIory had to receive a credit line, while McCIory was awarded all film and television rights. After coproducing Thunderball with Broccoli in 1964, McCIory has reformulated the story for this summer's Never Say Never Again.
In 1956, Fleming was approached to help develop a spy series for NBC called Commander Jamaica. Fleming, a true Jamaica fan, had set several Bond tales on the island and was eager to develop the series which would feature James Gunn. When the pilot failed to materialize, Fleming reclaimed the story and rewrote it as Dr. No, which became the first 007 epic to be filmed.
It's interesting to note that Fleming's continuity from one book to the next was much stronger than that of the films. For example, after Blofeld kills Bond's wife, Tracy, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service; the next novel, You Only Live Twice, displays a grieving Bond who has quit and left for Japan to live in peace. There, he discovers a retired Blofeld and exacts his vengeance, losing his memory in the end. In the follow-up, The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond returns to England and back from the "dead"
(M had even written his obituary). 007, brainwashed by the Russians, tries to kill M, fails and then undertakes a mission to prove himself by pursuing the criminal Scaramanga. The three books, of course, were not filmed in the same order—and were considerably changed for the screen.
photo: A Goldfinger In military garb (Gert Frobe).
Fleming's novels are now considered to be an uneven collection of 14 titles which contain some of the best spy fiction ever written including From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. His later works, including the last book, Octopussy, were uneven and in some cases repeated episodes from earlier novels. Octopussy was a collection of three stories, featured in Playboy and then published posthumously, in 1966. After Fleming's death, novelist Kingsley Amis penned another Bond adventure, Colonel Sun, under the pseudonym "Robert Markham," published in 1968.
All of the Ian Fleming books are currently available in paperback editions from Signet or Berkeley/Jove (though novelizations of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker movies may still occupy some bookstores). They were originally published in the following order: Casino Royale (1953), Live And Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), Diamonds Are Forever (1956), From Russia With Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), For Your Eyes Only (1960), Thunderball (1961), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964), The Man With The Golden Gun (1965) and Octopussy (1966).
The Lazenby Bond
While the producer kicked around the casting problem, Maibaum toiled with how to deal with the change of actors storywise. Should he ignore it or work it into the story?
At first, the latter course was selected. "We had this plastic surgeon idea," Maibaum says. "Bond had to have plastic surgery because he was being recognized by all his country's enemies. But, we thought that was awful and threw it out. Finally, I came up with that line, when the girl leaves him flat after he rescues her. Bond said, 'This never happened to the other fellow.'"
When George Lazenby, as the new James Bond, delivered the lament at the opening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it worked. The audience laughed.
"Because it was funny, the audience like it. It said, 'Look, you know it's not the same James Bond, so we're not going to kid you or do anything corny to excuse it. You'll just have to accept that this just isn't the same fellow.'"
Although Maibaum was disappointed with Lazenby's performance, he feels OHMSS is "the picture where Bond is more of a human being than in any of the others. And despite the fact that Lazenby was not ideal for the part, I thought it was a marvelous script."
He should. He received sole screen credit for it.
John (Psycho) Gavin was signed to portray 007 in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, but at the last minute, United Artists managed to coax Connery back for one more film, reportedly paying him $1 million (which he donated to charity) and agreeing to finance two films of his choice.
Maibaum's original Diamonds Are Forever script featured Goldfinger's twin brother in a scheme to blackmail the world.
"This fellow is supposed to say to Bond at one point, 'Oh, my brother Auric—mother always said he was a bit retarded.' We were going to cast Gert Frobe again, but it didn't work out," he muses.
In a watery climax, Las Vegas gambling magnates hoodwinked by Goldfinger chase the villain across Lake Mead as he attempts to make his escape. They pursue Goldfinger in everything from Chinese junks to Roman Galleys—exotic ships that prominent Las Vegas hotels keep on the lake.
"What I had was this fleet of boats in pursuit of Goldfinger," Maibaum recalls, "because he gave the city such a bad name. They -wanted to do something patriotic to catch this terrible villain. I thought I had one of the best lines in the entire series when Bond, in the lead boat, broadcasts to the fleet, 'Las Vegas expects every man to do his duty,' a take-off on what Admiral Horatio Nelson said at Trafalgar. Just for the sake of the line, I was heartbroken when they rejected it."
Broccoli called in Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite Maibaum's screenplay and, in the process, Goldfinger's brother was scratched, and Ernst Stavros Blofeld, the mastermind behind Spectre, returned. And, Maibaum says, his "smash ending" became "an interminable thing on an oil rig."
The Moore 007
Although Maibaum was asked to write Live And Let Die, the first Roger Moore foray into the role, he declined due to other commitments. "I would have liked a crack at Live And Let Die," he admits. "I didn't particularly like what they did to it. It was about nothing, a lousy cooking-some-dope-some-where-in-the-jungle movie. That's not Bond at all. To process drugs in the middle of a jungle is not a Bond caper."
Live And Let Die signaled a new era for Bond, marked chiefly by Moore's portrayal and a shift in plot emphasis from spy stories to easy laughs and a reliance on gimmicks.
"The reason the Bond movies have been successful is that certain charm which has been associated with them," Maibaum explains. "It's not a sickly, lugubrious charm, but the charm Sean Connery has, you know what I mean? Lately, in the writing of these pictures, I find that the charm is gone. It's so bad I kind of flinch. I may be guilty of it myself. In nine pictures, not everything you do will be Shakespeare."
Perhaps his biggest reservation about Live And Let Die and other recent films lies with the choice of Roger Moore as Bond. Maibaum, like many others, favors Connery's portrayal.
"Bond should be played like someone, like Sean, who is convincingly physical. One of my reservations about Roger is that he is not physical; he is not the physical superman Sean made you believe Bond was.
"In a strange way," Maibaum continues, "some people like Roger better than Sean. I certainly don't. I think Roger does very well. He's suave, witty, and so forth, but as far as I'm concerned, he has a dimension of disbelief. He does what I consider unforgivable: he spoofs himself and he spoofs the part. When you start doing that, the audience stops laughing. Just play the part.
"The most important thing in the Bond pictures is a pretense of seriousness. If your leading man doesn't really appear to believe in what he is doing a either an actor or a character, that will count against the performance's effectiveness."
Maibaum shrugs his shoulders and sighs, "Of course, I may not be right because Moonraker, my least favorite Bond, was very successful."
Moore "makes everything so arch and is so coy about everything," Maibaum contends.
"We knew Roger was not a rough, tough guy like Sean. So, we deliberately gave him things to do that would make him tougher. But you see, he hasn't got it. You believed Sean could be pure steel if he wanted to be."
For Moore's second outing as 007, screenwriter Mankiewicz was asked to write The Man With The Golden Gun. He left the project after a disagreement with director Guy Hamilton; Maibaum arrived to do a rewrite.
Critical response to the film was lukewarm and one national magazine wondered if this was the end of the line for 007. Maibaum,' however, was soon at work on The Spy Who Loved Me, which proved to be a critical redemption.
His original screenplay opened with a group of terrorists, comprised of everyone from the Red Brigade to the Weathermen, breaking into an ultra-modern Spectre lair.
"They level the place, kick Blofeld out, and take over," explains Maibaum. "They're a bunch of young idealists. In the end, Bond comes in and asks, 'All right, you're going to blow up the world. What do you want? ' They reply 'We don't want anything. We just want to start over—the world is lousy. We want to wipe it away and begin again. So, there's no way we can be bribed.'
"I never had Stromberg—or whomever the hell it was in that movie—or that interminable thing which went on in the tanker." Maibaum's draft was rewritten by Christopher Wood, who would later pen Moonraker, and polished by Tom Mankiewicz. "Rightly or wrongly, Cubby thought it was too political," he recalls. "So many young people in the world support those people that we would have scrambled sympathies in the picture. Cubby is a very astute man. He knows..." Jaws, the steel-toothed mercenary, also lurked in Maibaum's draft, though he feels the producers later "made a schlemeil out of him in Moonraker." In Maibaum's original script for Spy, Jaws met his death in a furnace.
For Your Eyes Only, the most recent 007 entry (STARLOG #49), was meant to signal a return to the style and flavor of the Connery adventures, a welcome change from Moonraker's, camp fiasco.
"We tried to return to the earlier films with For Your Eyes Only, but we didn't have Sean to make it real," Maibaum says. "And I was very disappointed with the way the love story was handled. The whole idea was that the great lover James Bond can't get to first base with this woman because she's so obssessed with avenging her parents' death. Nothing was ever done with it. It was as if the director [John Glen, see page 16] didn't feel there was a love story there at all."
One critic wrote that in the movie, Moore "was an occasional stand-in for the stuntman."
"It's true," Maibaum says. "I don't think it's good, I think it's five times better when they have the stunts and a real James Bond, too. And there's no reason why we can't do it. [SPOCK: wonder]
"I think we blew an opportunity in For Your Eyes Only to go back to the From Russia With Love/On Her Majesty's Secret Service Bonds."
Maibaum, to put it mildly, was not happy with the film's one-liners. "My lines are 'Red wine with fish. That should have told me something' and 'She had her kicks' [both from From Russia with Love], Those are my lines, the ones I claim and enjoy writing. Some of the stuff I think is awful, like, 'Something big is coming between us.' Roger insists on making some script changes. He's very proud of them and tells everybody. And some of his 'improvements' are just awful.
"Sean would come up with pretty witty lines at times," Maibaum recalls. "Sean is a witty man. And so is Roger. But God, the lines, please____"
For now, there are no Bond lines in Maibaum's future. "I'm resting, recharging my batteries, playing golf."
He has no idea what lies in store for Broccoli's 007, and insists that the Never Say Never Again producers are legally barred from continuing with their version of Bond as a series.
However, Richard Maibaum isn't throwing in the towel as the superspy's screenwriter. For him, writing Bond films is, "a case of Walter Mitty. I'm law-abiding and nonviolent. My great kick comes from feeling that I'm a pro. That I know my job, and that I have enough experience to create a solid screenplay."
A mischievous grin, worthy of Goldfinger or Blofeld, plays on his lips. "I do think I can write a better Bond script than anyone else, but don't say that too many times in your story..."
And then he laughs.
[Source: Starlog #68, March 1983 P.24-27,63]