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THE BATTLE
FOR BOND

 

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Kevin McClory and Claudine Auger (Domino) on the set of Thunderball (1965)

2: Kevin McClory was a bit of a ‘jack-the-lad’ with the ladies. Such was his playboy reputation, that while working on Around the World in 80 Days other crew members used to call him ‘around the girls in 80 ways.’ McClory even introduced Elizabeth Taylor to film entrepreneur Mike Todd, with whom she was later married until his untimely death in a plane crash in 1958. McClory was also romantically linked with Shirley MacLaine and briefly toyed with the notion of casting the actress as Domino in Thunderball.

3: Every Bond reader knows that David Niven, Trevor Howard and Cary Grant were early candidates to play James Bond but my research has uncovered a few hitherto unknown names that were considered first - notable among them Richard Burton. What’s even more interesting is that Burton was Fleming’s choice. In a letter dated 11 August 1959 to close friend Ivar Bryce Fleming wrote that, “Richard Burton would be by far the best James Bond!” It’s a fascinating suggestion, and possibly the first recorded statement by Fleming about who should play his hero.

The choice of Burton would most certainly have radically changed cinema history. It’s likely that the Welshman would have missed his role as Marc Anthony in 1963’s Cleopatra and thus never have fallen in love with his co-star Elizabeth Taylor. And Sean Connery would have lost his opportunity for world stardom!

McClory at this point favoured Trevor Howard and met the actor at least twice to discuss it, in July and October 1959. Fleming disagreed with him saying that Howard, at 43, was too old and that someone in his early 30s was required. Fleming now suggested Peter Finch. When reminded by McClory that Finch was actually only a year younger than Howard, Fleming wrote back, “I would be happier if the part could be given to a young unknown actor, with established stars playing the other roles.”

As production of the film loomed ever closer two new fascinating names entered the frame, both never before linked to the Bond role. Dirk Bogarde was briefly considered by McClory (his fee £30,000), but the producer was also interested in fellow Irishman Richard Harris. Just embarking upon what was to become a highly successful film career, Harris was interviewed for the Bond role personally by McClory in November 1959. What a Bond Harris would have been, and a definite foretaste of what Daniel Craig has done with the role.

4: For years the name of Alfred Hitchcock has been linked to the Bond legend by a number of writers, and Bond fans have long debated the dream notion of Hitchcock directing a 007 film. Finally my book reveals the first documented proof that not only was Hitchcock sought to direct the first Bond movie, but he was the preferred choice of Fleming himself.

Both men knew each other slightly; “Hitchcock has always been interested in the Bond saga,” Fleming wrote to Ivar Bryce. In the end Fleming sent a cable to the director personally asking if he would direct Thunderball. When Hitchcock responded positively Fleming immediately wrote to Bryce. “Hitchcock is in search of a vehicle, particularly for James Stewart but, whether our story would suit Stewart or not, he is definitely interested and wants to see (a script).” Stewart was a regular star for Hitchcock who’d used him already in four movies, notably Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). “Of course James Stewart is the toppest of stars.” Fleming continued, “And personally I wouldn’t at all mind him as Bond if he can slightly anglicise his accent. If we got him and Hitchcock we really would be off to the races. Cross all your fingers.”

Was Fleming mad? Can you imagine James Stewart in a tuxedo rogering the hell out of a conveyor belt of Euro-totty and saying, ‘my name is B, B, Booooond, J, J, J James Booooooooooond.”

In contrast to Fleming’s bursting enthusiasm for Hitchcock, Bryce soon went cold on the idea, fearing the director would take over the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel. “Also I shudder at lackadaisical Stewart portraying dynamic Bond.” Here Bryce displays more sense than Fleming!

Ultimately Hitchcock passed on the opportunity of making Thunderball, turning his back on big budget productions to make a small black and white movie that changed cinema forever, one that might never have been made if Hitch had said yes to 007 – Psycho.

CONTINUED...

© Robert Sellers, 2007. All rights reserved.

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