Ian Fleming

Active - 1999 - 1999  |   Born - May 28, 1908   |   Died - Aug 12, 1964   |   Genres - Spy Film, Action

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in 1908 in Mayfair, London. He studied French and German extensively in Austria and Switzerland and found his first employment with Reuters, the international news service, which included a stint reporting from Moscow in 1933. Fleming's introduction to intelligence work came in 1939, when he was involved in the planning and execution of various espionage and intelligence operations, and also formed a group called 30AU (for "Assault Unit"), specializing in espionage and intelligence gathering in enemy-controlled territory.

In 1952, Fleming turned his experience and fascination with espionage and into a vehicle for fiction, and the result was the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. In that book, Fleming introduced his dangerous-yet-debonair intelligence agent, code-named 007, in a mission to destroy a Soviet operative named Le Chiffre. The James Bond introduced in that novel was cool, cruel, and shockingly efficient in his work, as well as something of a hedonist in his interests in women and gambling.

The book didn't sell in huge numbers, but it was good enough to attract the interest of a production company, which in turn, produced it for the American CBS network, on their anthology series Climax!, with Barry Nelson cast as American agent "Jimmy" Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Fleming next completed a second Bond novel, Live and Let Die (1954). He followed this with Moonraker (1955), Diamonds Are Forever (1956), From Russia With Love (1957), Doctor No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), and Thunderball (1961).

As a backdrop to these behind-the-scenes machinations at the start of the 1960s, the popularity of the Bond novels exploded during 1961 in America, where they'd been a cult interest among thriller fans. In an article published soon after taking office, John F. Kennedy revealed that From Russia With Love was among his favorite novels. The movie rights to Thunderball were sought after, but they ultimately became tied up in litigation. Dr. No was instead chosen as the first of the novels to be made into a film. With Sean Connery chosen to play Bond and Terence Young directing, Dr. No was shot for $1 million, using extensive Jamaican locations and a lot of clever creativity and production ingenuity to cut costs to the bone. The production in Jamaica made it especially close to Fleming on a personal level -- he kept a home on the island, called "Goldeneye," and parts of the picture were shot very close to where he lived. Dr. No was released in 1962 and was a success.

Dr. No was popular enough to justify a follow-up film: From Russia With Love (1963), produced on a more lavish budget. Fleming had considered David Niven as his ideal choice to play James Bond, but after seeing From Russia With Love, he was entirely happy with Connery in the role. The next Bond story set into production was Goldfinger, which would be another hit, but sadly, Fleming never lived to see it, as he died in August 1964. His legacy lived on well into the new millennium, however, and his books remain the standard reference points for espionage films and literature.

Thanks to the Bond movies, Fleming's name has been kept alive for generations, associated with action, adventure, and excitement on the screen and the printed page. The Bond film franchise has lived on for decades, enjoying various styles and visages, as well as incarnations. Roger Moore took up the role after Connery, bringing a decidedly lighter feel to movies like Moonraker and Octopussy, while Timothy Dalton played a more soft-spoken Bond. Rebooted yet again in 1995, Pierce Brosnan played the role with a self-referential masculinity with GoldenEye, while die-hard fans of Fleming's original books applauded Daniel Craig's hard-edged brawler for 2007's Casino Royale.