Magazine article Variety

Jane Bond? Scribe's-Eye View of 007 Pic Birth

Magazine article Variety

Jane Bond? Scribe's-Eye View of 007 Pic Birth

Article excerpt

According to legendary screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., the beginnings of James Bond on film are as exotic, dangerous, wild and woolly as any page-turner created by Ian Fleming.

That first effort to bring 007 to the screen began in 1955, not the 1960s. It starts with a storied producer and an international filmfinancing scheme. And it nearly turned James Bond into a woman.

The man who first optioned a Bond novel for the movies, fittingly, was a Hollywood character Semple calls "a delicious scoundrel": actordirector-producer Gregory Ratoff, whose raffish ways and international pedigree took him from Russia to France to Hollywood to Europe to Egypt - where our story begins.

According to Semple (whose cinematic espionage credits include screenplays for such classics as "Three Days of the Condor" and "The Parallax View" as well as the non-Eon Bond picture, "Never Say Never Again"): "The picture that Ratoff was making at the time for Fox, 'Abdullah's Harem,' was financed by wealthy Europeans, mostly Italians and some Egyptians, to get their assets out of Egypt, where the film was shooting. Some of them tried smuggling diamonds but that was the worst scheme because the fellow who sold you the diamonds also turned you in to the folks at customs.

"Anyway, Ratoff was so stressed and in such a state over the dangers of this enterprise that he vowed when he left Egypt with the only money he had, about $10,000, that he would buy the first book he saw well-reviewed in Time magazine when he landed in New York. That book turned out to be 'Casino Royale' and he bought the film rights for $6,000."

In 1954, CBS had paid Ian Fleming $1,000 for one-time broadcast rights for "Casino Royale," which aired as a live TV drama with Barry Nelson as Bond. Movie rights were available.

It's hard to imagine after 50 years of Bond pictures, but at the time Semple sat down to write a draft of what would have been the first Bond movie - sadly, no draft appears to have survived - neither Semple nor Ratoff were all that impressed with the dashing and deadly spy.

"Frankly, we thought he was kind of unbelievable and as I recall, even kind of stupid. So Gregory thought the solution was to make Bond a woman, 'Jane Bond' if you will, and he even had a plan to cast Susan Hayward in the role."

Semple chuckles appreciatively at the memory of Ratoff s off-kilter and certainly off-color logic about how and why Hayward was a sure thing. …

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