Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bond, James - American Ornithologist


The clipping files at the morgue of the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin contained two separate envelops labeled: BOND, JAMES, one thicker one contained articles and reviews of the popular 007 movies.

The other envelope contained published references to James Bond, the ornithologist.

I first noticed that the clip about the 1948 trip with Catherwood was not among them. Most of the articles were reviews of his book “Birds of the West Indies,” or reviews of novels, poems and books by his wife, Mary Wickham Bond, who also had an envelop of her own.

Besides her books of fiction and poetry however, Mrs. Bond also wrote, “How 007 Got His Name,” a very compact, little hardbound book that is very rare and hard to find. In it she explains how Fleming appropriated Bond’s name for his secret agent, how it affected their lives, and what happened when they went to Jamaica to visit Fleming.

Mrs. Bond claims that they were quite unaware of Fleming’s fictional spy until 1962, when a London Times review of a new edition of Bond’s “Birds of the West Indies” made bizarre and unexplained references to “guns, girls and gadgets.”

This review perplexed the Bonds until a friend, Cummins Catherwood’s sister, Mrs. Charles C. G. Chaplin, provided them with a copy of Fleming’s “Dr. No,” compliments of their friend, Peter Fleming, Ian’s older brother, the MI6 agent who just happens to be an amateur ornithologist.

Nor did Bond, the ornithologist, realize that Fleming borrowed his name for 007, rather than from someone else named Bond, until a local camera shop clerk point out an interview with Ian Fleming in the risqué men’s Rogue Magazine. In this interview, Fleming acknowledges that he appropriated the name James Bond “from the distinguished American ornithologist.”

“Dr. No,” the book Peter Fleming gave to Mrs. Chaplin, who in turn passed on to Bond, concerns 007’s investigation of the murder of the British Secret Service Chief-of-Station K – Kingston, Jamaica. Taking the assignment, which includes a Spanish dubloon, a clue from Morgan the Pirate’s treasure, Bond goes to Jamaica posing as an ornithologist by the name of Bryce, as in Ivor Bruce, the American millionaire who first introduced Fleming to Jamaica during World War II.

Besides the “How 007 Got His Name,” Mrs. Bond wrote two additional books that chronicle some of the travels about the West Indies with her husband. “Far Afield in the Caribbean,” subtitled, “The Migratory Flights of a Naturalist’s Wife” was followed by “To James Bond, With Love.”

Famed birdwatcher Roger Tory Peterson helped promote Mrs. Bond’s books with the blurb, “The saga of the real James Bond is fascinating to those who are bird oriented. Although his activities might read like fiction;, they are the true-life adventures of a very remarkable person who had become an authority on the birds of the West Indies. Exploring little known wildernesses, island by island, he has found adventure equal to that of 007, but of another kind.”

In her most comprehensive book, “To James Bond With Love,” Mrs. Bond reveals that in 1938 her husband sailed aboard a tramp steamer in the Caribbean with English writer W. Somerset Maugham.

Besides being one of the most famous writers of his generation, writing such classics as “A Razor’s Edge,” Maugham also served as a secret agent for Sir William Wiseman, the director of British Intelligence in the United States during World War I. Wiseman was Sir William Stephenson’s predecessor. In 1917 Wiseman sent Maugham to Russia to try to prevent the Communist Revolution and keep Russia in the war with Germany. Not a simple assignment, but one would trust to only the best agent.

Having Bond and Maugham on the same boat together in 1938 presents the possibility that Bond, like his fictional counterpart, was recruited as a British, rather than an American secret agent, a full decade before he sailed with the CIA’s Catherwood.

Perhaps it was also more than just another ironic coincidence that the promotional flyer for the movie “The Spy Who Loved Me” has a profile of secret agent James Bond, purportedly “stolen from the files” of a foreign service. It reports 007 was recruited into the British Secret Service in 1938, the same year James Bond sailed on the same tramp steamer as Somerset Maugham.

Mrs. Bond, in her books, also recounts a visit to the Bahia de Conhinos, Cuba, the Bay of Pigs. “Shortly before we left Philadelphia,” she writes, “he heard about a private collection of birds in Havana he hadn’t seen and we decided to stop off in Cuba first. While there, why not a short trip to the Isle of Pines?”

“It’s a dramatic little island,” Bond explained. “This is before the Bay of Pigs when Castro was trying to lure the tourist trade to Cuba by lowering hotel rates, mailing letters back to the States for free, and similar devices....”

“When the (bus) conductr left, Jim said, ‘That’s a very interesting fellow. I think he’s a rebel, but of course I didn’t ask. He told me a lot of roads are being built all over the place…but he spoke of one that surprises me, for it makes no sense.’”

“The road the conductor spoke of,” Bond said, “went….to the Bahia de Conhinos – the Bay of Pigs. I asked him why there? And he replied, ‘for the tourists.’”

“But that’s ridiculous. The Bay of Pigs is down in the Zapata Swamp where I’ve collected, and there’s nothing there for tourists. It’s most peculiar.”

Six months later the CIA backed brigade of anti-Castro Cubans invaded that very beach.

The CIA was negligent if it didn’t know what James Bond knew, that new roads were constructed that led directly to the swampy beach they were preparing to invade.

Most peculiar indeed.

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