Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Character Meets Author


Calling the Chestnut Hill Local, a weekly neighborhood newspaper once published by Mrs. Bond, I obtained the address of the Mr. and Mrs. James Bond. They had lived in a small home in the popular suburban Philadelphia community, but had moved into a high-rise in the center of town next to the railroad station, called Hill House.

I wrote to him directly, asking a number of questions, but Mrs. Bond intercepted my letter and replied, “No one sympathizes more than I with another writer’s desire to focus on the subject of his choice, so it is difficult to write the following.”

“My husband has always resented the invasion of his private life through the ‘theft’ of his name by Ian Fleming. Had Fleming not identified 007 with the American ornithologist, my husband would have been teased etc., like many other men named James Bond, and nothing more would have come of it. But as episodes kept recurring over the years, my husband put the entire situation into my hands, and refused to have anything to do with it.”

In her letter, Mrs. Bond noted that her husband had been fighting cancer since 1975, “and his activities and stamina are greatly curtailed. He wishes he could be left alone to do his work, which means everything to him, and put 007 behind him.”

“Recurring episodes,” stuck out in my mind as I recalled how Mrs. Bond, in her books, related how she accompanied her husband to Jamaica and to Goldeneye, where Bond confronted Fleming and got across the point of how much he actually did resent “the theft of his identity.”

It was while in Jamaica on an ornithological field trip during the winter of 1964 when Mrs. Bond suggested to her husband that they rent a car and take a drive along the scenic North Shore coastal highway. Bond said that he immediately recognized the ploy as an attempt to get him to meet Fleming, but he acquiesced, and they took the trip.

Arriving unannounced, they found the front gates invitingly adjar, and drove past the pink pillars simply inscribed: Goldeneye. Down the vine-covered dirt drive to the custom built, Spanish revival, one story cottage.

Stepping over some wires from a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television crew there to film a documentary interview with Fleming, James Bond knocked on the side door. The Bonds were met by Fleming’s housekeeper, Violet.

Flustered when the guests announced themselves, Violet backed off as if she had seen a ghost. “Mister and Misses James Bond are here, Commander,” she informed Fleming, and stood in the doorway in her flower print dress as Fleming stepped outside to meet Bond.

Mrs. Bond took a photograph of the two men shaking hands on the door step. The stern, shyly smiling Bond silently got across the feeling that Fleming’s impulsive use of his name went entirely unappreciated, and in fact was resented. Fleming got the point.

After a quick handshake and an awkward smile, Fleming invited the visitors to lunch. Walking out to the back patio overlooking a private cover and beach, Fleming yelled down to some friends on the beach. They waved back, holding a copy of Bond’s book, “Birds of the West Indies.” They were using the guide to try to identify a swarm of small birds flying about the surf.

Fleming tested Bond, just as his fictional 007 counterpart has been tested in his novels and movies, asking what kind of birds they were. “Cave swallows,” Bond replied, beginning a bantering between the two men that carried through lunch.

Fleming elaborately described how his 007 preferred his meals, while Mrs. Bond recounted some humorous, albeit sometimes obnoxious confrontations that she and her husband had to endure because of Fleming’s indiscretion in using his name. There were the strange, lonely girls calling at odd hours of the night, having found James Bond’s phone number listed in the public directory. And then there were the times when traveling abroad, Bond was suspiciously detained and kidded by border guards.

Before he left Goldeneye, Fleming gave Bond a copy of his latest book and personally enscribed it: “To James Bond, from the thief of his identity!”

To Bond, the quick witted humor of the situation somehow made it seem that Fleming may have missed Bond’s contempt for the notoriety he created. James Bond really distained the celebrity Fleming gave him.

Seven months later however, while they were spending the summer at their Mount Desert Island, Maine cabin, the Bonds were saddened to learn that Fleming had died. They felt that somehow, he had left them holding the bag.

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