IN SEARCH OF JAMES BOND, PHILADELPHIA – 1976
I first came across a reference to the real James Bond while doing research in the clipping files at the morgue of the now defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin newspaper.
It was during the summer of 1976 when the news was full of post-Watergate espionage headlines, including the Rockefeller Commission on CIA abuses, the Congressional investigations of illegal domestic intelligence operations and the CIA’s own secret report on the illegal activities it admitted to which was being called “The Family Jewels.”
The main allegations were that the CIA attempted to assassinate foreign leaders, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, that it conducted mind control experiments with LSD and other drugs on unsuspecting subjects, and had used journalists as spies.
Among the news reports that year was the revelation that the CIA used private foundations, including the Catherwood Foundation, as fronts for covert CIA operations.
As a history student in college I had focused much of my research on Latin America, specifically Cuban-American relations, and did my thesis on the Bay of Pigs. When I learned that the Catherwood Foundation was based in Philadelphia, near where I lived, I was interested in whether the Catherwood Foundation sponsored any of the CIA’s Cuban related activities.
As a research technique I had found the clipping morgues of the daily newspapers a fantastic source of information on practically any subject. And while access is usually limited to employees, I found it fairly easy to get to the rows of filing cabinets. I knew my way around the Philadelphia Bulletin building adjacent to 30th Street train, and timed myself to go when few people would be around.
An afternoon daily that dated back many decades, the clipping files were accumulated by a small group of dedicated old ladies who, with quick fingered sewing sissors, clipped every article published in the Bulletin, and often the Inquirer, the city’s leading morning paper.
Every name mentioned in every published article was circled, and a copy of the clip was dated and placed in a plane white envelop with the person’s name on it. The envelops were then filed away in alphabetical order. I never went there when they were busy, but late at night the security guards would wave me through and I would make a bee line to the clipping morgue.
It would be a quick, hit-and-run mission this time, as I was only interested in Catherwood, and went directly to the cabinets labeled “C” and quickly found one that had the typewritten name CATHERWOOD, CUMMINS. Thick with dozens of folded clippings, some yellow with age, there were many stories there – birth announcement, family in the munitions business, a considerable inheritance, service during the war and travels around the world, including behind the iron curtain.
Many of the articles were society columns that mention Catherwood’s attendance at various Main Line charity balls and blue blood weddings. There was a clip noting the incorporation of the Catherwood Foundation in 1947, and others that I was interested in, including Catherwood’s sponsorship of the anti-Castro Cuban Cuban Aid Relief (CAR), which assisted exile Cuban professionals who fled the Cuban revolution. There was also a reference to Catherwood’s financing of the International Division of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Columbia-Catherwood Award for journalists.
Catherwood also financed a University of Pennsylvania study that helped set government foreign policy in Southeast Asia, Vietnam and the Phillipines. Former CIA officer Joseph Smith, in his book “Portrait of a Cold Warrior,” identifies the Catherwood Fund as providing cover for CIA projects in the Phillipines.
According to the Bulletin clips, Catherwood’s fund paid for the construction of the yacht Vigilant, a sailing yacht that Catherwood used for “scientific expeditions.”
One clip, about a trip Catherwood took to the Caribbean in the spring of 1948, mentions that one of the four scientists aboard, was “James Bond, whose main interest is birds.”
At first I thought that one of Catherwood’s CIA agents had a sense of humor and used the name James Bond as a cover as a joke. But quickly glancing at the date, May 1948.
I realized that the story was published years before Ian Fleming wrote his first spy novel featuring secret agent James Bond, now a world wide household name.
Then I considered it an ironic coincidence that someone named James Bond went sailing around the Caribbean with the CIA’s bagman Cummins Catherwood.
I appreciated the irony of the situation, and left the Bulletin into the rainy streets of Philadelphia. Visiting a friend and fellow journalist, WMMR FM radio news director Bill Vitka (Now with CBS News Radio), I related the James Bond and Cummins Catherwood story. Vitka said that he recalled, from a girlie magazine interview, Ian Fleming took the name for his fictional 007 hero from an American ornithologist named James Bond. “Whose main interest is birds,” the news report said.
Acquiring a copy of John Pearson’s authorized biography, “The Life of Ian Fleming,” I read: “James Bond was born at Goldeneye on the morning of the third Tuesday in January, 1952, when Ian Fleming had just finished breakfast.”
“He had already appropriated the name for his hero: James Bond’s handbook, ‘Birds of the West Indies,” was one of the books he liked to keep on his breakfast table,” wrote Pearson. He then quoted Fleming as saying, “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest sounding name I could find. James Bond seemed perfect.”
After putting in a request to find me a copy of James Bond’s “Birds of the West Indies” at the Princeton Antiques Book shop in Atlantic City, I went to New York City to canvas the used books stores there. At one store on the upper east side, I found “A Naturalist In Cuba,” by Cambridge professor Thomas Barbour, and discovered James Bond’s name in the index.
Turning to the indicated page I read: “My friend James Bond of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, who had been to Santo Tomas since and has seen it in life, writes that he found (the Cyanolimnas Cervari) common about three miles north of the sawgrass stretches in a rather high and dry territory….The bird at first looks like a stumpy, very short-tailed gallinule. It is olivaceious blue with feathers of the abdomen, chin and throat white, while the undertail coverts are also conspicuously white….”
While completely uninterested in the “Cyanolimnas Cervari,” I now had a make on Bond. I knew that he was affiliated with the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, back where I started. Besides giving me a clue as to Bond’s whereabouts, Barbour quoted Bond directly, reporting that: “the southern border of the great Zapata Swamp in Cuba is the home of the rare rail. The Swamp at this point is very different from the interior of the Cienaga. There are no trees, but dense area of bush, relieved here and there by open stretches of low swamp grass. To enter the morass is difficult, except towards the end of the dry season in the spring, since, though the footing is for the most part firm, there are places where one may sink up to one’s neck in the soft mud and it is only by holding onto bushes that progress can safely be made through the swamp.”
The Zapata Swamp is the Bay of Pigs, and I suddenly realized, by reading this, how Bond, an ornithologist – bird specialist, could have been of use to the CIA. His knowledge of the area, the terrain and weather would have been of great value to those who were planning to invade there. Years later, during the Faulkland war, the British troops enroute to their invasion to retake that island were briefed by someone familiar with the terrain – a local birdwatcher.
Since I was from Camden, New Jersey, just across the river from downtown Philadelphia, I was quite familiar with the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. I had been there many times as a school boy and recalled the natural habitat exhibits of stuffed animals in glass cages.
School children ran about as I approached a secretary, who informed me that, “Yes, Mister Bond was Curator of Birds here for many years, but he is now retired.”
A copy of his book, “Birds of the West Indies,” was removed from a cold storage vault for me to look at, but I was disappointed that it was a handbook on the features and habitats of birds of that region, rather than a story book of his travels.
Returning to the clipping files at the Philadelphia Bulletin, where I first began, I realized I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had just looked up James Bond’s name in the clipping files in the first place.
I found and pulled out two envelops labeled: BOND, JAMES. One contained reviews of the books and movies about 007 while the other, thinner envelop contained references to the renowned American ornithologist and author of the book “Birds of the West Indies.”
The envelop with the film reviews contained one peculiar item, a promotional flyer for the movie “The Spy Who Loved Me,” which included a profile of James Bond – 007, purported to be stolen from the files of an enemy secret service.
Written in large print, teletype style, it read:
BOND, JAMES. HEIGHT: 163 CENTIMETERS. WEIGHT 76 KILOS. SCAR DOWN RIGHT CHEEK AND RIGHT SHOULDER; SIGNS OF PLASTIC SURGERY ON THE BACK OF RIGHT HAND; EXPERT PISTOL SHOT, KNIFE-THROWER, DOES NOT USE DISGUISES. LANGUAGES: FRENCH, GERMAN. SMOKES HEAVILY (N.B. SPECIAL CIGARETTES WITH THREE GOLD BANDS); VICES: DRINK, BUT NOT TO EXCESS, VODKA MARTINI, SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED, AND WOMEN. NOT THOUGHT TO ACCEPT BRIBES. THIS MAN IS A DANGEROUS PROFESSIONAL TERRORIST AND SPY. WITH THE BRITISH SECRET SERVICE SINCE 1938. NOW HOLDS THE SECRET NUBMER 007. IF ENCOUNTERED IN THE FIELD, FULL DETAILS TO BE REPORTED IMMEDIATELY.