Saturday, June 20, 2009

James Bond and Ian Fleming

Friday, January 16, 1981


By William Kelly

Will the real James Bond please stand up?

In the second week of January, 1952, Ian Fleming arrived at his Jamaican estate. After taking a swim in his private lagoon, he closed the jalousies of his workroom and sat down in front of his portable typewriter. Taking a cigarette from his oxidized gold case, he lit it, inhaled deeply and began typing:

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul erosion produced by high tension becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”

“James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him avoid mistakes and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes…”

Thus began the “spy story to end all spy stories.” The legend of the world’s most famous spy. A story that remains incomplete.

Fleming first hinted that Bond really existed in an interview in Rogue Magazine in 1961. he referred to “the distinguished American ornithologist James Bond.”

Then after Fleming’s death, John Pearson published “The Life of Ian Fleming,” in which he states Fleming took the name for his hero from the author of the book, “The Birds of the West Indies.”

Another reference to Bond mentioned that he served as curator of Birds at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. In center city Philadelphia, the Academy is a child’s playground. School children run about the tiled halls lined with exhibits of stuffed animals in glass cages. An older member of the predominately young staff remembers Bond.

“He is retired. Yes, I think there is a copy of his book in the vault in the library.”

The Princeton Antique Book Store in Atlantic City located a first American edition of “The Birds of the West Indies.” On the back cover is a picture of Bond in the field, dissecting a bird. The first thing that strikes you is the uncanny resemblance to Sean Connery, the Scottish actor who played him in the early films. Tall, thin, weith an angular face, he has a serious look about him.

In 1953, James Bond married Mary Wickham, the publisher of a small Philadelphia weekly newspaper (The Chestnut Hill Local). By 1954 he was still relatively unknown outside the fraternity of ornithologists, when early editions of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale began to get around.

Then came the films and Fleming’s novel-a-year pace, and increasing notoriety.

After John Pearson wrote Fleming’s biography, Mrs. Bond began writing books about her travels with her husband. She wrote “Far Afield in the Caribbean,” subtitled, “The Migratory Flights of a Naturalists’ Wife,” and “How 007 Really Got His Name.” Now there is her recently published “To James Bond, With Love,” (1980 Sutter House Press)

In the last story he wrote, “Octopussy,” Fleming portrays an aging, retired intelligence officer who 007 visits at a beachfront home on the north shore of Jamaica.

On February 5, 1964 James and Mary Bond visited the ailing Fleming at his home in Jamaica. A photo of the two men shows them standing at the doorstep, with Fleming’s Jamaican housekeeper Violet in the background.

The occasion was described as a memorable, dramatic, unrehearsed, spur of the moment affair.” Fleming gave Bond a copy of his latest novel and inscribed it with the note, “To the real Bond, from the thief of his identity, Ian Fleming, Feb. 5, 1964 – A Great Day!”

Five months later Ian Fleming died. Mrs. Bond says that her husband has always resented the invasion of his privacy by the fuss Fleming created, but “I have tried to put a good face on the matter, to have some fun of it when possible.”

Now, the world can rest assured, secure in the knowledge that James Bond has quietly out-lived the image maker as well as his comic book adversaries.

At the age of 81, Bond is living discreetly with his wife at the their penthouse apartment in the suburbs of Philadelphia. A retired gentleman, Bond enjoys golf and his work with birds. He vacations seasonally (at Desert Island) Maine in the summer and the islands in the winter, not unlike his feathered friends.

Occasionally he will receive a visitor who inquires about the habitat of some obscure tropical birds.

Bond should be remembered as Fleming so precisely portrayed him – sitting at the bar of his favorite West Indian haunt, taking a drag from his gold-ringed Morlan special, and self assuredly order a dry-double vodka martini – shaken, not sturred.”

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