By Robert Sellers

Tomahawk Press (2007). 258 pages. $32.00 (softcover)

Before the James Bond film series was launched by Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli in 1962, Bond creator Ian Fleming engaged in various machinations designed to get Bond into the movies, or at least on television. Perhaps the biggest blunder Fleming ever made was his decision in 1959 to throw in with eccentric Irish producer and director Kevin McClory to create an original Bond screenplay and movie.

Or maybe his biggest blunder was using the screen story he concocted with McClory and British screenwriter Jack Whittingham as the basis of Thunderball, which was in 1960 the latest of the Bond novels he wrote every year. That decision left Fleming wide open, after the film deal inevitably fell apart, to a plagiarism suit from McClory. And the settlement giving McClory film rights led to more than four decades of sometimes incredible wrangling over James Bond’s parentage and ownership, including a temporary détente to film “Thunderball” in 1965, open warfare over the seemingly endless attempts to shoot the renegade remake “Never Say Never Again” in 1983, McClory’s aborted 1992 James Bond TV series, and Sony Pictures’ audacious move in 1997 to launch its own series of Bond films to rival Broccoli’s. Only in the last few years has the battle (apparently) finally ended, with McClory’s death and Sony’s subsuming of everyone’s rights and films under one roof.

Bond fans, of course, have followed these developments with fascination and awe over the years, but given the loads of money and litigation involved, no one was able to get the full, inside story until now. Robert Sellers, author of Cult TV—The Golden Age of ITC (reviewed elsewhere in FYEO), has pierced the veil of secrecy and assembled the full story into a comprehensible whole. Everyone involved is here — Fleming, his wealthy friend Ivar Bryce (who disastrously decided to go into the movie business with McClory and started the entire mess), Saltzman and Broccoli, Jack Whittingham (the talented but forgotten writer of the first James Bond screenplay), and the full lineup of film industry personalities who have surrounded Bond over the years.

Much of the fascinating material in the book, and perhaps the book’s very existence, stems from Sellers’ amazing discovery that Whittingham’s daughter had come into possession of a treasure trove of documents used in the plagiarism suit and other events. It was a bounty no outsider ever dreamed of seeing and these papers not only supply the dirty details of each step of the story, we even get to see some of them reproduced in the book — letters, memos, script covers and pages, telegrams, books, diaries and many photos illustrating the making of both movies and the careers of those involved. Several appendices detail Fleming’s 1959 screen treatments, Whittingham’s script drafts, and even the memo from Ernest Cuneo, another of Fleming’s wealthy pals, that became the thin basis of Thunderball’s plot.

The Battle for Bond is an essential addition to the library of all who have more than a passing interest in the James Bond phenomenon.

Read FYEO’s 1998 story about Sony’s plan to make James Bond films.

Read FYEO’s 1992 story about the planned Bond TV series.

Read FYEO’s 1976 story about McClory’s plans to remake “Thunderball.”

Update — The estate of Ian Fleming filed suit against the publisher of The Battle for Bond, claiming many of the documents seen in the book are the private property of the estate and were unlawfully reproduced. The publisher agreed to withdraw the original edition. A revised second edition was issued in 2008, with many of the disputed documents excised. Do not make the mistake of buying this revised 2008 edition. The far superior original edition is still available from many dealers.

Craig Henderson