My life according to James Bond by Joe Harwell
I was born in 1954, one year after the publication of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. Due to my parents lack of attention to the movies I saw on Sunday after church, I ended up seeing Goldfinger at age ten at the Victory Theater in my hometown of Poteau, OK. With no idea why everyone in the theater snickered at the name Pussy Galore, especially the way Sean Connery’s Bond character said it, I knew it would be important someday. Needless to say, I figured it out sooner than later.
The details of how and where I saw the 1962 film Dr. No and 1963’s From Russia With Love are a little sketchy in my memory, although I’m sure they were broadcast on television. Saying the early 60’s were trans-formative in my life and for the world is a complete understatement. Some of my earliest memories involve my parents talking to neighbors after church one evening about the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. At age eight, I knew the adults in my life were genuinely concerned about the future of the world and our neighborhood. Losing President Kennedy the following year and seeing his alleged assassin gunned down on TV began to confirm my suspicion that the world was a very unsafe place. However, my faith was restored the next year by Fleming’s fictitious Bond character.
How much of an impression has James Bond made in my life? After seeing Goldfinger, I asked for and received the 007 Spy Briefcase for Christmas, which included all kinds of secret code stuff. A shoulder holster and a plastic Walther PPK pistol with orange bullets and silencer, which be turned into a rifle by adding a couple of attachments included with the briefcase. I wore the shoulder holster and pistol everywhere as long as I could conceal it under a jacket, including to the movie theater to see Thunderball in 1965 and You Only Live Twice in ’67. I know what you’re thinking right now and the answer is YES. I was a total nerd.
During the two year gap between You Only Live Twice in ’67 and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, I grew up quite a bit and shed at least some of my nerdiness. 1967 and ’68 were especially trans-formative years. The so called, Summer of Love in ’67 brought images of social change to TV screen, raising my awareness of the war in Vietnam and the struggle for civil rights. I turned fourteen in June of 1968, but by the time my birthday occurred we’d lost Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy was shot and died in June. I began referring to ’68 as the year I didn’t have a birthday, because I’d become aware of the social and political struggles in the nation and the world, making my birthday seem almost irrelevant.
When 1969 rolled around, I was in need of change and the Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service provided it. Gone was Sean Connery and in his place was a guy I didn’t know, but instantly liked. George Lazenby was good as Bond, but I was completely sold on the movie because of his female co-star, Diana Rigg who’d captured my heart starring in the British television series The Avengers. Seeing the fetching Emma Peel paired up with Lazenby’s Bond made me want to be 007 more than ever. Unfortunately, George wasn’t as excited and departed, bringing Sean Connery back for one more appearance as Bond in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with Jill St. John as the bikini clad Tiffany Case and Lana Wood portraying Plenty O’Toole, whose name is almost as famous as Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore.
As 1971 rolled around, I was a junior in high school. Still somewhat nerdy, I hardly dated and still lived vicariously in the world of James Bond. I was familiar with Roger Moore from his portrayal of Simon Templar in the British series, The Saint. Although I’ll always think of Sean Connery as Bond, Moore brought something to the role that was undeniably good. On the other hand, the movies of the Moore era were “campy” to say the least, but as a die hard Bond fan, I saw them all. Oh, and I got past my boyhood shyness the next year and asked out a girl who would become my wife a few months later. Lucky for me, she was a fan of Bond too, so we experienced the films together. 1974 brought the resignation of Tricky Dick Nixon, the first of four children and The Man With The Golden Gun. In 1977 we saw The Spy Who Loved me and our second child came into the world. In 1979 we saw Moonraker, featuring another unforgettable Bond girl named Dr. Goodhead and we welcomed our third child into the family.
Ah, the 1980’s. What can I say? A time of change in the world and in the Bond films too. Roger Moore gave more performances as Bond in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only with Sheena Easton doing a fantastic job on the theme song. We also welcomed the fourth (and last) of our kids into the world in ’81. Maybe it would have been fitting for Moore to leave the series in Octopussy, playing a clown. The Bond series and Moore redeemed themselves in his final performance in A View To A kill in 1985. Still a little campy, this movie was much better than the last few starring Moore with the addition of Christopher Walken as the crazed villain out to destroy Silicon Valley. For my money, they could have left Grace Jones stay with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan The Destroyer, but her character ended up saving the day for Bond so he could fly off into the sunset in his final performance with Tanya Roberts, who’d captured every male heart in Beastmaster in 1982.
Timothy Dalton breathed new life into Bond when he appeared in the last two Bond films of the 80’s. The Living Daylights in 1987 lost most of the campy aspect of the Roger Moore films by returning to the formula that worked so well when Connery portrayed the role. More edgy and trotting across the globe in pursuit of bad guys, Dalton’s Bond felt more like the Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger character from the 1960’s. Going rouge and teaming up with beautiful Carey Lowell as the CIA agent, Dalton’s performance in License To Kill still felt like the Bond films of the 60’s, in spite of some hokey characters including Wayne Newton as a sex crazed preacher. Oh well, move on.
The six year gap between 1989’s License To Kill and the 1996 release of Golden Eye seemed like a lifetime to Bond fans, including me. We’d moved to Arizona and back during that time and our oldest child was in college and our next two kids were closing in on high school graduation. When Golden Eye premiered with Pierce Brosnan in the lead role, it was apparent to everyone the series was completely transformed. Not only was the script a winner, Golden Eye was a hit on every level. Brilliant casting of the entire ensemble including Judi Dench as M and Famke Janssen as another villain with an unforgettable name, Xenia Onatopp. Yeah baby, Bond was back again!
The three additional films with Brosnan just kept getting better as the calendar moved from the old millennium into the new one. 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies was classic Bond with a great villain whose evil plan to control worldwide media in the digital age came off very believable and casting Teri Hatcher as an old girlfriend with a flame still burning inside for Bond was a great call. The World Is Not Enough in 1999 filled the screen with another true action adventure for James Bond and the eye candy provided by Sophie Marceau as the double crossing daughter of one of M’s oldest friends and Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones kept all male eyes on the screen. Do I know any Christmas jokes? I do now, thanks to this Bond film.
The new millennium started off with a classic confrontation involving North Korea in the 2002 release of Die Another Day. Nothing like the western influenced son of a North Korean general teaming up with a spy disguised as a British industrialist to thicken a plot, coupled with Madonna performing the theme song and starring in the film too. And let’s not forget Halle Berry as the CIA gorgeous operative and Rosamund Pike as the turncoat MI6 agent, which would foreshadow more internal trouble for the British spy agency in films to come.
During the four year gap between Die Another Day and the 2006 release of Casino Royale, the producers finally got their hands on rights to the first Ian Fleming Bond novel, Casion Royale. Although a TV movie and a spoof of Casino Royale were made decades ago, Bond fans and the producers of the films always wanted to see it done right. However, Casino Royale would take Bond back to the future as a young agent entering the service of MI6 earning his 00 status. For this reason, it would be impossible to have Pierce Brosnan continue in the role and another incarnation of the character was needed. As much as the producers reinvented Bond by bringing Pierce into the role, they surpassed all expectations by choosing Daniel Craig to take on the mantle of 007 at the beginning of his career.
Craig’s performance in Casino Royale was stunning and the entire movie was so well done as to quiet any discontent Bond fans held against the producers over making the change. Fast paced, action packed, brilliantly filmed and edited, Casino Royale brought fans of the series into a new understanding of the character and his path to becoming the world’s most kick ass super spy. The four year gap in the Bond films also brought a lot of changes to our family with my wife being diagnosed with kidney failure and starting dialysis in December, 2005.
I missed the opening of Quantum of Solace in November of 2008. My wife died unexpectedly from a complication of her dialysis treatment that month, so I didn’t see the film until it was at the bargain movies in 2009. Many things in life are more important than James Bond films, especially losing my high school sweetie over something which should have been so easily prevented. Seeing Quantum without her was a new experience, although I knew she would have liked the film very much because it continued the excellent job the producers did to reinvent the series again and also because she was a big fan of Daniel Craig. Becky’s maiden name was Craig and I think she felt a connection to him, not to mention she liked the way he looked.
When Skyfall was about to be released in 2012, I was really geared up to see it. A couple of days before the premier, I heard an announcement on KMOD radio about a limited number of passes available at the station for a showing on Thursday evening, which was a day ahead of the premier. I did a u-turn and sped to the station to pick up a pass and along with a few other lucky Bond fans, I saw Skyfall a day earlier than almost everyone else and I wasn’t disappointed. The intrigue which began with double agents in Die Another Day came full circle in Skyfall in a totally unexpected way. If you haven’t seen Skyfall, I won’t spoil it for you, but losing one of the long standing characters was a surprise.
Since 2009, I’ve written and self-published five novels. I aspire to be the kind of writer Ian Fleming was and continue to bring what I hope are stories and characters the public finds interesting and worth their time to read. Do I ever expect my novels to reach the height of Fleming’s success? Not in my wildest dreams, but it’s a goal to reach for in my quest to entertain readers. A year after the release of Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, the legacy of my late wife and I has been assured far beyond any notoriety I will ever achieve with my writing. We now have five granddaughters and two grandsons who are all beautiful and smart. Their lives may or may not be affected like mine has been by James Bond. Their late grandmother certainly played an important and formative role in the lives of the four oldest grand kids. They will have their own heroes from fiction, and who knows, one of them may be a character from a novel written by their grandfather.