Mounted on the dashboard of my black convertible are two plastic switches, “Grenade Launcher” and “Ejector Seat.” They amuse friends and concern wary parking lot attendants.
I own high tech gadgets ranging from a big screen television that can do virtually everything except hover, an IBM laptop with a Celeron processor (I do not know what that is, either), to the George Foreman Grill, which can broil a steak in eight minutes.
But I have never disarmed a thermonuclear device with seven seconds left to detonation, and I have never killed or otherwise disabled a dozen enemy agents while skiing backwards down the Swiss Alps. I have never devised a creative escape from a windowless room as the two opposite, spike-laden walls were closing in on me. And I have never had even one arch enemy with plans for world conquest.
But not unlike most men, regardless of race, religion or age, I cannot look at myself in a mirror in a tuxedo without smiling wryly and thinking: “Bond, James Bond.”
With the theatrical release of the new “Casino Royale” (with the athletic Daniel Craig performing admirably in a smart, stylish prequel) and a slew of DVD releases (including all of the Bond and James Coburn’s Flint films), the world once again will be Bond crazy. Agent 007 survived the Cold War, eight sitting presidents, and, after 45 years, still amasses millions of new fans each year, who watch the same movies over and over and quote dialogue with religious reverence.
Bond is still a powerful archetype, a blend of escapism and the need to put order to an otherwise disorderly world. The real enemies in Bond’s world are boredom, frustration, and complacency. Even presidents dream about being James Bond, some more than others.
Bond represents the part of us that wants to be better, that never wrinkles, that is never at a loss for the right thing to say, and who is never conflicted by crisis of conscience, whose duty is clear and noble, and whose mission is always single-minded. He gets the job done; he is a “closer.”
Ian Fleming created Bond as “an interesting man to whom extraordinary things happen.” He appropriated the name “James Bond” from the author of “Birds of the West Indies” (which he pulled off his shelf) because he felt the name suitably “dull” and “anonymous.”
While James Bond may have perfected it, the spy genre existed long before he ever had his first vodka martini, shaken not stirred. And so did the spoofs:
1967’s “Casino Royale” featured an army of Bonds, including David Niven, Peter Sellers and a young Jewish Woody Allen as nephew Jimmy Bond, who winds up in front of a firing squad in a Latin American country and tells the squad commander: “You realize this means an angry letter to the Times!”
Gilbert Gottfried told Jay Leno that he was 008 and only had a “license to slap.”
Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howie Morris played spies on “The Continental Express.” Co-written by a young Mel Brooks, each time the lights would go out and come back on, Caesar’s spy character would find something else missing — like his pants! In another spy spoof co-written by Larry Gelbart, Reiner gives instructions to colleague Caesar: “A beautiful, blond woman, dressed in a tight-fitting satin dress, with a gorgeous body, wearing two long earrings will come up to you and she will say, ‘Give me the diamond!’ You will give it to her. That woman will be me.”
“You’ll be in disguise?” Caesar asks.
“No. I’m in disguise now.”
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E’s” Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) talked into his pen and worked out of a secret facility located across the street from the United Nations that had a secret entrance through the fitting room of Del Floria’s Tailor Shop on 44th street. Solo and partner Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) were internationally popular and when the Beatles came to America, they asked to meet the “Men from U.N.C.L.E.”
“The Beverly Hillbillies'” Jethro Bovine (Max Baer Jr.) declared himself a “double naught spy,” and equipped himself with gadgets, including a hat that he would forget was solid steel and knock himself unconscious when he would put on.
One of the most enduring spy spoofs, “Get Smart” was the comedic brainchild of the Jewish Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. The hapless Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), Secret Agent 86 of Control along with his gorgeous associate, Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), directed by the perpetually exacerbated Chief (Ed Platt) the forces of evil of KAOS led by the evil Siegfried (Bernie Kopell). The equally gadgeted Max had a trusty shoe phone, an apartment with a net, Plexiglas field and a cone of silence (and Agent 44 who would show up inside mailboxes, garbage cans and couches), none of which actually ever worked to his advantage.
Making “Would you believe?” and “Sorry about that, Chief!” part of the cultural lexicon, the redoubtable Max had a more practical approach (he punched a clock) to his work. When the Chief offered him his arsenal of weapons, which included a cyanide pill “that will kill within seconds,” Max’s naïve response was “How do I get them to take it?”
Adams, a comedian who real name was Donald Yarmy, a Sephardic Jew, originally created a dimwitted detective character that was based on Williams Powell’s Nick Charles’ character in “The Thin Man” series, which he performed on “The Bill Dana Show” and for Steve Allen: “Inspector, this is your murderer. He’s a liar, a cheat, a thief and a homicidal maniac. But he’s my brother and I love him!”
There were many overt Jewish references, including Max partnering with an Israeli agent in “The Man From Y.E.N.T.A.” (“Your Espionage Network, Tel Aviv”). In a great commentary to the newly released DVD series set, Brooks (who said he named all of his major characters Max) says that the success of “Get Smart” allowed him the financial freedom to work on his next project, “The Producers.” Brooks began his directorial style of absolute chaos and fun during rehearsals and total discipline during shooting. “It holds up because inept idiots will always be funny.”
Brooks also based one of the characters on Sid Caesar’s German Professor. He also recalls the pilot (which was directed by Howie Morris) episode’s opening scene, where Max’s shoe phone goes off while at the symphony. “That was the first time a cell phone went off in an audience — we were prescient!”