The Writer’s Almanac reminds us--as if we really needed to be reminded--that today would have been the 100th birthday of journalist-author Ian Fleming, the creator of British secret agent 007, James Bond. Garrison Keillor writes:
[Fleming] wanted to be a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Office examination and decided to go into journalism. He worked for the Reuters News Service in London, Moscow, and Berlin, and then during World War II, he served as the assistant to the British director of naval intelligence.READ MORE: “The Enduring Charm of James Bond,” by Sandra Parshall (Poe’s Deadly Daughters); “Never Say Die: James Bond Returns to the Page” (National Public Radio).
After the war, he bought a house in Jamaica, where he spent his time fishing and gambling and bird watching. He started to get bored, so he decided to try writing a novel about a secret agent. He named the agent James Bond after the author of a bird-watching book. Fleming said, “James Bond is ... the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been--bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It’s what you would expect of an adolescent mind--which I happen to possess.”
The first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), sold about 7,000 copies, and Fleming followed it with four more that sold less and less well. Critics said he was good at writing about places, but that was about it. Fleming had a newborn son at home, and he was disappointed that these books weren’t making more money to help support the family, so for his next Bond story, he wrote the book specifically for the movies. He filled it with more psychopaths and beautiful women than usual. No one in the movie industry was interested at the time, but the novel From Russia, with Love (1957) became a huge international best seller.