The James Bond Files
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Untold Stories of 007 (Part I):
Writer Ronald Payne
Shares Some Secrets
If anyone was born destined to keep crossing paths with the world of 007, it would have to be writer, agent, and raconteur Ronald Payne. For one thing, he was part of a family with Hollywood connections. In 1950, Payne recalls that "my father saw Ronald Colman in Bulldog Drummond and was so taken with his fine manners, elegant style, his humor, etc., that he persuaded my mother to name me for him. I'm happy he did. There couldn't have been a finer role model." (While his full name is William Ronald Colman Payne, he's been going by Ron Payne since his writing career began.)
Later, Payne's uncle, James Ellsworth, produced the film Five Minutes to Live, "which was released heavily to drive-ins in 1961 through American-International. It starred Johnny Cash, Ronny Howard, and the late Vic Tayback, who became famous as Mel in the CBS sitcom, Alice. My uncle also produced Chesty: Tribute to a Legend, the color documentary about Lt. General Lewis B. 'Chesty' Puller, the most decorated Marine in history. John Ford directed the documentary and the on-camera host was John Wayne." During the late 1940s, Ellsworth also worked with a fellow named Albert Broccoli selling Christmas trees.
Ron's family tree also set the stage for his own Bond might-have-beens. "In 1956, a distant relative of mine, the actor John Payne (who was also born in Virginia), optioned Moonraker, with the intention of becoming the movies' first James Bond 007. Anyone who has ever seen John Payne in any of his 1940s films for 20th Century-Fox (where Payne wears a white dinner jacket or plays a swashbuckling tough guy) will see that Payne had possibilities. Moonraker, as adapted faithfully from the book, would have been perfect for John Payne. I would like to think so."
Growing up along the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, Ronald Payne also became an avid reader of world literature. He began his collection of rare books that ultimately led to an important Bond connection. Before that happened, in 1964 at the age of 14, Payne sold his first script to Leslie Goodwin, who'd directed episodes of Maverick and Highway Patrol. (The story wasn't produced due to Goodwin's death.) In 1973, Payne's first novel, Shadows in the Sun (Dorrance) was published followed by Black Thursday in 1982. In this novel, the World Trade Center was bombed by Indian terrorists. "Most of the book," Payne says, "was set in Mexico where neo-Nazis were setting up gas chambers." After beginning his career of ghost-writing, his third novel, The Dark Side of Twilight, came out in 1987 when, Payne admits, he was still imitating his literary inspirations, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. "I was a big fan of Kenneth Miller and he influenced my writing in The Dark Side of Twilight. I don't want to get going on Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, right now, or we'll be here all day."
What has all this to do with 007? Well, it's true Ron Payne has yet to work for the official film company. In 1979, Payne hoped to find work with EON Productions but turned down the one task they hoped he'd take on – seeking out counterfeit 007 toys in the U.S. "Reginald Barkshire, Cubby Broccoli's assistant," Payne says, "was always most kind to me. In 1985, I first learned Pierce Brosnan was considered for 007, right in Barkshire's office." Perhaps the unkindest cut occurred when Payne's car was stolen just outside of EON's Hollywood offices.
As described below, in 1979 Payne met writer O. F. Snelling and learned much about the literary James Bond. Later, he befriended George Lazenby and has stories to tell about his friend. And, in his quest to try to find work with Kevin McClory, Payne found himself a bearer of true 007 secrets – inside stories about the legendary, never produced Warhead. In short, Ron has so many stories, we offer them here in three parts.
In Part 1 (below), I interview Ron about his personal involvement with Bond, moviemaking, and his support of George Lazenby, among other Bond matters.
In Part II – subtitled "The James Bond Curse?" – Ron talks about his attempts to produce a Bond film. If this doesn't whet your appetite, you'll also find an interview within an interview when Ron reveals what he learned about the production of Never Say Never Again when he met with producer Jack Swartzman.
Part III will be, in Ron's words, what might have been if the script written by Sean Connery, Len Deighton, and Kevin McClory had come to be. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce – Ronald Payne.
John Ford, Ian Fleming, and Rare Books
Q: There are few folks who can claim they learned about the movie business helping out director John Ford. Can you tell us about your experience?
In my senior year of high school, my uncle and John Ford moved the production of their documentary Chesty: Tribute to a Legend to Saluda, Virginia, and filmed inside of General Puller's home. I knew General Puller quite well, as I often visited with him after school. And, of course, I knew my uncle. I was given the task of "keeping John Ford upright," not that I had ever seen him in any other condition. But taking into account that there is a "first time for everything and anything," I was given the important responsibility of making certain that this venerable (if not vulnerable) Hollywood legend "did not stumble and break a hip" and thus completely "derail the production."
I was "Executive in Training in Charge of John Ford," so to speak and did my utter best to keep him away from booze during filming, but was not too successful at it, though he did cut back. And, he never fell or broke any bone in his body during the entire shoot, so my involvement in Chesty must be labeled a success. I lived to see 19 the following year (because my uncle did not fire me or kill me) and for the most part I fared much better during this period than the debut of Chesty when it premiered in Los Angeles. It was shown in a large theatre, but anti-war activists boycotted the film and generally made life miserable for John Ford and my uncle and the film was, generally, withdrawn. But, it was this film where I had the pleasure to learn a little something from a master about movie making. Admiral Ford was a decent guy and we got along splendidly.
Q: I understand you hold the rights to the 1964 nugget, O. F. Snelling's 007 James Bond: A Report. How did you become involved with Snelling and plans for updates for the book?
Freddie Snelling was my mentor. He and I met in Hodgson's Rooms at Sotheby's Rare Book Department in London where he was the department head. This was January 1979. I became his sole Literary Agent in the Western Hemisphere. Freddie was like a second father to me.
Originally, the book was published by Neville Spearman (London) in hardback. However, with the Bond boom after the release of the film Goldfinger, the book's sales skyrocketed. It was published in paperback in London and serialized in the French magazine, Luii, the equivalent of Playboy in this country. It went on to be published in 17 languages and sold more than 2 million copies (nothing to be sneezed at in 1964-65). Of course, it was published in paperback in the U.S. by Fleming's own publishers (Signet-The New American Library) and was listed right along with Fleming's titles, while going head to head with Kingsley Amis's The James Bond Dossier.
I acquired all rights to the book from Freddie, early on, and still hope to do a documentary based upon the book. I miss Freddie very much. He really was my second Dad. Freddie became a recluse after leaving Sotheby's. I will always remember him as an exceedingly kind man and as one of England's best writers. He also wrote The Bedside Book of Boxing and Rare Books and Rarer People about his life at Sotheby's and the Antiquarian book trade. He ghost-wrote a great number of books for celebrities – most of them from the sports world. He got me hooked on Hitchcock films and the works of John Buchan, Dornford Yates and Sapper (the Unholy Trio of Richard Hannay, Jonathan Mansel and Bulldog Drummond, the original "Clubland Heroes" and forerunners of James Bond). Kingsley Amis himself told me he thought Freddie's book a notch up on his own James Bond Dossier, which pleased me very much.
Q: Is it true Snelling had connections with some actual spies?
Freddie was the literary agent and liaison for Helen and Peter Kroeger, two spies who worked for Russia. The Kroegers entered England on New Zealand passports without ever stepping foot into New Zealand back in the early 1950s. They were from New York. They passed themselves off as Antiquarian book dealers outside London and were Freddie's Wednesday night bridge partners for about five years. The Kroegers placed micro-dots in the spines of books they sent to Russian agents. Kroeger was famous for dismissing himself for about twenty minutes during each bridge game to send radio messages from his basement to Moscow.
Freddie played an important part in the Kroegers being apprehended by MI6, though we will never know the real story during our lifetimes. The Kroegers were stealing Britain's nuclear submarine secrets and doing a good job of it. They were later traded for British agents and lived out their lives in a comfortable Moscow apartment with all the luxuries the Kremlin promised them. Freddie, actually, liked and admired them, though he didn't like the side they were on. Freddie arranged with a major British publisher to have their autobiography published in the west. Freddie flew to Moscow with the contract in hand and there were smiles all round, as the caviar and champagne flowed the entire evening. A happy ending to what might have turned out quite differently. (This will be the subject of my next spy novel, The Follies of Arrogant Men, which I hope to write next year.)
Q: The Snelling book was a rather early entry in Bond studies – does it have any relevance today?
Yes, I believe Snelling's book is even more relevant today, because so many of the original players are dead. Fleming approved the Snelling book for publication, just two weeks before his death in 1964. It was the only time he was to ever do so for anyone. In that respect, Snelling's work stands alone. Fleming authorized it.
Q: Snelling's book appeared before all the Fleming books had been published and only two films had been produced in time for him to comment on them. What sorts of things would Snelling have liked to add to a new edition?
Freddie and I always intended to update the book to accommodate the new films with Dalton, Brosnan, et al. We were also to include a new section on the writers, Amis, Gardner, Benson, etc. Freddie hated the original title, 007 James Bond: A Report. That was Neville Spearman's idea. I am currently updating the book and will use Fred's true and only title, Double 0 Seven, with the sub-title: James Bond Under the Microscope. I used this title in 1981-82 when I serialized the chapter "His Image" from the book in my rare fanzine, "James Bond, Secret Agent."
In addition to the original text, I have 100 plus letters to include in the new book. "The James Bond Letters"; will cover every topic there is about "double-0-seven"; from Snelling's perspective. You will find his insights interesting and provocative. He also goes into some detail about the Fleming story, "The Property of a Lady," of which he was very fond for obvious reasons. [The obvious reason being the story was set in Sotheby's, Fleming having used Snelling as a source for the story.]
Snelling enjoyed Bernard Lee as "M." He knew Lee from the film The Third Man, as he played Sgt. Paine. Freddie didn't care much for Edward Fox's "M" in Never Say Never Again and Judy Dench he saw as a "great actress and a sign of the changing times." However, in his mind's eye, Snelling saw "M" as C. Aubrey Smith, the great British Colonial of Tarzan, the Ape Man and many other Hollywood and British films.
Q: What can you tell us about that "rare fanzine" you mentioned?
My fanzine, "James Bond, Secret Agent", was published in November 1981, though 1982 appears on the front, along with a large photo of Roger Moore and Lois Chiles from Moonraker. Moore is drawing his Walther PP-K as Lois Chiles looks on. It's a famous photo. The magazine was done like a tabloid newspaper. There were many very good photos of Sean Connery as James Bond and in other roles. I ran a chapter from Freddie's Double O Seven – James Bond Under the Microscope. This pleased Freddie a great deal to see his actual title for his book being used for the first time.
I ran a short story I had written way back in 1966. Originally, James Bond had been the main character, but due to copyright restrictions, I changed the hero's name to Philip Reynolds after the character in my novel Shadows in the Sun (1973). In that story, Reynolds (James Bond) is in Jamaica for the purpose of assassinating Marcus Fynche, a former SMERSH operative, who has murdered several of his colleagues. Fynche, like most Bond villains, is larger than life, extraordinarily wealthy and lives for big game fishing on his yacht. Reynolds is accompanied by "Morocco Jade", who is half Chinese and half French. The story was called "Red Moon Over Moscow," in reference to Fynche's past life as a Russian agent. His real Russian name is never revealed, but it is believed he is Georgian. That story was fun. I also wrote an article about my pursuit of Kevin McClory in hopes of getting a job on Warhead (circa 1978). A long time before Never Say Never Again.
Q: What can you tell us about your friendship with George Lazenby?
George and I met in Los Angeles in 1986 when we discussed doing a film I wanted to produce. He accompanied me to the first Virginia Festival of Film in October 1988 at Charlottesville, which was initiated and sponsored by John and Patricia Kluge. It was held at the University of Virginia. The special guest speaker that night was Nick Nolte. Kluge owned Orion Pictures at the time and would premier Nolte's new film that night, but all eyes were on George Lazenby, once one of the students in the audience whispered "James Bond" was sitting two rows away.
Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. was there. Al Ruddy, the producer of The Godfather and Hogan's Heroes,was there. George Stevens, Jr. introduced Nolte. Closer to home for George, David Picker, the producer and former Vice-President of United Artists, was up on the podium sitting next to Nolte. George sat there and enjoyed the show while the student whispers continued to buzz around the U. Va. audience. Who cares about George Stevens, Jr., when you've got "double 0 seven" hanging out with you? He wasn't on the podium. He was in the audience, just like them.
Afterward, the press people couldn't wait to get to Lazenby. He was a mystery. He hadn't been invited to speak. What was he doing there? The Richmond Times-Dispatch gave more space to George Lazenby than any of the people on the podium.
Q: So why was he there that night?
John Hartman, a local television personality had written a script entitled "It's Only a Game." The script was a murder mystery about a bridge champion whose wife is kidnapped and held for ransom. There was talk of teaming George Lazenby with Omar Sharif, with George playing the policeman, who saves Sharif's wife. Hartman had interested multi-millionaire retailer (A&N Stores) Zach Sternheimer in the project as sole investor and Executive Producer. The budget was $2,000,000, but nothing ever materialized. The last I heard Zach Sternheimer was in Hollywood working on a project with James Cameron.
George drove us back to Richmond from Charlottesville that night. It still amuses me, his affection for Buicks. His rental car was a Buick and he explained all the particulars to me as we rode along. George was once a car salesman in London. That night, I would have bought that Buick from him on the spot.
In 1999, I had the very great pleasure of producing the first "An Evening with George Lazenby" for "The Association for Research and Enlightenment – the Edgar Cayce Foundation," at the Virginia Beach Pavilion. George performed his second "An Evening with George Lazenby" in July 2005 at the invitation of Pinewood Studios in England. I have the greatest affection and utmost respect for George Lazenby. He has been a good friend for more than twenty years now.
George did me a great favor by doing the program. It was standing room only that night and the Virginia Beach audience loved him. He talked about the death of his 19 year old son, Zach, from brain cancer. And what it was like getting the coveted 007 role. The James Bond theme played in the background. The man walked with confidence onto the stage. He looked better in 1999 than he did when he played Bond. He reminded most of us of Cary Grant. He showed humor, warmth toward his audience and was a delight to watch. He was impeccably dressed. All I could think: "It's too bad he didn't continue as Bond." But, that was me thinking of me.
The reality is: George Lazenby is so much more than the famous character he played in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. And he's talented far beyond most people's perception of him. 2006 is a long journey from 1969. In that period of time, George Lazenby has turned into a true professional. He's a good actor after many years of learning his craft. He's also intuitive about people. This sensitivity only enhanced his stage to audience performance that night in Virginia Beach. George spoke from the heart and connected with his listeners. They liked him. And, once more, it was evident he liked them, too. I appreciated his taking the time to do the program for me. He was a smashing success with everyone.
Q: So how do you rate Lazenby as 007?
I have said this before. Please allow me to say it again. I believe George Lazenby would have been as popular as Sean Connery had he continued with the Bond series. Cary Grant once stated that an actor had to make fifteen pictures or more before he could really consider himself a star, because that would allow time for the audience to find the actor and he would develop in his craft along the way. George didn't give himself enough time. He was given some rotten advice by his business manager. George Lazenby's picture, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, is one of the best in the series. There are people who talk about how much greater the film would have been with Connery. I don't care how great the film "might have been" with Sean Connery. It is George Lazenby's picture and George is great in it. That's all that matters. Lazenby gave us a great piece of work of high entertainment value. To me, he is James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He was not filling in for Sean Connery.
If George Lazenby had done Diamonds Are Forever, as his follow-up film, his career would have blasted through the roof. He would have become one of the most successful motion picture stars in the world. Lazenby's Bond, unlike Connery's Bond, derives right out of the cinematic traditions of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. Lazenby's Bond is "Robin Hood" and that certainly makes for great adventure – "double 0 seven" style.
Q: Is it true you talked about Lazenby with Bond novelist Raymond Benson?
In the late 1990s – beginning around 1998, I shared several e-mails and telephone conversations with the new James Bond author, Raymond Benson. I liked all of Raymond Benson's James Bond thrillers. My favorite is his first, Zero Minus Ten. To me, it is high adventure. I know that Raymond Benson would love to write a James Bond film. I wish Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson would give Mr. Benson the opportunity. He knows more about the world of 007 than all the rest of us put together.
Sometime in 1999, soon after George Lazenby did his "An Evening with George Lazenby" for me at the Virginia Beach Pavilion, Raymond and I discussed by telephone the right script for George Lazenby's comeback. I wanted to do either Peter Fleming's The Sixth Column or Nichol Fleming's Counter Paradise. (Here, we are talking about the brother and nephew of Ian Fleming.) Raymond shot all that down because he said it was too similar to 007 and people would say, "It's just George Lazenby trying to be Bond again." Raymond suggested I watch a small independent British film entitled The Limey. Raymond Benson suggested we make George Lazenby an ex-convict – a tough guy Bogart-style – seen getting out of prison. He looks up his old gang and together they plan the biggest caper of their careers. (All I could see in my mind was Sean Connery in The Anderson Tapes, but I think Raymond had a clearer grasp of things.) Perhaps someday, Raymond, you and I will do that caper film with George Lazenby. I hope so. But, first, I hope the Broccoli organization gets smart and gives you a shot at doing a Bond film. You deserve it. Thanks for some great James Bond novels along the way.
I would like to recommend an interview with George Lazenby that appeared in Cinemafantastique magazine in November 1998, in time for the release of The World is Not Enough. Pierce Brosnan is on the cover. The article was written by New York writer, Richard Handley, and I acted as liaison between George Lazenby and the author. It is one of George Lazenby's best interviews and anyone who is interested in George Lazenby should attempt to find it and read it. [Editor's Note: For more on George Lazenby and Ron's hopes to pit him against Sean Connery in a Bond film, refer to Part II of these files posted at this website.]
The Many Faces of 007
Q: Any thoughts on the casting of Daniel Craig?
I didn't know anything about Clive Owen, who was first touted for Bond. I had never heard of Daniel Craig. I thought Hugh Jackman was all wrong. I had hoped someone would look at the actor, Adrian Paul, who has a superficial resemblance to the young Connery. (Adrian Paul starred in the television series, Highlander.) And, while Daniel Craig was unknown to me, he was certainly not unknown to Steven Spielberg, who cast him in Munich. The trailer for Casino Royale intrigues me. If Craig's performance lives up to the persona in the trailer, he will be sensational. It's too early to tell.
The producers are attempting to get back to Fleming's Bond of the novels, but I'm not certain even Fleming knew who was right for James Bond. So many people ask today, "Why would Fleming make Bond look like Hoagy Carmichael?" That's easy: because Fleming's brother, Peter, looked like Hoagy Carmichael, that's why. Ian Fleming thought himself to look like Carmichael as well.
Initially, Fleming wanted (1) Cary Grant, (2) David Niven, or (3) Richard Burton. Now, that offers one a lot of diversification. Cary Grant was not the tough, edgy 007 of Casino Royale. On the other hand, if Hitchcock had directed From Russia With Love, Cary Grant would have been perfect, because he would have given us a cross between To Catch A Thief and North By Northwest and set the gold standard for the series. It would have been a matter of style over substance. And, who would have looked better in a tailored Saville Row suit than Cary Grant? (Harry Saltzman liked George Lazenby because G. L. reminded him of Cary Grant. And, John Gavin, who was signed to do Diamonds Are Forever before the return of Connery, actually played Cary Grant in the mini-series, Sophia, based upon the biography of Sophia Loren by A.E. Hotchner.) Cary Grant was best man at Cubby Broccoli's wedding to Dana Wilson in 1959, so it would be reasonable to think Cary Grant might have been in Broccoli's mind, too, for 007. Howard Hawks, certainly, wanted Cary Grant when Charles Feldman asked him to direct a faithful adaptation of Casino Royale.
Richard Burton and I met in London when I saw this fellow staggering in front of the Dorchester Hotel. I went to help him and it was "Rich Jenkins," all right. He told me he was "Rich Jenkins" and thanked me for helping him, by offering me as many drinks as I could handle. We discussed James Bond and the fact that Kevin McClory had once approached him about playing the role. The Bond series would have taken a different route with Richard Burton. I loved his acting and admired him, but it is doubtful (to me, anyway) that we would be discussing 007 today, if Sean Connery had not come along.
Fleming also liked fellow Etonian, David Niven, who had played both "Raffles" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel," but no one could be further from Daniel Craig than David Niven. I can't imagine David Niven shooting a Japanese cipher expert in cold blood, the way Bond is alleged to have done before becoming a "double O". I have heard it said that Fleming was interested in Roger Moore for the role, as he had watched The Saint on television. And, I've heard Broccoli considered Peter Lawford at the beginning. Patrick McGoohan was Danger Man, so I suppose he was something of a front runner. (I don't know.)
I do know this. Broccoli & Saltzman were lucky to get Connery. Reginald Barkshire, who ran Broccoli's offices in London, told me how Connery walked in looking like a thug – dressed in the most abysmal brown outfit with non-matching socks and banged his fists on the table and told the producers how he would play Bond. He shook them up. Intimidated them. Fleming, I understood from Freddie Snelling, was horrified that Connery was being considered. But, once Fleming saw Connery's strengths in the role, he couldn't have been more delighted or felt more fortunate. Fred Snelling told me, "Once I saw Connery as James Bond in From Russia With Love, I couldn't possibly imagine anyone else."
Where I would have gone wrong: not knowing who Connery was in 1962 – and unable to get Cary Grant – I would have pegged for (1) Stewart Granger, (2) Laurence Harvey, who strikes me as having been more faithful to the spirit of Fleming's literary Bond. So, there you are. (I might have gotten two pictures out of it, with either Granger or Laurence Harvey. James Mason would have been a third consideration. But, we wouldn't have had the films that everyone loves today.)
Q: What projects are you working on right now?
My greatest desire would be to see the film, Marine! produced, based upon the life of Lt. General Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller. The documentary my uncle, John Ford, and John Wayne worked on was to be a pre-cursor to this theatrical film. The screenplay, which I am currently rewriting, is based on the script by Harry Brown (A Walk in the Sun) and Beirne Lay, Jr., Academy Award winner for Twelve O'Clock High. It was commissioned by John Wayne and director John Ford. My uncle was set to produce it, but Ford and Wayne died all too soon and today my uncle is 81 years old and in a nursing home in Beverly Hills. He has Alzheimer's. I would really love to see this project get off the ground, especially after so many years.
I am in the process, with another writer and director, of updating the script. The film is perfect for (1) Tommy Lee Jones as "Chesty" Puller. (2) Chuck Norris's people would be interested in Norris playing "Chesty" Puller. (3) My director is interested in Kurt Russell, whom I thought all wrong until someone showed me Russell in Soldier. He's "Chesty" right on, in that film. This is a big picture set in World War Two and Korea. Puller was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history and a Marine icon. He's now on his own postage stamp. John Wayne wanted desperately to make this film, but it was shelved after the failure of The Green Berets. Wayne never made another war film after The Green Berets. Darryl Zanuck wanted 20th Century-Fox to finance and release it, but their Tora, Tora, Tora stopped them. Zanuck was eager to get John Ford back on his payroll. The time has never been better than now to do this great motion picture.
Q: Before we switch gears and reveal your quest to produce a Bond film, any thoughts on 007 in general you'd care to share?
I would still like to write up my interview with the director, Terence Young, whom I met in Jamaica in August, 1975. Young, who directed Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball, was a charming man. He did more to get the Bond series rolling than any other person outside of Broccoli, Saltzman and Connery. He gave me many insights into those early years of the cinematic Bond. He, basically, taught Sean Connery how to talk, dress and behave as James Bond. To me, Terence Young WAS James Bond.
In concluding this discussion, I would like to thank Professor Dr. Wesley Britton, Ph.D., for taking the time to hear me out. I haven't had this much fun since Martin Amis gave me his dad, Kingsley's, private telephone number (sight unseen). Martin Amis didn't know me from Adam and I was calling from a red phone booth in Trafalgar Square. He got a great kick out of giving his father's private telephone number to strangers. Kingsley Amis spent two hours asking me how I got his phone number rather than hanging up on me. (Now, there's insight into a famous Bond author.) I would still like to do a James Bond film.
On that note – check out Part II of the "Untold Stories of 007" files posted here. We've only just begun . . .
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