I just completed Robert Sellers ‘The Battle for Bond’ and, leaving aside the presentation errors, I found it an engaging read which filled in a lot of detail I wasn’t previously aware of in the Kevin McClory saga. For that I can only thank Mr. Sellers.
I was particularly impressed with his descriptions of the Thunderball scripts (Fleming’s first two and Whittingham’s two upgrades) and the similarities between McClory’s chaotic Xanadu Production company’s attempt to make Thunderball and Jack Swartzmann’s equally non-plussed production Never Say Never Again.
Overall, it was quite a hefty read. Robert Sellers has a tendency to repeat himself. I lost count of the number of times I read that McClory wasn’t a very nice man unless he needed something from people [I’m paraphrasing] or that Connery was fed up with Bond [again] or that Jack Whittingham’s family bore a grudge against McClory for decades [and again]. Having told us once or twice, he really ought to let it lie. Part of Seller’s problem is that he’s telling the story chronologically. It’s like he’s reminding us and himself how a particular person feels every time they have something to say on a subject, as if several years not pages have elapsed since he last told us.
Additionally he utilises only the documents available to him plus a few assorted sources. Most of these are from the Whittingham estate and relate to the plagiarism trial in 1963. Mr. Sellers sets his stall out early on when he mentions how kind and cooperative he found Jack Whittingham’s daughter Sylvan. My suspicions aroused, I wasn’t surprised to find the book tends to favour McClory’s version of events and exhibits a lot of sympathy for screenwriter Whittingham. While McClory is painted warts and all, and clearly isn’t a reliable or very pleasant person, something of a spendthrift shyster IMO, Ian Fleming and Ivar Bryce both come across as unsympathetic and rather snobbish, as though their place in society, their upbringing, counts against them – and that’s hardly their fault.
Interestingly it is the very ‘old boys network’ style of business which Bryce and Fleming favour which is their eventual undoing, for as McClory states, they all got into the mess because nobody had any binding written contracts. Hence the approbation of responsibility, cause and effect regarding the aborted Xanadu film project could only be judged through a series of interminably dull and contradictory personal correspondences.
Whittingham does seem hard done by. IMO the other three protagonists do display a typical attitude towards the jobbing screenwriter (McClory as a producer, the other two following his lead as employer and advisor) in that Whittingham was the only one actually contracted to work: he was paid $5000 to fashion a shooting script in tandem with Fleming. Legally speaking he has less of a leg to stand on than anyone in the story, although morally you might make a case that he’s entitled to due recognition.
However I’d throw caution on that too, for while the legal wrangling between McClory and Fleming/Bryce then Eon revolved predominantly around the film rights to make Thunderball, the close detail of the shooting script is markedly different to that which Fleming delivered. Indeed the novel Thunderball bears more relation to Fleming’s earliest two stabs at the script. It also includes SPECTRE, which he was persuaded to drop and replace with the Mafia, and Domino, who in later versions is called Gaby and has a much harder persona. Given that Maibaum’s final screenplay was based on the published novel, it is hard to see how Whittingham can be given more than the credit he already receives. Certainly Fleming stole some of his ideas, but then they were often suggested in consultation with McClory and/or Fleming.
While Fleming was shortsighted and lazy in adapting the scripts for his ninth opus, he sticks quite closely to what he envisaged and elaborates on that. Much of the McClory/Whittingham stuff was incidental and several major elements of their script are jettisoned completely by Fleming. I may be simplifying. McClory apparently trawled through the book and raised every single point where he considered Fleming used something from the script he had copyright on. This was Fleming’s problem because much of that script was his work as well, in spirit if not in word, from the very earliest beginnings, as noted by the lawyer Ernest Cuneo. Legally, I don’t think either side has much of a case. It boils back down to the point I made earlier, that without proper binding agreements the whole farce was always going to end in tears.
McClory’s later assumption that it is he and not Fleming (or even Eon) that created the cinematic 007 is the ultimate clutch at a straw. McClory seems to have ended a very bitter man. Making Thunderball in 1965 was the smartest move he made over the whole affair – probably over his whole career, which was fairly non-existent and low grade – and yet he still wanted to seek recompense two or three decades later, as if earning 20% of the profits from a hugely successful film isn’t enough. He seems a shallow individual, more concerned with appearances than substance.
James Bond isn’t his creation; it is Ian Fleming’s. While McClory can take credit for the influence Thunderball had over the franchise as subsequent movies developed, his assertion that Dr No and From Russia, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are partially his creation because they utilise SPECTRE (which was Fleming’s creation anyway) is petty and obscure.
Overall I enjoyed the book. It’s certainly food for thought.