On Her Majesty’s Semitic Service

The Untold Jewish History of the James Bond Flicks

By Seth Rogovoy

Published November 01, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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It’s hard to imagine anyone less Jewish — or more goyish — than James Bond: He of the shaken-not-stirred-martinis; he who serially beds the blond, buxom “Bond girls”; he who drives the latest, fastest, gadget-equipped sports car. He may be the hero, but he’s no mensch. The United Kingdom newspaper the Daily Mirror recently called the fictional secret agent (and sometimes it’s easy to forget that Bond is an invented character, not a real person) “a British icon as enduring as the Royal Family and the Rolling Stones.”

Quantum of Prejudice: Ian Fleming might be surprised by the Jews who have made James Bond an icon.
getty images
Quantum of Prejudice: Ian Fleming might be surprised by the Jews who have made James Bond an icon.

In fact, Bond was the literary creation of novelist Ian Fleming, a notorious right-winger who, like many Englishmen of his generation, wore his anti-Semitism on his sleeve. Fleming’s books, unlike the much more popular films they spawned, occasionally trade in vulgar and hateful Jewish stereotypes, and whenever a character does seem Jewish, he is always a villain.

Yet from its beginning a half-century ago, from the 1962 “Dr. No” up through the most recent entry in the series, “Skyfall” — the 23rd Bond film, which opens in the United States on November 9 — Jews have played an essentially creative role in the James Bond film series. “Skyfall” features a Jewish director (Sam Mendes), and an actor, Daniel Craig, who, while not Jewish himself, is well known for his portrayal of heroic Jews (including roles in “Defiance” and “Munich”) and who is married to the prominent British Jewish actress Rachel Weisz. (Besides which, my mother always said it was a dead giveaway that a celebrity is Jewish when he sports two first names, like Laurence Harvey or Jack Benny.)

Even on a grander scale, a Jewish-inspired theme plays out in this gem business of a movie series, whose titles include “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.” Fleming based the title character of “Goldfinger,” who is Bond’s nemesis, on Ernö Goldfinger, the real-life Hungarian-born Modernist architect and leftist who was a neighbor of Fleming’s in Hampstead. Fleming invested his Goldfinger, renamed Auric (meaning “gold” in Latin), with an obsession with power. The movie “Goldfinger” elides the character’s Jewish origins, which in Fleming’s original are the subject of some consideration. Ironically, German actor Gert Fröbe, who portrayed Goldfinger in the film, had been a member of the Nazi Party during World War II.

Hollywood being Hollywood, a place more friendly and conducive to Jewish participation than Fleming’s universe — fictional or otherwise — there have been plenty of Jewish contributions, or contributions by people who happen to be Jewish, to the James Bond corpus:


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