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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Ken Adam, aka Sir Kenneth Adam, OBE, was the production designer on all the classic 1960s and ’70s Bond films, from “Dr. No” in 1962 to “Moonraker” in 1979. Adam was born in Berlin in 1921; his father and uncles were successful high-fashion clothiers, prominent in the city since the late 19th century. Adam and his family left for England in 1934, after Nazi harassment forced them out of business. Adam was one of only two German nationals who flew planes for the wartime Royal Air Force; had the Germans captured him, he could have been executed as a traitor rather than kept as a prisoner of war.

Irvin Kershner, whose directorial credits include “The Empire Strikes Back” and the TV movie “Raid on Entebbe” (for which he received an Emmy nomination), and who played the role of Zebedee, the father of the apostles James and John, in Martin Scorsese’s “Last Temptation of Christ,” helmed the 1983 Bond film, “Never Say Never Again,” which marked Sean Connery’s return to the title role and made Kershner the only person to direct both a “Star Wars” film and a James Bond film, two of Hollywood’s most successful franchises. (The Bond films are second only to the Harry Potter films in total revenue.)

Harry Saltzman, born Herschel Saltzman in Quebec, was the proverbial rebel who at age 15 ran away from home and joined the circus. During World War II he served with the Canadian army in France, where he met his future wife, Jacqui, a Romanian immigrant, and began his career as a talent scout. He wound up working as a producer for theater and then film in England in the mid-1950s, and afterreading Fleming’s “Goldfinger” in 1961, he optioned the film rights to the Bond stories.

Saltzman’s friend, screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, introduced him to the American-born Albert R. Broccoli, who also wanted to make James Bond films. Together, Saltzman and Broccoli formed Eon Productions, the company that to this day — still owned by Broccoli’s heirs (Broccoli bought out Saltzman in 1975) — produces the official Bond movies. Mankowitz, a native of London’s East End, which was the heart of the Jewish community at the time, was an incredibly prolific and successful writer whose outlets included musical theater, novels and screenplays, one of which is the first draft of the first Bond film for Eon, “Dr. No.” Mankowitz allegedly asked that his name be removed from the credits, fearing that the film would be a flop and damage his reputation. Ironically, the release of security files in 2010 showed that Mankowitz was suspected by the MI5, the British security service, of being a Soviet spy.

The 1967 film version of “Casino Royale,” based on Fleming’s very first Bond novel, is one of the only ones not produced by Eon, although Mankowitz had a hand in writing the screenplay, as did fellow Jewish writers Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller and Billy Wilder (along with Terry Southern, John Huston and Val Guest). The spoof featured actors Woody Allen and Peter Sellers.

New York-born screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who already worked for Broccoli before the latter began producing the Bond series, wrote most of the classic Bond films. Maibaum began his writing career in New York as a playwright, and his work included the anti-lynching play “The Tree,” and “Birthright” — an anti-Nazi drama. Maibaum contributed to all but three of the Bond films, beginning with “Dr. No” and running through “License To Kill,” in 1989. More than anyone, perhaps even Fleming, Maibaum can be said to have created and sustained the mythical icon of Bond. Mensch or not, Bond has proved to be an enduring figure over the past 50 years, one whose image has been shaped, prodded and refined — in significant measure by Jews — far beyond anything Fleming might have imagined or, indeed, may have wanted.

Seth Rogovoy, an award-winning cultural critic, is the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet” (Scribner, 2009).


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