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The James Bond Files


The James Bond Files ~
The Man With the Golden Words – A Spy-ography of Richard Maibaum

By Wesley Britton

According to Alfred Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan, during the final stages of scripting the 1940 Foreign Correspondent, future James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was brought in at the 11th hour as an uncredited writer. Maibaum’s job was to help flesh out the character of the kidnapped idealistic scientist. In McGilligan’s account, Maibaum reportedly told Hitchcock the script wasn’t very logical.

“Oh dear boy,” Hitchcock responded with a grimace, “Don’t be dull. I’m not interested in logic, I’m interested in effect. If the audience ever thinks about logic, it’s on their way home after the show and by that time, you see, they’ve paid for their tickets.” (Note 1)

While this working relationship between the spy genre’s most important director and arguably one of moviedom’s most important screenwriters – in terms of the Bond boom – was brief, it’s long been clear Richard Maibaum learned much from the Master of Suspense. As discussed by many sources, Hitchcock was not alone feeling the Bond series was a fanciful extension of his 1959 North by Northwest, with scenes like the crop-dusting sequence r ecycled into the helicopter chase in 1962’s From Russia With Love.

But the contributions of Richard Maibaum in the 007 mythos went far beyond both film and literary inspirations. In fact, it’s difficult to find a name more deserving of being called the main shaper of the film series outside, of course, Bond creator Ian Fleming himself.

After all, Maibaum had much to do with the scripts for all but one of Sean Connery’s official Bond epics. He was the one who created the iconic laser-beam table scene in Goldfinger, voted in one poll as the best 007 film moment of all time. Maibaum had a major hand in five of the seven Roger Moore films, including co-creating the character of “Jaws.” He wrote the screenplay for the one George Lazenby effort, the first Timothy Dalton excursion, and contributed to Dalton’s second and last adventure, Licence to Kill. While the run of Pierce Brosnan began four years after Maibaum’s death in 1991, it’s difficult not to see the influence of Richard Maibaum in the stories that brought 007 into the 21st Century.

Before Bond

Four hundred years. That’s how long ago the other major powers started their O.S.S.. We’ve only got months to build a first central intelligence agency in our history. A worldwide organization that’ll meet the enemy in its own game. Not your kind of game . . . you’re all here under assumed names, but you’re all average, decent Americans. Americans aren’t brought up to fight the way the enemy fights. We can learn to become intelligence agents and saboteurs if we have to. But we’re too sentimental. Too trusting, too easy going. What’s worse, too self-centered. (Training monologue in O.S.S., 1946)

Born May 26, 1909 in New York City, Richard Maibaum entered films as a screenwriter in 1937 and spent the war years with the Army’s Combat Film Division. In 1946, he joined Paramount as both screenwriter and producer.

During his Paramount tenure, Maibaum began his spy plots when he scripted and produced the much under-appreciated O.S.S. (1946), one of many films rushed out to capitalize on the recently de-classified files of the Office of Strategic Services. Movies like Cloak and Dagger, 13 Rue Madeleine, and O.S.S. (all 1946) also benefited from advice and participation from veterans of the precursor to the CIA. (Note 2)

In the case of O.S.S., the actual organization allowed Paramount and Maibaum to look over their files for story ideas. Ex-agents acted as film consultants. The creator and former O.S.S. chief “Wild Bill” Donovan even provided an introduction for the film in the guise of actor Joseph Crehan.

Maibaum’s script followed the training and then the missions in occupied France of a team of O.S.S. operatives code-named Applejack (Alan Ladd, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Don Beddoe, Richard Benedict) and their controller (Patrick Knowles). Four years later, Maibaum produced, but didn’t write, a sequel of sorts, Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950). Alan Ladd again starred, this time as Webster Carey, an O.S.S. veteran who returned to Italy to find out who betrayed his World War II team and caused the death of several villagers.

Learning that making films abroad was an excellent tax shelter, Maibaum formed a partnership in the 1950s with producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli that became Warwick Film Productions. This British company brought together many of the collaborators that would create the Bond universe. For but one example, along with John Gilling and David Shaw, Maibaum wrote the screenplay for the 1958 Allen-Broccoli production, The Man Inside, considered by some a watered-down version of The Third Man. In this precursor to 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, a jeweler’s bookkeeper steals a priceless diamond and is trailed by various groups across Europe. The cast included Anthony Newley, who later provided the lyrics for the title song for Goldfinger, Donald Pleasence, later the Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, and Walter Gotell, the Gen. Gogol of several Roger Moore outings. (Note 3)

Two years before, Zarak (1956), a tale of bandits and revenge, was produced by Allen and Broccoli, directed by Terence Young, shot by Ted Moore, and, of course, written by Richard Maibaum. Two minor players included Patrick McGoohan, the future Secret Agent, and Eunice Gayson, a leggy lady who featured in the first two Bond films. If director Terence Young had had his way, she’d have appeared in more and married 007.

“My name is . . . .”

After the Allen-Broccoli relationship dissolved, Harry Saltzman became Broccoli’s partner in the new EON Productions. Inside this venture, says Bond expert Bill Koenig, “An informal Warwick alumni association of Maibaum, director Terence Young, photographer Ted Moore and production designer Ken Adam helped launch the Bond series in a big way.” (Note 4)

Richard Maibaum became the principal screenwriter to adapt Fleming novels into the first three films that laid the foundation for the 007 phenomena – Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), and Goldfinger (1964). According to Koenig, “Maibaum helped introduce wit and one-liners not present in the Ian Fleming original novels.” (Note 5)

In later years, these Maibaum scripts were the center of legal disputes between producer Kevin McClory and Danjaq, the company responsible for the Bond film series. According to an opinion published on August 27, 2001, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, McClory claimed Maibaum had been brought in to write a new screenplay for Thunderball in 1961, which had been intended to be the first Bond film before rights issues put that project on hold.

According to McClory, this screenplay was the origin of Danjaq’s various infringing acts of his concepts. He argued that Maibaum’s screenplay was based on the earlier Thunderball scripts by Ian Fleming, McClory, and Jack Whittingham, and thus Maibaum “lifted the cinematic James Bond character, SPECTRE, and the theme of nuclear blackmail.” Danjaq’s depositions disputed the claim, asserting that Maibaum did not have access to the McClory scripts, although they admitted that Maibaum likely had the book Thunderball, in which McClory had an interest. (Note 6)

As the court records showed, back in 1961, in order to sidestep the legal disputes over Thunderball, Saltzman and Broccoli instead made Dr. No. But “according to McClory, Maibaum again incorporated elements from the earlier Thunderball scripts.” In particular, McClory contended that he had “transformed the supposedly violent and alcoholic James Bond of the Fleming books into the movie character who is so beloved, recognizable and marketable,” and thus he had a “significant stake in the Bond movies.” For a variety of reasons, the suit was thrown out, and most experts now agree McClory can be credited with creating Bond adversary Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his organization, SPECTRE, resulting in the Bond films dropping any references to the organization after Diamonds Are Forever. But in the extremely collaborative realm that shaped the Bond mythos, McClory’s claims were more than dubious.

Back to Maibaum. While nominated for an award for his Goldfinger script by the New York Film Critics Circle, Maibaum had help with Goldfinger from Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Dehn. (Dehn, who went on to write the screenplay for John Le Carré’s 1965 The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, is perhaps best known for his many Planet of the Apes films of the 1970s.) While the IMDB only credits Dehn with “additional dialogue,” Bill Koenig notes he contributed much more.

“In his 1998 book, Adrian Turner on Goldfinger,” Koenig says, “the writer details all the various drafts for the third EON James Bond film that were produced by Maibaum and British screenwriter Paul Dehn, brought into the project to punch up Maibaum’s early drafts.” (Note 7)

These drafts, now housed in “The Maibaum Papers at the University of Iowa,” show how the writers tried to wrestle with the question – why don’t the bad guys just shoot Bond? They cut scenes from Fleming’s book that didn’t work for the screen, as when Bond talked Goldfinger into letting him be his assistant. More significantly:

Turner also quotes from a Maibaum memo to producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman where he says of the original novel, “The buzz saw must go. It’s the oldest device in cheap melodrama.” Thus, the origin of the laser table scene, one of the movie’s highlights.

Maibaum also recommended American character actor Victor Buono for the part of villain Auric Goldfinger, Turner notes in the book. The role ended up going to German actor Gert Frobe.

With John Hopkins – who also earned a Le Carré credential by writing the script for the 1982 miniseries, Smiley’s People – Maibaum then wrote the final drafts for Thunderball (1965), based on the controversial scripts by Fleming, Kevin McClory, and Jack Whittingham. Maibaum wasn’t involved with You Only Live Twice (1967), the first Bond epic to wildly depart from a Fleming story. But, in 1968, he contributed dialogue for Ian Fleming’s children story, Chitty-Chitty Bang, Bang, a novelty produced by Albert Broccoli.

Then, for the 1969 George Lazenby vehicle, Maibaum wrote the screenplay for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with British novelist Simon Raven brought in for additional dialogue. As reported in my Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage:

. . . Lazenby was set to launch a new approach in the series, a return to Fleming-inspired scripts with a more human Bond. One indication of this direction was that director Peter Hunt shot the final scene, with Bond’s wife Tracy (Diana Rigg) being murdered for the opening sequence in the next film, Diamonds Are Forever. Presumably the follow-up film would then have been similar to the later License to Kill with Bond becoming a rogue agent bent on revenge, perhaps interfering with the Service’s attempts to trace a diamond smuggling pipeline as he penetrated deeper into the underworld bent on destroying Blofeld. But to the disgust of EON Productions, Lazenby announced he would not be returning. So the murder scene became the ending for OHMSS just as it had been in Fleming’s novel. (Note 8)

After the box-office disappointment for the largely excellent 1969 Christmas release of OHMSS, the producers realized that they needed to revitalize and rethink the franchise. They wanted another Goldfinger, so brought back director Guy Hamilton, title music singer Shirley Bassey, and Sean Connery for one encore at the record salary of 1.3 million dollars. Maibaum’s early Diamonds Are Forever (1971) drafts were concerned with “Americanizing” Bond to appeal to the all-important U.S. audience.

According to the “Inside Diamonds Are Forever” documentary on the DAF DVD, Maibaum came up with the idea of using Goldfinger’s twin brother as the villain. The producers weren’t taken with the idea and decided a new writer was needed. Around the same time, Broccoli had a dream about seeing a double take the place of Howard Hughes (an old friend of Broccoli’s). With that idea as the “hook,” Tom Mankiewicz was hired as writer as he was American and ostensibly able to write in a more American idiom.

Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton

When Roger Moore took up the mantle in Live and Let Die (1972), Maibaum wasn’t part of the new team. (Tom Mankiewicz did this one on his own.) Instead, Maibaum wrote the pilot for a projected NBC series, Jarrett. In 1973, the TV movie aired starring Glenn Ford as Sam Jarrett, a private investigator specializing in fine arts trying to track down missing rare biblical scrolls. According to the IMDB, Maibaum later said the script was intended for a young, athletic star and casting a middle-aged Ford doomed the series.

Maibaum returned to Bond, again with Mankiewicz, for The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). (According to Bill Koenig, Maibaum also briefly worked on a Man from U.N.C.L.E. revival in 1974, but he can’t confirm this.) With Christopher Wood, Maibaum scripted The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the adventure that introduced Richard Kiel’s “Jaws.” In this case, director Lewis Gilbert brought in Wood to pump up what he thought lacked in Maibaum’s drafts.

Maibaum didn’t begin the 1980s on an auspicious note, again trying his hand with a television movie. Because of his Bond credentials, Maibaum’s name was far more dominant in publicity for the 1980 CBS TV movie, S*H*E: Security Hazards Expert, than the unknown lead, Cornelia Sharpe. Sharpe’s Lavinia Kean was supposed to be the female answer to 007, with a sexy body worthy of unclad display accompanied by a bumbling male assistant while using her skills and weapons to get the bad guy (Omar Sharif).

S*H*E was quickly forgotten when EON decided the Christopher Wood script and Lewis Gilbert direction for Moonraker (1979) had taken the Bond series as far as it could go into hyped-up fantasy. So Maibaum, along with new director John Glen, was asked to bring back a Fleminesque flavor in For Your Eyes Only (1981). Drawing from Ian Fleming’s short stories, “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico,” Maibaum began his writing collaboration with producer Michael Wilson that continued through the rest of the Moore and then Dalton films. Loosely using Fleming’s “Octopussy” and “The Property of a Lady,” George Macdonald Fraser did the early drafts for Octopussy (1983) as Fraser, noted for his Harry Flashman novels, was to help with the sequences in India. Maibaum and Wilson revised and rewrote what many consider the most convoluted and illogical entry in the series.

After the Maibaum-Wilson screenplay for A View to a Kill (1985), the franchise celebrated 25 years of the cinematic 007 with Timothy Dalton’s The Living Daylights (1987). It was a watershed moment beyond the change in actors. It was the last time John Barry provided the score (he appears in one scene as an orchestra conductor), and it was also the last film in which Maibaum was a full participant, again co-writing the story with Michael Wilson. Maibaum was listed as a writer for License to Kill (1989), but he only worked on the plot. He stopped after the Writers Guild went on strike and Wilson completed the screenplay.

Richard Maibaum died on Jan. 4, 1991. But he had one last, if uncredited, contribution to the world of 007. According to the IMDB, one episode of the children’s cartoon, James Bond, Jr., used Maibaum’s creation, “Jaws”. In 1996, director Ron Howard recycled a Maibaum story for his Ransom!, which had originally been used for an episode of The United States Steel Hour named “Fearful Decision” (1954). Maibaum and Cyril Hume’s story was then remade into the feature-length film Ransom! (1956). The 1956 version starred Glenn Ford, Donna Reed, and the future secret agent WD-40 in Spy Hard, Leslie Nielsen.

Richard Maibaum can be seen at work in ~

  • “Behind the Scenes with Goldfinger” (1995), 26-minute documentary directed by John Cork

  • “Behind the Scenes with Thunderball” (1995), 57-minute documentary written/directed by John Cork

  • “Inside A View to a Kill ” (2000), 37-minute documentary, directed by John Cork

Notes ~

Note 1 – McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Reagan Books. 2003.

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Note 2 – For a discussion of Cloak and Dagger, see the “Spy-ography of Fritz Lang” posted in the Spies on Film section of this website. See also the “Spy-ography of Alfred Hitchcock”, which discusses the director’s concerns with James Bond.

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Note 3 – Each of these actors were, in effect, stock players for Warwick, appearing in a number of films in the 1950s. Newley, in particular, earned a number of screen credits for the company.

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Note 4 – Quotes and notes from Bill Koenig came from e-mail interviews and his article on “The Maibaum Papers” posted at Iowa: Spy Central.

There, he reports, “Maibaum donated his papers to the University of Iowa because he had graduated from there in 1931. British author and film critic Adrian Turner discovered what a treasure trove Maibaum donated to the university – copies of screenplays, treatments and production memos.”

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Note 5 – For the first two films, Johanna Harwood was also credited with working on the adaptations. She went on to write for the only non-Bond EON production, Bob Hope’s 1963 Call Me Bwana. According to at least one source, set designer Ken Adam wasn’t a fast fan of Maibaum’s work. When he saw the script for Dr. No, his wife advised him not to do the movie – “You’ll prostitute yourself.” At first, according to Adam, the movie was “a small whodunit based on the Ian Fleming book.” But Terence Young, grooming Sean Connery in the director’s own image, upped the ante and Adam’s sets are credited with giving the low-budget film a high-dollar look. For more details, see ~

Goodwin, Karin. “Behind the scenes with 007’s grand designer. From Dr. Strangelove to Dr. No, Ken Adam has set the standard for providing lairs for megalomaniacs.” The Times and The Sunday Times Electronic Paper. August 21, 2005.

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Note 6 – See “Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Edward Rafeedie, District Judge, Presiding. Argued and Submitted May 11, 2001 – Pasadena, California. Filed August 27, 2001 Before: M. Margaret McKeown and Raymond C. Fisher, Circuit Judges, and David Warner Hagen,” District Judge. Opinion by Judge McKeown.

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Note 7 – In his article, Koenig says of the Goldfinger drafts ~

Essentially, early drafts started out pretty close to the novel except for improvements such as the laser table. According to the author, the early drafts had more screen time for the gangsters whom have supplied Goldfinger with what he needs to invade Fort Knox. In later drafts by Dehn, Goldfinger actually makes it into Fort Knox, we’re told by Turner and the idea is developed that Goldfinger is going to irradiate the gold, not steal it. Interestingly, although Broccoli and Saltzman turned the screenwriting over to Dehn, they still kept Maibaum in the loop. Maibaum is permitted to comment by memo about the changes Dehn was making.

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Note 8 – My Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage was published in November, 2006 by Praeger Publishers.

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