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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sci Fi Trifles: And the First Actor to Play James Bond Was . . .

Daniel Craig is the current actor playing the role of James Bond on the big screen (his latest entry Skyfall hits DVD and Blu-ray on February 11th) and other well-known names have been associated with the character as well over the last fifty plus years like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan.  But do you know who the very first actor was to portray the role of 007?

The James Bond films have been a major movie franchise since Dr. No (which marked Sean Connery’s debut as the character) hit the big screen in 1962.  But the James Bond character first appeared to audiences the prior decade when Casino Royale was adapted to an episode of the CBS anthology series Climax Mystery Theater (aka Climax!) in 1954.  That was only one year after the Ian Fleming novel (which was the first of his Bond tales) hit the bookshelves and long before the character had become a household name.  The book had been popular in Flemming’s home country of England but it had not yet found a sizable audience in the states by 1954.  Still, CBS had an interest in the property and paid Flemming $1,000 for the rights to adapt it to a one hour drama, and they may even have been considering the potential of turning it into a television series (though they did nothing else with the character after this one episode).

The person that they chose for the role of 007 was American character actor Barry Nelson (one of only two non-Europeans to play Bond), who was a familiar face on television at the time, though not necessarily a star.  The character was actually named Jimmy Bond in the teleplay and Nelson has said that he didn’t really know how to play the role since Flemming’s story was not well-known at that time.   He wasn’t quite as suave and debonair as the actors who would follow him in the role with his peach-pie looks (though he did still have a way with the ladies) and Bond was an American secret agent in this teleplay.  The was played by long-time genre star Peter Lorre who delivers one of his typical scenery chewing performances.  The episode was aired live (which was common for television at that time) and thought lost for many years after that.  But a kinescope (a filmed recording of the television broadcast) surfaced in the 1980’s and you can actually watch it in its entirety at this link.  Nelson would later add several more genre credits to his resume with guest-starring roles on shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Twilight Zone, Battlestar: Galactica, and Salvage 1, but most genre fans would likely recognize him as hotel manager Stuart Ullman from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. (You can see the full list of Nelson's credits over at IMDb.com at this link.)  Yet few people realize that this well-traveled character actor has the legacy of being the first person to play James Bond in a staged production.

Sci Fi Trifles Quick Hit:  Ian Fleming (who was an avid bird watcher) borrowed the name James Bond from the ornithologist who wrote the bird-watching guide Birds of the West Indies.  Fleming's comments on his inspiration for using the same: "When I wrote [Casino Royale] in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument ... when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard."

Buy Skyfall and Other James Bond Movies on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com:

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