007 at 50: JFK, James Bond’s biggest fan
Sean Connery as James Bond, President John F. Kennedy (Photo: Everett Collection)
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the release of "Dr. No," the first film adaptation of author Ian Fleming's British super spy, Bond... James Bond, and to celebrate, October 5 has been declared "Global James Bond Day."
In honor of 007's golden anniversary, a new Blu-ray box set has been released containing all 22 official James Bond movies to date (the original spoof "Casino Royale" and 1983's "Never Say Never Again" were not produced by Eon Productions and therefore aren't included). On cable, EPIX is premiering a new feature-length documentary about the Bond films entitled "Everything or Nothing." And Adele officially released her new theme song for Bond's next big-screen outing, "Skyfall."
Over the course of five decades, the James Bond series of books and films has amassed millions of dedicated fans around the world. But as it turns out, one of the earliest -- and most famous -- 007 fanatics actually helped decide the course of the movie franchise and helped raise its global profile. And that was President John F. Kennedy.
When Kennedy was asked to list his ten favorite books, he put "From Russia With Love" by Ian Fleming as number nine. According to the book "The Rough Guide to James Bond," JFK was given the first Bond book, "Casino Royale," when he was suffering from back problems in 1955. The book was given to him by Marion Leiter, a mutual friend of Kennedy and Fleming (her husband Thomas Leiter was the namesake of 007's American counterpart, Felix Leiter).
In the documentary "Everything or Nothing," it's noted that release of "Dr. No" came right before the Cuban Missile Crisis in mid-October, 1962. The very real threat of nuclear war added topicality to Bond's on-screen battle against a madman bent on using atomic power to foil the U.S. Government. JFK had a private screening of "Dr. No" at the White House, and the documentary even quotes JFK with saying, "I wish I had had James Bond on my staff."
Watch a clip from the 007 documentary "Everything or Nothing":
[Photos: Best James Bond movie posters]
Christopher Lee, who played 007's adversary in "The Man With the Golden Gun," said JFK's endorsement of Bond was invaluable: "What more could you ask for? If it's good enough for the President, it's good enough for me." Because Kennedy had called out "From Russia With Love" as a favorite book, the producers of the film series decided to make that the basis for the second film after "Dr. No." Reportedly, "From Russia With Love" was the last film Kennedy watched at the White House before leaving for Dallas in November, 1963.
Kennedy did meet Fleming once in March of 1960 before he was elected president. The story goes that JFK asked the author what James Bond would do about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and Fleming answered, "Ridicule, mostly."
While Kennedy was the first U.S. president to love 007, he certainly wasn't the last. Ronald Reagan appeared in 1983 television special where he spoke out about what he admired in the secret agent. Reagan said, "James Bond is a man of honor. Maybe it sounds old-fashioned, but I believe he's a symbol of real value to the free world." He also joked, "Of course some critics might say that Bond is nothing more than an actor in the movies. But then we've all got to start somewhere."