I owe much to James Bond. Or to be more accurate, 007’s inventor, author Ian Fleming. I was twelve years old and not much of a reader when I discovered my father’s collection of Fleming paperbacks on a shelf in our converted garage. After the first fifty pages I found myself treble-hooked by the heady mix of cold war espionage and sex. What followed was a teenage obsession with the film series. Both Sean Connery and Roger Moore as James Bond in one epic international adventure after another, always with the promise after the last credit rolled, “James Bond Will Return.”
I thought I was destined to pen one of the flicks. And for a while, I was.
Fast forward a number of years. My feature career had taken flight. I eventually found myself in business with Fred Zollo, a theater and film producer who had just married James Bond heir, Barbara Broccoli. Barbara, daughter of the late great “Cubby” Broccoli, is the keeper of the 007 flame along with her half brother, Michael Wilson. Some think Barbara merely inherited the franchise. To describe her relationship to James Bond in such simple terms is a grave mistake. She was born practically the same year 007 made his Hollywood debut. Which means she was raised on all those amazing movie sets and plowed her way up through the production ranks to becoming the jealous protector of the most successful franchise in motion picture history. James Bond movies are more than just the ultimate movie ATM machine. It’s a very proud family business.
Fred must’ve said something nice about me because one day, out of the blue, Barbara invited me to lunch. I instantly found her more than charming. She had a fascinating personal story and all the moxie of a pit bull.
“Have you ever thought about writing a Bond movie?” she eventually asked.
“Of course,” I answered, coolly. Though beneath my skin, everything but my marrow did a triple fist pump.
Sure, I needed to come up with a suitable story. I had time, though. The franchise was going though one of its ownership-slash-negotiation hiccups between the bankrupt movie studio and the family-owned production company that defended assaults against the James Bond brand like a mother grizzly.
“Let me ask you something,” said Barbara. “It’s a delicate question because I adore him so. But what do you think of Timothy Dalton?”
“As a James Bond?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“I like him enough,” I said, though I couldn’t quite believe my opinion was actually worth seeking. This was the woman who practically grew up with Bond as a Dutch Uncle.
“But what do you really think?” she asked.
Okay. So she wanted me to be honest. Unvarnished. My true thoughts were being solicited.
“Well, he’s no Sean Connery,” I said. “But you knew that. Nobody could be as good as Connery. And Tim Dalton’s not as smooth or funny as Roger Moore.”
“What do you think of Pierce Brosnan?” she asked me.
“Love Pierce Brosnan,” I answered. “He’s the most obvious choice.”
“It really is hard for us. Tim’s such a dear friend. But the part doesn’t appear to be sticking to him like we’d hoped.”
Barbara went on to explain the politics of moving on to a new actor. What the studio was pushing for. The complications involved with extricating Pierce Brosnan from his television series commitment.
To say the least, I was honored to be asked, even if it was just polite lunch conversation. I was even more jacked over even the remote chance of writing a Bond picture. So while I pondered potential super-villains, diabolical plots to extort riches from western nations, double entendre Bond girl names that rolled off the tongue, and uber exotic international locales, my wife and I began to get socially chummy with Barbara and Fred. When my bride and I visited London, Barbara surprised us with a limousine to deliver us from Gatwick to our hotel. She also set us up with show tickets and hard-to-get dinner reservations. And when Barbara felt Fred needed some manly assistance putting up their twelve-foot Christmas tree, I was pleased that Barbara felt comfy enough to call me on a Sunday afternoon and ask if my better half and I could pop over for a some holiday cheer to go with a tree-raising.
I recall a dinner party Barbara threw together. Her years working production for her old man were on full display as she’d organized and cooked the multi-course gourmet meal with military precision. The twenty or so guests were arranged along a long outdoor table decorated in candlelight. Barbara made sure I was sitting next to my wife. Across from me was Aaron Sorkin and his actress girlfriend. Directly opposite my wife sat the current James Bond, Timothy Dalton. My memory instantly rewound to months earlier and my lunch conversation with Barbara about whether Timothy was a suitable James Bond. Was it by design that we were seated so near each other? Or was it because she knew both my wife and Tim Dalton were Irish born and would have the old sod to chat about? I would never formally find out. Instead I spent most of my meal annoying the crap out of Aaron Sorkin because his date turned out to have grown up mere miles from my high school stomping grounds. The more the cutesy blonde and I yacked, the more the Oscar-winning writer would drink, becoming even more surly toward me as the evening meandered.
“You know, I really dug the movie,” I said when the opportunity seemed ripe. “But the actual theater piece of A Few Good Men was really something special.”
Yeah. I know. I sounded like a total kiss ass and knew it the moment those idiotic words passed my lips. By trying to mend a social fence I’d just shoveled myself deeper.
“I’ll bet you didn’t like it as much as you like my girlfriend,” growled Aaron Sorkin.
Right. So for the rest of the evening, I ignored Aaron. He ignored me. We said our collective goodnights to Fred and the brilliant Barbara, then retreated into the night.
I forget the exact point when Barbara Broccoli stopped returning my phone calls. I was busy with my stuff. She was clearly busier with hers. Sometimes calls slip through the cracks. Assistants change. Names fall off telephone sheets. I don’t even recall why I was calling her in the first place. Only that, one day, I came to realize that she wasn’t calling me back because she didn’t want to speak with me ever again.
When I eventually spoke to Fred, he’d made some lame excuse for her, insisting it was either her schedule or the annoyingly evil movie studio or hormones or mere happenstance that led to her silence. But I knew differently. I could feel it in my core. Somewhere, somehow, to somebody I’d said something terribly wrong that Barbara had misinterpreted. She’d once bragged to me about her ability to hold a grudge. She insisted it was due to the Italian in her.
But what the hell had I said? What kind of injury had me and my big fat mouth inflicted on poor Barbara Broccoli who I thought so damned dearly of? I traced my verbal steps backward, trolling through the backwater of my brain for every dumb-assed social exchange and lick of lousy dialogue that I’d uttered that might lead me to the bad thing I’d said and done.
My wife and I talked it through again and again. Had I said something that Aaron Sorkin had misconstrued and later passed on to Lady Barbara? Or maybe I’d consumed more liquor then I could safely measure and blurted something historically stupid to Barbara’s current Bond Boy, Timothy Dalton.
No matter how hard I squeezed my memory, I kept coming up with a Goldfinger-sized blank.
I made one last call to Barbara and left a message with her assistant. I requested the assistant read the note back to me. It read something like, “Barbara. Whatever it was that I did or said to that keeps you from calling back, I’m dreadfully sorry, blah blah blah.”
In retrospect, it would’ve been more respectful if I’d put my words in a hand written note instead of asking a ten-buck-an-hour assistant to read it back with the same earnestness with which I’d intended. Rack that one up to another headstrong error. And I’d convinced myself that any more effort on my part would most likely compound whatever issue had come between Barbara and me. I let it go, figuring time would heal the wound.
And that didn’t work either.
A year or two after, I found myself tipping beers with a mutual friend of Fred Zollo’s. I laid on some heavy lament about my predicament with Barbara.
“You don’t know?” said the friend.
“If I knew I wouldn’t be bitching you to you,” I said.
“Barbara’s pissed because you called her husband a Hollywood dilettante.”
Ding ding ding. A memory quickly refreshed. Long before I’d met Barbara Broccoli, I’d developed a script at Warner Brothers with Fred Zollo as a producer. When I’d finished the writing of the script I’d fully expected Fred to pull his own weight by producing, which usually demands using a significant amount of one’s resources to get the picture green lit. Burning up the phones. Contacting directors and actors. Fred, in my opinion, had done little, expecting the studio to carry way too much of the water. When I’d vented my frustration to a savvy CAA agent, he’d aptly described Fred as a successful theater producer who was more interested in playing socially in the biz than actually producing movies. A Hollywood dilettante. The moniker seemed to fit. Along the line I’d repeated it to someone. And that certain someone had passed it along to Barbara.
I’d somehow dissed her damned husband before I’d ever met her.
If there was ever spilt milk to cry over, this was it. I never wrote my James Bond movie. And it still stings considering how much I owe Ian Fleming.
Wish I could say that I’d learned to be more careful about the dumb crap that comes out of my mouth. Sure, I’ve gotten wiser with age and try to limit the verbal faux pas to embarrassing my teenagers. Then again, if I was a true practitioner of Hollywood politics, this blog would be blander than powder paste.
That said, Barbara? If you’re reading this? I still think you’re the bomb. Truly I do.
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