The Battle For Bond is a fantastic book, written by Robert Sellers. Whether you are a James Bond fanatic, or just a casual fan of the series, you may have wondered how and why Kevin McClory was able to remake Thunderball as Never Say Never Again in 1983, and this book has the answers. The author has clearly read through boxes and boxes of court documents spanning nearly 50 years of litigation, but keeps the information accessible and interesting to read, without ever becoming boring.
There are actually two editions of this book, as lawyers for the Ian Fleming Will Trust tried to ban it upon publication - and succeeded in having all unsold UK stock removed from shelves - on the grounds that it contained "a highly valuable portion of Ian Fleming's Legacy", in reality these are not unpublished Fleming stories, but simple letters, telegrams and scribbled notes. Of course, if they were hoping to bury the story they failed miserably because all they succeeded in doing was raising the profile of the book and suddenly everybody wanted a copy. A second edition was published with the text unchanged, but without all of the documents being reproduced. In fact the 2nd edition has only a few pages of black and white photographs in the center of the book while the original had documents printed throughout the book, and three areas of photographs - including some in color - so if you can find a copy of the first edition that's the one to get:
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In the late 1950s Ian Fleming was hoping his literary hero could be turned into a series of movies and or television shows. He had sold the rights to Casino Royale already, and apart from an hour long American CBS show featuring Cardsharp "Jimmy" Bond, nothing had come from it. Fleming's friend, Ivar Bryce, had gone into the film making business with an ambitious young Irishman named Kevin McClory, and Fleming granted their Xanadu Productions company the rights to make the first real James Bond film.
McClory didn't think that any of Flemings Novels were visual enough for translation to the big screen so he commissioned screen writer Jack Whittingham to come up with an entirely new story, which later became "Thunderball". Whittingham, McClory and Fleming all collaborated on the story, but Whittingham came up with most of it. While Whittingham wrote the story, McClory started doing some of the pre-production tasks like scouting locations in the Bahamas.
Xanadu Productions had only made one film - The Boy and the Bridge, which while critics liked it the film was not a financial success, and the money they had been hoping to make from it to fund the James Bond film was not forthcoming. McClory was a frustrating man to work with, he was not punctual, he did not keep good financial records - in fact he spent money like water, his own and other peoples, making and losing millions of dollars several times during his lifetime. He once booked a hotel room in Japan for an extra three weeks even though he couldn't stay there, just to avoid packing. He would also fly from his home in the Bahamas to New York city just to get his hair cut. McClory had a real gift of the gab, a good salesman and showman, but he was not a team player.
While Fleming was initially very confident that McClory was the man to bring Bond to the big screen, at some point he and Bryce lost faith in him. They started cutting McClory out of their decisions and making plans to go on without him, but, perhaps fearing a legal battle, they never confronted McClory with their desire to dissolve the partnership - instead they seemed to hope he would lose interest and move on to another project. They could not have been more wrong.
Meanwhile, unable to think of a better idea, Fleming took Whittingham's screenplay and turned it into the novel, "Thunderball". He did not acknowledge Whittingham or McClory, and made some effort to cover up the plagiarism by changing character names and dialog, and inserting some new scenes. Fleming had written story outlines for other films and TV shows that failed to get made and then used those outlines for other books, notably Dr. No and the For Your Eyes Only short story compilation, so perhaps he felt this was the same thing, he had, after all, contributed some of the ideas, and penned at least two early drafts of the screenplay himself. By the time it was published, McClory had every right to be upset, he had been forced out of the motion picture deal and now the screenplay he had commissioned (and owned the copyrights to) had been plagiarised for huge profits. He sued Fleming and Bryce and, perhaps due to concerns about Fleming's failing health, combined with rather overwhelming evidence of Fleming's wrong doing - including lying in court, the case was rather quickly settled in McClory's favor. (Perhaps it was this chapter that the Ian Fleming Will Trust was hoping to suppress with their injunctions against the Battle for Bond book.)
In any case, since the "Thunderball" book had already been published, it was made clear that all future reprints would have to acknowledge McClory and Whittingham and that McClory owned the rights to the screenplay. By the time the case was closed, Flaming had already made another deal with Saltzman and Broccoli and they had already made two James Bond films. (They wanted to make Thunderball first, but with the title tied up in litigation they wisely decided not to.) Initially wanting to make Thunderball without the involvement of EON productions, McClory later relented knowing that without Connery and the established cast, the Gunbarrel opening, the James Bond Theme, etc. the film would probably not be nearly so successful. However, the contract he made with EON allowed him the option to make more James Bond films based on the Thunderball screenplay after ten years has passed. Perhaps even EON believed they would have finished filming the entire Bond Canon by 1975, after all, they had been producing a new James Bond film every year for four years in a row.
Thunderball was an enormous success, and McClory made a lot of money (none of which he felt the need to share with Jack Whittingham - who to be fair had already been paid £5000 for the screenplay, but it would have been a nice gesture considering the fact that Whittingham's own lawsuit against Fleming, which was to piggyback on McClory's trial had to be abandoned after Fleming died.)
Nobody heard much from McClory until another court case in 1975, this time against Ivar Bryce for Libel, but then in 1976, with the time restriction expired, McClory began working on another screenplay, which was to be an update of Thunderball - James Bond of the Secret Service, later retitled Warhead. Despite clearly having the rights to make another film, based on the screenplay, the film was to be trapped in litigation for many more years until finally being made in 1983 as Never Say Never Again. This film had some good moments, but was ultimately limited creatively by the legal restrictions imposed upon it - it had to be based on the original Thunderball material, and any radically new ideas could see the picture shut down. On top of this, Connery couldn't stand the producer, Jack Schwartzman, whose mismanagement of the project meant the picture went over time and over budget.
You'd think that would be the end of the story, but by the late 1990s McClory was back, hoping to remake Thunderball yet again, this time with Timothy Dalton in the role!
McClory would later argue that he and Whittingham and created the cinematic James Bond (and after reading this book I am inclined to agree), and that he therefore had the right to make his own series of James Bond films (I'm not so sure about that one), and so the litigation continued, finally being settled, once and for all in November 2013, seven years after McClory's death when Danjaq, LLC, the producer of the James Bond films, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the longtime distributor of the Bond films, along with the estate and family of the late Kevin McClory, announced today that Danjaq and MGM have acquired all of the estate’s and family’s rights and interests relating to James Bond, thus bringing to an amicable conclusion the legal and business disputes that have arisen periodically for over 50 years.
The Battle for Bond clearly proves that McClory was not just the interloper, the thorn in the side of EON that they just couldn't pull out, but was in fact an innovator, and did have a great deal to do with the creation of the cinematic James Bond. The book also proves how Fleming and Bryce cheated him out of his chance to produce the film series himself. However, his inability to move on to other projects, combined with his abrasive personality which lost him a lot of friends in Hollywood, makes McClory's legacy that of a man whose vast fortune had been squandered chasing a quixotic dream. The millions McClory earned from his participation in the 1965 Thunderball film could have been used to create his own production company with which he could have made any type of film he wanted - as long as it didn't feature James Bond! Instead he spent most of that money on legal fees in endless court cases, obsessed with trying to restore what he thought was his rightful place in history - producer of the James Bond film series.