5 Things You Didn't Know About Ian Fleming

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Ian Fleming is best known for his terrific series of twelve novels and two short story collections detailing the adventures of British spy James Bond, and he also wrote the children's classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about the author.

1. He Had a Lot in Common with Bond

Fleming was no Double-0 agent, but he wasn't a total slouch, either. During World War II he worked as an assistant to the Royal Navy's Director of Naval Intelligence, and he eventually rose to the rank of Commander, just like Bond.

Fleming wasn't just working in back rooms, though. He hatched a plan for a complex mission called Operation Ruthless that was aimed at capturing a German naval Enigma code machine. The basic gist of Fleming's plan was this: the Royal Air Force would capture a German bomber, staff it with a German-speaking British crew, and stage a crash in the English Channel. When the Nazi rescue boat arrived, the "German" flight team would kill the ship's crew and sail it back to England.

Fleming actually took a crew to Dover to wait for an opportunity to try this plan in 1940, but the operation fell through when logistical concerns over finding the right ship to commandeer and floating a stolen German bomber in the channel proved too complicated.

2. JFK Was a Fan

Fleming's Bond novels weren't initially big movers in American bookstores, but that quickly changed in March of 1961. Life magazine asked President John F. Kennedy to list his 10 favorite books of all time, and From Russia With Love made the cut. Suddenly, Fleming became a literary star on this side of the pond, too, and by that summer production began on the first Bond film, Dr. No.

At that point, Fleming and Kennedy were already somewhat chummy. The spy author and the political star had met at a dinner party in 1960, and Kennedy asked Fleming for advice on how to discredit and topple Fidel Castro.

3. He Didn't Like Sean Connery at First

When the Bond novels made their leap to the silver screen in the early Sixties, Fleming helped with the casting of his signature character. The part was originally given to a male model who couldn't handle the acting part of the job, and Fleming and the producers would eventually reject bigger stars like David Niven and Cary Grant.

As everyone knows, the part went to Sean Connery, much to Fleming's dismay. Fleming saw an early screening of Dr. No and allegedly called the film "simply dreadful." Gradually, though, he began to appreciate the way Connery portrayed Bond so much that he decided to give Bond some Scottish heritage. In the 1963 novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Fleming delved into Bond's father's Scottish ancestry as a kind of nod to Connery. Bond's mother, on the other hand, was Swiss.

4. He Was No Fan of New York City

In 1959 and 1960, Fleming made two trips around the world for the London Sunday Times and turned his travels into a series of essays on various international cities. In 1963, these essays were collected into the book Thrilling Cities, which is now out of print but worth picking up if you spot a copy and like reading about old restaurants and hotels.

There was only one problem with the book: publishers were afraid to release an American version because Fleming's essay on New York was downright scathing. While he had nice things to say about Chicago, Las Vegas, Honolulu, and Los Angeles, Fleming really gave it to New York with both barrels; the first sentence of the essay is, "I enjoyed myself least of all in New York." One of the subsections of the piece was pulled from an essay called "City Without a Soul." Fleming blasted New Yorkers for being impolite, for greasing headwaiters' palms, for loving scandals, and for being depressing.

In order to get the book published in the States, Fleming knew he would need to soften his view on New York. Rather than revising the essay, he called in Bond. Fleming added the short story "Bond in New York" in which the famous spy goes to his favorite shops and restaurants instead of doing any actual spying, and publishers agreed to release Thrilling Cities in the American market.

5. He May Have Had Some Posthumous Help

Fleming died of a heart attack in 1964, but his final Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, didn't hit bookstores until 1965. Almost immediately, readers began to speculate that someone other than Fleming himself might have completed an unfinished manuscript the author left behind. The novel lacks the intricate detail that characterizes most of Fleming's Bond works, and it's a bit darker and more ominous in tone.

Critics wondered if the comic novelist Kingsley Amis, a great fan of Fleming's who had published two works on Bond already, might have taken the reins and completed what Fleming left behind at his death. Although Amis denied these claims "“ as did many of Fleming's biographers "“ they persisted for years. (In 1968 Amis did write the first official Bond novel by anyone other than Fleming, the entertaining Colonel Sun, which he published under the pseudonym Robert Markham.)

Fleming's editor William Plomer similarly insisted that Fleming had completed the manuscript before his death. It's also worth noting that Fleming had made wild stylistic departures earlier in the series; Bond really only appeared as a supporting character in The Spy Who Loved Me. Still, the true authorship of The Man with the Golden Gun remains somewhat controversial.

If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

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July 30, 2010 - 11:00am
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