--From Russia With Love, by Ian Fleming
The splashy ad that appeared in Weekly Variety on October 14, 1996, was standard movie-industry fare. Evoking superheroes, bombs, and babes, it announced the making of Warhead 2000 A.D.--"a new incredible adventure which propels James Bond into the 21st century." In smaller print underneath, interested parties were asked to contact a company called SPECTRE for further information on James Bond films.
But the backstory, as they say in Hollywood, was a lot more complicated. To executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind the majority of Bond films, which have earned $3 billion since Sean Connery launched the most valuable cinema franchise in history with 1962's Dr. No, the ad was a call to arms. Indeed, its author intended it that way. Kevin O'Donovan McClory, a 74-year-old Irishman in failing health, had launched a poison dart at the entertainment Goliath he believed had stolen his livelihood and besmirched his reputation for almost four decades.
As his attorney, Frank O'Toole, later explained to a federal judge: "Mr. McClory jointly authored [the] scripts on which all of the Bond movies have depended. The reward he has received for that is a lifetime fight defending his rights . . . [MGM executives] do everything they can in their belief to demean him, to treat him as a non-author, to treat him as a non-entity, not basically a human being."
Such talk enrages MGM bigwigs, who claim that the studio, and not McClory, owns the exclusive rights to Bond via its arrangement with Danjaq Productions, a company controlled by the children of longtime Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. So after reading McClory's ad, MGM and Danjaq wasted no time. Eight days after the ad appeared, they sent the upstart Irishman a letter that warned:
"Your advertisement is calculatedly misleading. To state that your organization should be contacted 'for further information on James Bond films,' suggests that you own or control the James Bond motion picture franchise, when plainly you do not."
And there the clash might have ended, as it had in the past when McClory had tried to claim a piece of the James Bond mega-pie. But this run-in would be different. By the time MGM's letter hit the fax machine, another Hollywood insider had also read McClory's advertisement. His name was Gareth Wigan, and he was co-vice chair of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by the Japanese giant Sony Corp.
Within the year, Sony had purchased McClory's rights to James Bond in a deal whose details neither party wants to discuss publicly. On October 13, 1997, Sony and McClory announced their intent "to make a series of new James Bond feature films . . . based on original works created by McClory, James Bond novelist Ian Fleming, and Jack Whittingham."
And so began the biggest legal battle to hit Hollywood since Art Buchwald successfully sued Paramount Pictures over the Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America. Within weeks, MGM had filed a $25-million lawsuit against Sony in federal court in L.A., alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition, and misappropriation of trade secrets. At issue is who owns the ultra-lucrative movie rights to the world's most famous spy. In an industry desperate for hits, especially in overseas markets, the 007 franchise is that rarest and most sought after of studio products--a guaranteed moneymaker.
At the heart of the battle lies nothing less than studio survival: A green light to make new movies about the suave, martini-sipping secret agent would add a glittering jewel to Sony's crown and help ensure its profitability into the millennium. Losing the Bond franchise could be a fatal karate chop to financially troubled MGM. Agent 007 is the studio's most valuable asset; the last Bond flick, 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, brought in a whopping $350 million. And MGM can use all the help it can get. The studio hasn't turned a profit in a decade and claims it lost tens of millions of dollars more because MGM investors felt threatened by Sony's plan to make competing Bond movies.
The high-stakes case overflows with the tragedy, epic grandeur, treachery, and intergenerational fighting more often seen in classic Greek plays than in formulaic thrillers. It also offers a rare peek at the internal workings of two Hollywood giants who would rather wage their battles quietly behind closed doors than in the glare of a public courtroom.
Already, depositions of the industry's high and mighty are taking place on three continents. A veritable who's who of Hollywood imagemakers are caught up in the legal machinery, including MGM's billionaire octogenarian owner Kirk Kerkorian, MGM president Frank Mancuso, Sony Pictures Entertainment president John Calley, and, in an unprecedented move, Nobuyuki Idei, president of parent company Sony Corp., who was grilled by MGM lawyers at a videotaped deposition conducted this fall at the U.S. consulate in Sapporo, Japan.
Half of the entertainment lawyers in Hollywood, it seems, are on the payroll of either Sony or MGM, including the peppery Pierce O'Donnell, who catapulted to fame representing Buchwald and is now lead counsel for MGM. Indeed, the case has created a cottage industry for attorneys, script analysts, self-styled Bond experts, and even tweedy professors of literature, who are holding forth in hundreds of pages of depositions on the "James Bond Universe," the secret agent's preferred alcoholic beverage (gin martinis, shaken not stirred), and whether the 007 movies are derivative of the Fleming novels or stand alone.
Then there are double crosses worthy of Goldfinger himself in the alleged behavior of John Calley, the well-liked and respected former chief at MGM's United Artists Pictures, who is charged with stealing trade secrets when he bailed from MGM last year to become president of Sony Pictures. In a rare move that shows how deep MGM's anger runs, the studio has sued Calley personally, alleging, among other things, that he appropriated a super-secret MGM memo that is a virtual blueprint on how to market Agent 007 into the twenty-first century.
"If I gave you a script that had this gentlemanly character doing this, you'd say, 'I can't sell this, it's over the top,' " explains MGM attorney O'Donnell. "But we all have a dark side. This trial is going to show a different Calley--a vindictive and ruthless, Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde Calley. It's not a pretty picture."
MGM won the first round. This summer, U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie in L.A. approved a preliminary injunction ordering Sony to halt work on its Bond thriller until MGM's lawsuit is resolved. Sony appealed that ruling. But with billions of dollars hanging in the balance, studio lawyers have left no document unsubmitted, leading even the normally unflappable Rafeedie to complain about the avalanche of paperwork deluging his bench:
"The court has carefully read and considered everything that has been filed in this case, which has been in the nature of overkill," Rafeedie said recently of the fourteen telephone-book-sized volumes of legal paper, plus numerous sealed depositions and other documents. "It has . . . imposed a great burden on the resources of the court."
And the trial hasn't even started yet.
"I'm sure Kevin [McClory] could help to make a James Bond film that would please us both and bring in cash customers."
--Ian Fleming, writing in 1960 to his friend and film financier Ivar Bryce
Kevin McClory, the man who MGM's attorney calls "delusional," was born into a well-established Dublin literary and theatrical family in 1924. His father, Desmond O'Donovan, was a noted actor in the Irish Players. His mother was a teacher, writer, and actress. McClory's parents formed a traveling theater group called "The O'Donovans," and "from a very young age, I, too, wanted to pursue a career in the literary and performing arts," McClory recalled in court papers.
McClory's career goal was sidetracked by World War II, when he served in the Norwegian merchant marine and the British navy as a radio officer, mainly on oil tankers. In 1947 he went to work in the British film industry. After a brief stint as an actor, he became a soundman at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex, England. He then held jobs as location manager, production manager, and editor, eventually becoming a screenwriter, director, and producer.
McClory got a lucky break when he became a protege of Academy Award-winning director John Huston, working with the American on films including The African Queen and Moby Dick. "Mr. Huston taught me, among many other things, the nuances of screenwriting," McClory said in court documents.
Through Huston, the ambitious young Irishman met Hollywood producer (and future husband of Elizabeth Taylor) Michael Todd, who hired him as associate producer and one of the directors of Around the World in Eighty Days, which won six Academy Awards in 1956. The following year, McClory collaborated with Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck on a screen treatment for an underwater adventure film set in the Bahamas, which was never made.
Soon thereafter, McClory met John F.C. (Ivar) Bryce, a British financier and crony of Fleming's, who agreed to bankroll a film by McClory called The Boy and the Bridge. At the time, McClory was a rising star. He had a house in fashionable London furnished with a pet monkey and green macaw, drove a racy Thunderbird, and counted John Huston and Elizabeth Taylor as friends. Soon he would marry an heiress. Even prior to its release, The Boy and the Bridge was earning him a name as the wunderkind of British film.
In 1958 Bryce introduced Fleming to McClory and asked the novelist to view The Boy and the Bridge. Fleming saw portions of it and wrote to Bryce criticizing its "excessive sentimentality," according to a biography of Fleming by John Pearson. But Fleming added that "the photography and the direction are splendid and the whole thing stands up excellently."
Fleming and McClory got on well. They shared an interest in sharks and the Bahamas, and McClory was enthusiastic about Bond, which delighted Fleming, who was having a difficult time finding anyone interested in turning his books into movies.
McClory recalled that Fleming was "profoundly disillusioned" during this period because the studios had failed to see Bond's cinematic potential. By contrast, McClory believed that the secret agent "leapt out of every page he was in and clearly could be a great fantasy figure for film audiences of all sexes and ages."
According to Pearson's biography, McClory soon suggested that he and Fleming collaborate on a movie to be called James Bond, Secret Agent. McClory says it was Fleming who first approached him. Either way, the two agreed to move forward.
But McClory refused to adapt the books to cinema, saying he found the plots too violent, too dark, and too predictable to garner mass appeal. "Ididn't find the novels credible," McClory said in a telephone interview from his Washington, D.C., home. "They were too 'Boy's Own'-ish, adventure stories, but as Iread them . . . I realized you could transform Bond to the screen if you put this character in the right environment and gave him a powerful enemy."
Eventually, Bryce, McClory, and Fleming began discussing a new plot, which would "thus be likely of success under Kevin's brilliant direction," Fleming wrote to Bryce. A publicity brochure from the era states that Bryce and McClory were "preparing a film based on an adventure of Ian Fleming's character James Bond, which would be in color and in a new wide screen process and will feature underwater scenes near Nassau."
Fleming had no experience writing for films and wasn't sure how to get started. In a 1959 letter to McClory, the author confessed, "The truth about writing something specially for a film is that I haven't got a single idea in my head, whereas if you were to decide on one of my books such as Diamonds Are Forever, I could probably embel-lish it with extra gimmickry."
Later that year, McClory met with Jack Whittingham, a veteran British screenwriter who had worked with respected directors such as Alexander Korda, to discuss new plots for Bond. The group liked his ideas, so McClory hired Whittingham to write a script for u5,000.
"Our intent was to produce jointly an original James Bond story that would enable a cinematic James Bond to evolve from the literary world to the motion picture screen," McClory wrote. Out of this collaboration came ten original outlines, treatments, and scripts (including the Thunderball screenplay). Known collectively as the "McClory scripts," these works have been the focus of debate ever since.
To this day, MGM downplays McClory's involvement in the project, saying that all the creative input was supplied by Whittingham. Of the ten McClory scripts, only one was written by McClory, according to MGM, and that was a letter which includes five paragraphs about Bond.
McClory denies that, claiming that the idea for an international terrorist organization called S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counter-Espionage, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), used in five Bond movies, came from him. He also claims paternity of the "atomic blackmail threat" that became a popular Bond plot device. "I had read a quote from President Truman about how if an atomic weapon were to fall into the hands of a small country or group, the world would be at their mercy," McClory said. "And it's fascinating now to be in 1998 and we're talking about this [alleged Islamic terrorist] bin Laden. The premise is as good now as it was then." In court papers, he charged that MGM's use of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and other ideas generated by him amount to theft of intellectual property. Regardless of his creative input, however, McClory claims that the scripts belong to him because he commissioned Whittingham to write them.
Also in the fall of 1959, Fleming prepared what he called a "rough suggested treatment for a James Bond film." But McClory said he and Whittingham "both concluded that it was terrible and that Mr. Fleming knew very little about the makings of an effective and successful motion picture." The Bond author, who was also a journalist for the Sunday Times of London, then took off for Asia to research a series of articles. Upon his return, he collaborated in editing and revising Whittingham's draft script and creating the final screenplay. Among his contributions: He changed the title from Longitude 78 West to Thunderball.
At this point, McClory had been working enthusiastically on the project for nine months, and his future seemed assured. But then, unexpectedly, The Boy and the Bridge was released to disappointing reviews. Suddenly, the profit and fame that he and his partners were counting on to promote Thunderball melted away.
Fleming's letters from that time indicate he now began to have doubts about McClory's direction. But he jetted off for his customary two months in Jamaica in early 1960 without saying anything.
Once at his island villa, called Goldeneye, Fleming wrote his annual Bond novel, incorporating McClory's Thunderball script into the Thunderball book and even calling it "the book of the film." While McClory later claimed Fleming had misappropriated his ideas, the truth is that Fleming had done this before without problems. Dr. No began as a treatment for a TV show, and three of the five stories in For Your Eyes Only began as plot outlines for CBS. But this time, the commingling was to get Fleming into legal trouble that still reverberates almost four decades later.
In February 1960 Fleming met with his agent in New York, showed him a copy of the Thunderball script, and described the trio's plans. When the agent explained that really big stars wouldn't want to be directed by McClory, Fleming grew alarmed. Soon, he was suggesting to Bryce that they find a better-known and seasoned director for Bond and shift McClory into the role of producer.
But that, too, went nowhere, as Alexander Korda and Alfred Hitchcock passed on Bond. Then, in 1961, McClory read an advance copy of Thunderball, realized Fleming had appropriated his ideas without credit or payment, and sued. Whittingham joined him in the suit. The unpleasant business now moved to the British courts.
During the subsequent trial, Fleming, who had suffered a heart attack in April 1960, was still popping nitroglycerin pills for his cardiac problems. Eventually, Fleming and Bryce settled. In the 1963 court agreement that followed, Fleming acknowledged that Thunderball was based on a screen treatment by McClory, Fleming, and Whittingham, and agreed to say so in all future editions of the novel. (You can still find this declaimer on the back of the title page.)
As part of the deal, Fleming received $50,000 and in turn gave up film rights to Thunderball and his interest in the script. And McClory was awarded ownership of those treatments and scripts and gained "the exclusive right to reproduce any part of the novel in cinematographic films and to exhibit any such films in any manner whatsoever and for the purpose of making any such films to make scripts involving any part of the said novel."
Today there is still disagreement over exactly what that tortured language means. MGM says McClory only won the right to "remake Thunderball ad nauseam," according to one court brief. Sony says it means McClory can use the James Bond character to make new 007 films.
"Ian Fleming acknowledged that he needed someone to kick-start the cinematic Bond, and that guy was Kevin McClory," Sony's lead attorney David Steuber says. "Thunderball was the creative beginning, the blueprint for all the films, and McClory is one of the key creators of that blueprint. If we have the right to remake Thunderball ad nauseam, we have the right to remake Bond ad nauseam. And MGM knows that."
Before his brush with 007 fame, McClory worked on films such as Anna Karenina, The Third Man, Cry the Beloved Country, and Cockleshell Heroes, which was produced by Albert Broccoli, whose heirs--his children--are battling McClory today. At one time, the two men were close: Broccoli was godfather to McClory's youngest daughter.
When Thunderball hit theaters in 1965, McClory carried the title of producer. (McClory says he did the work of a producer; O'Donnell says he didn't.) In 1983 he exercised his remake rights with Never Say Never Again, a Warner Brothers film starring Sean Connery, Barbara Carrera, and Kim Basinger.
Through the years, McClory also issued periodic statements about his intent to make new Bond films. In 1976 he announced plans with agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar to make Ian Fleming's James Bond of the Secret Service. In 1978 he authored a new Bond film called Warhead with Connery and thriller writer Len Deighton. In 1988 he changed the name to Warhead 8 and said he was scouting locations in Australia, Ireland, and New York, and choosing a new actor to play Bond. "I had put together a cast with Trevor Howard as M and Sean Connery as James Bond and Orson Welles as Blofeld," McClory explains. "Can you imagine how that would have elevated Bond from the shoot-'em-up to a classic film, with actors of that caliber? It would have swept the boards. We had a green light from Paramount, from Warners, then all the shenanigans happened. Our rivals did not wish us to succeed. They don't like mavericks, and it's one reason they don't like me. They'd work behind the scenes whenever they could. And they're blind to what is lost. This industry is the most corrupt in the world. One word describes it, and that is greed."
Be it greed or an equally strong sense of proprietorship, MGM and Danjaq met each of McClory's announcements with swift letters of warning.
"McClory was kind of a laughingstock in the industry," one longtime Hollywood observer says. "He was constantly peddling the same story over and over and would periodically take out ads in the trades saying, 'I control the rights.' "
But in 1996, as McClory's still-unproduced movie morphed into Warhead 2000, the laughter stopped. Soon after his Variety ad ran, McClory signed his lucrative deal with Sony, became the target of MGM's lawsuit, and embarked on the most difficult battle of his life.
Today, McClory, 74, is in ill health. Earlier this year, he collapsed at his home in Washington, D.C., and now shuttles back and forth between there and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He recently underwent exploratory surgery. According to court documents, he is under doctor's orders to restrict physical activities. He is also upset by MGM's tactics against him, which he says have further eroded his health and led to threats of violence.
"The level of stress I have suffered during this period has been exacerbated by an exorbitant number of Internet death threats made against me personally, along with inquiries as to the whereabouts of my children and other family members, because of public statements regarding my character by spokesmen for the plaintiffs," McClory told Judge Rafeedie. In an interview, McClory said the threats included such messages as "Death to McClory" and "Kill McClory."
Yet despite it all, the Irishman remains unbowed. Friends and adversaries alike are taken by his mane of flowing white hair and a charm that borders on charisma. Nor have McClory's health problems sapped him of his feistiness or wit.
"I'm a survivor," he proclaims. "I look upon these things more as a temporary nuisance. Of course, I'm quite long in the tooth now. But I've loved every moment of it. I look forward to the court in LosAngeles. At last the truth can be told, and Iintend to tell it." McClory also had some parting words for MGM attorney Pierce O'Donnell, who has likened McClory to Rip Van Winkle for waiting so long to exercise his rights.
"I can't knock a fellow Irishman too much," McClory says with a deep laugh. "He's a good fellow, and I've enjoyed every minute of the court battle--even our deposition. We had a good duel. But O'Donnell has to remember one thing, after all: Rip Van Winkle woke up."
"Show biz is a ghastly biz."
--Ian Fleming, in a letter to a friend
Depending on where you stand in the Sony-MGM battle, veteran studio chief John Calley is either a visionary saint or a notorious turncoat. Many say that he, not McClory, is the real linchpin in the case.
An urbane, low-key intellectual of 68, Calley has been president of Sony Pictures since November 1996. Immediately prior to that, he headed up MGM's United Artists division, which means he had a foot in each camp during a crucial time in the Bond battle. Calley is widely respected in the industry for his business acumen, ability to handle difficult stars, and erudition about filmmaking--a combination of virtues which has attracted directors as varied as Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood, and Federico Fellini. He is married to actress Meg Tilly and counts Mike Nichols, Sean Connery, and John Le Carre among his friends. His involvement in this messy, mudslinging lawsuit has left many in Hollywood scratching their heads in an effort to reconcile the witty, respected figure they know with the Machiavellian villain of the lawsuit--and that includes his most fervent adversaries.
"That's what makes this suit so intriguing for me," O'Donnell enthuses. "This is either a different John Calley or one we've never seen before. John has a quiet, reserved manner about him and is considered pretty benign. He has a gargantuan ego, but there's nothing wrong with that; there are a lot of big egos in Hollywood. We're not going after John Calley as a filmmaker, but because he done us wrong."
The man O'Donnell is pursuing has come a long way from the struggling Depression-era household where he was raised by a single mother. At 19 he lucked into a job at NBC as a mail boy and rose quickly through the ranks. By 1970 he had landed at Warner Brothers, where he worked his way up to become one of the studio's top officers, earning more than $2 million annually plus multiple perks.
Then in 1980, Calley did something that no one in Hollywood can ever forget. At the age of 50, he quit Warner Brothers, sold his house, car, furniture, and dog and moved to a 35-room mansion he owned on Fishers Island, a wealthy retreat in Long Island. From there he traveled the world, staying at his other homes in Gstaad, Connecticut, and London. He seldom read the paper, went to the movies, or watched TV. Instead, he traded commodities and currencies for sport. He also dabbled in movies with his friend Nichols (he co-produced The Remains of the Day). But Calley was also retreating into a fantasy life, sleeping up to 18 hours a day and fearing that he was becoming, as he told one interviewer, "disconnected from life." In 1993, 13 years after he had walked away, Michael Ovitz called him up and urged him to take the MGM/UA job.
So Calley came back. And found himself sitting in meetings where he no longer knew the names or cultural references. But he quickly learned. Court papers say he was "intimately involved" in MGM's long-term effort to reinvigorate the James Bond franchise by creating new and intriguing post-Cold War enemies for Bond and beefing up roles for women, who'd usually functioned as little more than sex toys for the smooth secret agent.
Indeed, Calley has long ties to Bond. While at Warner Brothers, he talked Connery into reprising his Bond role in Never Say Never Again. Unfortunately, it did poorly at the box office, grossing only $71 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. At United Artists, Calley oversaw the return of the Bond franchise after five years of inactivity, with Pierce Brosnan taking over the title role in 1995's Goldeneye, which grossed more than $350 million worldwide. MGM says Calley also helped analyze strategic marketing plans for Bond, was privy to highly confidential market research, including a 1994 study serving as a blueprint for future Bond movies, and was present at closed-door meetings with Danjaq in which new treatments and scripts were discussed.
The trouble that led to the lawsuit allegedly started in 1996, when Kirk Kerkorian began negotiating to buy MGM for $1.3 billion. Toward the end of those talks, Calley reportedly was displeased at being kept in the dark by MGM president Frank Mancuso. When he learned that Mancuso had negotiated a $14.5 million bonus for himself while tossing Calley only an estimated couple million, Calley purportedly grew angry, feeling that his role in hits such as Goldeneye and The Birdcage had not been sufficiently recognized.
"Calley felt slighted by MGM, he felt he hadn't been rewarded well. A lot of people feel he wanted to stick it to them," says an executive who has worked with both studios.
A source close to the court case said that, according to testimony in sworn depositions, Calley was introduced to Sony chief Nobuyuki Idei at a recruiting meeting held in August 1996 at LAX while Calley was on the MGM payroll. Later that month, Calley, still with MGM, was flown to Japan to meet with other Sony executives.
Then, on October 10, Gareth Wigan, of Sony's Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures, called Calley at work after reading McClory's Variety ad and explained that Sony was thinking of going after McClory's Bond rights, according to a source familiar with Wigan's deposition.
"Calley encouraged Wigan to go after them," the source alleges. "He said, 'I think they're good rights.' But he never reported that conversation to Mancuso. That morning, he gave MGM his letter of resignation."
When Calley took the helm at Sony Pictures in November, he inherited a studio that had run amok and lost billions under Peter Guber's disastrous reign. The cost-conscious Calley promptly set about assembling a team to give the studio stability, focus, and vision. By May 1997, he was reportedly under pressure from Idei in Tokyo to find ways to boost sales, and studio executives were said to be preparing an overall strategy to present to Idei, according to published accounts.
It was then, MGM's lawsuit alleges, that Calley played the Bond card.
"Searching for a successful movie franchise to help build Sony Pictures and under pressure from Sony, Calley decided to exploit the valuable confidential information he acquired while working at MGM and to do what McClory had long been trying unsuccessfully to convince other studios to do--attempt to capitalize on McClory's extremely limited and lapsed Thunderball rights to build a franchise," the suit says.
Sony certainly used some fighting words in laying claim to MGM's franchise. In an October 13, 1997, announcement, Wigan spoke about joining with McClory "in giving James Bond a new home at Sony Pictures." Calley added that "the new James Bond films emphasize our commitment to create motion picture franchises that serve as tentpoles for our release schedule and create business opportunities throughout the Sony family."
Calley's real motives may have been far less conspiratorial than MGM would like to believe. After all, Hollywood execs change jobs all the time, and Calley reportedly was being courted by five other studios at the same time Sony was pursuing him. But the timing and sequence of events appeared to MGM to speak for themselves.
"We believe that Calley sold himself to Idei based on his success in franchise films and told him he could deliver the Bond franchise," asserts MGM spokesman Craig Parsons.
David Steuber, Sony's lead counsel in the case, says that scenario is absolutely untrue. (A Sony spokeswoman said Calley and Idei would not speak while the litigation is under way.) Steuber insists it is pure coincidence that the Bond announcement came after Calley jumped ship to Sony. He points out that Wigan knew McClory from the 1960s, when they had both lived in London, and that he met and initiated talks with McClory while Calley was still at MGM.
"Wigan did this on his own, he found this ad and followed up," Steuber explains. "It took almost a year. It was on and off . . . Sony wouldn't have gone forward if it didn't believe there were legitimate rights. Finally a deal was cut. What the other side doesn't want to understand is that there were 58 pictures in project or production, and ten that were about to be released and distributed, and Bond was just a small part of the operation within Sony Pictures."
Steuber declined to discuss Wigan's or any other depositions further, saying that they are not in the public record.
"Unlike the other side, we're not going to litigate this in the press," he said.
Steuber vigorously denied that Calley had an axe to grind against MGM or did anything illegal, pointing out that Sony Pictures has a broad mandate from Tokyo to make profitable films and that, in today's world, that includes franchise films.
"Sony Corp. is the parent corporation, they shouldn't be involved in this lawsuit," Steuber said. "And John Calley shouldn't be involved in this lawsuit. This was designed by MGM to escalate the conflict. John Calley is a gentleman. He's interested in making pictures. He's not vindictive, he's not venal, he doesn't act in those terms.
"And for them to say that he's done these bad things and he's had these evil motives is delusional," Steuber added, in a barbed reference to MGM president Mancuso's use of the same term last year to describe McClory's hopes of creating a James Bond franchise.
Pierce O'Donnell calls Sony's version of events "a tissue of lies." He claims the trial will show that some Sony lawyers had profound doubts about the extent of McClory's Bond rights from the beginning, but that the studio went ahead anyway.
"Sony has a track record as a global predator, and Idei's testimony at trial will confirm that Idei was at the vortex of the conspiracy, and that he personally wooed and hired Calley away from MGM," O'Donnell alleges, launching into the colorful, grandstanding style he perfected during the Buchwald case. "This trial will blow the lid off of Sony studios. It will show that this studio was corrupt to the core. We can prove that the effort to hire Calley and start a Bond franchise all emanated from the corporate parent in Japan. This is a classic case of unfair competition, and I can't wait to put it before a jury in Los Angeles. I have a blue flame for Sony and the chicanery that they engaged in and their blatant attempt to destroy MGM Studios and to steal the Bond franchise. No one is going to be left untouched, from Mr. Idei to John Calley."
Certainly, the sequence of events before and after Calley's departure from MGM look as if they might have been orchestrated by Dr. No. Already furious at the threat to its golden franchise, MGM was doubly incensed when news broke of Sony's intention to clone Bond in late 1997, just as MGM was preparing to float $250 million in stock in conjunction with its mega-hyped release of Tomorrow Never Dies. The studio was forced to downsize its initial public offering from 12.5 million shares to nine million and claims it lost tens of millions of dollars, because a number of investors and analysts expressed concern that the stock was overvalued and were troubled by Sony's Bond plans.
"Sony timed its announcement of the McClory deal to impose maximum punishment on MGM's IPO, to cripple and debilitate MGM, to force them into ceding the MGM library and future Bond distribution rights to Sony," O'Donnell charges.
Shortly before Sony announced its acquisition of McClory's Bond rights, Calley reportedly said that "this could really hurt MGM's IPO," a source familiar with the still-sealed testimony of a high-ranking former Sony executive said.
Steuber insists there is no connection between Sony's announcement and MGM's IPO. He adds that if Calley made such a statement, he might have been repeating a comment made to him by Mancuso.
A veteran Hollywood observer offered a more cynical view: "Calley figured that he had nothing to lose by trying except a few million dollars in litigation, and he had everything to gain: a billion-dollar franchise."
"We don't want to have Bond to dinner or go golfing with Bond or talk to Bond. We want to be Bond."
--Kingsley Amis in The James Bond Dossier
Much like his fictional secret-agent counterpart, Ian Fleming was born into privilege and led a charmed life fueled by his sense of adventure and love for the most lavish things the world had to offer. His grandfather was a Scottish millionaire who started his own bank. Winston Churchill wrote his father's obituary. Fleming himself attended the exclusive prep school Eton and traveled the world, gambling at the best clubs, driving luxury cars, and romancing pretty girls. He moved easily among the British upper crust, counting Prime Minister Anthony Eden, playwright Noel Coward, writer Somerset Maugham, and press baron Lord Rothermere among his friends. He was a bachelor until 42, when he and Rothermere's beautiful wife Anne caused a high-society uproar by falling in love and marrying.
Fastidious and quirky, Fleming drank a quarter bottle of gin, usually in the form of iced martinis, and smoked seventy handmade cigarettes a day until he died. By all accounts he was handsome, charismatic, and shrewd (although not particularly bookish, he amassed a rare book collection while still in his thirties), a loner yet a lady's man, all of which was to serve him well when he began plumbing his personality to create his alter-ego James Bond.
Before turning to novels, Fleming worked in finance, intelligence, and journalism. (He covered one of Stalin's 1930s show trials for Reuters.) During World War II, through school and family contacts, he was an invaluable liaison to the director of British naval intelligence, where he first experienced the intoxicating mix of power, travel, intrigue, and mystery that he would translate so aptly into fiction. By the war's end, young Lieutenant Fleming knew more secrets and had more real power than most senior officers he came into contact with. To his chagrin, however, he was kept behind a desk--deemed too valuable to risk death or capture by the Nazis.
On an official swing through Jamaica near the war's end, Fleming fell in love with the island's lush tranquility and bought a second home there, christening it Goldeneye. For the rest of his life, he would spend two months each year on its fifteen acres, perched on a cliff overlooking a hidden bay. Here, Fleming hammered out the Bond novels on a golden typewriter, writing one a year, beginning in 1952.
The ritual continued all his life. Come January, when winter London was at its dreariest, Fleming would leave behind his job overseeing foreign correspondents at a newspaper chain and fly to Jamaica. At Goldeneye, he'd type all morning, then retreat for lunch and a nap. In the afternoon, he'd read back the day's work and make notes. By 6:30 p.m., he was ready for his first real drink of the day.
Fleming wanted a plain, straightforward name for his hero and settled on James Bond, appropriating it from the author of Birds of the West Indies, a book Fleming kept on his breakfast table at Goldeneye. In his novels, Fleming drew heavily on his experiences and background. Bond was the same height and wore the same clothes as Fleming: black moccasins, dark blue cotton shirts, lightweight blue suits. The dashing secret agent shared his creator's love of scrambled eggs, bearnaise sauce, and double portions of coffee and orange juice for breakfast. Fleming could describe with great accuracy the snuffling grunt a shark makes as its mouth closes on a carcass in Live and Let Die, because he'd watched the beasts do exactly that in Jamaica. But unlike his licensed-to-kill protagonist, Fleming had never killed anyone and indeed shrank from the idea.
Although it's common today, Fleming was among the first to introduce brand names prominently in his books. Bond uses a Beretta .25, drinks Hennessy's Three Star brandy, smokes cigarettes made especially for him by Morlands of Grosvenor Street (a high-nicotine mixture of Balkan and Turkish tobacco), is an old Etonian (like Fleming himself), and drives his Bentley 125 mph while trying to catch up to a pretty girl in a Lancia Flaminia Zagato Spyder two-seater.
But even in the 1960s, critics were already charging that Fleming's characters were undeveloped. Bond is a cipher. The villains are cartoonish, as are love interests with names like Pussy Galore and Kissy Suzuki. But Fleming never had any literary pretenses, calling Bond "that cardboard booby," according to his biographer, Pearson.
Fleming's books were not an overnight success. Despite good reviews, Casino Royale, his first novel, sold only 7,000 copies. The American edition of Live and Let Die sold barely 5,000.
Yet the Bond phenomenon built slowly. By 1959 film and TV offers began to arrive. Fleming found his secret agent a hit among the highbrow as well as hoi polloi. Fans included Raymond Chandler and President John F. Kennedy, who listed From Russia With Love among his ten favorite books. Bond also proved catnip for intellectuals, who devoted long, rapturous essays to him. The late Sir Kingsley Amis, winner of England's prestigious Booker Prize, compared Bond to Lord Byron and wrote about the Oedipal relationship between the secret agent and his boss M. Italian writer Umberto Eco discussed Bond's "Manichean ideology."
Fleming died in 1964 of pleurisy and hemorrhage to the heart. He was 58. While his books had sold millions and created a cult in the author's lifetime, he doubted it would last. As he finished penning You Only Live Twice, he wrote to a friend: "I'm grinding away at Bond's latest but the going gets harder and harder and duller and duller and I don't really know what I'm going to do with him. He's become a personal--if not a public--nuisance. Anyway, he's had a good run, which is more than most of us can say."
But Fleming was wrong. The run was just beginning.
"I'm almost married already. To a man. Name begins with M. I'd have to divorce him before I tried marrying a woman."
--Bond to Tiffany Case in From Russia With Love.
At the same time that McClory's deal with Fleming and Ivar Bryce was fizzling out, James Bond's cinematic future was sparking new life elsewhere. In August 1961, a big film deal materialized. Some years earlier, Harry Saltzman, a Canadian producer working in England, had taken an option on all available Bond books. Saltzman now joined with Albert Broccoli to co-produce the films, eventually christening their company Danjaq, after their wives Dana Broccoli and Jacqueline Saltzman. The partnership was to last until 1974's The Man With the Golden Gun.
Even as a team, however, the two still could not arouse studio interest. Columbia Pictures said it would commit to a $400,000 movie, but the partners balked, saying they needed more. Finally they flew to New York to meet Arthur Krim, then president of United Artists. In less than an hour, Krim and the producers hammered out an agreement for UA to finance the first 007 movie for $1 million, sealing it with nothing but a Bondian handshake.
Because Thunderball was marooned in litigation, Dr. No was chosen to launch the James Bond saga to film audiences. (Fleming had sold the Casino Royale movie rights to Gregory Ratoff for $1,000 in 1955, but Ratoff died before he could complete a deal to make it at Fox. Those rights were eventually acquired by Charlie Feldman, an agent who represented Ratoff's widow. He produced the ill-fated Bond parody Casino Royale in 1967.)
Fleming was pleased when Jamaica was chosen for the location and suggested his Goldeneye neighbor Noel Coward to play the sinister Dr. No, which Coward wisely declined. Unknown actress Ursula Andress was cast as busty naiad Honey Rider, the first of the legendary Bond girls, after a photo of her in a wet T-shirt convinced producers of her assets. Dapper Englishman Terence Young was chosen to direct. After talk of casting Richard Burton or David Niven, an unknown named Sean Connery, an ex-Navy boxing champ and Shakespearean actor, was chosen as the lead. When Young heard the news, "He held his head and said, 'Disaster! Disaster! Disaster!' " according to a published interview with Broccoli. Fleming, too, was initially unimpressed.
"He is not exactly what I envisioned," Fleming is reported to have said. "But he would be if I wrote the books over again."
American audiences warmed up slowly to Bond and reviews of Dr. No were mostly negative. Time magazine, for instance, called Bond a "slightly silly snob." The film made only $2 million domestically, ranking 44th on Variety's annual list of top grossing films and below Flipper, according to the journal Films in Review.
But Dr. No earned a profit globally, justifying a second movie with a larger budget. By the third film, Goldfinger, which premiered at what is now Mann's Chinese Theater, ticket buyers stood in long lines to see the world's first action hero.
Soon the Bond juggernaut couldn't be stopped.
After 1974 Broccoli bought out Saltzman and continued to produce Bond films on his own. In later years, he enlisted his stepson Michael Wilson and daughter Barbara Broccoli as co-producers, who carried on after Broccoli died in 1996.
And for 36 years, through five actor incarnations--Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and the current 007, Pierce Brosnan--MGM and Danjaq have zealously guarded their golden goose.
In 1978 Danjaq and MGM sought to prevent McClory's Thunderball remake, but were rebuffed in court. Going on the offensive, Danjaq and MGM released Octopussy the same year that Never Say Never Again came out, giving Bond buffs two competing movies to drool over. (Interestingly, Octopussy significantly outperformed McClory's movie, despite the fact that the latter contained the most popular Bond ever, Sean Connery.)
In addition to their movie millions, MGM and Danjaq have also earned substantial sums marketing and licensing the Bond character and image. In 1989 Sterling, Inc., the British maker of luxury performance cars, paid $1 million for the right to air a TV commercial which never even mentioned Bond, but merely hinted at his involvement through Bondian music and an unseen driver zipping smoothly down a windy and deserted road.
Other products have included posters, videos, music, toys, clothing, sporting goods, and colognes. In lawsuits, MGM and Danjaq say they spent millions cultivating the Bond merchandising image and linking his name only to upscale products. In 1995, as they prepared to strike a product placement deal with BMW for a new convertible roadster that Pierce Brosnan would drive in Goldeneye and BMW could market as a "Bond car," the Honda Motor Co. threw a wrench into their plans.
Honda's affront was to debut a humorous TV ad that featured a balding man called "James Bob" to promote its Honda Civic del Sol, a bottom-of-the-line two-seater that retailed for $13,000. MGM and Danjaq immediately sued, citing the "danger that the Honda commercial will cheapen the value of the Bond franchise because it is not of a class that Bond would favor onscreen."
A judge agreed, and Honda was forced to drop its ads.
But despite its success with Bond, MGM these days is far from its golden age under Louis B. Mayer, when it produced such classics as The Wizard of Oz and boasted a roster of stars that included Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, and Judy Garland.
The first crisis for the 74-year-old studio came in 1957, when it reported its first-ever loss. Then, in 1969, MGM was bought by Kerkorian, who did not run it with great vision. In a rotten deal for MGM, the financier in 1986 sold Ted Turner the studio's treasured, 3,650-film library for use on his cable channels. Kerkorian sold the entire studio in 1990 for $1.3 billion to Giancarlo Parretti, an Italian financier with alleged Mafia ties. The following year, after a maelstrom of murky dealings, Parretti defaulted on loans, and the studio wound up in the hands of French bank Credit Lyonnais, under which production languished, and MGM lost more than $1 billion. When Kerkorian bought MGM back in 1996, the studio hadn't made money in a decade, despite possessing the world's largest collection of post-1948 films. The last few years have been particularly bad for MGM, with a string of flops including Red Corner and Hoodlum that have forced it to write off more than $33 million in losses.
Conversely, Bond is the studio's crown jewel, earning $440 million between 1993 and 1996. (Projected 1997-2000 revenues are $689 million.) Profit from just one successful Bond movie can exceed $100 million, according to MGM's 1997 prospectus, far outperforming the studio's Rocky and Robo-Cop franchises. Indeed, in its prospectus, MGM said it counts on biannual, big-budget James Bond movies as one of its "financial linchpins." The next 007 is slated for a November 1999 release.
"Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles . . . but don't let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine."
--a French secret service agent in Casino Royale
So far, the courts have not been kind to Kevin McClory and Sony. Besides issuing a temporary injunction barring Sony from developing its own Bond film, Judge Rafeedie said the Bond character appears to be protected by copyright, and that Sony and McClory "are attempting to appropriate the cachet associated with Danjaq's Bond films."
The judge further ruled that McClory's rights have expired, and that Sony cannot use preexisting material from the original Bond works without permission. (MGM had argued that McClory's deal with Fleming was valid only as long as the 28-year copyright, which had run out.)
Sony claimed it had a precedent to make Bond films because Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again were both made outside MGM's domain, but Judge Rafeedie didn't buy it. Neither did he accept Sony's argument that when a joint author such as Fleming contributes his preexisting work to a joint work, he cannot prevent his co-author McClory from separately exploiting the whole of the joint work.
And Rafeedie has made it clear he was irked by some of Sony's arguments. In one rebuke, he charged the studio's lawyers with being "misleading" and said they were trying to "ignore very clear fact."
This all bodes ill for Sony, but as Bond fans know, a lot can change before the last act. Rafeedie has agreed to continue the case until the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal issues its ruling, which is expected early next year. And Steuber says Sony is confident it will prevail in the higher court.
"With due respect, we think Judge Rafeedie was wrong, that he did not accord the proper amount of legal sanctity to the work that McClory authored jointly with Ian Fleming. There are some very key questions that need to be resolved by the court of appeal. If that goes our way, then the rest of it will fall into place rather neatly."
Meanwhile, diehard Bond fans are watching the trial closely. And those who deplore the cartoonish antics of the recent 007 flicks and yearn for the gritty panache of yore are rooting for McClory.
Writing in Films and Review, critic Nicholas Anez opined that "the main objective should be to bring Ian Fleming's James Bond to the screen as faithfully as possible . . . The scripts McClory developed with Fleming and Jack Whittingham would most likely make great Bond movies because they were conceived for the screen."
McClory "appears to have a clear understanding of the character of Bond," Anez concluded, "and if he is the sole producer, the future may be promising for 007."
As for McClory himself, the Battle of the Bonds has only whetted his fighting Irish spirit. For him it is one last chance to win the public validation he missed out on decades ago. Privately, the man has no doubts. Why, it's etched onto his very business cards, which he presents with a flourish. Seanchai, it says under his name, the Gaelic word for storyteller--the most revered calling in all the Emerald Isle.
It's a title that's somehow fitting, regardless of whether you agree with MGM that McClory is a purveyor of tall tales or with Sony, which praises him as a gifted bard who helped spin the stories that became the cinematic Bond. Seanchai indeed.
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