When Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, was published in 1953, it was the product of more than a decade of Ian Fleming’s imagination but only about two months of actual writing work.
Fleming began the novel in January 1952 as he was anticipating getting married to Ann Charteris, a woman he had known and been in love with for nearly two decades. Their long-standing affair had produced a child while she was married to another man, but by this time they were finally free to get together.
Fleming was living in Jamaica at the time, having visited there during the war and vowing that one day he would make it his home. He had gone back to journalism when the war ended and had been the foreign editor of Kemsley News, which owned the Sunday Times. In 1951, he had become managing director of Queen Anne Press, a small publisher of quality books by well-known authors. His position with Kemsley News allowed him to live for part of the year in Jamaica.
The novel was finished in two months and went through several hands before it was sent to the publishing house Jonathan Cape, which was handling books authored by Fleming’s brother Peter. Fleming himself seemed unenthusiastic about the book, and at first the publishers were reluctant to take it on. Finally, at Peter’s urging, they brought it out on April 13, 1953. The cover was designed by the author.
The book was an immediate success. Jonathan Cape printed nearly 5,000 copies for its first run, and they sold quickly. A second and a third run were authorized, and the book eventually sold more than 40,000 copies in its first year in Great Britain. In the United States, several publishers passed on the novel, but it was finally published by Macmillan.
Oddly enough, the book did not do well in the U.S., selling only about 4,000 copies in the first year. In 1954 CBS paid Fleming $1,000 for the rights to produce a one-hour version of the novel for its weekly Climax series. Network writers made numerous changes in the story, including making James Bond an American and giving him the name “Jimmy Bond.”
The show was produced with Barry Newman (not Sean Connery) playing the first on-screen Bond and was aired in October.
Overall, the success of Casino Royale could be termed as “modest,” but it did teach Fleming that he could write an acceptable and popular thriller. His writing regimen became spending 10 months of a year thinking and doing research and two months writing. In the 1960s, he described it himself:
“I write for about three hours in the morning … and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. I never correct anything and I never go back to see what I have written … By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day.”
Throughout the 1950s, Fleming continued to produce James Bond novels, all of which sold well and were generally well received by critics. By the end of the decade, however, critics were taking a different view of his work and where assailing him for a variety of literary sins. Fleming’s personal problems and his Reliance on tobacco and alcohol spun him into periods of depression and self-doubt.
Fleming received a boost when in 1961 the newly inaugurated President John Kennedy listed From Russia With Love as among his favorite books. From that point, sales in the U.S. soared. Another boost came in 1962 with the release of Dr. No, the first major Bond movie. The film starred Sean Connery oh, and his depiction of bond enhanced immeasurably the bond franchise.
Despite these successes, ill-health plagued Fleming. He suffered a heart attack in 1961, and in 1964 on a trip to England, Fleming collapsed and died of a second heart attack. He was 56 years old. Two of his novels, he Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy and The Living Daylights, were published posthumously.
Fleming was alive when Dr. No and From Russia With Love were released, and he had some input on the third Bond movie, Goldfinger. But he did not live to see the James Bond character that he had created became the biggest and most enduring star character in cinematic history.
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