HER NAME WAS BOND . . . JAMES BOND!
The first James Bond was almost a woman
The way to the first James Bond movie was a long and winding road full of twists and turns. Here is an interesting little story about how the cinematic James Bond was almost a woman.
The very first James Bond story was a novel titled CASINO ROYALE written by the late great Ian Fleming. It was published in 1953 and not only paved the way for eleven more novels, two collections of short stories, countless continuation novels by authors other than Fleming, a TV adaptation, twenty-seven movies, numerous comic books, myriad video games, and a plethora of audio books, but there appears to be no end in sight.
That first novel told the story of a joint British/American/French intelligence operation designed to bankrupt Le Chiffre – the head of a French union and a secret member of the Russian secret service. To do this James Bond was tasked with using his formidable gambling skills to play Baccarat and beat the pants off Le Chiffre.
CASINO ROYALE was a hit in the United Kingdom. Not so much in the United States but the U.K. sales garnered Fleming a three-book deal and James Bond was off and running. Now here is where the story gets really interesting.
In March 1955, Ian Fleming sold the film rights of his novel CASINO ROYALE to producer Gregory Ratoff for $6,000.00. This is why CASINO ROYALE was not included in the deal Fleming makes later on with producer Harry Saltzman.
Gregory Ratoff was a Russian-born American actor, director and producer. As an actor he appeared in films such as ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) – his most famous role, THE SUN ALSO RISES (1957), and EXODUS (1960). As a director he directed such films as THE CORSICAN BROTHERS (1941), SOMETHING TO SHOUT ABOUT (1947), and OSCAR WILDE (1960).
In 1956, along with producer Michael Garrison (creator of THE WILD WILD WEST TV series), Ratoff set up a production company to produce a film adaptation of CASINO ROYALE. Lorenzo Semple Jr. was brought in to do the screenplay.
Lorenzo Semple Jr. was an American screenwriter and playwright. He is best known for his work on the BATMAN TV series (1966) and the espionage films THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). He also did NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).
The problem is that both Ratoff and Semple found the character of James Bond to be ridiculous. They didn’t think it was possible for audiences to accept someone so fantastic. In fact, they thought he was kind of silly and stupid.
But then Ratoff had an idea. He reasoned that they could get around the disbelief he was sure audiences would have with James Bond if they could create a willing suspension of disbelief by having James Bond played by a woman. If audiences will walk into a theater already accepting the idea of a woman secret agent then they will accept all the other implausible things in the story as well.
The woman Ratoff wanted to play James Bond was Susan Hayward. Why Susan Hayward? Because Ratoff once dated her when she was a struggling actress. And that is how decisions are made in Hollywood.
Susan Hayward was an American actress and model best known for her portrayal of death row inmate Barbara Graham in I WANT TO LIVE (1958) for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Miss Hayward was offered the role of James Bond but turned it down.
Ratoff and Garrison were unable to find any financial backers for their proposed film and when Ratoff died in 1960 the movie died with him.
After his death producer Charles K. Feldman obtained the screen rights to CASINO ROYALE from Garrison and Ratoff’s widow and eventually it was made into a spoof and released in 1967. The less said about this movie the better.
So there we have it. The story of how James Bond was almost played by a woman. I wonder how Susan Hayward felt later on after the James Bond movies became such a hit. Did she regret turning down the role? If she had agreed to play the part that might have been all Ratoff needed to get his financial backing. The movie could have been a hit – or it could have been a flop. Somewhere there is an alternate universe where Susan Hayward was the first James Bond. I would love to see what happened next.