James Bond, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, John Kennedy & Castro's BeardMonday, December 27, 2010
During Kennedy’s presidency I lived the Bay of Pigs in the school with all our Cuban students telling us that Kennedy had let them all down. The missile crisis and Kennedy using swear words to break the hold of the steel unions in the US made his shine in our eyes all over again.
It was around 1961 that during a press conference Kennedy announced that one of his favourite books was To Russia With Love by Ian Fleming. In March 1960, Ian Fleming had met John F Kennedy through Marion Oates Leiter who was a mutual friend and who had invited both to dinner. Leiter had introduced Kennedy to Fleming's books during his recovery from an operation in 1955. After dinner, Fleming related his ideas on discrediting Fidel Castro; these were reported to Central Intelligence Agency chief Allen Welsh Dulles who gave them serious consideration. The idea was to tell the world that beards attracted radioactivity and made men sterile. The result of this is that Castro would shave off his beard and like Samson with his long hair, would be rendered defenseless! Shortly after it was known that Kennedy’s favourite books were:
Montrose by John Buchan
Marlborough by Sir Winston Churchill
John Quincy Adams by Samuel Flagg Bemis
The Emergence of Lincoln by Allan Nevins
The Price of Union by Herbert Agar
John C. Calhoun by Margaret L. Coit
Talleyrand by Duff Cooper
Byron in Italy by Peter Quennell
The Red and the Black by M. de Stendhal
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
Pilgrim's Way by John Buchan
I am sure that there was no rush to buy Buchan’s books or even Marlborough by Sir Winston Churchill. But there was a run to buy Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. I will confess here and now that the only other book, besides From Russia With Love, that I shared with JFK was Stendhal's The Red and the Black.
It was around 1961 that I started to read the Fleming novels as they came out, little by little as paperbacks. At that time my mother was teaching at an American school run by Alcoa in Veracruz, Mexico. She had a couple of American friends who would drop in on weekends to play bridge. I was commandeered to be the fourth player. I found the two women charming and I was much to naïve to even suspect that they were a happy lesbian couple who just happened to buy all the Fleming books as they came out and then passed them on to me!
And so I became a fan of James Bond before I ever saw Dr. No and fell hard for Ursula Andress. I may have been one of the few who recognized Dr. No, played by Canadian born Joseph Wiseman as the odd (he plays a scary political zealot) Fernando Aguirre in the 1952 Elia Kazan film Viva Zapata! (written by John Steinbeck!) with Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn and Jean Peters.
It was through the Fleming novels that I became a fan of the Sean Connery James Bond films. When the films featured other actors and had a mostly special effects-over-plot takeover I lost interest rapidly. I found that Bond’s male chauvinist pig attitudes jarred with the modern world I live in.
But then I saw most of Casino Royale (2006) with Daniel Craig yesterday and enjoyed the experience. I found I could take this Bond seriously. I enjoyed the film perhaps more so because in the days after Christmas and before January 2 I tend to eat chocolates ( Belgian Gulyian) pistachios, Mexican rice, leftover ham, Mexican beans, German “Swiss” cheese, German fruit juice bears and I wash it all down with continuous and large mugs of Granville Island Tea Company Earl Grey tea. I do not feel in the least guilty about doing nothing, watching junk films on TV and eating all of the above.
Today I watched Pierce Brosnan play James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies and I did not find it as awful as I thought it would be. Just watching Brosnan's James Bond maneuver a BMW inside a tight and winding parking lot was worth it. I found the death and destruction so unrealistic (but not quite so funny) that I could eat my salted pistachios with no wincing. I think I did not mind Pierce Brosnan because I could see the actor to be as the one that was so good in the Robert Harris novel, Ghost Writer movie version of this year.
There is one sort of serious activity of which I indulge sparingly so it will take time for its completion. I am reading Canadian born Paul Anderson’s first novel (2004) Hunger’s Brides. Of the book I can write these facts:
At 1,360 pages, not counting 8 pages of titles and contents at the beginning of the book and 8 blank pages at the end, presumably added for production reasons) the book weighs 4 pounds, 9 ounces. I think I purchased it in 2005 and took it to Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico when we visited it with Rebecca in 2007. The idea was that I was going to read this novel about the famous Mexican poet and nun of the 17th century who had the reputation of being the best poet of the second half of Spain’s golden age of literature. I knew absolutely nothing about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. All I managed to read (on the plane going) was one chapter. I abandoned the book vowing to tackle it in a near future. And that is now!
Few might know that the publicity stills for Dr. No were shot by Bunny Yeager (who made Bettie Page famous). Of the picture of Ursula Andress (above) she writes:
While shooting publicity stills of movie actress Ursula Andress in Jamaica for United Artists, I found myself working under the most adverse conditions, having to get my shots as "catch can" between takes for the movie , "Dr. No." If it weren't for her splendid cooperation, I'm afraid I could have never completed my assignment. 200 f/16 film. Rollei Camera.
That Wholesome Girl From Tarzana, California