“It’s hard to imagine anyone less Jewish — or more goyish — than James Bond,” Seth Rogovoy recently wrote in The Jewish Daily Forward. He pointed to the shaken-not-stirred-martinis, the serial bedding of women from all over the world and the preference for expensive luxury items: watches, gadgets and fast cars. And he didn’t even get around to mentioning the smorgasbord of “treyf” foods and wines Bond indulges in during his missions.
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Rogovoy also noted the anti-Semitism of Bond’s creator, British novelist Ian Fleming, who, he alleges, littered his stories with slurring references and gross caricatures in the forms of notorious villains. For example, he argues Fleming based the titular nemesis of the novel “Goldfinger” (1959) on Ernö Goldfinger, the real-life Hungarian-born Modernist architect and leftist who was Fleming’s neighbor in Hampstead. As the animated discussion prompted by Rogovoy’s article indicates, the jury is still out on whether Fleming was in fact a “Judeophobe.”
Small ears with large lobes
But the author’s intent aside, is it arguably possible to look past the designer suits and read Bond as a conceptually Jewish character. Could “James Bond” just be a cover name, hiding a deep, subsurface Jewishness? After all, his given name is the Anglicized version of “Jacob,” the Biblical patriarch who lent his name to the Hebrew people after struggling with an angel. His surname refers to something that binds or fastens, suggesting the ties of memory and history. His code name, “007,” incorporates a number shrouded in Jewish mainstream and mystical properties. He has only married once (perhaps because no woman is good enough for him?) and, as is revealed in the latest film Skyfall, has created a mother substitute in the form of “M” (for “Mother”?), played by Judi Dench.
He has never, as far as I can recall, visited Israel on any of his missions, cooperated with the Mossad or even mentioned the organization. Maybe that’s because on every mission he undertakes he ends up destroying the locale – as in the regional capitals of Istanbul and Cairo – and does not wish to trash his spiritual homeland.
More seriously, many Jewish characters show up in Fleming’s novels and, less often, the films. In the first Bond book, “Casino Royale” (1953), the main antagonist, Le Chiffre (whose name simply means the number), is described thus: “Small ears with large lobes (indicating some Jewish blood).” He is found wandering in the Dachau displaced persons camp, apparently suffering from amnesia. And many of the gangsters in “Diamonds Are Forever”(1957) are implied to be Jewish as is one of antagonist Franisco Scaramanga’s investors in “The Man with the Golden Gun”(1965).
Other Jewish characters include mobster Sol “Horror” Horowitz in the book of “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1965), physician Dr. Stengel, a German Jewish refugee who treats Bond at the end of “Thunderball” (1961), and a Scotland Yard policeman named Dankowitz and a diamond dealer in “Diamonds Are Forever.”
In real life, Fleming was a customer of Welsh Jewish jeweller Morris Wartski (mentioned in a previous column), a world-renowned expert on Fabregé. Wartski appeared in Fleming’s novel “The Property of a Lady” when Bond visits his shop and consults its real-life managing director and Wartski’s son-in-law, Kenneth Snowman. His character also made it into the “Octopussy” movie (1983).
A Jewish fantasy
Further, Jews were largely responsible for choreographing Bond’s transition and transformation from the page to the screen, where he became of the most iconic figures in Western popular culture. Renowned film producer Harry Saltzman (born Herschel Saltzman) optioned the film rights to the Bond stories after reading “Goldfinger” in 1961. Together with Albert R. Broccoli, he formed the Eon Productions, which still produces the films today.
The Bond film franchise has also long benefitted from Jewish creative input. Richard Maibaum penned many of the films, beginning with “Dr. No”(1962) and ending with “Licence to Kill”(1989). Berlin-born Jewish émigré Ken Adam, aka Sir Kenneth Adam, was the production designer on all the films from “Dr. No” through to “Moonraker” (1979).
Wolf Mankowitz wrote the first draft of the first Bond film “Dr. No” and contributed to the spoof version of “Casino Royale” (1967), as did Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller and Billy Wilder. That "Casino Royale" also starred Jewish actors Woody Allen as Dr. Noah and Peter Sellers as Bond. Later, Irvin Kershner directed “Never Say Never Again” (1983) before British Jew Sam Mendes helmed “Skyfall” (2012).
Jewish actor Joseph Wiseman played the first Bond villain, Dr. No, and Cecil Linder filled the role of CIA agent Felix Leiter in “Goldfinger” (1964). Although not Jewish, Daniel Craig, who is married to British Jewess Rachel Weisz, played a Jewish Mossad agent in “Munich” (2005) and partisan leader in “Defiance” (2008).
Linder and Sellers had both earlier starred in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” (1962). Adam’s work on “Dr. No” persuaded Kubrick to hire him for “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), and the titular character is supposedly based in part on Wiseman's portrayal of Dr. No. Later, at Adam’s request Kubrick – on condition of complete secrecy and anonymity – supervised the lighting for “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), and his stepdaughter Katharina designed the distinctive dentures worn by Richard Kiel as the legendary henchman Jaws. Kubrick was even interested in making a movie about the bond prototype Salomon (Shlomo) Rosenblum, a.k.a. Sydney Reilly, a Russian-Jewish agent whose exploits were dramatized in the 1967 book and 1983 television series “The Ace of Spies."
In adapting Bond, these Jews took Fleming’s more human, flawed and frail character and turned him into a sexy super-agent stud (he sleeps with far more women in the films than he does in the books) who rarely fails to deliver.
Given the heavy Jewish involvement and fascination with Bond, it is possible to read him as we do Superman. Scholars and other observers have long recognized that Clark Kent (born Kal-El) was a form of Jewish wish fulfilment on the part of his creators. Perhaps in the transition from the page to the screen, James (Ya’acov?) Bond was likewise made into a Jewish icon even as the films were purged of explicitly Jewish content. To apply Jewish novelist Michael Chabon’s words about Clark Kent to James Bond: “only a Jew would pick a name like that for himself.”