August 12, 2014

IAN FLEMING: WICKED GRIN

On the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's death, Spy Vibe pays tribute to the author by celebrating his unique curiosity. Walt Disney once said, "Ideas come from curiosity." Fleming, by nature and by profession, was an Idea Man. His immense curiosity led him down myriad rabbit holes in life, where he  discovered passionately the details of foreign lands and customs, the rebellious and romantic strains of jazz and popular music, and the athletic pleasures of snorkeling. Like his brother Peter, Ian had a gift for observation, and he was celebrated for his work as a journalist, commander for Naval Intelligence, and as a writer of thrillers. He was a complex character, but I'd like to highlight a few images from his life that always stand out for me. At sixteen, it is said he began to avoid family hunting excursions, preferring instead to practice Hawaiian guitar. Did the sounds of slack-key records and his own fingers on the strings transport him to a more exciting, exotic place away from the family? At seventeen, he fell in love with Whispering Jack Smith's Cecelia, a tune filled with young lust and innuendo. Shortly before his death decades later, Fleming named this first among his favorite songs on BBC's Desert Island Discs. Did the flirtatious lyrics still play in his mind, calling amorous impulses to the surface? The humorous tone of the song must have laid the ground for his friendship with Noel Coward. And the final image is a rare photograph I tracked down last year of the author's research trip to Japan for You Only Live Twice. The picture reveals he made a special journey to Beppu to visit a volcanic location called Mount Demon Hell. Fleming stands with a twinkle in his eye next to a gigantic demon statue in the picture, pulling at the monster's belly button. There were many sides to the author, but these images seem to gel in this one photo for me and describe one of his main character traits- a snapshot of a man who avoided family hunting trips and his wife's dinner parties in favor of sensual experience. These moments in Fleming's life remind me of my own father, who rejected his parents' world as classical musicians by blasting Howlin' Wolf songs and riding motorcycles. And like Fleming, he would even escape under the sea. I gather Ian Fleming was a man who needed to keep moving. Like his character James Bond, he abhorred inactivity and boredom. With that streak of curiosity, rebellion, and carnal wit, I wonder what he found in all those records, fast cars, and trips to exotic locales? I imagine he created his own feeling of adventure. Maybe he discovered a sense of freedom. Here's to that wicked grin! At Fleming's memorial service, held on September 15th, 1964, William Plomer described his friend in the excerpts below. Spy Vibe's Ian Fleming image archive on Pinterest here.


"He made one feel one had to try and live up to his standard of alertness, to keep tuned up, and to move at his own quick tempo. He seemed always to take the shortest distance between two points in the shortest possible time, and although he didn't suffer bores gladly, his appetite for life, his curiosity and quick understanding, and his admiration of what was well done used generally to bring out the best in other people."

"Only since his death has it begun to be more generally understood that he had done well in several different careers, and that he was a character of some complexity. But those who were at school with him, or who used to work with him in the City, or in Reuters, or in the Admiralty, or in the newspaper world, or who had watched him creating his original and important library, or who saw him enjoying life in Jamaica, or who at any time travelled or played cards or golf with him, can confirm that he was a man who touched life at many points. And of how many men can one say, as one can of him, not only that he had much to give but gave all he had got? One is reminded of James Bond`s saying: "I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." [photo below: Fleming at Beppu, Spy Vibe collection].


"It was Admiral Godfrey who introduced him to the delights of under-water swimming, when it was much less familiar than it is now. It seemed an activity exactly made for him. It was athletic, it was not without its hazards, and it offered the discovery of a hidden world of fascinating mysteries. Discovery, I think, is a key-word: Ian was a great finder-out. And this predominant trait in his character helped to fit him for his valued association, after the War, with the Sunday Times, as its foreign manager. His ability and enterprise as a journalist can be seen in what may almost be called his instant travel-book, Thrilling Cities. That inquiring mind of his and that retentive memory would often surprise one. He was just as liable to reveal a knowledge of tropical birds or rare seashells, as of first editions or motor engines or the night life of Hamburg. What never surprised one, because one knew them to be constant, were his truthfulness and directness, his loyalties, and that restless, high-spirited independence which must sometimes have made him feel like a surf-rider alone with the speed of a tremendous wave."

"Let us remember him as he was on top of the world, with his foot on the accelerator, laughing at absurdities, enjoying discoveries, absorbed in his many interests and plans, fascinated and amused by places and people and facts and fantasies, an entertainer of millions, and for us a friend never to be forgotten." [photo below from a collection of letters to his Austrian lover before the war].


Selected Ian Fleming posts on Spy Vibe: 50th eventsGoldeneye US Designnew Fleming booksSE Asian 007Cumberbatch as Ian FlemingFleming Jamaica BookBond Japanese EditionsFleming Chinese EditionChitty Chitty Bang Bang 50thIan Fleming: Mt. Demon Hell JapanCollecting Fleming007 Audio Books UpdateAppropriating Bond Exhibit, Fleming Letters MysteryThe Goldfinger VariationsDouble 007 Book Designs, Double 007 designs IIrare Ian Fleming editionBook Design DopplegangersTurkish Bond designErno GoldfingerNoel CowardWhispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr, new Ian Fleming CatalogJon Gilbert interview, Double 007 Designs, James Bond book covers, Ian Fleming's Playboy interview for Kindle, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, rare View to a Kill, Fleming's Royal gold typewriter, Ian Fleming's memorial address, Spy Vibe's Ian Fleming image archive.

Selected Spy Vibe posts: Jane Bond Hong Kong RecordsRyan Heshka Interview, Comics Week: Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.Comics Week: ArchieComics Week: Robots, Comics Week: Cold War Atomic, Comics Week: SPYMANComics Week: Jimmy OlsenDiana Rigg at 76Gerry Anderson DocMr. Hulot's Box SetRare Avengers ScriptsMan From Uncle UK ComicsMattel X-15Thunderbirds ComicsShakespeare Spies: Diana RiggShakespeare Spies IBatman NewsMonty Python Fathom SpiesRodney Marshall Avengers InterviewAvengers Book: Bowler Hats & Kinky BootsGeorge Lois Design & Mad MenRichard Sala: Super-EnigmatixBig Fun ToysDanger Diabolik SoundtrackMod Fashion DollsCold War Archie, Playboy Bunny InterviewThe 10th Victim Japanese and KindleU.N.C.L.E. Japanese BooksThe 10th Victim German EditionThe Saint books returnTrina Robbins InterviewCatsuits, Batman '66 Green Hornet Interview: Ralph Garman Ty Templeton.

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