Bond Book Author Benson, Raymond Benson (Mania.com)
Date: Friday, September 15, 2000
Raymond Benson remembers the exact day he became hooked on the adventures of Britain's greatest secret agent, James Bond. 'My father took me to see Goldfinger when I was 9 years old,' the 44-year-old Benson says, fondly recalling the life-changing trip to the cinema. 'I became a fanatic.'
Thirty-five years later, Benson is the grand architect of James Bond's world of rogues and femme fatales, the man who puts laser cannons in Bond's favorite Jaguar XK8 and makes sure the super spy never forgets to pack his trusty Walther PPK pistol. That's because Benson is the current author of the James Bond novels, the most recent of which is his fourth, Double Shot (Putnam). He's also written the novelizations for the last two Bond films, 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies and last year's The World is Not Enough . The job is more than a dream come true for the Texas-born writer. 'It's a job I never even thought I was allowed to dream I could have,' says Benson, who now calls suburban Chicago home. 'I'm still pinching myself.'
Just as different actors have portrayed Bond on the silver screen through the years, different authors have helmed the various Bond novels. Benson is the fourth such scribe, following creator Ian Fleming, Sir Kingsley Amis and John Gardner. Benson is, however, the first American to ever have the job. 'They're big shoes to fill,' Benson says of his predecessors, especially Fleming. 'It's a heavy mantle, and I don't take it lightly.'
Living up to Fleming's masterful stories is an especially daunting task for Benson. 'I would never pretend to be as good a writer as Ian Fleming,' he says. 'He's on a pinnacle all his own. But I have a portrait of Fleming over my computer looking at me, and I like to think he's on my side.'
Benson didn't start out his professional life as a novelist. He studied theater at the University of Texas and went on to write and direct plays in Texas and New York. He also taught classes in film theory and screenwriting in Chicago and designed computer games and CD-ROM adventures, including versions of Goldfinger and A View to a Kill .
Through all of his travels, Benson remained a James Bond fan. His love for all things 007 led him to write his first book, The James Bond Bedside Companion , a popular anthology about Bond books, films, quotes and trivia that was published in 1984. The book got the attention of Glidrose Ltd., the firm that ownsand carefully guardsBond's literary rights. Glidrose hired Benson to write a stage play of the Bond adventure Casino Royale ; unfortunately, it never was produced. In 1995, however, Glidrose called again and asked whether Benson wanted to replace Gardner as the new Bond author. Benson was stunned. 'I fell on the floor, got up and said, 'I'll give it a shot,'' he recalls.
Benson's first Bond story was a short piece called 'Blast From the Past' that was published in Playboy magazine in 1997. The novels followed, one every year: 1997's Zero Minus Ten ; 1998's The Facts of Death ; 1999's High Time to Kill ; and, earlier this summer, Double Shot . Writing the film adaptations became Benson's duty, too, as have more stories for Playboy.
With his depiction of a hard-living, hard-drinking, love-'em-and-leave-'em Bond, Benson has returned the hero to his roots, as he was portrayed in Fleming's novels and the earliest films. 'The fans really wanted to see that back,' Benson says. 'Bond got a little too politically correct in the 1980s, in the films and in the books. Fleming's Bond wasn't PC at all. He's an anti-hero with plenty of vices, from gambling to women. That's Bond. His vices are a part of him, because he might die the next day. He's going to drink too much and smoke too much, and he's going to experience the sensual pleasures of life.
'I'm trying my best to bring back the original 'Fleming' Bond in today's times,' Benson continues. 'But that's the trick. Fleming's Bond would be in his late 70s in today's times. So we dropped him in time like you do with Superman, Batman or any other character.'
Most Bond fans probably know the character from his many films, as opposed to the books. Sean Connery is Benson's favorite Bond actor, but the identity of the actor who Benson believes best portrayed Fleming's version of 007 may surprise you. 'The actor who comes the closest to me was Timothy Dalton,' Benson says of the Brit who starred as Bond in just two movies, The Living Daylights and License to Kill. 'He had that sort of hard-edged, brooding personality. The literary Bond is very different from the film version. Bond in the books is a killer. He's very serious and cold-hearted. He's not a nice guy. And Dalton played him that way. But,' Benson adds, 'Connery will probably always be my favorite.'
That being said, it makes perfect sense that Benson's favorite Bond film is one that starred Connery: 1963's From Russia With Love . His least-favorite 007 flick was 1979's Moonraker , which starred Roger Moore. 'Bond has no reason to be in outer space,' Benson says of the silly story. Moore is Benson's least-favorite Bond actor, too. 'Roger was a bit too comedic,' he says. 'George [Lazenby, whose only Bond film was On Her Majesty's Secret Service ] was underrated. I do like Pierce [Brosnan, the current Bond]. He's doing a good job.'
Although Benson's Bond novels don't have Stephen King's or J.K. Rowling's sales figuresand really, what other author's books do these days?Benson is confident he's doing a good job with the series. His reviews are generally positive, as are the comments he receives from fans at bookstore appearances and other functions. 'Usually the people I meet are very happy with what I'm doing,' Benson says. 'But with any long-running franchise, like Star Trek or Batman or Star Wars , you've got a big fan base, and they're very opinionated. There's going to be a contingent that doesn't like your stuff, and I've found that to be true.'
Because the Bond films no longer are based on the existing novels, Benson doesn't know whether he'll ever see one of his adventures transformed into a motion picture. He'd relish the opportunity if it ever arises, however. 'I'd love for that to happenwho wouldn't?' he says. 'They'd probably change it all, but I wouldn't care. That's what they do.'
Double Shot , Bond's newest literary adventure, is the middle chapter in a three-part series that began with High Time to Kill and will wrap up with the next book. Benson says he'll gladly continue writing the series as long as Glidrose is happy with his work. 'John Gardner did 14, and Fleming did 14, so that's probably the magic number,' he says. '(I'll do) as many as they'll let me.'