‘Broccoli . . . Cubby Broccoli’ : How a Long Island vegetable farmer became the man who produced all of the real James Bond movies
“Seventeen-eighteen years old, I was a fan of Lindbergh,” says Cubby Broccoli, the producer of 16 James Bond pictures, the most popular film series of all time. The one-time teen-aged truck farmer sips the morning coffee his butler poured for him under blue skies in the interior courtyard of his townhouse just off Fifth Avenue.
“I read Lindbergh’s gonna try to fly the Atlantic--all alone. The Lone Eagle. Six guys had already died trying to make the first non-stop airplane flight between New York and Paris. But I told my father, at our broccoli farm on Long Island, ‘Lindbergh’s gonna do it. He’s gonna fly the Atlantic.’
“My father said, ‘He’s gonna end up in the drink.’
“So the morning of May 20, 1927, I’m on the farm, sitting on a tractor, and I see in the distance a plane flying very low, because it’s carrying so much fuel. I could see the cowling. I could see the name of the plane, Spirit of St. Louis . I could see the pilot in the cockpit. I waved to him. He waved back. I remember thinking, ‘If he ends up in the drink, I’ll be the last human being to see Charles Lindbergh alive--but I know he’s gonna make it--he’s gonna fly the At lantic all alone.’ ”
Glowing with enthusiasm, Broccoli’s passionate brown eyes and his flushly renaissance cardinal’s face, seem to be seeing the flight on a movie screen:
“Imagine the guts of that guy!”
All his life, Albert Romolo Broccoli, who turned 80 on April 5, has been drawn to Lone Eagles with guts--Lindberg, Howard Hughes, and, of course, the fictional British agent 007 whose self-introduction, thanks to Broccoli, is now imitated around the globe: “My name is Bond . . . James Bond.”
Broccoli’s latest tribute to gutsy Lone Eagles, “Licence to Kill,” opens Friday across the United States, but Broccoli will be in Los Angeles Monday as the guest-of-honor at a post-premiere dinner celebrating the native-born Italian’s contributions to the British film industry. His James Bond movies, most of which were filmed in England, have been good to the British film industry, and good to him.
For Broccoli, the 1980s has been a decade of personal awards. In 1982, he was presented the Irving G. Thalberg Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, joining such legendary figures as Walt Disney, David O. Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Samuel Goldwyn, Billy Wilder and William Wyler.
Queen Elizabeth II of England gave Broccoli an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1987, he’s received special honors from the Spanish and French governments and in Italy, where his father was born, he has been made a commandatore order of the crown.
His father, Giovanni Broccoli, who worked as a common laborer when he first came to America, ordained big things for his New York City-born son when he gave Albert the middle name Romolo--after romulus, one of the mythical founders of Rome.
Giovanni Broccoli and his brother emigrated to Long Island from Calabria at the turn of the century. According to research done in Florence by Broccoli’s wife of 30 years, Dana, the brothers were descended from the Broccolis of Carrera, who first crossed two Italian vegetables, cauliflower and rabe, to produce the dark green, thick-stalked vegetable that took their name and eventually supported them in the United States.
Giovanni’s brother started a broccoli farm on Long Island, and soon all of Giovanni’s family worked for him. “Myself, my brother, my mother, my father--all working on our hands and knees,” said Broccoli, who picked up the nickname Cubby (after a round-faced comic strip character) at about that time. “Later on, we had our own farm.”
Broccoli’s cousin Pat DeCicca, meanwhile, had left Long Island for the movie capital of the world and married the silent film star, Thelma Todd. Cubby vowed to follow.
“I’m gonna go out to Hollywood and I’m gonna get involved!”
“CUT TO HOLLYWOOD,” says Cubby, as if he were describing a movie scene. “I’m in the Colony Club, waiting for Pat. In those days, they had silver dollars and I’m spinning one on the bar. A very nice-looking man leans over and says to me, ‘Heads or tails?’ I called it wrong; he took my dollar, and he gave me a sardonic smile: ‘Again?’ In about a minute, I lost $3.
“Then I spotted Pat. I went over to him, and the nice-looking man came over to us. ‘Hi, Sam,’ says Pat. ‘I want you to meet my cousin.’
‘I just met him,’ he says. ‘I just won $3 from him.’
Pat says, ‘Cubby, say hello to Howard Hughes.’ ”
Broccoli’s involvement with Hollywood remained pretty tangential through the 1930s. He worked for a while for a jeweler, and was thrilled to have been able to make a personal delivery to Irving Thalberg. Eventually, it was Hughes who got him directly involved, making Broccoli an assistant director on “The Outlaw.”
The job sounded more important than it was. Cubby’s first responsibility was escorting the film’s star, Jane Russell, to the Flagstaff, Ariz., location. Once there, Hughes assigned him to calling reveille for the reservation Indian extras that were being used by director Howard Hawks. When Hughes took over the direction from Hawks and moved the company back to Los Angeles, Cubby felt his luck had turned.
“Now I’m working in a Hollywood studio--as assistant director!” he crowed.
Broccoli served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and his success in getting such stars as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore to perform in shows for servicemen in camps and military hospitals eventually got him promoted from a yeoman to the “oldest Lieutenant J.G. in the Navy,” Broccoli recalls.
When the war ended, Broccoli returned to work with Hughes for about a year, then went to work as a theatrical agent for Charles Feldman, representing such high-powered stars as Lana Turner.
It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he finally got the idea that made him a producer at last.
“If you went over to England to make a picture, and you hired 80% British technicians, you got a slice of what they called Eady money,” he said. In other words, you got a British subsidy, and it could amount to two or three million pounds.
To take advantage of this subsidy, he and his first partner Irving Allen founded Warwick Films, so-called because they made the deal in New York’s Warwick Hotel.
Being Cubby Broccoli, he chose a screen hero to build his first film around--Alan Ladd, then in his 40s, but still one of the top male stars at the box office. Cubby’s first film as a producer was Ladd’s “The Red Beret” (1954), released in the United States as “Paratrooper.”
Broccoli and Allen were among the first to specialize in Anglo-American productions. Broccoli also began specializing in the exotic locale that would be a hallmark of the Bond films. He spent three months at the South Pole living in sub-zero temperatures aboard a Danish icebreaker to make another Ladd film, “Hell Below Zero.” He had Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum vying for Rita Hayworth in “Fire Down Below” (1957).
The man who spotted the hero quality in Lindbergh saw the potential in a group of novels he was reading by a former British Naval Intelligence Commander named Ian Fleming.
“I used to read the Bond books but I figured that one of the major studios would have options on them. It was the writer Wolf Mankowitz who told him that only “Casino Royale” was owned by a studio, but that a man named Harry Saltzman had an option on six of the others but no deal to finance making them into films.
Broccoli said that a meeting was arranged between them at which he hoped to buy Saltzman’s option. Saltzman wouldn’t sell, but agreed to become Broccoli’s partner, 50-50. Broccoli hoped to get his friend Arthur Krim at United Artists to finance a series of Bond films.
“Twenty-eight years ago, Harry Saltzman and I walked into 729 Seventh Ave., in New York, to United Artists, for a meeting with Arthur. I found 10 people at the meeting, including young David Picker, who had just been given the job of head of production. Arthur said, ‘Now, Cubby, tell me about James Bond,’ and I did. I was the salesman. But Picker said, ‘I’m very familiar with James Bond.’ He wanted to know how I planned to make the pictures. I had budgeted the first one at $1.1 million. They agreed to $1 million. In 45 minutes we put together a deal for six pictures.
“When Arthur and I shook hands, I suddenly remembered that it was my second wedding anniversary. I thought, I’m here in New York with my wife Dana and our 1-year-old baby daughter Barbara--and I’ve got a deal to make James Bond pictures. I’m flying high.”
Reading the Bond books, Broccoli says, he envisioned the Bond films in those basic but mythically and universally powerful terms--good vs. evil, with Bond representing a modern St. George (the patron saint of England) slaying dragons.
In his contract, Fleming reserved the right to approve the actor who would play Bond and he wanted Cary Grant. Grant was a close friend of Cubby’s--he was the best man at the Broccolis’ wedding--but there was no room in a $1 million budget for a star of Grant’s magnitude. Fleming then suggested young British actor Roger Moore, but he had a TV contract for “The Saint” and wasn’t available.
Then Broccoli saw a screening of a Walt Disney production about leprechauns called “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” The human love interest, Michael McBride, was played by a young Scot named Sean Connery. In the film’s climax, Connery had a rousing and victorious fist-fight with a village bully. Broccoli saw him as a man’s man, but had one reservation.
“I called Dana and I said, ‘I think this guy’s great, but I don’t know if he has sex appeal. Would you come down and look at him?’ ”
Dana viewed the film and assured her husband that Sean Connery indeed had sex appeal.
“Harry and I had a meeting with Sean. I watched him running across the street with the grace of an antelope and I thought, ‘This is our man.’ Sean didn’t want to do a screen test. He’s a very opinionated guy. He said, ‘If you like me, that’s it.’ But he did agree to test with the Bond girls. And that’s what we showed United Artists. They said, ‘Try somebody else.’ I dug in my heels. I said, ‘We looked around. Instinct tells me this is the guy.’ We wanted Terrence Young to direct. Terence Young wanted Richard Johnson. I said, ‘That’s it. We’re not going to change the actor. So if you want to do this . . .’ So Terence Young accepted Connery. He groomed Sean to play Bond,” says Broccoli approvingly.
Connery became a major international star with the success of the first five Bond movies, then begged off the role to broaden his career. George Lazenby assumed the role for one film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), then Connery came back for “Diamonds Are Forever” before saying--in words he would eat 12 years later--"never again.”
Roger Moore took over for the next seven, beginning with “Live and Let Die” (1973) and ending with “A View to a Kill” (1985).
After another long search, the classically trained Timothy Dalton became Broccoli’s fourth 007 and made his debut in 1987’s “The Living Daylights.”
“So we had a good subject: James Bond, 007,” says Broccoli. “That’s the real secret of the worldwide success. Whether Sean or Roger or George or Timothy or somebody else plays Bond, the symbol is there.”
Others recognized it as a good subject, too. In 1967, “Casino Royale” was produced as a spy spoof by Broccoli’s old boss Charles Feldman. The film had five directors--among them, John Huston--and featured no less than five 007s, male and female: David Niven (as Sir James Bond), Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Daliah Lavi and Terence Cooper. (SMERSH, the international crime organization, was headed this time by James Bond’s own fiendish nephew, Jimmy Bonds, played by Woody Allen.)
“Never Say Never Again,” which brought Connery back as Bond, was the result of a complicated legal battle that began before Broccoli and Saltzman were ever involved with Ian Fleming. An underwater sportsman named Kevin McClory collaborated with Fleming and Jack Whittingham on a screenplay entitled “Longitude 78 West.” When plans to turn it into a film fell through, Fleming based his ninth James Bond novel, “Thunderball,” on that story.
McLory alleged that Fleming did not acknowledge his contributions and went to court to claim his due. In the resultant settlement, according to Broccoli, McLory came away with the right to be credited as producer of the film “Thunderball” in 1965 (Broccoli and Saltzman had credits as executive producers) and to remake the story after 15 years. McClory did; “Never Say Never Again” went head-to-head with the Roger Moore-Bond “Octopussy” in 1983 and both films were hits.
Broccoli says he has no hard feelings toward Connery for leaving the role or returning to it for a film made by another producer. But Connery’s name is conspicuous by its absence from Monday’s tribute to the producer. The three other Bonds--Moore, Lazenby and Dalton--are honorary co-chairmen for the dinner, along with Bond directors Lewis Gilbert, John Glen, Guy Hamilton and Peter Hunt.
As for the violence in the Bond films, Broccoli sees it as so much dragon-slaying. The title of the current film comes from “The James Bond Dossier,” stolen from the files of an unnamed foreign power, which identifies Bond as a British agent who, in Ian Fleming’s words, “holds a Secret Service number with the 00 prefix--giving him the licence to kill.”
All the old ideas are retained, Broccoli says: the erotic, glowing main title; the spectacular plane, helicopter, truck and submersible chases; the beautiful underwater sequences; the fantastic sets and “bash-your-eyeballs” locations; the endless seduction of glamorous women, the dry vodka martinis (shaken not stirred) and Bollinger champagne, the up-to-the-minute title song rendered by a popular artist (this time, Gladys Knight), and the distinctive Bond humor.
“We wanted the villain this time to become a drug lord,” said Broccoli. “We wanted to point out the things that are happening right now--and the characters who are in power who shouldn’t be in power. We wanted to point out to the world: There is a pestilence!”
So the villain, Sanchez, is a Latin American drug king whose wealth buys him power: If he does not like what a newspaper writes, he can buy out the newspaper; if he does not like the policies of a particular government, he can buy a president.
Like the Broccoli business on Long Island, the Broccoli Bond business has become a family business. Broccoli’s partnership with Saltzman ended in 1975, after “The Man With the Golden Gun,” when Saltzman sold his interest in James Bond to United Artists, and Broccoli became the sole producer.
All three children of Cubby and Dana Broccoli now work on the Bond films. And Michael G. Wilson, Dana Broccoli’s son by a previous marriage, a graduate electrical engineer and lawyer who became Cubby’s executive producer with “Moonraker” in 1977, now co-writes the scripts and co-produces the films with his stepfather.
Tina Broccoli Banta doesn’t get screen credit on “Licence to Kill,” but, says her father, “Tina works in the art department with Peter LaMont. She was doing set dressings.”
Broccoli’s scuba diving son, Tony, was co-location manager with Nicole Colin for the underwater scenes, which were directed and photographed by Ramon Bravo at the Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) near the resort of Cancun on the Carribean coast of Mexico just before the area was devastated by a hurricane.
But the chip off the old stock is associate producer Barbara Broccoli. “She is a producer,” said her father. “She’s had more to do with producing this film than I have.”
Barbara Broccoli, a year old when her father signed the first Bond deal for “Dr. No,” is now 28. She majored in motion picture and television communications at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, as an executive assistant on “Octopussy,” a third assistant director (directing traffic with a walkie-talkie) on “A View to a Kill,” worked in the publicity and casting department of her father’s Eon Productions, and became associate producer of “The Living Daylights” and “Licence to Kill.”
It is estimated that nearly two billion tickets--about one for every two people on earth--have been sold to Broccoli’s 15 James Bond movies, and none has been shown behind the Iron Curtain or in China.
Once Broccoli dreamed of producing a variety of films between Bonds. He did make Ian Fleming’s children’s story, “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang,” in 1967, and it won the family film award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council. But he says he feels “a responsibility to all the people who are waiting for each new Bond to come out,” and the appetite for this particular form of dragon-slayer story seems inexhaustible.
Though he is about to get his own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, Broccoli knows that fame is fleeting: “I’m burned up about Irving Thalberg,” he says. “When Lorimar took over the MGM lot, they took down the emblem on the Thalberg building. Thalberg was the symbol of consistently high production standards--and these bastards took down his plaque.”
Broccoli also knows that glory is a sometime thing. His hero, Howard Hughes, ended up a wildy eccentric recluse. “I feel so sad about Howard because he was a tremendous American. That crash that he had ruined him. They had to sedate him because he was so broken up inside. And when they sedated him, he became addicted.”
Cubby Broccoli is again reading the newspapers with a Bond’s-eye; talking to his screenwriters, stepson and co-producer Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, writer or co-writer of 13 Bonds; and picking the brains of others inside and out of the “Bond family,” in search of good ideas that could crystallize into the 17th James Bond film.
As for the willingness to work hard, an associate says that the high altitude and poor air quality in Mexico City made the “Licence to Kill” shoot very difficult for the then-79-year-old producer. Will he be less involved at ages 80 and 81?
“I won’t be less involved,” Broccoli said, his pendulous lower lip jutting defiantly. “I may be taking it a little easier, but I can’t stay away--and the kids don’t want me to stay away--and United Artist doesn’t want me to stay away.
“So I’ll be there.”