Albert R. Broccoli
As the original producer of the James Bond franchise, Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli commenced an iconic franchise that became one of the longest-running and most successful in cinema history. Starting with "Dr. No" (1962), Broccoli introduced the world to the suave secret agent, James Bond, who had a license to kill, a love of vodka martinis and a weakness for bedding dangerous women. Though the first film was grounded in some degree of spy realism, Broccoli rapidly increased the size of his productions to include lavish locales, over-the-top stunts and impossible gadgets that only added to the success of the series. He worked in partnership with Harry Saltzman through EON Productions to make "From Russia with Love" (1963), "Goldfinger" (1964) and "Thunderball" (1965), all of which starred Sean Connery as the original and what most called the best actor to play Bond. Though he produced other films in the 1960s, Broccoli concentrated solely on Bond by the time Roger Moore took over the role. After Saltzman sold his share, Broccoli flew solo on "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977) and up to "For Your Eyes Only" (1981), increasing both the campy tone and box office take. Broccoli brought daughter Barbara and stepson Michael G. Wilson into the fold with "A View to A Kill" (1985), saw the series slip with the Dalton films and returned to prominence with his last, "GoldenEye" (1995), all of which cemented his legacy as the producer of cinema's most popular film series.
Born on April 5, 1909 in Astoria, Queens, NY, Broccoli was descended from a family of horticulturists and himself worked as an agronomist on his family's farm. After living for a time in Florida, he returned to New York following the death of his father, Giovanni, to live with his grandparents and later attended City College of New York. Broccoli entered the film industry in the late 1930s as an assistant director for 20th Century Fox, but was nearly dragged into a scandal in 1937 for his alleged participation in the beating death of "Three Stooges" creator, Ted Nealy, as claimed decades later in E.J. Fleming's book, The Fixers (2004). Though it has been thought that Healy was beaten by three anonymous college students, the book claimed his death was caused by Broccoli, star Wallace Beery and gangster Pat DiCicco, and was covered up by Louis B. Mayer's publicity machine at MGM. No proof or confirmation outside the book was produced, though inconsistencies about Nealy's death persisted.
Meanwhile, Broccoli joined the U.S. Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor and upon return, bounced around Hollywood working a number of different jobs, including agent and assistant director on Howard Hawks' notorious "The Outlaw" (1943). He did not find his true calling until 1951, when he moved to London. Soon thereafter, he formed Warwick Productions with director-turned-producer Irving Allen. The two proved a fairly prolific team over the next seven years, specializing in crime dramas and action adventures, especially those set in exotic places. Broccoli earned his first credit on "The Red Beret/Paratrooper" (1953), the first of three films featuring visiting U.S. star Alan Ladd, whose status had slipped in his native country. Broccoli and Allen ventured into a U.S. co-production with the war drama, "Cockleshell Heroes" (1955), directed by and starring Jose Ferrer. The two teamed regularly with director John Gilling for five films, beginning with the jungle misfire "Odongo" (1956) while also helping another U.S. star, Victor Mature, keep his career going with "Safari" (1956) and "No Time to Die" (1958).
Though Broccoli's early efforts with Allen were fairly routine, the films were generally competent, watchable and produced with professional production values. The black comedy "How to Murder a Rich Uncle" (1957) was an offbeat project for the producer, while "Fire Down Below" (1957), featuring Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth and newcomer Jack Lemmon, possessed a higher profile cast than he was used to. Broccoli and Allen's last effort together was also one of their more intriguing items, "The Trials of Oscar Wilde" (1960), a fairly tame but nonetheless intelligent and - for its day - provocative drama about the writer's infamous criminal trials for homosexuality. Meanwhile, Broccoli formed another company, Eon Productions, with producer Harry Saltzman, a writer who had acquired the rights to a bunch of spy novels written by Ian Fleming starring secret agent James Bond. After partnering with United Artists, Broccoli and Saltzman set about finding the right man to play 007, even holding a contest that produced six finalists, until finally settling on Sean Connery.
With a lower than expected budget, Broccoli and Saltzman set about making the first film, "Dr. No" (1962), unknowingly kicking off an historic franchise that was the longest-running in history and saw several prominent actors tackling the role of James Bond. Though "Dr. No" (1962) actually was not a runaway box office smash, but it undeniably set the pattern for much of what was to come: handsome, skilled cinematography and art direction done on an increasingly larger scale; plenty of well-crafted action set pieces that featured elaborate chases and opening stunt sequences; a tongue-in-cheek attitude that mixed over-the-top espionage plots, glamorous sexcapades with often duplicitous Bond girls, and evil villains bent on ruling the world who are aided by nearly invincible henchmen. As he continued the series, Broccoli went outside the newly minted franchise to produce a typical Bob Hope comedy, "Call Me Bwana" (1963), and later in the decade he enjoyed success with the whimsical musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968). But as their popularity grew, the Bond films eventually became to represent Broccoli's entire output.
The James Bond films quickly found their audience market and critical acclaim with their second effort, "From Russia with Love" (1963) and "Goldfinger" (1964), widely considered to be the best of the bunch. Broccoli and Saltzman went on to form a second production company, Danjaq S.A. - so named after their wives, Dana Broccoli and Jacqueline Saltzman - to handle the Bond films. Following years of legal entanglement, the producing pair finally made "Thunderball" (1965), which they actually wanted to be their first Bond movie, and continued their critical and commercial success with "You Only Live Twice" (1967). After Connery decided to retire from playing Bond, Broccoli and Saltzman chose unknown George Lazenby to play 007 in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969), which faced mixed reviews for both the film and their handpicked actor's performance. Though critics and audiences warmed to the film in later years, Lazenby's turn as Bond remained lamented. Wooed by a large paycheck from United Artists, Connery returned to the role for "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971), which became a substantial hit, but was criticized for its overall campy humor.
After introducing new Bond Roger Moore with the blaxploitation era "Live and Let Die" (1973), Saltzman sold his share of EON following the rather dull installment, "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974). Broccoli continued as a solo producer on "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), often seen as the best of the Roger Moore era, and "Moonraker" (1979), which was criticized for its overly campy tone, but grew in stature in later years. Both films introduced arch-villain, Jaws (Richard Kiel), an audience favorite and one of the most popular henchmen. Meanwhile, Broccoli brought Bond to more grounded territory with "For Your Eyes Only" (1981), though lost critics and audiences with "Octopussy" (1983). An aging Moore made his last film for Broccoli with "A View to a Kill" (1985), which marked the debut of daughter Barbara Broccoli as a behind-the-scenes presence as an assistant director and associate producer. The film also began the tenure of writer and producer, stepson Michael G. Wilson, who went on to write and produce the Bond films with Barbara Broccoli well into the next century.
Since Moore was seen as being too old the play the role, Broccoli sought out his fourth actor to portray Bond. After a protracted effort to land Pierce Brosnan, who was ultimately unable to leave his TV series, "Remington Steele" (NBC, 1982-87), Broccoli was convinced to cast Timothy Dalton to star in "The Living Daylights" (1987), a more realistic and espionage-driven effort that brought Bond back to its original vision as outlined by Fleming. Dalton's darker and more violent interpretation of Bond in "License to Kill" (1989) was met with some criticism and became the lowest-earning film in the series. It also marked the final producer credit Broccoli would receive, as the series entered into a protracted legal dispute with MGM over the Bond back catalog that lasted six years. During the hiatus, Dalton left the job and forced the producers to find yet another Bond. Luckily, Brosnan was available this time and was cast in "GoldenEye" (1995), on which Broccoli served as a consulting producer. The film brought the Bond franchise back to commercial prominence, though in the end "GoldenEye" was the final Bond movie Broccoli ever saw made. He died on June 27, 1996 of a heart attack in his Beverly Hills, CA home. He was 87 years old and left Hollywood's most successful and recognizable franchise in the capable hands of Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.
By Shawn Dwyer