Sean Connery's debut as James Bond
What does it say about Hollywood’s wisdom that while most movies today arrive overloaded with hype, Dr. No, the first of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels set to film, came with so little fanfare it nearly drifted away? It says nothing has changed. Even though the low-budget thriller — in which Bond…James Bond…prevents a mad scientist from wreaking atomic havoc in Jamaica — had done boffo box office in Britain, United Artists didn’t think it worthy of full-blown Los Angeles-New York premieres. ”They had no confidence in the picture,” recalls coproducer Albert ”Cubby” Broccoli. ”It was too British for them. They sold it down the river.”
The Red River, as it turned out. Dr. No, the granddaddy of all Bond films, opened in only a handful of Texas and Oklahoma drive-ins in early 1963. But when Southwesterners flocked to see the British yarn and its urbane hero — an unknown looker named Sean Connery — Dr. No was granted its official bicoastal premieres, 28 years ago this week.
Even so, the New York opening wasn’t exactly a night to remember. ”I was working somewhere, but I think my wife went,” recalls Joseph Wiseman, who starred as the ironhanded villain of the title. Yet by late June that year Bondmania had struck. Critics lauded the film’s laced-with-satire action. Bond fan clubs sprang up throughout the country. And Ursula Andress, who played Honey, the scantily clad beachcomber who becomes Bond’s help — and bedmate — made 1963 a banner year for the white-bikini industry.
Dr. No detonated a phenomenal film series that eventually produced 18 titles and grosses of well over $2 billion worldwide. It made Aston Martins and dry martinis bywords for status, and it created an ideal of masculinity that millions of men have failed to live up to, not for lack of trying. And the progenitor of the Bond brood put its stamp on the memory of everyone who saw it. ”I sometimes have to be reminded I was in Dr. No,” says Wiseman, now a leader in New York’s Yiddish theater, but he gets reminded. ”The other night I walked out of a restaurant and a panhandler shouted, ‘Dr. No!”’
June 3, 1963
Paul Newman’s Hud and Irma la Douce, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, also opened at the movies this week. TV viewers were cruising with the new hit show McHale’s Navy. Daphne du Maurier’s The Glass Blowers topped the fiction list, and 17-year-old Lesley Gore’s ”It’s My Party” was the No. 1 pop song.