Bond Bibles - Richard Schenkman
4th January 2021
Meet Richard Schenkman, the publisher of Bondage magazine (1974-1990) and The Illustrated James Bond
Ever since Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale many authors and journalists have explored and celebrated the James Bond phenomenon. While some books have been official, large format publications, others have delved deeper into specific areas of the subject. In this new series Matthew Field will meet both high-profile writers as well as some of the world’s most knowledgeable “007” experts, who have contributed to the James Bond bibliography.
– 6 March 1958
- Bondage Magazine: The publication of The James Bond 007 Fan Club (17 issues 1974-1990)
- The Illustrated James Bond (1981)
In 1974, American teenager, Richard Schenkman, formed the world’s first James Bond fan club. The New Yorker edited and produced 17 issues of Bondage, the club publication, which featured some of the most compelling and important James Bond journalism ever published. Many of Schenkman’s interviews are still referenced today.
Schenkman is now a successful writer, director and producer in Hollywood. He began his career at MTV: Music Television, creating promos, news segments, marketing videos and documentary programs. He later established his own successful production company, producing and directing music and fashion videos, commercials and promos for many brands including Swatch Watch and Pepsi Cola. Schenkman has directed thirteen feature films, some of which he has also written. In 1995, he made his debut with the American comedy, ‘The Pompatus of Love’ and his 2007 sci-fi film, ‘Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth’ has since become a cult favourite.
Sitting on the rooftop of his apartment building in Los Angeles, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, Richard Schenkman recalled his memories of producing and editing the original 007 fanzine.
Matthew Field's Bond Bibles
Matthew Field's Bond Bibles
Richard, in 1974, you founded The James Bond 007 Fan Club and published the first issue of Bondage. You were 15 years old. How did this adventure begin for you?
Roger Moore had debuted as Bond in 'Live And Let Die' and I was a big Bond fan. I was desperate to know more about Bond. At that time, there were no books, no Internet, nothing. I thought, maybe the Sean Connery Fan Club may have information? I discovered there was no Sean Connery Fan Club. Instead I enquired with the Roger Moore Fan Club but they just published poems about how beautiful Roger was! [Laughs] This was not what I was looking for. Fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes had their own fan clubs, so I thought, what about a fan club for the fictional character, James Bond?
How did you discover James Bond? As an American school kid, why were you so fascinated by this very British character?
As a Beatles fan and a kid who knew what was going on in the world, I knew who James Bond was. I wanted to go see James Bond movies but my mother said, “No, they are too sexy and violent.” So Bond was this forbidden fruit for me. I used to go to summer camp, that’s what a nice Jewish boy from New York did. But I hated it. I wasn’t into sports. I liked books, movies and TV. The small village near the camp had one theatre and on rainy days, when there was nothing else to do, the kids would be taken to see a movie. And one day in 1967, they took us to see 'You Only Live Twice'. I thought, “Shit, this is like the greatest thing ever!” I went home and my parents continued to not let me see Bond movies. I talked with my school friend, Bob Forlini, (who later founded the fan club with me), all about the movie and, as he was already a big Bond fan, he informed me about the Ian Fleming books. Bob then helped me assemble a complete set of paperbacks. The next summer I went to camp and I read all of them in 8 weeks! Also, in those days United Artists regularly put double-feature re-releases in theatres, so in very short order, I had read all the books and seen all the films and thus became a die-hard James Bond fan. My frustration came later when I had seen all the movies and wanted more. “Where is the behind the scenes book?” That is where Bondage and the fan club grew from. The Bond bookshelf is full now, but back then it was bare. I had very lofty ambitions and thought we could publish a monthly newsletter and a magazine four times a year. In the end, over the course of 17 years, I published 17 issues! Ridiculous ambitions.
I imagine in those days the resources to produce your own magazine were limited?
The first two issues were put together with tape and glue and then mimeographed. They were scrapbooks almost. And Bob left after that because High School was over. With issue 3, the guys who worked on my college paper helped me with the layout. In New York there was a bookstore called Cinemabilia, where you'd find wall-to-wall shelves bulging with books, magazines, posters and stills. They stocked other fanzines and said they would take 25 copies of Bondage. It was because Cinemabilia agreed to take it, that we were able to publish it. We knew we would get $25 from them, which would pay for the printing. As it grew and as it got more attention, I just kept reinvesting the profits into the magazine.
I love the title of the magazine…
We came up with it instantly. Bondage – it tickled us. I wish I had a better story. The word had been linked to Bond many times before. Like when 'Diamonds Are Forever' came out, the press would write, “Sean Connery back in Bondage.” It was not incredibly original. ‘Bondage’ was the vanity plate on my car and in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village and I would sometimes come back and there would be a note saying things like, “I’m into it, give me a call!” It was a lot of fun and people got a kick out if it. Anything to help us get attention.
In those early issues, before you were securing your own interviews, where did you find the information and content to fill the newsletters and magazines?
It was a big treasure hunt, scouring for newspaper and magazine articles. Fans would send us things too.
When did you first reach out to Eon Productions and United Artists?
Right from the start. They ignored me the first couple of times. I remember, in the beginning, we were worried we might get sued for calling ourselves ‘The James Bond Fan Club,’ so I called up United Artists and spoke with a secretary in the PR department and she just kind of laughed and said, “Sure! Knock yourselves out!” Then, once Eon and UA saw the magazine they started sending me press kits. Eventually they invited me to the press junkets. By the time Timothy Dalton was Bond they let me come to set. It was a relationship, which built very, very slowly. It was really Eon's marketing and publicity executives, Saul Cooper and to a lesser degree, Jerry Juroe, who helped me.
Is it true that it was an advert in Playboy that saw your biggest boost in subscriptions?
Absolutely true. I had started getting distribution through a company called Diamond, which got the magazine into comic and speciality stores across the US. Somehow Playboy got hold of a copy. They decided to feature us in the magazine and published the club address along with a photo of Sean Connery from ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ posing with two topless girls. I assume a lot of people thought we featured that kind of content in Bondage. Sadly we didn’t. I would have if I’d had the material! [Laughs]. Literally thousands of people joined. Probably 3,000. That lump of cash allowed me to significantly upgrade the quality of the magazine, moving to coated paper and a colour cover. We had some very interesting contributors and readers. One of them was Michael France who ended up writing 'GoldenEye' 20 years later. Another guy, Robert Short, later went on to have a great career in special effects and won an Oscar for ‘Beetlejuice’. And of course, Raymond Benson wrote regularly for us and for a time, was the club’s Vice-President.
What was your editorial approach Richard?
I tried to be as positive about James Bond as possible. However, I felt I needed to call people out when something was bad and not praise it to the roof when it wasn’t good. I always approached my interviews as a fan, a wannabe journalist and as an aspiring filmmaker. I was young and arrogant and I thought it was my right, as a diehard fan, to know the truth. I did challenge some of my interview subjects a little bit. And so when I interviewed Cubby Broccoli, I found it very frustrating because he was not having any of it! I took this fairly aggressive tact with Tom Mankiewicz but he gave as good as he got and gave the greatest answers. To think, a guy in his position would be that open and honest with a kid, a fan? It was so generous of him. Mankiewicz was from Hollywood royalty and at the time, a huge TV writer/producer in his own right on shows like ‘Hart to Hart’. I interviewed him in his office on the lot at 20th Century Fox. I loved that. All these years later when I have to go for a meeting at a studio I feel like a kid in a candy store.
In 1978 you spoke with George Lazenby, which was less than ten years after 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. I guess this was his first in-depth retrospective interview?
You’re right, it was almost contemporaneous. I came out here to Los Angeles to interview George. I went to his house in Bel Air. I remember thinking, “This is a really nice place for a guy who has pretty much made only 3 movies!” But later I found out George had a lot of business savvy and made some good investments and lived this lovely life. He was ridiculously open and honest about his whole James Bond experience. He posed for a picture in our fan club T-shirt, which was incredible! I also interviewed Peter Hunt and published both pieces in the same issue. The incredible thing with Peter was that he gave me this wonderful trove of personal photographs. They were these huge, gorgeous, 11x14 prints!
You met Terence Young rather glamorously at the Cannes Film Festival.
I had spent my last semester of university in London. Afterwards I travelled around Europe. I deliberately tried to avoid Cannes during the festival because I knew it would be a mad house. But I got my dates muddled and arrived on the day the festival began. I somehow found out that Terence Young was in town. I don’t think he even had a film playing, he was just there being Terence Young with his limitless expense account! I got a message to him along with a copy of the magazine and he agreed to an interview. We sat there on the patio of his hotel, soaking up Cannes, the girls, the filmmakers, with a glass of white wine and I just asked him everything I could think of. It was all off the top of my head because I didn’t have the facilities to prepare for it. He gave me some great material.
Until recently, your Terence Young interview was one of the only places where ‘Dr. No’ and ‘From Russia With Love’ screenwriter, Johanna Harwood was referenced. In your piece, Young simply dismissed her as nothing more than a continuity girl with a couple of good ideas. Johanna was livid when she read that!
Wow. I am really sorry I didn’t follow up on that. I used to publish all the interviews as Q&As, simply so I did not have the responsibility of having to fact check them. I regret that.
The charm of Bondage was in the layout too. I liked the way you used three or four portrait shots of your subject taken during the interview to give the reader a sense of time and place.
I basically copied that from Playboy who would do exactly that. Check out the Sean Connery interview from 1965.
You often featured transcripts of events and lectures. I particularly remember the material you published from the James Bond retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1979.
I thought it was important to document this stuff. A fan is not going to want some edited version, they are going to want to hear everything that was said. That event was a big deal. It was at MOMA for God’s sake, one of the cultural temples on the planet. I was invited to the opening night reception and I was treated very nicely. That was where I met Barbara Broccoli for the first time, and I really liked her.
Did you ever get feedback from Eon Productions as you sent them each new issue?
Not really. However, I did upset Cubby with my coverage of ‘Never Say Never Again.’ But it was very, very exciting for Bond fans that Sean Connery was coming back. But Cubby took it as a personal betrayal and cut me off for over a year. I called Jerry Juroe at Eon and he said, “Look Cubby is really upset, you need to let him cool for a while.” And it was Jerry and Saul Cooper who slowly got me back in his good books. We were just coming from this place of pure love and I am not sure Cubby could see that.
Talking of ‘Never Say Never Again’ you interviewed Kevin McClory in 1979. He was quite an eccentric individual. What do you remember of your meeting with him?
Kevin loved telling his story. As a young man, he had been an actor, so he had that kind of swagger, confidence and ego. I pushed him hard and he responded. Unfortunately I went into that interview slightly under researched on McClory, the artist. I should have seen all his movies but it was nearly impossible to access obscure films in those days. As much as Cubby got mad at me, I probably approached McClory as though I was on Cubby’s side. And I was a little mad at Kevin because Ian Fleming was my hero and I thought, “Hey, your lawsuit helped put Fleming in his grave.” In retrospect, I approached the interview with a weird attitude.
You were invited to the set of ‘Never Say Never Again’. Many have said the production of that film was chaos. What did you observe when you were there?
I watched Sean Connery lose his temper with the director! I was on location in the Bahamas and they were filming the last part of the stunt where Bond and Domino have jumped from the castle on a horse into the sea. Connery and Basinger were in the water and for whatever reason, Irvin Kershner was dithering while he was deciding what to do next. Connery said, “Do I get out, do I not get out?” Kershner said, “Hang on!” And Connery said, “I’m not going to fucking hang on! Tell me what is happening.” So he got out of the water. He stripped off his wet pants and put on his robe right in front of the whole crew which was pretty funny because he didn’t bother with any underwear. I was briefly introduced to Connery while I was there but it’s a big regret that I didn’t get to interview him. Kurt Loder, who did a huge cover story interview with Connery for Rolling Stone, gave him a whole stack of Bondage magazines on my behalf. He got one signed for me and brought it back. Kurt said Sean liked them and thought they were fun.
I think your finest work was the coverage of the Timothy Dalton films. You were an uber fan, with a professional agenda, who captured for the die-hards, what it was like to be on a James Bond film set and asked the cast and crew the questions Bond connoisseurs wanted to know the answers to.
Honestly it was Barbara Broccoli rising through the ranks that really helped me. We had met at several events and we connected as people. I had also grown up and I wasn’t just some stupid kid anymore. In 1986 I went to England and spent three days on the set of ‘The Living Daylights’. The first thing I saw was John Glen shooting the finale, the interior scenes of Whitaker’s villa in Tangiers. I then went out to Elveden Hall in Norfolk, which was doubling as the trade conference hall in which Bond takes aim at Pushkin. On that trip I became friends with Andreas Wisniewski who played Necros. I think he was so happy somebody wanted to interview him. We are still friends today. He stays at my apartment when he is in LA.
What were your thoughts on the casting of Timothy Dalton?
I was so happy when Dalton was cast because he said he was doing Fleming’s Bond. “Finally! Thank-you Sir!” I loved his look, I loved that he was a Shakespearean actor who had done really serious work. I loved the fact that the first thing he did was read Fleming. But then it really hurt when Tim was quite dismissive of me! I had my allies at Eon trying to get him to sit down with me and do a proper interview, but he clearly resented it. He refused to give me anything beyond a very brief time, and short, gruff answers. I even felt like he was giving me dirty looks every time he saw me milling around on set. But then we had our moment in Mexico on ‘Licence To Kill’ because I was around all day long, talking to and interviewing everybody. And Tim saw me everywhere. He saw me talking to Barbara and Michael. Barbara and her sister Tina were sharing a house and they had a party one Friday night. I was there drinking a Tequila and I sidled up to Tim. After a couple of drinks and a bit of talking he looked at me sideways and said, “Oh, I understand you now. You’re not just here as a fan. You want to be a filmmaker. You want to learn how this film is made.” And from that moment on he treated me with respect and if I had a question, he gave me a real answer. I bumped into him a few years ago. He was walking up Holloway Drive in West Hollywood and I pulled over and said, “Tim! It’s Richard Schenkman, I don’t know if you remember me?” “Of course, Richard, how are you?” At the time I was trying to get a script to him and he told me to send it to his agent but I never heard anything. I do really wish that he had done a third Bond film, though.
In 1981 the Club published a book The Illustrated James Bond a collection of the original Daily Express Fleming comic strips.
Which is arguably the first graphic novel in history! When I spent that college semester in London in 1980 I spent time going through the archives of the British newspapers to see what I could find for my magazine. I found some incredible articles written by Fleming for the Sunday Times, such as ‘Treasure Hunt in Eden’ and I negotiated a deal to publish them. It was some ridiculously small sum like £25 each! I then discovered the original Bond comic strips, which had begun in The Daily Express in 1958. They had years and years of them, and frankly I fantasized about publishing a series of books, because they had never been collected in the US. So I jumped on that. But while I was determined to start with comic-strip adaptations of actual Fleming novels, I wasn’t allowed to print titles, which had not yet been made into films. I also quite liked the rather remarkable similarity of artist John McLusky’s Bond to Sean Connery, even though the actor wouldn’t be cast in the role for years afterward. So I settled on “Diamonds Are Forever,” “From Russia With Love,” and “Doctor No.” My old friend Tom Sciacca was an aspiring comic book artist as well as a Bond fan, and he created the full-colour cover artwork.
You are now a successful film and TV director. Did the Fan Club and Bondage start to get in the way of that?
Look, it was just my mum and me running the whole thing. It never made any money and while it was educational, fun, and gratifying, it was also this tremendous time suck. I didn’t want to wind it down. I actually wanted to figure out how to keep it going. If I could have held on until the Internet arrived, I could have sold back issues and other materials online and really made a go of it! But we finally wound it down in 1990, once it became clear that I simply didn’t have the time for it any longer. What I wanted to do as a sign off was publish a paperback book featuring the best of Bondage, along with the random interviews and other pieces I had not published. Sadly that never materialised. People often ask me if they can quote from my interviews and I always say yes because I want the material to live on. I don’t feel precious about it in that way – the information was always to be shared. Fact is, it came from a place, a person, with a lot of passion and love. I am proud of what I achieved. Not to toot my own horn but some of these interviews are pretty good!
It’s interesting sitting here with you this afternoon as you leaf back through these magazines. You have a smile on your face Richard. I guess it’s kind of like looking at old family photograph albums?
Absolutely it is. So much time and work and love went into making all of these magazines. I haven’t looked at them in a long time! I had this lofty goal when I first started, that in the end, when I had published 100 issues of Bondage, when you stuck them all on a shelf together, it would almost be like an encyclopedia of James Bond. It would represent this enormous vault of knowledge about how these movies were made and the impact Ian Fleming’s creation had on the world. I certainly didn’t achieve that goal.
Well you did. We referenced your interviews in Some Kind of Hero 40 years later as have many other Bond scholars over the years.
Well…maybe they are like the first issue of the encyclopaedia and just not the full volume!
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