MI6 looks at Sir Ken Adam's book in detail with a double feature examining his work and memories from Diamonds Are Forever...

Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design - Diamonds Are Forever (1)
7th May 2006

Following on from the chapter on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sir Ken Adam reflects on his work on Connery's last official James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever". MI6 brings you an extract from the acclaimed production designer's book by Sir Christopher Fraying, "Ken Adam The Art of Production Design".

Diamonds Are Forever

Then in 1971 you worked on the next Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. The big controversy surrounding this film was that everybody thought it was going to be made in America, and without Sean Connery. They even cast an actor called John Gavin, who later became - I think - the American Ambassador to Mexico for Ronald Reagan.

John was very good-looking. Yes, he'd appeared in Psycho and Spartacus.

But eventually a deal was struck with Sean Connery and the movie shifted back to England. That must have been quite nerve-racking.

Yes, it was nerve-racking. It was also interesting in a way because it was my first experience of working in Hollywood, and because Harry Saltzman owned Technicolor at the time, which was part of Universal, we were VIP visitors at Universal Studios. It was still run like the old classic film studios: the art department had a pool of over a hundred assistants, like sketch artists, and the production designer wasn't allowed to do his own sketches; the illustrators did all that for him.

They had the most professional staff who were under contract to Universal and had worked there for years and years, happy to be either an illustrator or draughtsman. The chief art director - the equivalent of Cedric Gibbons - was Alex Golitzen. I found myself in a tiny office without a window so I said to Alex, `I'm sorry, but I can't work like this. I need a window.' He said they had twenty art directors working like this. But we had muscle, so Alex gave me the only office with a window. The block was called the Black Tower. In fact, it's still called that. I also got the best team from the art department to work for me. Boris Leven, who I was very friendly with, advised me who to use for the Bond movie. So it worked pretty well. Around this time Cubby, who was a friend of Howard Hughes, had the idea of doing a spoof in a way of the Howard Hughes persona.


Above: Book cover art

Book Data Stream
Paperback 320 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 0571220576

UK Order
USA Order

Then the disasters struck. The first was whilst Herbert Ross and Nora Kaye - great friends of ours and I'd done some pictures with them - were doing a film in Chicago, they lent Letizia and I their house in Beverly Hills and one morning at six o'clock we woke up and everything was rattling. Letizia said, `Terremoto,' which means `Earthquake'. I'd never been in an earthquake before. Then suddenly everything started going wrong: books fell out of the shelves, the television fell over, the swimming pool overflowed like a saucer. And when we got outside, the palm trees were swaying dangerously. I got a phone call from my sister in London who'd heard on the BBC that an earthquake in Los Angeles had been measured at 7.3 on the Richter scale. I was organising breakfast and trying to get the maid to clear up the mess when the doorbell rang, and there was Harry and Jackie Saltzman. They had been staying in the penthouse suite at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel and she had grabbed her mink coat and jewels but not much else. Then Guy Hamilton arrived with his wife Kerima. They were staying in an apartment on La Cienaga on the twenty-sixth floor and the block was designed to sway eight or nine feet at that height; can you imagine?! I don't think Kerima ever fully recovered from the shock. And lastly there was an Italian screenwriter who arrived clutching a photograph of his mother! So we became like a refugee camp. That was the fun of it. And in my stupidity I thought, `Well, an earthquake is an earthquake. It's over. There are no aftershocks.' So I drove to the studios - everybody said I was crazy - but there was nobody there. I got into my office and all my sketches had been blown all over the place. It was a very modern block; we used magnetic tape to attach our sketches to the steel walls, rather than drawing pins. But now the magnets didn't work. I couldn't get hold of anybody on the telephone. And some of the freeway had collapsed. So I decided to drive back. It was quite a traumatic experience, but I can see the funny side of it now. We carried on planning the film at Universal Studios and also in Las Vegas.

Above: Back cover

For the moon buggy?
Yes, the moon buggy. And a very important car chase for which Harry had discovered these French stunt drivers who were able to flip a car on its side and drive like that. I learnt a lot because Ford provided all the cars and they had to be properly ballasted to do this stuff. Basically we all had a very good time, but I remember Dave Chasman, who was pretty high up in the UA hierarchy, came to Universal one morning and said, `You're crazy to do this film with John Gavin.' Dave knew we were paying Gavin nothing in comparison to the two million dollars that Sean Connery wanted, if I remember rightly, but he said we could recoup that money with EADY Money, which was a tax shelter in England.

In effect, a grant.
So, to cut a long story short, Sean got the film. We were going to shoot the scenes that we had already set up like the Las Vegas sequence, the oilrig in Santa Barbara, the car chase ...

The moon buggy in a gypsum mine close to Las Vegas ...
Yes. Shoot all that there and then film the interiors and other sets in Pinewood. This was decided late in the day. For me it was a gigantic logistical problem because I had nobody from the British Bond team with me. So I rang Peter Lamont, who was fortunately available to fly out and liaise with the American art department, and then set up an art department in Pinewood for when I got back.

The moon buggy picked up on the real one we'd recently seen on television from the moon shot - as ever, reflecting things that were in the news and extending them.
That was not my idea. Guy Hamilton decided that it should look grotesque so I extended the mechanical arms. I copied the fibreglass conical wheels of the real moon buggy but they kept breaking at high speed on the rough terrain of the moonscape we based on NASA photographs, so eventually Sony gave me balloon tyres and we completed the sequence with them. It was nearly a disaster. But Las Vegas was a fascinating place.

There's a great shot in the film - that looks like a futuristic set but I think it's a real location - of Bond standing in an exterior glass elevator going up the side of a building. It seems almost science fiction.
It's partly on location. There was a hotel that no longer exists, The Sands maybe, and it was a bit like a tower with one of these exterior glass elevators. I wanted to show it to a, so I went to the hotel with my 16mm camera and stepped into the elevator, but a security man told me I couldn't shoot there.

I told Cubby and he made a call to Howard Hughes who was living in a penthouse. Hughes apparently said, `Don't worry about it. Get your production designer back there and he'll get the VIP treatment.' So I went back there and everybody was bowing and scraping to me. At the time, half of Las Vegas belonged to Hughes and the other half to various syndicates. Cubby even got me permission to enter Hughes's ranch in Nevada, where the security guards looked at me and said, `Are you Mr Hughes?' They had no idea what he looked like!



By this time I think Hughes had a long beard, long unwashed hair and very long fingernails.
It was amazing. Cubby was the only person who could get through to him. I was present when he spoke to Hughes on the phone, but I never met him. So Las Vegas was fascinating. The whole art department was staying with me at a hotel that belonged to one of those syndicates and it didn't cost us a cent. But the big problem was that nobody went to bed. At four in the morning I found my chief draughtsman - my assistant - in the casino. And there were so many beautiful women. There were ten women to each man.

Stay tuned to MI6 for the final extract from Sir Christopher Frayling's book Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design.

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Many thanks to Faber & Faber, Sir Christopher Frayling and Sir Ken Adam.