MI6 looks back at the Bond legacy of writer, producer and director Kevin McClory, who has died aged 80...

Kevin McClory (1926-2006)
29th November 2006

Kevin O'Donovan McClory was born on 8th June 1926 in Dublin, Ireland. His motion picture career spanned screenwriting, producing and directing, and was best known for his "rogue" Bond production "Never Say Never Again" (1983), in which he lured back Sean Connery to the 007 role one last time. He died on 20th November 2006 at the age of 80.

McClory began his career in motion pictures as a film technician at Shepperton Studios in England, starting as an assistant to director John Huston and boom operator on "The African Queen" (1951) and "Moulin Rouge" (1952). He then landed a job as Location Manager on the 1955 WWII film "The Cockleshell Heroes".

Two major projects then followed. John Huston promoted McClory to Assistant Director on his 1956 epic "Moby Dick", and McClory then became Associate Producer on "Around The World In Eighty Days" (1956) starring David Niven - who would later play Bond in the 1967 spoof version of "Casino Royale".

Above: Kevin McClory dining with actress Shirley MacLaine (circa 1950s)

His first personal project, in which he was writer, director and producer, followed with 1959's "The Boy And The Bridge" - a tale about a boy who struggles to cope with the loss of his parents during the war, heads to London, and gets wrongly accused of murder. The film has never been broadcast on television.

In 1958, McClory, Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham collaborated on a number of drafts for a possible film or television series featuring Fleming's secret agent, James Bond. When the project was scrapped, Fleming took the screenplay and turned it into his ninth novel, "Thunderball", in 1961 - which initially did not give either McClory or Whittingham credit. The two later filed suit. A year before his death in 1963, Ian Fleming agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham to bring to an end the lengthy litigation surrounding the novel "Thunderball". On Tuesday 26 November, the complex copyright wrangles came before Mr Justice Ungoed-Thomas and in the aftermath, McClory walked away with an additional credit on all subsequent reprints of the novel and, more importantly, retained the film rights. The agreement forced future versions of the novel to be credited as "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming" - in that order.

McClory formed Bramwell Film Productions and began rewriting the script that Jack Whittingham had previously prepared as early as 1959 (the first time, in fact, that anyone had attempted to adapt one of Fleming's 007 novels) and started scouting the locations he needed for his film. But it was some time during this period that McClory seemed to have had a change of heart - rather than go head to head with Eon, as was his original intention, McClory now seemed to want to collaborate. In September 1964, McClory approached Saltzman and Broccoli offering to co-produce"Thunderball" as part of the 'official', ongoing series.

Saltzman and Broccoli quickly accepted and an agreement was struck almost immediately. McClory pocketed 20 per cent of the film's profits and Eon changed the caption that closed the end credits on "Goldfinger" (1964) reading "James Bond Will Return In Thunderball." Eon's original plan had been to produce "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" as their next film and some prints of "Goldfinger" retained this promise. On 1 October 1964, Kinematograph Weekly announced that "Thunderball is to be the next James Bond film... scheduled for production in February next year."

McClory was given sole producing credit for the adaptation, and even made a cameo appearance as the man smoking at the Nassau Casino.

Above: Kevin McClory's cameo as "smoking man" at the Nassau Casino in 1965's "Thunderball"

It was when production upped sticks and headed for Nassau that Kevin McClory's real contribution to the production was to be felt - a long time devotee of all water sports, McClory was able to advise the production on the best locations and was to help oversee the film's many underwater scenes.

In 1976 McClory announced he was to produce an original James Bond film to be titled either "Warhead", "Warhead 8", or "James Bond of the Secret Service" (with Connery amongst the screenplay contributors), but the project immediately ran into more legal problems and was ultimately abandoned.

Above: Kevin McClory with Bond girl Claudine Auger on location for Thunderball

The project was taken over by American producer Jack Schwartzman who, with the backing of Warner Bros., was able to get "Thunderball" remade as "Never Say Never Again" in 1983, with McClory credited as executive producer. The film starred Sean Connery as agent 007 in a highly-publicized return to the role after a 12 year absence. The rogue film went head-to-head with Eon's "Octopussy" starring Roger Moore as Bond. Eon ultimately won the box-office battle, with Moore's official outing beating McClory's rival production to the tune of over $12 million.

In the following years, McClory has continued to try to make other adaptations of "Thunderball", including most famously a project called "Warhead 2000 A.D.", that was to be made by Sony and was rumoured to have Timothy Dalton attached to the lead role. Once again, the McClory's hold on the "Thunderball" film rights came into question and the project was eventually scrapped in 1999 after Sony settled out of court with MGM/UA ceding any rights to making a James Bond film. The timing of the case proved to be against McClory, as Sony secured a reciprocal agreement that MGM would not lodge any protest over rights to Sony's new "Spider-Man" franchise.

Prior to Sony's settlement with MGM in 1999, they filed a lawsuit against MGM claiming McClory was the co-author of the cinematic 007 and was owed fees from Danjaq and MGM for all past films. This lawsuit was thrown out in 2000 on the ground that McClory had waited too long to bring his claims. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed this decision.

Ironically, in 2004 a Sony lead consortium acquired MGM; however, the production and final say over everything involving the film version of James Bond is controlled by EON Productions, Albert R. Broccoli's production company and its parent company Danjaq, LLC.

The history and controversy surrounding the rights and credits to "Thunderball" has been documented in a new book by Robert Sellers. "The Battle For Bond" will be released in early 2007.

McCLORY, Kevin Nov. 20, 2006, peacefully, surrounded by his family; loving father of Bianca, Siobhan, Branwell, Saoirse and Sean, husband of Elizabeth, grandfather of Brendan, Tessa, Harris, Lucas and Tara, uncle of Finoula, father-in-law of Rick, Cynthia and Larry, step grandfather of Katie and Jonathan. He will be remembered for his love and larger than life presence in the lives of his family and friends. Cremation has taken place privately. A celebration of Kevin's life will take place at later date. "As Ned Kelly always said, 'Such is life'."

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Thunderball Production Notes

Thunderall production photos courtesy of Cinema Retro magazine.