Introduction: Among the army of writers dragooned into writing what became the 1967 version of Casino Royale
was novelist Joseph Heller, best known for his comedic masterpiece Catch-22
. He was contacted by Charlie Feldman, the film's producer, in 1965 and began work that year, using earlier scripts by various writers as a springboard. After a couple months he grew fed up with Feldman's behavior and left the project. Casino Royale
's final script was far from Heller's, and when the film was finally released Heller contributed this article to Holiday
magazine. Parts are obviously exaggerated for comic effect, but it demonstrates how the film became such an unholy mess.
How I Found James Bond, Lost My Self-Respect and Almost Made $150,000 in My Spare Time
By Joseph Heller (Holiday
, June 1967, Vol. 41, No. 6)
My name is Joseph Heller. I’m a writer. I’m a pushover for pretty girls, booze, easy money, fame and frivolity. So when movie producer Charles K. Feldman called me up one afternoon and asked me to rewrite the script of Casino Royale
, I walked right into his trap.
The telephone, when the call came, had an ominous, strident ring. It was Sunday, and no friends ever call on Sunday. I lunged for the phone quickly, knowing it was either very important or a wrong number. The voice I heard was familiar.
“We’re in trouble, Joe, big
trouble," said Sam Shaw. Sam Shaw is a very close friend of mine in the movie business whom I had not seen or heard from in twenty-four years. “I’ll let Charlie tell you about it."
“I need help, real
help,’’ said Charlie Feldman. “I want you to start rewriting the script of Casino Royale
for me, and I want you to start today.”
I thought fast, real
fast. The job was tempting, and it came at a good time, as I was between novels, where I had been for five years, and where I would have liked to remain for at least four or five years more. The work would be easy—there was no danger of failing, since somebody else had already done that—and the money, I assumed, would be good, real
“How much of my time do you want?” I asked.
“Two weeks,” he answered.
“You’ve got it,” I said. “Let me read the script and I’ll see what ideas I can come up with.”
“You can’t read the script,” Feldman said.
I was startled. “Why not?”
“Because I won’t let you,” he replied. “Everybody’s stealing my ideas and putting them into their own spy pictures. I don’t want anybody to know what’s in this script.”
“Not even me?”
“Especially you!” he shot back. “I don’t even know who you are!”
“Then what are you calling me up for on a Sunday and asking me to rewrite it for you?”
“Because you’re the only one in New York on a Sunday who can help me,” Feldman said. “I only want a few scenes rewritten.”
“How can I rewrite them,” I asked him, “if you won’t let me read them?”
The question stumped him, and he was silent a second. “Couldn’t you,” he asked, “read the book instead, and rewrite the script from that?”
“No.” I decided to level with him, cold and straight. “Charlie, I could rewrite the book
from that, or I could write
the movie script. But if you want me to rewrite
the movie script, you’re going to have to let me read it. How can I make changes if I don't know what it is you want me to change?”
He said nothing for a while. I could almost see him at the other end, sniffing for a trick.
“Everybody’s stealing my ideas,” he said, to fill the pause.
I decided to wait him out. I kept silent while the seconds ticked away, precious seconds in
which I could have been rewriting scenes he was unwilling to let me read. Finally he came up with another idea.
“I think I know how we can handle this,” he said. “1 have a carbon copy of the script in a safe in my office in California. You fly to California on the next plane, read the carbon—read it in the safe—and fly right back. But I want you to promise that you won’t speak to a single person between the time you read the script and the time we meet back here. How does that sound?”
“Put Sam Shaw on,” I said.
“Everybody’s stealing his ideas and putting them into their own spy pictures,” Sam Shaw explained.
“Tell him I promise I won’t steal his ideas and put them into my own spy picture.”
“He’ll put them into his novel!” I heard Feldman wail.
“Charlie,” Sam Shaw exclaimed, “this man is not a spy-picture-idea-stealer! You’re going to have to trust him.”
In the argument that followed, Feldman capitulated and agreed to let me read the script he had with him, if I came for it then and promised to have it back to him before sundown.
“Why can’t he send it up to me by messenger?” I demanded.
“The messenger will steal my ideas!” Feldman cried.
By this time I began to smell trouble, and I decided to back away. “Sam, let’s forget it. He can get a better writer, and I don’t need the money.”
“You can make $150,000 in your spare time,” Sam Shaw said.
“I’m on my way.”
“Where are you going?” my wife asked.
“I’m going to make $150,000 in my spare time,” I answered.
“Just don’t lose your self-respect,” she said.
There was something strange about Feldman’s office; it was not an office but a luxurious apartment on Manhattan’s East Side, between Madison and Park Avenues. Charles K. Feldman, when I finally met him, turned out to be a handsome, well-groomed gentleman of great refinement and taste—courteous, dignified and sensitive, a modest, soft-spoken man with clear vision and enormous powers of concentration.
“This is a very good script the way it is now,” he told me. “There are just a few things missing.”
“Such as Sean Connery,” he answered resentfully. “They can get him for their
James Bond pictures, but I can’t get him for mine. You read this script and let me know what you think. Have it back here by two.”
“It’s ten after
“Make it three.”
“Make it seven.”
We settled on six, and I walked out of Feldman’s apartment with the script for Casino Royale
under my arm.
A few minutes after I hit the street, I realized I was being followed. I turned the corner and ducked into the doorway of a delicatessen. When the man tailing me came hurrying up, I seized his lapels, pulled him into the doorway and slammed him against the wall.
“I’m not following you!” Feldman screamed. “I’m just coming in here for a sandwich!” He straightened his clothes indignantly. "They’re
following you.” He pointed to a black foreign car containing two swarthy foreign men with curling black mustaches. “They’re my Bulgarian bodyguards.”
“Then let them drive me home and save me my carfare.”
“Did you get the $150,000?” my wife asked.
“No,” I answered. “But I’ve got my self-respect.”
She seemed disappointed.
I drew the shades in my study and closed the door, wondering how Feldman would feel if he knew I was preparing to read his movie script with a light on instead of in total darkness.
I found the story very difficult to understand. It began, if I remember correctly, with a driverless milk truck laden with high explosives closing in on a fleeing sports car on an English road, while somebody else watched the pursuit on a radar screen. Much of the action took place inside an extinct volcano off the coast of Lebanon. There was a scene off the French Riviera in which a water-skier was being pulled upward by a helicopter and downward by some frogmen at the same time. There was an awful lot of kissing, fighting and killing. Characters entered and vanished without explanation, and many of the episodes seemed to have no connection with each other. The style of the writing changed almost from page to page, as though a number of talents had already been involved. It was the most confusing thing I had ever read.
Promptly at six, I was back with Feldman.
“Well, what do you think of it?” he asked.
“It’s great,” I said.
He grinned, and we shook hands and worked out our agreement. I would give him two weeks’ work at a fixed fee, after a few days spent analyzing the problems. If all went well, I would earn $150,000 in my spare time.
“When can you come to England?” Feldman inquired. “I’ll want you on the movie set every day.”
“In my spare time,” I replied.
The problems included: (a) the characterization of James Bond and the actor to play him; (b) the Billy-Blake dilemma, soon referred to as ‘‘Morton’s Fork”; (c) the Goldfinger
trauma; (d) gimmicks; and (e) Feldman’s ceaseless quest for perfection, which leads him to change his mind now and then.
“Let’s face it,” he began. “The script stinks. Billy Wilder is a good friend of mine, and he says we’d better develop the characterization, strengthen the story line and have the scenes make sense.”
“I think Billy Wilder is right.”
“But Blake Edwards, who’s also a good friend, advises me to forget the characters and story and go all out for one hilarious bit after another.”
“That could work too.”
“But Billy tells me Blake doesn’t—”
“Did you ever hear of Morton’s Fork?” I interrupted.
“Morton’s Fork,” I said. “Morton was a minister of King Henry VII, and would raise money by going to some nobleman’s house for dinner. If the nobleman put out a big spread, Morton would compliment him on his generosity and say he expected him to be generous also in his donation to the king. If the nobleman skimped on the food, Morton would praise him for his frugality, because that would make possible a larger donation to the king. There was no way out. In Tudor England, this technique came to be known as Morton’s Fork, and it’s like your Billy-Blake. If I say Billy, you say Blake. If I agree on Blake, you say Billy. Do you see what I mean?”
Feldman nodded pensively and said: “Did you ever hear of Hogan’s Goat
“Sure. It’s a play.”
“Go see it. I can buy the screen rights. Let me know if you think Hogan’s Goat
will make a good James Bond movie.”
“What I want," Feldman continued, “is a picture like Goldfinger
has this man with an iron hat that he uses to kill people. It has this trick car. It has a laser that lasers people in half. I want to make a picture just as good as Goldfinger
. That’s my problem.”
“Why don’t you make Goldfinger
?” I suggested.
“There’s not enough of a creative challenge," he replied. “I want to make a statement in my picture. I want to give it a fresh stamp. Goldfinger
takes place on land and in the air. Thunderball
takes place in the ocean. I want our James Bond picture to take place somewhere else.”
I decided to tell him the truth. “Charlie, for people like you and me and James Bond, there is nowhere else. There’s only land, sea and air.”
“Then I need better gimmicks!” he declared. “I’ve got a trick car in the book of Casino Royale
, but I can’t use it now because of Goldfinger
. I have to make a picture without any cars.”
“How about Gone With the Wind
Feldman looked stern, frowned at my irreverence and then laughed.
As soon as I left Feldman, I paid a visit to a confidential agent of my own, George Mandel, the novelist, gourmet and raconteur. Mandel ghostwrites everything I publish (including this article); I can rely on his silence because he does not want his name attached to any of the junk he produces for me.
“We’ve got to write the script for another Goldfinger
,” I told him. “It has to be just as good as Goldfinger
and make as much money as Goldfinger
, but it has to have a fresh stamp. Got it?”
?” Mandel asked.
“I think it’s a movie we’d better go see. It’s all about a man in an iron hat who goes around killing people.”
“Sounds like Richard the Lion-Hearted,” Mandel observed.
After seeing Goldfinger
, Mandel and I were both glum.
“We have to make a movie just as good as that?” he said. I nodded. He asked: “Will he take one that’s better?”
“I’ll have to find out."
“Charlie, I saw Goldfinger
last night,” I said at our next conference.
“What did you think of it?”
“Your picture is better.”
Feldman beamed. “What did you think of Sean Connery?”
“Which one was he?”
Feldman was elated. “For my
James Bond, I can get Frank Sinatra, Peter Sellers, Dean Martin, Woody Allen, Cary Grant, David Niven, Tony Curtis, William Holden, Fred Astaire or Jack Lemmon. Which one do you like?”
“Whichever one you
“What I like," said Feldman, “is a man who stands up to me.” He pumped my hand. “Now give me some great gimmicks that will help me attract a big popular star.”
Mandel and I gave him some great gimmicks. We gave him a flash-freezing plant in Toulon that turns human beings into blocks of ice in a second and a half. We discovered that there is an underground canal in Marseilles that still carries barge traffic north for five or ten miles. We invented an automated fish-canning factory into which Bond tosses a few people, who are processed and shipped out as tins of sardines. We gave Feldman an exploding cigar that blows up an enemy submarine off the coast of Nassau.
“None of these are any good.” Feldman said. “They’re beneath his dignity.”
“Whose dignity?” I asked with surprise.
“Sir Laurence Olivier’s,” Feldman told me. “I’ve decided to do this picture as a serious work of art, with Olivier, Paul Scofield, Sir John Gielgud or Peter Ustinov as James Bond. Write it for one of them. Use verse, if you want to. But stick to the iambic. Keep it crisp and punchy. Stay away from dactyls and hexameters.”
Mandel and I went to work, and Feldman went to California. We mailed a few of the new scenes to him as soon as we had finished them. In reply, we received a wire that said: “GREAT STUFF. KEEP IT COMING.” The wire, though, had come from England. A few days later, we received a cable from Feldman in Spain. It read: “SET SOME SCENES IN SPAIN. HAVE LOCATED ROMAN ARENA FROM TIME OF HADRIAN.”
Mandel and I continued working furiously, Mandel more furiously than I, because he was receiving less money. We next heard from Feldman after the two-week period, from Los Angeles. He was flying to New York the following day and wanted to meet with me. I was tense as I arrived for the meeting, real tense
. A lot was at stake. If Feldman was pleased with the work, I would make $150,000 in my spare time.
It was clear that Feldman was not pleased. “Some of the stuff I like,” he said. “And some of the stuff I don’t like.”
“Which do you like,” I inquired, “and which don’t you like?”
“I like the stuff that’s good,” he answered candidly, “and I don’t like the stuff that’s bad.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“Take the big bullfight scene. I hear it’s lousy.”
“What big bullfight scene?”
“The one in which James Bond has these horns strapped on his head and has to go into the bullring against some ferocious matadors and picadors.”
“I never wrote a scene like that,” I said.
“Then one of my other writers did,” responded Feldman. “You’ll probably get a copy in the mail. Please rewrite it for me.”
I looked at him with amazement. I was stunned. Then I was outraged. I started to turn mad, real
“Charlie, have you got other writers working on this script while I’m working on it?” I demanded. He nodded.
“Eight,” he said.
“Twelve,” said Sam Shaw. “We might as well level with him.”
“And you mean to tell me,” I cried, “that you just keep passing our stuff around from one to the other? Doesn’t anybody else ever read it?”
“My set designer,” Feldman answered.
“Does he know anything about writing?”
“If he knew anything about writing,” said Feldman, “I would put him to work as a writer.”
“I thought you wanted a fresh stamp.”
“This way I’ll have twelve fresh stamps. Look,” declared Feldman, with a sudden show of agitation, “my problem isn’t with fresh stamps. I’ve got to make this part funny enough to get him
to play the part of James Bond.”
to play it?” I cried in exasperation.
“Jimmy Durante!” Feldman shouted back. “Or Jerry Lewis. I’ve got to free James Bond from the image of Sean Connery. But I don't know which actor to use.”
“Use,” I advised him very coldly and very quietly, “all.”
Feldman eyed me strangely. “All?”
“Why not?” I demanded, angrily and sarcastically, my voice rising. “Instead of using lots of writers, use lots of Bonds! Use Woody Allen and Peter Sellers! Put in David Niven, and throw in Mata Hari so you can even have a female Bond. Have a different Bond in every scene!”
“Charlie!” Sam Shaw exclaimed. “I think he’s got something!”
“Start with The Invisible Man
,” I went on, “and you won’t need any actor at all, not even Sean Connery. Have him drink a potion and turn into Fredric March. Have him drink another potion and turn into five Beatles.”
Beatles?” asked Feldman.
“More Beatles than ever before!”
My rage was mountainous now, and there was no holding myself back. “Fire all your writers and shoot the picture without
a script! Then you won’t have to worry that any of them are stealing your ideas. Use a bunch of directors instead—each working on a different part of the picture. But don’t let any one of them know what the others are doing. Get Orson Welles! Get pretty girls! Get the Scotch Highlanders! Get cowboys and Indians and the United States Cavalry!”
“Are you serious?” Feldman asked. “Or are you just wasting my time?”
“He’s serious!” Sam Shaw screamed. “He’s serious!”
“And I’ll tell you a few other things that are even more serious! Don’t give me screen credit! Don't give me $150,000! And don’t ever let me hear from you again!”
Now, some three years later, I see that Feldman has applied many of my suggestions. Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, David Niven and Orson Welles are all in Casino Royale
. He has used many Bonds. He shot the picture (it is rumored) without a script. And he employed a number of directors to make it. The picture is a big hit.
Feldman, unfortunately, followed the rest of my suggestions as well. He doesn’t give me credit. He didn’t give me $150,000. And I have never heard from him again.
“By the way,” my wife asked me only yesterday, “did you ever get that $150,000?”
“No,” I told her.
“Do you still have your self-respect?”
“Let's go out,” I said, “to the movies.”
For more on Joseph Heller's contributions to Casino Royale
, consult Jeremy Duns's superb article "Catch-007." Originally published in the London Times, it's now freely
available in the ebook Need to Know
, which can be downloaded from Duns's website
. ("Catch-007" starts on page 213 of the pdf. Also make sure to read the previous chapter, "Rogue Royale," which reviews the earlier drafts of Casino Royale
by Ben Hecht, classic Hollywood's greatest screenwriter.)
Duns makes the case that Heller and Mandel's first stab might not have been very faithful to the novel but would have made a very entertaining film. By the time Goldfinger
was released the window for making a faithful adaptation of Casino Royale
had closed. Ben Hecht's drafts, written around the time of From Russia With Love
's release, are significantly closer to the book. The Feldman collection, which contains all of these drafts, remains disorganized and could yield further discoveries.
That was basically the reason I've stayed away so far. Then again, it has Orson Welles, so it cannot be utterly hopeless ;)