In honor of the long-awaited return of the critically beloved TV drama Mad Men, we’ve asked Jeopardy! fixture Ken Jennings to educate us on some of the most persistent myths from the Mad Men era. Last month he set us straight on the 1950s; this month, we’re moving right into the turbulent 1960s. It’s often said that anyone who remembers the sixties wasn’t actually there, but luckily Ken was born a decade later, when most of the pot smoke had dispersed and all the go-go boots and lava lamps had been moved to the nation’s attics. So he’s pretty much an expert.
Sixties Myth #4: Sean Connery Was The First On-Screen James Bond.
If you don’t think Sean Connery was the definitive 007, I don’t think we can be friends anymore. 1962’s Dr. No and its sequels made Connery into an international superstar, and James Bond’s creator, novelist Ian Fleming, was so impressed by the actor that he retroactively Connery-ized the James Bond in his novels, even giving his quintessentially English spy a Scottish heritage. Sean Connery did pre-date Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and the other actors who have played James Bond in Eon Productions’ hugely successful film series, but, surprisingly, he wasn’t the first Bond. Another actor had beaten him to the punch eight full years before.
In 1954, Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, had been adapted for live TV by Climax!, a CBS mystery anthology. I’m not going to claim it was an especially faithful adaptation: the lead character was an American agent called Jimmy “Card Sense” Bond. The plot does still revolve around Bond defeating the villainous Le Chiffre (played here by Peter Lorre) at a baccarat tournament. The actor playing “Jimmy”? A stage and TV veteran named Barry Nelson, pictured here as Bond. You might remember him as “the guy at the beginning of The Shining who offers Nicholson the caretaker job.”
The TV version of Casino Royale was forgotten for many years. But in the 1970s, a man named Jim Schoenberger bought an unmarked filmed canister at a flea market, and was surprised to discover a 16mm kinescope of James Bond’s long-lost debut. The show has since appeared on the Casino Royale DVD and one of TBS’s 007 marathons, but viewers soon learned that they hadn’t been missing much. Barry Nelson is no Sean Connery, and the production values are far from stellar. At the end of the episode, after Peter Lorre’s character is killed, the cameras accidentally catch his “dead” body standing up and heading for the dressing rooms.
Quick Quiz: The original version of baccarat, the one Bond plays in Casino Royale, is also known by what French name meaning “iron way”?
Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.
Still from the Climax! episode "Casino Royale" used here for purposes of critical commentary and discussion.