Bond & Kennedy: 17 Days in October
One was a fictional. The other real.
Both were charismatic and charming. And decisive men of action.
And had an eye for the ladies.
Both had ice water in their veins when the moment called for
Both were on the scene fifty years ago this month, trying
to thwart the fiendish plans of the bad guy. One in “reel
life”…the other in real life.
On October 5, 1962, we were introduced to “Bond. James
Bond.” He was portrayed by Sean Connery, an unknown
actor at the time, who possessed an almost preternatural masculinity.
The film was Dr. No, based on the novel by Ian Fleming.
Starting with the opening credits— with its unique graphic
treatment, accompanied by an tantalizing piece of music that
had you by the seventh note— right on through to the
introductions of Connery with cigarette dangling from the
lip, and Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in white bikini
and a knife at her hip, this movie had a different feel to
it. It was “edgy.” Though that was not a term
we used in those days.
Fifty years later, I could not tell you the plot other than
it had something to do with obliterating something that was
critical to our national security. Which at the time, was
beside the point as far as I was concerned. For me, the enjoyment
of the film was one of style over substance. So upon Googling
to refresh my memory, here’s the gist of it:
“Bond discovers that Dr. No
is also working with the Russians and has built an elaborate
underground facility from which he can sabotage American
missile tests at nearby Cape Canaveral.” (Wikipedia)
It is a cliché to say that life imitates
art. Yet just 17 days later, the Russians and Cape Canaveral
would be mentioned again. This time for real.
On October 22, 1962, John F. Kennedy sat behind his desk in
the oval office, to speak to the nation about a danger that
had been exposed as a result of some photographs taken by
U.S. secret agents. Though he tried to assure us that everything
would be done to avert a war of cataclysmic proportions, all
the same, we stood ready to confront it if it came to that.
Welcome to The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Whereas Bond was a man of few words, Kennedy was a man of
many carefully chosen ones on that night.
shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear
missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the
Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union
on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory
response upon the Soviet Union.”
October 22, 1962
JFK briefed the nation in
details positively chilling. Soviet missiles— poised
just ninety miles off the coast of Florida— were capable
of striking Washington and any other cities in the southeastern
part of the United States. And yes, Cape Canaveral, which
was the base for our project Mercury manned space program
at the time, was specified as being one of the potential targeted
These things only happened in the movies, no? Yet, this wasn’t
James Bond vs. Dr. No... this was John Kennedy vs. Nikita
Khrushchev. And as we stood in front of the TV, stood
not sat, we wondered what was next? What was to become of
us? We were all in uncharted waters here. This was not WWII
or the Korean War, this was close to home. Too close.
To date, this was to be as near as the world might be to a
nuclear war. And while the crisis was resolved through our
forceful insistence that those missiles be removed from Cuba,
things would never really be the same again.
For the first time in modern times, we realized how easily
all that we had taken for granted, could be turned on its
head in an instant. JFK’s assassination a year later
would illustrate that point in spades, adding a dramatic chapter
to our history —the real story.
As for how the fictional one played out, Bond of course saved
the day and eliminated Dr. No by pushing him into a chemical
vat, boiling him to death. (“Shocking.”) And that
was to be the birth of a franchise worth over five billion
dollars spanning 22 films these past five decades. The 23rd,
Skyfall starring Daniel Craig, will premiere next
month on November 9th.
While seven different actors have portrayed what has become
a classic character, for those of us of a certain age, there
will always be but one James Bond: Sean Connery. Now 82 and
retired, and though having starred in six films in the series,
he was once quoted as saying “I’m fed up to here
with the whole Bond bit.” Apparently, its audience is
not. And the beat goes on.
Quote of the Month
Wladyslaw Jagiello sculpture; Central Park; photo by Ron Vazzano©
Last month a major exhibition entitled, Regarding
Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, opened at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. The goal here was to demonstrate Warhol’s
profound influence on contemporary art. While the show got
mixed reviews, the Met essentially made good on its promise.
His influence is clearly in evidence.
What is never in evidence though, here or anywhere else for
that matter, is the man himself. Yet this eccentric rather
pasty figure, has imbedded himself in our pop culture, not
for fifteen minutes, but in perpetuity. Can you ever look
at a can of Campbell’s soup without him coming to mind?
But what was on his mind?
Given his seemingly benign public image, you can’t help
but wonder: did he just stumble into this whole new pop art
movement and his resultant superstardom? Or did he bring to
it at the outset, a clear vision and a sense of where he wanted
to take it? Was this all by design?
In particular, this quote by Gore Vidal seems to capture the
enigma that is Warhol:
Andy Warhol is the only
genius with an I.Q. of 60 that I have ever known.
“60” classifies you as a moron,
or to be kind, one with a moderate disability.
Ed Ruscha, an artist represented in this exhibition, speaks
to the same point from a different angle. He has said that
he admires Warhol for being…
…the only artist he knew who
was for everything and nothing at the same time.
Warhol himself said in effect, there’s
no “there” there.
If you want to know Andy Warhol,
just look at the surface of my paintings and films and
me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.
I am a deeply superficial person.
And he seems to demonstrate the truth of
that, time and again in his own The Andy Warhol Diaries
(Edited by Pat Hackett, 1989).
In search of Warhol, one comes away from this
800 page tome, having been made privy to an unending river
of gossip and a social butterfly lifestyle, characterized
by celebrity hobknobbing on an almost daily basis. Which could
often turn catty. (“Halston gave me a whole box
of ugly shoes for my birthday.”)
For added flavor, the reader is offered a running detailed
account of what he sees as possible tax deductable expenditures.
(“…ice cream cones $.75 x 4 and $.90 cookies
from Greenberg’s…Big Macs $8.52”).
Admittedly, much of all this is quite entertaining, though
often unintentionally so. But he offers no insights as to
his talents nor the artistic process through which they were
From a distance, that process seems to have involved a good
deal of “manufacturing” as much as anything else.
And after all, he did call his studio the Factory;
a cluttered place buzzing in worker bee frenzy what all that
silk screening, painting, snap shot taking, film making, sculpturing,
performance art creating and the publishing of a magazine
One wonders what it was like to have been at the Factory
and around Warhol in those salad days. One wonders what sort
of guy he was while away from the paparazzi and the tabloids
and in his domain. Was he meek and eccentric? Or egocentric?
Nice guy? Or was he, as an old uncle used to say, a “back-number?”
Curious for some sort of insider perspective, I checked in
with a friend who knew him well. How well? Well enough to
be mentioned a few times in those diaries, in words at times
not so flattering, at other times much more so:
the Czechoslovak madam from Pittsburgh…”
light, her hair was in pigtails and she took them
out and it went down to her ass, she’d just washed
and it smelled good. We had lunch…She was nice.”
Well enough to have had him do a portrait
(Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas)
This is not to suggest that Marjorie’s take is by any
means the definitive word on the real Warhol, but I found
her up close observations to be interesting to say the least.
Not only was Warhol superficial, but she found him to be “dull
as dishwater.” (In the future, everyone will be
as dull as dishwater for 15 minutes).
She goes on to say that from her first encounter, it seemed
that “there was something mentally wrong with him.”
Was it drugs she wondered? And for all his celebrated friends
and associates, he was terribly ill at ease socially.
You could not converse with him as “he had nothing to
say and no real interest or passion about anything.”
At least one assumes, other than in his art, of which he never
spoke. This distancing of himself seemed to carry over into
his intimate relations as well. How she came to know this,
I’ll leave right there.
When he did speak, he was given to colossal exaggeration.
Marjorie pointed out for example, that a $10,000 necklace
she wore at her wedding party — a present from her husband
who was a highly successful artist in his own right at the
time — translated into his diaries as:
“I was jealous of the bride
because she had on a $145,000 string of pearls from Tiffany’s.”
That Vidal quote on the moronic/genius dichotomy,
might have been very much on the mark. She certainly would
vouch for the moronic part. She would leave it to others to
vouch for the genius part. And that of course is the part
that can stir one’s imagination and passions.
My own were stirred beginning with a pencil drawing of the
actress Virna Lisi, that I did in ’67. Then thirty years
later when the PC had become part of our lives, and inspired
by the repetition of imagery that is a signature of Warhol’s
work, I tried my own variations on a theme.
I know, “Go back to the drawing board.” But the
point is, anyone can be inspired to tap into any “Warhol
as genius” impulses that might lie within. You don’t
need to be a museum-worthy artist to do so. But as for Andy
Warhol the person? Him, I’d rather not try to emulate,
all jet-set lifestyle aside.
Sentence of the Month
In reading a critique of the
“Regarding Warhol” exhibition by Peter Schjeldahl,
an award winning art critic for The New Yorker, this
labyrinth of a declarative sentence caught my eye.
triumphed by adapting the formal syntax of Abstract Expressionist
painting as a chassis for vernacular imagery, first with
the burlesques of spontaneous drawing and brushwork, and
then, definitively, in 1962, with a medium that was at once
impersonal and susceptible to infinite nuance: silk screen,
done cunningly fast and loose.
Uh…yes, of course, how obvious.
A prize to anyone who can translate that into English and
tell us what it means. This is the sort of thing that gives
elitism a bad name.