BINDER, MAURICE

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


(August 25, 1925–April 9, 1991): Renowned American artist, title designer, trailer maker, marketing specialist, and longtime resident of England whose stylishly photographed nude models and world-famous title sequences were a mainstay of Eon Productions’ Bond series for decades.

The pattern was established practically from the beginning. Composer John Barry’s staccato 007 theme rings out as Binder’s twin white dots roll across the screen, gradually turning into a through-the-gun-barrel portrait of James Bond. Agent 007 walks across the screen, turns, and fires his pistol. The gun view wavers and a red shroud washes across it. Is there a more recognizable title graphic in the world? An incredible pre-title teaser sequence usually follows, setting the audience on the edge of their seats. Then, as they recover, Binder’s titles and requisite nudes strike, perfectly matched to the opening-titles song by a popular recording artist of the period.

Like a circus ringmaster’s oratory, Binder’s titles prepare the audience for the adventures to come. They’ve become as integral a part of the series as the phrase “Bond, James Bond.” And subsequent title designers have continued the tradition.

What would the films be like without them? Just look at the opening sequence of Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon Bond film from 1983. Producer Jack Schwartzman told me that by the time they got to postproduction, there wasn’t much money left in the bank to cover either evocative titles or a pre-credits sequence, the latter of which was planned but never shot.[1] So all the film can offer is Lani Hall’s title song, which is catchy—but it plays over a bland helicopter shot of the Bahamas that’s totally underwhelming.

Maurice Binder was the son of a New York City manufacturer who grew up studying ship and architectural design. Attending Stuyvesant High School, his ambition was to become a naval architect. He was a precocious, energetic kid, and his mother shipped him off to the Art Students League and sketching classes to quiet him down.

In 1939, at the age of fourteen, Binder began to edit a company newspaper produced by the advertising department of Macy’s department store. He also produced a radio program on WOR in Newark called the Macy-Bamberger Boys’ Club. As a teenager working on the show, Binder received an education in radio production, sound effects, and special effects. After graduating from high school at fifteen, Binder attended City College of New York and night school at St. John’s University. At seventeen, he became the assistant art director at Macy’s, in charge of catalog and mail order.

“In those days,” he remembered, “we had dozens of publications. There were piles of advertising layouts to do, and it took someone who could work quickly.”[2]

His burgeoning art career, however, was put on hold as World War II heated up in Europe. In 1941, as a civilian administrative assistant attached to the War Department on a diplomatic passport, he embarked on a two-and-a-half-year building program throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Binder helped build airports, hospitals, roads, and military bases in Aden, Oman, Masirah Island, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Cairo, and Dakar. From the Allied air bases he helped construct, military aircraft were shuttled into the China-Burma-India theater.

In 1943, as German forces under Rommel were being forced out of North Africa, Binder returned to the United States and enrolled in sea navigation school. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, Binder was a lieutenant (j.g.) on the LT-60, a salvage tug. He served until the end of the war in the Pacific, then navigated, he recalled, “the Panama Canal to Universal Pictures’ backlot.”[3]

Still in the navy, Binder began to do freelance advertising work for Mischa Kallis at Universal, the only studio that created its own advertising on the West Coast (the other studios did their advertising work in New York City). Kallis was dubious about Binder’s qualifications, but he gave him a test on a cheap little western entitled The Daltons Ride Again (1945). Binder returned to his ship with pad and pencils and generated thirty-five designs in one night.

He remembered, “My job at Macy’s had primed me for pressure. We were doing thirty-five pages of advertising a day at one time, so Kallis’s assignment wasn’t extreme.” Binder was given $125 for his sketches and another assignment on an Yvonne De Carlo western, Frontier Gal (1945).

After being discharged from the navy, Binder worked for Arthur A. Schmidt, who was assistant to Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures. Schmidt needed a sketch artist to help him visualize ad campaigns. Binder posed the stars for photo layouts and sketched ads. His first full campaign was for the classic Gilda (1946). He eventually became West Coast art director for Columbia, working on campaigns for movies such as The Jolson Story (1946), Down to Earth (1947), Dead Reckoning (1947), and The Lady from Shanghai (1948). Binder also freelanced for other production companies.

Although Binder had been introduced to Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli when the latter was an agent with Charles K. Feldman, their creative relationship didn’t begin until 1961, when Broccoli and his producing partner, Harry Saltzman, attended the premiere of The Grass Is Greener, a Stanley Donen film. Binder had designed the title sequence, which featured a group of infants. It so charmed the audience that Broccoli and Saltzman immediately thought of him for their new James Bond series.

Binder’s storyboard for the James Bond logo—designed in ten minutes—consisted of a series of white sticky-backed price tabs placed to simulate the bullet holes of gunshots going off across the screen. One of the bullet holes would appear as if you were looking through a gun—the barrel, not the gun sight. At a miniatures studio, Binder filmed his through-the-gun-barrel spiral logo shot.

The shot of 007 walking and firing was a separate piece of film shot later. For that sequence, stuntman Bob Simmons doubled Sean Connery. The footage of Simmons was used in the first three films—Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, which were shot at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (known as “flat” ratio). When Thunderball was lensed in 2.35:1 widescreen (known as “scope,” after Cinemascope), Binder was forced to reshoot the logo. This time, he used Sean Connery. In the walk-and-fire footage of both Bob Simmons and Sean Connery, and later of George Lazenby, Bond always wore a fedora. When Roger Moore entered the series in 1973, the hat was discarded.

Though Binder’s logo kicked off each movie, he did not design the opening credits for the second and third films in the series, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. He came back in Thunderball with an idea he had seen in the Raymond Revuebar in Soho: a woman swimming in a tank above the bar. From that springboard, Binder designed his first live-action title sequence, using carefully photographed nudes. Binder’s use of slow motion, colorful lighting, rippling bubbles, and the silhouettes of shapely female torsos—a pattern that continued in subsequent Bond titles—were all elements that worked in perfect synch with Tom Jones’s rousing title song.

One of the more comical stories associated with Binder’s title sequence shoots occurred at Pinewood Studios on The Man with the Golden Gun. Binder was shooting a nude woman’s silhouette. Conscious of rating codes and censors, he noted that from a certain angle the woman’s pubic hair was a little too noticeable on camera. When the model refused to shave, Binder realized that the only way to make the shot work was to brush her hair into place and use Vaseline to hold it there. “You do it,” she said, and Binder dutifully got down on his knees and put things right. At that exact moment—so the story goes—Roger Moore and Cubby Broccoli walked onto the stage. Roger turned to Cubby and said, “I thought you were the producer on this picture.” And Cubby replied, “It doesn’t seem right, does it?”[4]

Binder’s creativity was tested over the years as he searched for ways to keep his title sequences from becoming repetitive. For the Roger Moore films, he enlisted the cooperation of the lead actor, and Moore became a prime character in the sequences. In For Your Eyes Only, he was impressed with the beauty of title-song singer Sheena Easton and decided to feature her on screen.

Binder coordinated with composer Bill Conti to ensure that the title song meshed with the titles. “I’ve always wanted the song synchronized so that when I show the title of the film, the singer sings it,” Binder explained. “Unfortunately, on For Your Eyes Only, the song title came in ninety seconds after the song began. I asked Bill Conti to help, and we rewrote the song in two days.”

In addition to title sequences, Binder was also heavily involved in designing the trailers for most of the early Bond films. He was the one who created the sequence in which the Doberman guard dogs track down and kill Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) for the Moonraker teaser trailer, which was partially narrated by actress Lise Hilboldt.

In addition to the Bond films, Binder worked on the titles for movies including The Long Ships (1964); Battle of Britain (1969), for producer Harry Saltzman; The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970); The Wild Geese (1978); The Last Emperor (1987); and Mel Gibson’s Hamlet (1990), his last film.


[1] Jack Schwartzman, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, November 2, 1984.

[2] Maurice Binder, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 16, 1977.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.