BROCCOLI, ALBERT ROMOLO “CUBBY”

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


(April 5, 1909–June 27, 1996): American film producer who devoted himself almost exclusively to making James Bond films from 1962 until his death in 1996. Originally partnered with Harry Saltzman in the first nine films in the series, Broccoli later shared producing chores with his stepson, Michael G. Wilson. Broccoli’s daughter Barbara now shares those duties with Wilson, making the continuing adventures of 007 a true family affair.

EARLY LIFE

Albert Broccoli was the son of Giovanni Broccoli, who, along with his brother, immigrated to New York City from Calabria, Italy around 1900. According to research done in Florence by Broccoli’s wife Dana, the brothers are descended from the Broccolis of Carrera, who first crossed two Italian vegetables—cauliflower and rabe—to produce the vegetable that took their name, and eventually supported them in the United States.

Although Giovanni made a comfortable living as a civil engineer, his plan to retire to truck farming in the early 1900s did not prove successful. The Broccoli children were forced to toil in the family garden and sell their vegetables in the Harlem produce market. It was not an easy life. Expenses mounted, and when the market was flooded with too many vegetables, prices plummeted. Many times, Albert and his brother had to dump their vegetables in the sewers rather than truck them back to the family farm in Astoria.

For a time, Albert’s father operated a successful citrus farm in Florida, but the venture proved disastrous in the late 1920s when the farm was bombarded by hurricanes. Albert Broccoli soon realized that he could not survive in America by following in the footsteps of his ancestors. He would have to seek another calling.

After his father died, he went to live with his grandmother in downtown Astoria and began working as an assistant pharmacist. After a few months, he quit to work for a cousin named D’Orta who ran a casket company. D’Orta needed an office manager, so eighteen-year-old Broccoli began a successful new career as a casket salesman and accountant.

ON TO HOLLYWOOD

Although young Broccoli made a great deal of money working for his cousin, he was not happy. In 1934, his wealthy cousin Pat De Cicco invited him out to California. De Cicco, then married to actress Thelma Todd (Horse Feathers), introduced Broccoli to the movie industry, and it wasn’t long before the casket salesman from Astoria was hobnobbing with such Hollywood notables as Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks, and Joe Schenck.

When his vacation time ended, Broccoli decided to uproot himself from the coffin business and move west. It was not easy to make a living in Hollywood unless you were in the entertainment business. And Broccoli was not in the business. However, he was a very good salesman, and he soon amassed a bankroll selling beauty supplies in the Los Angeles area. His movie contacts paid off when Howard Hawks offered him a “gofer” job on Howard Hughes’s new film The Outlaw.

As Hawks’s able assistant, Broccoli plunged into the film industry, learning the business end of the creative medium, meeting new people, getting married, and continuing to socialize with the upper strata of Hollywood. When Howard Hawks was fired from The Outlaw in 1941, Broccoli stayed on the film. He worked closely with Howard Hughes, who took over personal control of the film, which starred his muse, the voluptuous Jane Russell.

On the recommendation of Joe Schenck, Broccoli later transferred over to 20th Century Fox to become director Henry King’s production assistant on such classics as A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941), The Black Swan (1942), and The Song of Bernadette (1943). In 1942, Broccoli left Fox to join the US Navy.

After World War II ended in September 1945, Broccoli returned to Hollywood to become a successful talent agent. His boss was Charles K. Feldman, who would later produce the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale. As a member of Feldman’s extremely successful Famous Artists Agency, Broccoli resumed his film education. He learned about casting, bargaining, contract negotiations, and percentages—in short, a lawyer’s course in how to make movies and turn a profit.

Broccoli and his wife mingled freely with the Hollywood community, giving sumptuous parties and acquiring an impeccable social standing. Broccoli still couldn’t hide a desire to try something else. He wanted to enter the creative side of show business. Feldman had already started to produce on the side as early as 1942, and Broccoli began considering a career as a producer.

WARWICK FILM PRODUCTION – LONDON

Friends encouraged him, but it was challenging to begin a producing career in Hollywood after the war. Money was extremely tight, and the studios were relying on their own proven stable of producers. The time of the independent producer was still a good decade away, so Broccoli bode his time at Famous Artists. In 1951, he resumed a high school friendship with Irving Allen, a Polish-born director who was then between jobs. With slim prospects of landing a film project on their own, the discontented pair decided to pool their talents and resources, form their own company, and move to London.

Their company was called Warwick Film Productions, named after the New York hotel where they made the deal. With the backing of the British government—which had recently begun subsidizing companies that employed British artists—and a hard-won distribution deal with Columbia Pictures, Broccoli and Allen signed Alan Ladd to a three-picture contract.

After establishing himself in a townhouse in London’s Portland Place, Broccoli began acquiring British talent so that Warwick could benefit from the government subsidies. Remembered Broccoli, “If you went over to England to make a picture and you hired 80 percent British technicians, you got a slice of what they called Eady money,” after the former UK Treasury official, Sir Wilfrid Eady, who gave his name to the subsidy program. “In other words, you got a British subsidy, and it could amount to 2 or 3 million pounds.”[1]

Warwick’s first project was a little war drama titled The Red Beret (1953). Budgeted at $1.1 million, cowritten by Richard Maibaum, and directed by Terence Young, it told the story of a young paratrooper (Alan Ladd) who fights to escape his reputation for cowardice. Retitled Paratrooper for its American debut, this first Warwick entry became an overnight sensation for Columbia Pictures at a time when the studio desperately needed revenue to counter the postwar slump at the box office.

The surprising success of their first film was encouraging to Broccoli and Allen. For their second Alan Ladd feature, they chose another action story, British writer Hammond Innes’s novel The White South, about a two-fisted sailor who helps a young lady search for her father’s killer in Antarctica. Their adaptation, Hell Below Zero (1954), spearheaded by veteran American director Mark Robson, scored again for Warwick. It was the second in a string of successes that would last for seven years, making the transplanted Americans the kings of the independent film business in England.

Their features were all strong on American actors, British supporting players, colorful location backgrounds, and action-packed plots. And during those successful years, Broccoli established lasting relationships with many artists who would later contribute heavily to the success of the Bond pictures. Warwick’s personnel included cinematographer Ted Moore, who started as a camera operator on The Red Beret; that film’s screenwriter Maibaum, who also cowrote the very successful Cockleshell Heroes (1955); and art director Ken Adam, who designed the last Warwick feature, The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960).

UNSUCCESSFUL PURSUIT OF JAMES BOND

Two years before future partner Harry Saltzman acquired an option from Ian Fleming for his Bond novels, Broccoli was given the opportunity to start a 007 project. In the summer of 1958, while he was still partnered with Allen, he received a call from Ned McLaine, a wealthy London businessman who was one of Fleming’s good friends. Broccoli was in New York taking care of his two children while his first wife fought a losing battle with cancer. It was a trying time for the producer, and had the project been anything else, Broccoli would probably have said no. But Bond was a different story.

Ever since reading Dr. No, Broccoli had become fascinated by Fleming’s writing and the exciting life of Britain’s most famous Secret Service agent. Thus, not surprisingly, the chance of doing an action-packed James Bond film appealed to him. McLaine advised Broccoli to contact his partner, Irving Allen, as soon as possible. Fleming, he was told, was anxious to make a deal.

Two weeks later, a luncheon was arranged at the Les Ambassadeurs club in London (which would later host the pivotal meeting between Saltzman and Fleming). Accompanying Fleming were the McLaine brothers—Ned and Jacque—and Fleming’s agent at MCA, Bob Fenn, who prefaced the meeting by discussing the recent deal with CBS for thirty-two half-hour episodes of a Bond TV series (a deal that would promptly collapse), the latest publishing figures on Dr. No, and Mr. Fleming’s eagerness to make a lucrative film deal.

Fifty-three-year-old Irving Allen seemed content to let Broccoli do all of the talking. He listened to Fenn, nodding occasionally to Fleming, who seemed to have a voracious appetite for scrambled eggs; the whole proceeding seemed to bore him. After Fenn declared that the rights to all of the Bond books could be optioned for $50,000, Allen couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Come on,” he said, “how can you talk figures like that?”

Fenn replied, “Excuse me?”

Allen then declared, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but these books aren’t even television material.” Broccoli tried to argue the point, but it was hopeless.[2]

Having said his piece, Allen grabbed his hat and left the luncheon. Broccoli mumbled an apology and also left. For a few seconds, the remaining gentlemen sat in stunned silence, wondering why they had journeyed to London to hear such claptrap. Even more exasperating to Ned McLaine was the fact that Allen had left him with the luncheon check. Allen’s failure to support a project that was deep in Broccoli’s heart contributed to the gradual disintegration of their partnership and the final collapse of Warwick Film in 1960.

Now alone, but wealthy and resourceful, Broccoli began to search for a new project. For two years he thought about how the Bonds had slipped through his fingers, his memory rekindled each time Fleming wrote a new novel.

THE BIRTH OF EON PRODUCTIONS

Then, in the summer of 1961, Broccoli was approached by screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, whose friend producer Harry Saltzman had optioned the film rights to the Bond novels. With only twenty-eight days left until that option expired, Saltzman needed a production deal fast. Extremely dubious about making any deals with Fleming after the fiasco at Les Ambassadeurs, Broccoli reluctantly agreed to meet Saltzman in Audley Square in June 1961. A partnership deal was struck, and Eon Productions was born.

Soon after the Audley Square meeting, Broccoli took the Fleming project to his old cohorts at Columbia Pictures. He left copies of the Bond novels with production chief Mike Frankovich. Frankovich gave the novels to a story editor for an opinion, who quickly advised him that James Bond was a poorly conceived British version of Mickey Spillane’s detective Mike Hammer, and that the character would never work in the United States. Frankovich, though, had a great deal of respect for Cubby Broccoli and his track record. He decided to call a board meeting and briefly postpone making a final decision.

Meanwhile, there were rumors going around that the story editor had never even read the Bond books, and even that someone had mistakenly given him copies of Peter Fleming’s travel novels instead. Broccoli waited in London for an answer, and when the phone failed to ring, he decided to take the project to his friend Arthur Krim at United Artists.

On June 20, 1961, Broccoli and Saltzman, accompanied by their wives, Dana and Jacqueline, and Broccoli’s one-year-old daughter, Barbara, flew into New York City for a meeting with Krim. Frankovich had called the previous week, stating that Columbia could not pick up the Bond option, so it was either UA or back to square one. Fortunately for the future of James Bond, United Artists was ready to deal.

THE DEAL FOR JAMES BOND

Broccoli related the facts of the meeting: “Harry Saltzman and I walked into 729 Seventh Avenue in New York, to United Artists, for a meeting with Arthur. I found ten people at the meeting, including young David Picker, who had just been given the job of head of production. Arthur said, ‘Now, Cubby, tell me about James Bond.’ And I did. I was the salesman. But Picker said, ‘I’m very familiar with James Bond.’ He wanted to know how I planned to make the pictures. I had budgeted the first one at $1.1 million. They agreed to $1 million. In forty-five minutes we put together a deal for six pictures.

“When Arthur and I shook hands, I suddenly remembered that it was my second wedding anniversary. I thought, I’m here in New York with my wife, Dana, and our baby daughter, Barbara—and I’ve got a deal to make James Bond pictures. I’m flying high.”[3]

JAMES BOND MOVIES

Since 1975, when Harry Saltzman sold his share of Eon to United Artists, the Broccoli family has been the sole production conduit for James Bond’s film adventures—except for the 1983 film Never Say Never Again, which was a new adaptation of Fleming’s novel Thunderball (the rights to which were controlled by producer Kevin McClory at the time). Even when the Fleming titles ran out, Broccoli had permission from Fleming’s estate to create new Bond stories. Licence to Kill, Broccoli’s sixteenth 007 film, released in 1989, was the first non-Fleming title. Additional non-Fleming titles have included GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die.

In 1981, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Albert R. Broccoli its prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award for his illustrious producing career. Broccoli also received the Order of the British Empire from the Queen of England, as well as the French Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.

Since 1962, the Bond movie franchise Albert Broccoli initiated has grossed over $7 billion dollars in revenue. And there appears to be no end in sight. The catchphrase that first appeared after Broccoli’s second film, From Russia with Love, still rings true: “James Bond Will Return.”


[1] Albert R. Broccoli, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, April 10, 1977.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.