(May 26, 1909–January 4, 1991): American scribe of stage and screen who wrote or cowrote thirteen James Bond movies, beginning with Dr. No. Maibaum was an honored New York playwright by the time he began his screenwriting career in the 1930s. Prior to the Bond films, he had worked for producer Albert R. Broccoli and his first producing partner, Irving Allen, on a number of adventure films, including Paratrooper (1953), Hell Below Zero (1954), and Zarak (1956). But it was the assignment of a lifetime—introducing James Bond to cinema audiences—that proved to be Maibaum’s ticket to international acclaim.
It’s not surprising that Broccoli chose an American to be the first to dramatize Bond for the big screen. Broccoli’s contention all along, even as he and Saltzman were selling the series to United Artists, was that Bond had to possess the qualities that would appeal to an American audience. He had to be a ballsy Englishman, a sexy two-fisted agent in the style of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. Maibaum knew that character type well.
He also brought to the project an element that was not a part of Ian Fleming’s novels: humor. Maibaum brightened the dark action of the books with clever lines—often placing them at the end of a particularly hair-raising stunt or set piece. Thus, having been taken to the edge of their seats, audiences were allowed to release their tension through laughter (or at least a chuckle). It was called “throwaway humor”—a stylish, effective touch, especially when the lines were delivered by the sly and sexy Sean Connery.
Maibaum also shaped the films’ approach to sex through his enthusiastic depiction of Bond’s sexual appetites. Although it certainly helped that the films featured some of the most beautiful women ever seen on the silver screen, Maibaum was the one who established the playful antics of 007, with teasing love scenes that conveyed everything and showed nothing. Thanks to Maibaum’s screenwriting skills, the early Bond movies moved flawlessly from danger to humor to sex and back again.
But the trendsetting style of the early Bonds couldn’t survive the changing of the guard. After working on the first four Bond films, Maibaum became an off-and-on contributor to the series, and by the time Roger Moore took over the role of 007, the films, though still exciting and wonderfully inventive, had lost some of their early charm. After sitting out Moonraker in favor of Christopher Wood, who created the silliest yet one of the most successful films in the series, Maibaum returned on For Your Eyes Only to, in his own words, “pull the balloon down.” Working from two Ian Fleming short stories, “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico,” he anchored the story in a fascinating blood feud among former Greek partisans, reminiscent of From Russia with Love. The only scene in the entire film that rings false is the ridiculous encounter in the pre-credits teaser between Bond (Roger Moore) and a character obviously intended to be Blofeld (but, for legal reasons, not identified as such)—who, in return for sparing his life, offers Bond a “delicatessen in stainless steel.” Maibaum later claimed that someone else wrote that embarrassing line.
Starting with For Your Eyes Only, Maibaum shared screenwriting duties with producer Michael G. Wilson (Albert R. Broccoli’s stepson). A lawyer and engineer, Wilson had worked on the Bond films in various capacities for the better part of two decades. Maibaum, who had been something of a lone-wolf writer in his career, told Cubby Broccoli that he was perfectly willing to work with Wilson. The result on For Your Eyes Only was, to quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, the “beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“I think For Your Eyes Only turned out pretty well,” remembered Maibaum, “except for the teaser, which was one of the worst in terms of audience reaction. I particularly liked Carole Bouquet, who played Melina. She was cool and beautiful, and she could hold her own alongside Bond. And the villains were very believable.”
For the next film, Octopussy, Maibaum once again worked with Wilson. And George MacDonald Fraser, who wrote the Flashman novels, also contributed a script draft. “We started with two elements,” Maibaum remembered, “Fleming’s Octopussy novella, and a short story called ‘The Property of a Lady.’ That proved to be the springboard for the story.
“George came on and worked on a draft and came up with a lot of the elements dealing with the Fabergé eggs. He worked with Michael, then I was brought back to do the shooting script. We had a devil of a time coming up with a story about Octopussy, but it helped when we discovered that there actually is an organization in Japan composed entirely of women—a kind of female Mafia. And since we had once considered India as a location, it became the basis of this den of female thieves, led by a woman named Octopussy.”
After A View to a Kill, the guard changed again with the arrival of Timothy Dalton as Bond. Says Maibaum, “We knew we had to get a younger man. Roger was maturing, and the film audiences were getting younger. It was time for a change.” In actuality, The Living Daylights was written with Pierce Brosnan in mind rather than Dalton, but when Brosnan couldn’t get out of his contract to the TV series Remington Steele, Dalton was a last-minute replacement.
That film was followed by Licence to Kill, Maibaum’s final Bond credit. On that project, Maibaum was unable to do any rewriting on the script due to the Writers Guild strike of 1988. Faced with fan reaction that the film was too serious, that there wasn’t enough humor, and that the story seemed bland, Maibaum pointed to the villain’s scheme—a plot to render drug smuggling operations undetectable to international law enforcement—as a key problem. “There was very little fantasy about Licence to Kill,” he said. “The villain’s caper was bland when you compare it to destroying Fort Knox or the food supply of the world. And Bond shouldn’t be so damn funereal. There should have been more humor.”
Richard Maibaum was a New York City native. He made his motion picture writing debut on director Joseph Santley’s comedy We Went to College (1936). That same year, he cowrote the musical comedy Gold Diggers of 1937.
 Richard Maibaum, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, April 30, 1977.