(June 8, 1926–November 20, 2006): Dapper, resourceful, and fabulously wealthy Irish film producer/director who was the first to collaborate with author Ian Fleming on a film script featuring his James Bond character. The collaboration would later turn sour and initiate one of the great legal battles in film history, as well as an important chapter in the history of the James Bond films.
McClory was introduced to Fleming by their mutual friend Ivar Bryce in 1959, shortly after McClory directed the drama The Boy and the Bridge. The hope was that a Bond adaptation would allow Bryce’s film company, Xanadu Productions, to benefit from the UK’s so-called Eady subsidies, which would underwrite the cost of a film shot on British soil with a largely British crew. Since McClory was also eager to film a story with underwater elements, the company could shoot in the lush Bahamas, which were part of the British Commonwealth and thus within Eady subsidy boundaries.
Much was made of McClory’s experience in 1955 and 1956, when he worked with producer Mike Todd on Around the World in 80 Days, the colorful adventure that had reaped huge profits with its travelogue backgrounds and action-packed vignettes. McClory reasoned that Bond would also benefit from a story that took a broad, cosmopolitan view of the world.
The producer/director suggested that instead of using one of Fleming’s previous Bond novels as the basis for a script, an entirely new adventure should be written that would feature plot and production values geared toward a film audience. Eventually, McClory, Fleming, and British screenwriter Jack Whittingham collaborated on a film script titled Longitude 78 West, which introduced the international criminal organization SPECTRE and its plan to hijack two atomic bombs from the NATO powers. When, in 1960, Ivar Bryce withdrew as a possible financial backer and McClory was unable to secure additional funds, Fleming left for his annual vacation in Jamaica, where he innocently wrote a novel based on the collaborators’ film story. He called it Thunderball—from the NATO code name for the mission to recover the stolen A-bombs.
No sooner did McClory read an advance copy of the book than he and Whittingham petitioned the high court of London for an injunction to hold up publication. In their legal plea, they claimed that Fleming had infringed on their joint copyright by publishing a book based on the script without their approval.
The Thunderball infringement case dragged on for three years but was eventually a major victory for McClory, who won the film and television rights to Thunderball and all of its variations. Fleming, Whittingham, and McClory had written ten different versions of the story during their collaboration, and the rights to each of these drafts were now under McClory’s control. Additionally, future published copies of Fleming’s Thunderball novel would have to include the credit “This story is based on a screen treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham, and the author.”
While McClory was battling Fleming for the Thunderball rights, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had, in 1961, acquired film rights to all the other available James Bond novels. (The Casino Royale rights were already owned by actor Gregory Ratoff, who would shortly sell them to agent turned producer Charles K. Feldman.) When McClory won the Thunderball case in 1963, Broccoli and Saltzman had already produced the first two films in the series, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, and actor Sean Connery was on the threshold of becoming an international sensation as 007. Their success proved to be an immediate roadblock for McClory, who could not interest any financial backer in making a Thunderball film that competed with the Broccoli/Saltzman Bond pictures.
Eventually, McClory went to Broccoli and Saltzman and proposed a collaboration. He would sell them the screen rights to Thunderball in exchange for a producer credit and a percentage of the profits. Why did Broccoli and Saltzman make the deal? “We didn’t want anyone else to make Thunderball,” said Broccoli. “We had the feeling that if anyone else came and made their own Bond film, it would have been bad for our series. After Goldfinger, we naturally felt that we knew more about Bond than anyone else.
“And this fact was certainly proven two years later when my dear friend Charles K. Feldman finally made the 1967 Casino Royale. The making of that film, which everybody thought we made, ended up costing us a lot of customers. The public thought we had slipped. Early on, I could sense that happening with Thunderball. So I went ahead and made the deal with McClory to insure that the best of Fleming’s stories could be our film.”
McClory was delighted. Not only was his film about to be produced with Sean Connery in the lead role, but it was getting out at the most auspicious time—the virtual pinnacle of worldwide Bond fever. With 20 percent of the film’s profits coming to him per his contract with Broccoli and Saltzman, what more could he ask for?
There was one more thing. McClory insisted that the contract only prohibit him from producing a competing film version of Thunderball for ten years. The thought of another Thunderball a decade down the line didn’t bother Broccoli and Saltzman enough to challenge the clause. The film was produced, it became the biggest hit in the series to date, and McClory deposited loads of profits in his bank account. And promptly in 1975, he announced a new Thunderball adaptation titled James Bond of the Secret Service.
Once again, Cubby Broccoli—now producing alone, having bought out Saltzman’s shares in Eon Productions—refused to let a rival 007 production get off the ground. Legal armies began to assemble. Broccoli challenged McClory’s right to make his own James Bond films independent of Eon. McClory, meanwhile, declared that because Thunderball had introduced SPECTRE, he alone owned the rights to the fictional organization, and that Broccoli could not use it in his latest 007 film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Broccoli succeeded in outgunning McClory legally and stalling his competitor’s film plans, but he also instructed screenwriter Richard Maibaum to remove any reference to SPECTRE or its leader Blofeld from The Spy Who Loved Me.
Between 1975 and 1981, McClory would occasionally announce James Bond of the Secret Service—sometimes under the alternate title Warhead—as an upcoming project, but he was unable to attract studio interest until he was introduced to entertainment lawyer turned film producer Jack Schwartzman. Schwartzman, a former production executive at Lorimar, was the perfect collaborator for McClory. A legal whiz, Schwartzman knew full well that McClory had the right to readapt Thunderball; he just needed to present his case properly, with enough financial muscle behind him to face off against Broccoli’s equally determined legal army.
With the backing of Warner Bros., Schwartzman (who was married to actress Talia Shire of Rocky and The Godfather fame) allied himself with McClory, and paved the road to a remake of Thunderball. McClory would later take an executive producer credit on the film, which was titled Never Say Never Again, and which returned Sean Connery to the role he had made famous. Released in 1983, the film was just what Broccoli feared: a 007 film that competed with Eon’s “official” series. Nevertheless, both Never Say Never Again and Broccoli’s own 1983 Bond entry, Octopussy, were major international successes.
A native of Dublin, McClory made his motion picture debut as a location manager on director José Ferrer’s World War II drama The Cockleshell Heroes (1955), working with future Bond player Christopher Lee and a script cowritten by Richard Maibaum. The following year he was an assistant director on Moby Dick and Around the World in 80 Days. Three years later, he wrote and directed The Boy and the Bridge (1959), which featured future Bond players Geoffrey Keen (Defence Minister Freddie Gray in the Moore and Dalton films), and Stuart Saunders (Octopussy).
Over the years, McClory spent a great deal of time in Nassau, Bahamas, where he owned a beautiful waterfront property. Visiting in 1978, I saw the rusting carcass of the original Thunderball A-bomb hijacking sled sitting in the tall grass. It was a small reminder of Kevin McClory’s well-deserved place in the history of the Bond films.
Note: As Bond enters the casino in Thunderball, pay attention to the gentleman smoking a cigar in the foyer—that’s Kevin McClory.
 Albert R. Broccoli, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, April 10, 1977.