SALTZMAN, HARRY

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


(October 27, 1915–September 27, 1994): Energetic Canadian producer, long in England, who coproduced the first nine James Bond films with Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Saltzman was only two years old when his father, a Canadian flower grower, moved his family to New York City. During the Roaring Twenties, he supported his brood by selling miniature cactus plants to Manhattan dime stores. Harry attended elementary school in New York City but soon developed a passion for vaudeville. He would wander out to Long Island, where promoters were rehearsing their acts, and he’d simply hang around, hoping that someone would break him into the “business.”

At ten, he was already dreaming of the future and a career as a big time vaudeville producer. His first break came when he was hired as a reporter for a local entertainment sheet called Zit’s Weekly. Zit’s was on the other side of the tracks from Variety. It constantly blackmailed the vaudeville houses, trading advertising for good reviews and blackballing shows that would not purchase ad space. Harry had been hired by a boozy newspaperman turned critic who needed a copy boy. As his columnist boss began to come to work drunk each day, young Saltzman would write the day’s column for him. At a dollar a column, he began to make a good wage, and a few weeks after his thirteenth birthday he cleared $350 for a week’s work. He was soon looking for vaudeville talent on his own.

With a bankroll, he purchased a franchise on one of the New York stages and began booking his own acts. By 1930, he was one of the most successful promoters on the East Coast vaudeville circuit, clearing $500 to $600 a week. Prepping his acts in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, he would bring the new talent into New York City and collect a sizable profit. Two years later, he moved to Paris and applied his savvy to the French music hall scene. He even managed a traveling circus. Whatever his position, Saltzman retained a clear eye for talent—a trait that would help him once he left vaudeville for the film world.

When World War II broke out in Europe, Saltzman joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a flyer. He was given a medical discharge early in the war and returned to New York City to manage Henry Miller’s Theatre. In 1942, he enlisted in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. Assigned to the psychological warfare division, he spent the rest of the war in Europe.

He continued booking entertainment after World War II, expanding his reach into television. His most successful production, Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion (1955–1957), starring Buster Crabbe, was filmed on location in North Africa and became a very popular program in America. His film career began in England in 1956 when he formed Woodfall Productions with playwright John Osborne and director Tony Richardson. Their partnership lasted three years and produced three of England’s most critically acclaimed films of the era: Look Back in Anger (1959), which starred Richard Burton as an angry young man fighting the modern establishment; The Entertainer (1960), a brilliant study of an actor on the skids, with Laurence Olivier in the title role; and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), which brought instant stardom to young Albert Finney.

In a 1961 interview, Saltzman summarized his company’s achievement as one flop (Look Back in Anger), one break-even enterprise (The Entertainer), and one blockbuster (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning). Although he admired the daring of his young creative team—both Osborne and Richardson were in their late twenties when Woodfall was formed—he criticized the stubbornness of the pair in refusing to make their films more commercial and thus more universally appreciated. Saltzman also explained that since England was really the last country to recover from the ravages of World War II, the English public were not ready for films that showcased their postwar squalor. Saltzman’s discontent came to a head in the latter half of 1960, as Richardson developed his next project, A Taste of Honey. Unable to point his young partners in a more commercial direction, he resigned his position.

Saltzman began searching for his own film projects that were more in tune with audiences as he saw them. He wanted to produce adventure films along the lines of Captain Gallant—films that would transport an audience to another world where opulence not squalor was the norm, where bigger-than-life characters predominated, and where audiences could forget about their troubles. He was looking for escapism. He found what he was looking for in the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming.

Saltzman and Fleming shared the same lawyer, Brian Lewis, who had been assisting the author in setting up a pair of trust funds for his wife, Anne, and their son, Caspar. The lawyer had advised Fleming to make a deal for the film rights to his 007 novels; otherwise the trust value of his books would have to be based on the 1954 sale of Casino Royale to Gregory Ratoff for $6,000. Now it was Lewis who introduced Fleming to Saltzman.

The two men’s fateful meeting took place at noon on a winter’s day in 1960 at Les Ambassadeurs, a fashionable club in London’s West End. As Saltzman began to discuss the films he had made at Woodfall with Tony Richardson and John Osborne, Fleming confessed that he didn’t go to movies, and that the only film he had seen recently, The Boy and the Bridge, had resulted in a collaboration with the film’s director, Kevin McClory, that ended in a chaotic impasse. Fleming came to the point and asked Saltzman what he could offer for the seven outstanding Bond books. Harry said that he could scrape together $50,000 for a six-month option, and if the project was picked up by a major studio, he would try to get Fleming $100,000 a picture, plus a percentage of the profits. The deal appealed to Fleming, who needed the option money to pay hospital bills. He may also have been compelled by his and Saltzman’s shared history in covert operations during World War II. “I really strongly believe that he and my father shared some similar experiences,” said Saltzman’s daughter, Hilary. “Even though they couldn’t publicize it, I really think Ian felt that this series was safe in my father’s hands.”[1] Fleming suggested that Saltzman get in touch with his film agent, Bob Fenn at MCA, and work out the deal on paper.

Once the option was in place, Saltzman tried for five months to sell the studios on the idea of a series of James Bond movies. He encountered the same problems as Fleming: the studios would not touch the projects without the commitment of a major star, and no major star would commit himself to more than a couple of films. The frustration continued until one day in June 1961, with only twenty-eight days left on the option, Saltzman received a call from his writer friend Wolf Mankowitz, who wanted to introduce him to another film producer, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. Saltzman had never met Broccoli, but he knew of his successful track record with coproducer Irving Allen in a series of action-packed films for Columbia Pictures. He thought it would be interesting to see Broccoli’s offer.

Broccoli, meanwhile, was very interested in partnering up on a 007 series. Two years before, he had tried to interest his partner, Irving Allen, in purchasing the Bond film rights, but Allen had balked. (Ironically, Allen would go on to produce the Matt Helm spy series starring Dean Martin.) Although no two producers could be more different in background, style, and approach to the film business as Broccoli and Saltzman, they had one solid point in common: they knew in their hearts that the Bond books were perfect escapist movie fare. Agreeing to venture forth as a team (with a fifty-fifty split), and calling their company Eon Productions (EON standing for “Everything or Nothing”), Saltzman and Broccoli were able to make a deal with United Artists (after Columbia Pictures turned them down) for a series of Bond movies.

While the Bond films would become Broccoli’s sole interest in the film business, Saltzman whistled a different tune. No sooner was Bond off and running than Saltzman was already searching for new projects. Early in production on the Bond series, he acquired the rights to thriller writer Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer series, hired Michael Caine to play Palmer, and produced the three films away from the Eon banner. He also spent literally years on The Battle of Britain, which Guy Hamilton directed in 1969. Actually, the only time Broccoli and Saltzman combined their efforts on a non-Bond project was on the Bob Hope comedy Call Me Bwana, which bombed in 1963—although its billboard pops up in a strategic spot in From Russia with Love.

Saltzman’s outside interests not only began to interfere with his dedication to the Bond series, they also began to have an adverse effect on his financial condition. He fought for control of the film processing company Technicolor, but a sudden reversal in the corporation’s fortunes in the mid-1970s eventually forced him to sell his share in Eon Productions to United Artists. The Man with the Golden Gun was his last Bond movie. Saltzman’s additional film credits include The Iron Petticoat (1956), The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966), Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Play Dirty (1969), and Nijinsky (1980).


[1] David Kamp, “Harry the Spy: The Secret Pre-history of a James Bond Producer,” Vanity Fair, September 18, 2012, https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/10/fifty-years-of-james-bond.