As if my childhood didn't have enough expensive hobbies and interests to fill my time and devour my meager allowance, 1965 was the year that I added yet another passion to a group that already included comics, monster magazines trading cards, model kits, and the Beatles.
This time, though, I was late to the party, so to speak.
The rest of the world had succumbed to 007-mania with the release of Goldfinger, but I didn't see that film until its re-re-release; I suspect my parents were concerned about the emphasis on a gold-painted naked lady that was a part of the marketing campaign (I can guarantee you that my mom wasn't convinced this was at all appropriate for a 10 year old, which was my age when Goldfinger was initially released).
But by the time the international press campaign for Thunderball launched in earnest in 1965, I knew this was something I wanted to experience. Action, intrigue, suspense, espionage, glamour, and amazing effects (well, they were pretty amazing for the time... the underwater scenes were far beyond anything I had ever witnessed on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, that's for sure)--yep, I wanted to know more about this James Bond...
Because Dad worked for a newspaper, he often had access to press kits for films; in the past, those press kits hadn't included the sort of films I'd like to see (no one was doing a major press promotion for The Tingler or The Screaming Skull), but the pre-release buzz for Thunderball caught my attention right away... and this was a film for which Dad could get the press kit. Well, sort of--it was cut up, with a few images missing, because local theaters would ask the newspapers to use some of these images with their newspaper ads. The black and white press kits included, in addition to stills from the film, a number of press-release-style articles and film ads in a variety of sizes for every market.
I had seen references to James Bond in at least one movie magazine that I had picked up, but it hadn't made much of an impression on me. I had also seen a DC Comics adaptation of Dr. No that appeared in Showcase a couple of years earlier, but that seemed dull and lackluster compared to the usual Showcase contents. This whole Thunderball thing, though--now this looked great. James Bond looking debonair while a jetpack carried him away from his adversaries; James Bond grappling underwater with the lead adversary as a virtual army of well-prepared black-clad scuba divers prepared for the confrontation; James Bond surrounded by beautiful women... And all the while, he always looked suave and nonplussed, in spite of the danger that awaited.
Because the marketing for this film seemed more action-oriented and less sensual in nature than that aforementioned golden girl image utilized to promote Goldfinger, Mom and Dad were willing to let me see this film at the DeSoto Theater in downtown Rome. I was entranced by the storyline, by the visuals, but most of all by the sophisticated agent 007, who always knew just the right thing to say and do. Forget Batman or Superman or Spider-Man... I wanted to grow up to be this guy! I wanted the cool cars and the gadgets and the glamour and the glory--just like millions of other people who found in the 007 image the sort of intrepid hero that we all could admire.
Bond was as much a hero as any of those comics characters I loved; oh, he didn't have a costume as such, but he had a heroic identity, he had the gadgets, he had the funding, and he had the skills necessary to confront any adversary. And unlike Batman, he had this really great accent that made everything sound impressive!
Actually, 1965 was the year when I discovered two new passions: James Bond and a television show that my parents casually mentioned as being "sort of like James Bond." I was intrigued; how could any television show capture the global intrigue and the level of excitement of James Bond?
So at my mother's suggestion, I tried an episode of this quirky NBC series called The Man from UNCLE. And right off the bat, I saw that Mom was right!
Rather than presenting a James Bond clone, The Man from UNCLE starred two heroes, each of whom represented different aspects of the Bond persona. Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo was the suave, handsome (well, supposedly--but I never really saw why that big-headed lug was considered attractive), and adept at the art of espionage--but it was David McCallum's Ilya Kuryakin that appealed to me more. He represented the down-to-business side of Bond's persona; his accent gave him a bit of an exotic air, his appearance echoed vaguely of the Beatles early look, but his black turtleneck and shoulder holster wardrobe made it clear that this was the man who took care of business.
I missed most of the first season of Man from UNCLE, but caught up with it in reruns. While it lacked the expansive budgets and on-location scenarios of the Bond films, it had one advantage: it came on every week, whereas we only got one Bond film a year. And like James Bond, UNCLE had it share of magazines, trading cards, toys, and other paraphernalia to eat up whatever budget an eleven-year-old might have left over after investing in all his other entertainment addictions.
Today, in an entertainment world filled with high-tech effects-laden comics-based films and television series, it might seem odd to hear of a comics fan embracing the world of Bond and UNCLE because they were about as comic-book-like as one could find in films or on television. But back then, Bond and UNCLE were eye-opening, because they showed me that (a) larger-than-life heroes could find be extremely successful and popular, and (b) the aforementioned heroes didn't have to wear a colorful costume or have amazing powers to engage in wonderful adventures.