In all, Fleming wrote a dozen Bond books between 1953 and 1966, among them: Live and Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), Diamonds Are Forever (1956), From Russia with Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), For Your Eyes Only (short story collection, 1960), Thunderball (1961), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964), and The Man with the Golden Gun (1965). There were also two additional collections of short stories: Octopussy and The Living Daylights published in 1966. Fleming died from a heart attack at the age of 56 in 1964, so two of his Bond books and the collections were published posthumously. Since then, other authors have produced additional Bond novels and there have been more than 25 Bond films. The James Bond entertainment empire has become one of the world’s most valuable, with its books, films, and music continuing to sell to the present day.
Initially, Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels were not bestsellers in America. In the U.K., Fleming’s books enjoyed a popular following and mostly positive reviews through the 1950s – especially his first five books: Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia, with Love. But beginning around March 1958, about the time Dr. No was published, he began to receive some unfavorable reviews from book critics, one saying his Bond books suffered from “the total lack of any ethical frame of reference.” Another review of Dr. No in the New Statesman was titled “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism,” with the reviewer calling it “the nastiest book I have ever read.” For a time thereafter, Fleming fell into disfavor. But his fortunes would soon change and his work would rise once again, receiving a major boost from America.
In early 1961, after one of Fleming’s Bond books was mentioned by Life magazine’s White House reporter Hugh Sidey in an article about President John F. Kennedy’s reading habits, sales of all Fleming’s novels took off in America. Sidey’s article in the March 17, 1961 issue of Life had listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of Kennedy’s ten favorite books. Sidey’s piece also mentioned that the President had invited Fleming to the White House for dinner.Back in the U.K. meanwhile, Fleming had sold an option on the film rights to some of his Bond novels to a newly formed film company named Eon Productions. After an extensive search, Eon hired Scottish actor Sean Connery to do five James Bond films beginning with Dr. No, which was released in 1962.
Connery’s depiction of Bond in the early films, in fact, would have some effect on the character Fleming was continuing to create in his books. In the novel You Only Live Twice, which Fleming crafted after the Dr. No film, Fleming began to give the Bond character a sense of humor and some Scottish background, qualities that had not appeared in the earlier Bond stories.The Bond films, in any case, sent Fleming’s books and the entire James Bond enterprise in a wholly new and more prosperous direction. Although the first film, Dr. No, received a mixed reception at its U.K. premiere in October 1962, it still became a popular film at the U.K. box office, and was later released in the U.S. Dr. No, which cost $1 million to make, grossed about $60 million worldwide ($152 million adjusted gross), so the filmmakers knew they had a good thing going. From Russia, With Love, the next film in the series, came out in 1963, and this film did even better, earning more than $78 million ($214 million, adjusted).
But the James Bond mania in the U.S. really didn’t take hold in a big way until 1964-65, with the release of the Goldfinger film. This film also had a notable soundtrack and “Goldfinger” theme song by Welsh singer Shirley Bassey that added to its lustre and marketing (more on the music later). The plot of the Goldfinger story, for book and film, focus on arch villain named Auric Goldfinger, who schemes to play havoc with the world’s finances by messing with the U.S. gold reserves at the Fort Knox bullion depository in Kentucky.
The Goldfinger book was the seventh novel in Fleming’s James Bond series. It was first published by the U.K. publisher Jonathan Cape, Ltd in London in late March 1959, although Fleming had written it a year or so earlier. The cover of the original hardback edition, shown above, featured a skeleton of a human skull with gold coins placed in the eye sockets. The book did reasonably well in the U.K, where Fleming already had millions of readers. Although when it was released in the U.S. in August 1959 by MacMillan – prior to the 1961 JFK boost of the Fleming books – it had not done well. But there were much better days ahead.The release of the Goldfinger film changed everything for the business fortunes of James Bond and Ian Fleming. The film was first released in the U.K. in September 1964, followed by a release in the U.S.
The American premiere was held on December 21st, 1964 at the DeMille Theater in New York City. To promote the film, the two Aston Martin DB5 sports cars were also showcased at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, as the car and its gadgets became something of star in the film as well. Two of the sports cars can also be seen on the street in front of the theater in the premiere photo above. Following the opening at the DeMille Theater, demand for the film was so high that the theater stayed open twenty-four hours a day for around-the-clock showings from Christmas Eve straight through until after New Year’s Day.The release of the Goldfinger film in the U.S. benefitted from its advance notice and press coverage, such as the Life magazine story that appeared in November 1964 with the gold-painted actress Shirley Eaton appearing on the cover (photo at top of this article), along with a series of other action shots from the film appearing inside the magazine. Following the film’s release in the U.S., it was rolled out in other European countries and beyond. At the premiere in Paris, Sean Connery drove an Aston Martin DB5 down the Champs-Elysees and some sixty women there were also gilded in gold as the Shirley Eaton character was in the movie.
Goldfinger was both a critical and financial success. Its $3 million budget was recouped within two weeks of its release, and it broke box office records in multiple countries around the world. At the time, it was the fastest grossing film ever. In its original worldwide theatrical release in 1964-65, Goldfinger pulled in $124.9 million. In today’s dollars that would translate to almost $900 million. As one point of comparison, as of April 2009 the Bond film Quantum of Solace pulled in some $576 million worldwide.
Goldfinger’s success led to a variety of product tie-ins for clothing, dress shoes, action figures, board games, jigsaw puzzles, lunch boxes, toys, record albums, and trading cards. Toy manufacturer, Corgi Toys began a long relationship with the Bond franchise, producing a toy car which became the biggest selling toy of 1964. And sales of real Aston Martin sports cars rose as well, partly attributed to the film’s use of the car.The success of Goldfinger and the other Bond films also led to surging sales of Fleming’s Bond novels. Nearly six million Bond books were sold in the United Kingdom in 1964, with about one million of those being Goldfinger books. From 1962 to 1967, more than 22 million Bond novels were sold. Goldfinger books that came out after the film’s release usually touted the film on the book’s front and back covers, with some showing photos of Sean Connery as Bond. Signet and Pan paperback editions did this, with Signet running a tag line on the front cover, “Now A Great Motion Picture,” along with a small photo of Bond holding his pistol. The Pan paperback edition of Goldfinger in London had at least 26 printings through 1976, with additional copies sold under other imprints. A Viking/Pengin paperback of Goldfinger came out in 2002, as had others by then.
In the opening scenes of the Goldfinger film, James Bond is shown on a prior assignment – infiltrating and destroying the house of a drug lord in Mexico. The story quickly segues to his next assignment, as Bond is in Miami Beach, enjoying a bit of R & R, though his holiday is interrupted by agent Felix with orders from “M” in London that Bond should keep his eye on a character named Auric Goldfinger, who as it happened, was also in Miami. Mr. Goldfinger is ostensibly a horse-breeder and international jeweler – and of course, much more. London suspects him of being a gold smuggler, and as soon becomes clear, he is a scheming bad actor.
In Miami, poolside, at the hotel where they are staying, Bond discovers that Goldfinger is cheating in a card game he is playing with another businessman. Bond notices an earpiece, which Goldfinger claims is a hearing aid. But Bond suspects something else and notices a hotel balcony several stories up within Goldfinger’s line of sight.
Upon closer inspection of the hotel balcony, Bond discovers a beautiful blond in a bathing suit on a chase lounge off one of the balcony rooms – Goldfinger’s room, it turns out. She is on duty there, working for Goldfinger with a pair of high-powered spyglasses relaying to Goldfinger’s “hearing aid” the cards his opponent is holding. Bond spoils the party, ending the card-cheating transmissions, leaving Goldfinger to fend for himself.
Meanwhile Bond strikes up a relationship with his new found lady friend, Jill, the Goldfinger girl played by Shirley Eaton. The two adjourn to Bond’s hotel room where they share some champagne and romance.
But after Bond leaves the room for a moment to retrieve another bottle of champagne from the suite’s kitchen, he is knocked out by an intruder.
When he awakens, he finds his new girl friend is sprawled across the bed, but painted head to toe in gold paint. She is dead; asphyxiated by the paint. Goldfinger has had his revenge, posting a warning to Bond in the process.
Bond then returns to London where he is assigned to find out how Goldfinger transports his gold internationally, which takes him to Geneva, Switzerland, where he infiltrates Auric Enterprises.
In Geneva, Bond learns that Goldfinger smuggles gold by incorporating it into the body of his automobile, a gold-plated Rolls Royce. Bond also begins to learn that Goldfinger has something else planned: something called Operation Grand Slam.
In Geneva, Bond also meets the sister of the slain Goldfinger girl from Miami who tries to kill Goldfinger, but is herself murdered by Goldfinger’s bodyguard, Oddjob, who has a steel-brimmed derby he throws around as a killing device.
Bond becomes Goldfinger’s prisoner, and he is flown to the States by Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Ms. Pussy Galore, who also heads up a group of female aviators who later figure into the Goldfinger plot.
Bond is taken to the Auric Stud Farm in Kentucky where he further learns of Goldfinger’s plans. Goldfinger at one point tries to slice Bond in half with a deadly industrial laser, but Bond talks his way out of it, claiming that London would suspect the worst if he were dead and foil Goldfinger’s plans.
At the Kentucky horse farm, Goldfinger has a meeting with several mob leaders from across America. Goldfinger owes each of them one million in gold, which he promises to increase if they go along with his latest plan for Forth Knox.
However, one of the mob leaders disagrees, and Goldfinger, seemingly, pays him his gold bullion and allows him to leave. Oddjob then appears to be taking the disgruntled mob boss to the airport, but instead, the mobster ends up murdered in car-crushing junkyard where he and his car are reduced to a small cube.
Back at the horse farm, Goldfinger gasses the other mob leaders believing them a risk to his plan, also cancelling out his mob debt. The mobsters are gassed in the self-sealing briefing room.
Meanwhile, Bond has learned that Operation Grand Slam will be an attempt to irradiate the U.S. gold supply at Fort Knox, making the gold radioactive for decades, thereby increasing the value of Goldfinger’s holdings while plunging the U.S. into economic chaos.
Goldfinger’s personal pilot, aviatrix Pussy Galore and her “Flying Circus” of female flyers, will take their planes over the Fort Knox area on the appointed day, spraying lethal gas to take out the military. Goldfinger and his forces will then helicopter in with their dirty bomb for the Fort Knox vault.
Bond, however, has won the affections of Ms. Galore, and she substitutes a harmless gas for the aerial spray while informing U.S. authorities of Goldfinger’s sinister plot.
Still, at the Ft. Knox vault during Goldfinger’s raid, Bond must deal with the bomb, now installed and ticking away, and also with Oddjob, who is out to kill him.
Bond and Oddjob struggle in a dramatic fight, with Oddjob electrocuted in a final scene when he tries to retrieve his steel-brimmed hat which had become stuck in the metal bars of the repository from an earlier throw. As Oddjob grabs the hat on the metal bars, Bond throws a live electrical wire on the bars charging them with current and doing in Mr. Oddjob.
Mr. Goldfinger, meanwhile, has dressed in a colonel’s uniform beneath his regular clothes, and is able to use this disguise in a last minute maneuver to kill the U.S. troops attempting to open the vault, while then escaping the scene himself. A bomb expert arrives, meanwhile, and manages to stop the dirty bomb clock at 0:07 seconds remaining.
With the Fort Knox threat foiled, and the gold supply safe for the moment, Bond is invited to the White House for a meeting with the President. He is squired to Washington aboard an Air Force jet, and all appears well.
However, on the way to Washington the plane is hijacked by Goldfinger, who has disguised himself as a U. S. general and has coerced Pussy Galore to pilot and divert the jet to Cuba.
In the plane, a struggle ensues over Goldfinger’s revolver, and in the course of their fight, one of the plane’s windows is shot out, creating a decompression in which Goldfinger is sucked out of the cabin to his death.
As the plane tailspins toward earth and out of control, Bond rescues Ms. Galore and the two parachute safely to the ground below, where they become reacquainted as the film ends and the film score plays.
Goldfinger was made especially memorable for many film goers by way of its music. For the first time in a Bond movie, a theme song was sung over the opening credits. And in this case, the song was “Goldfinger,” performed in brassy fashion by Welsh singer Shirley Bassey. The song was a most powerful addition to the film, and set the tone for the rest of the film score. The American Film Institute has included the song among its 100 best film songs, ranked at No. 53.
The release of Bassey’s “Goldfinger” single in 1965 sold more than a million copies in the U. S. alone. The song rose to No. 8 on the U.S. Billboard charts, remaining on that chart for 13 weeks. It also became an international hit, reaching No. 1 in Japan and rising into the Top Ten in many European countries.
The “Goldfinger” song was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. The film score was also composed by John Barry, and the resulting soundtrack album made heavy use of the brassy sound set out in Shirley Bassey’s opening song.
The Goldfinger soundtrack album went to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard albums chart, spending 70 weeks there. It also rose to No. 14 on the U.K. albums chart, although the U.K. version had four tracks that didn’t appear on the American version. John Barry’s Goldfinger was also nominated for a motion picture film score Grammy.
“John Barry’s score ushered in a new style of swinging action music..,” observed Justin Craig of Fox News in one 2012 retrospective review of the film and its music. “Barry breathed an entirely new sound and style into movies and truly gave the entire Bond franchise its soul and musical identity. There’s no denying the impact Barry’s opening title song, performed by Shirley Bassey, has had on the future, of not only the Bond franchise, but music for the movies overall.”
Goldfinger was the first Bond film to use a pop star to sing a Bond movie theme song, and the practice would continue in subsequent Bond films.
Shirley Bassey would go on to sing two other Bond film theme songs — “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker.” Bassey already had a number of hits as a U.K. performer when she sang “Goldfinger,” but the Bond theme became her first true international hit.
In fact, the “Goldfinger” theme and “Diamonds Are Forever” became so famous for Bassey that she had difficulty establishing a pop career outside of England beyond those tunes. In February 2013, at the 85th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, Bassey sang the famous “Goldfinger” theme song to to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise. She received a standing ovation for her performance. Anthony Newley’s version of the “Goldfinger” song was included in a 30th anniversary compilation album, The Best of Bond…James Bond.
The Bond Legacies“Of all the Bonds,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert in a 1999 retrospective, “Goldfinger is the best, and can stand as a surrogate for the others. If it is not a great film, it is a great entertainment, and contains all the elements of the Bond formula that would work again and again…” Goldfinger and the Bond films are also credited as a key influence on the proliferation of spy films and TV series that flourished through the mid-and late 1960s.
Roger Ebert also wrote that James Bond was perhaps the most durable of the 20th century’s movie heroes, and the one likely to last into the 21st century. “He is a hero,” Ebert said of Bond, “but not a bore. Even faced with certain death, he can cheer himself by focusing instead on the possibility that first he might get lucky. He’s obsessed with creature comforts, a trial to his superiors, a sophisticate in all material things and able to parachute into enemy territory and be wearing a tuxedo five minutes later. When it comes to movie spies, Agent 007 is full-service, one-stop shopping.”
Added to Ebert’s perspective on Bond is the following description offered by The Museum of Modern Art of New York for its October 2012 exhibition, “50 Years of James Bond”:
Created by novelist Ian Fleming in 1953, the iconic James Bond, 007, is among the few MI-6 agents with the “00” grade—a license to kill. In addition to his deadly skills, the sophisticated, suave, and impeccably dressed Bond remains a loner, despite countless romantic encounters with stunning female spies, voluptuous assassins, provocative party-girls, and a charismatic psychopath or two. The alluring aura of danger and self-confidence he exudes is irresistible to women, but none are allowed to get too close.
Whether portrayed by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, or Daniel Craig, Bond is forever loyal to Queen and country, possessed of a martini-dry sense of humor, considerably stylish, and eternally enigmatic. When his boss, M, is in need of a formidable agent to quell a globe-spanning espionage crisis, 007 is sent into the field with his trusty Walther PPK [pistol], an array of handy spy gadgets, and an unwavering commitment to his mission.The Bond formula, in any case, seems to have worked quite well, whether in print or on film. By one estimate, Eon Production’s series of 23 James Bond films so far, through Skyfall of 2012, has grossed an inflation-adjusted $12.3 billion worldwide, and by that measure is the single most successful film series in history.
As for the James Bond literary legacy, 007 publications have continued beyond Ian Fleming’s founding contributions, whose Bond books alone have sold more 100 million copies worldwide to date. Eight other writers – John Gardner and Raymond Benson among them – have contributed at least 20 more Bond novels since Fleming’s death, and there are more on the way. In May 2011, American writer Jeffery Deaver, released Carte Blanche, a book commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications that puts Bond in a post-9/11 world working independent of either MI-5 or MI-6. In 2012, the Fleming estate announced that William Boyd would write the next Bond novel, to be published by Jonathan Cape in London and expected for release in the fall of 2013. James Bond, it appears, will be with us for many years to come.
Other spy novel history at this website, and related film production, can be found in the story, “The Bourne Profitability.” Additional story choices in the film and/or publishing categories can be found at “Print & Publishing” or “Film & Hollywood,” or at the Home Page.
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Date Posted: 23 February 2013
Last Update: 22 July 2015
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Jack Doyle, “Goldfinger, 1959-1965,”
PopHistoryDig.com, February 23, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
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