In 1953 Ian Fleming published the first of 12 James Bond novels, Casino Royale, and launched what is arguably the most successful entertainment franchise of the 20th century. More than 100 million copies of his novels have been sold, and the series has spawned more than 2 dozen films.
Casino Royale sold very well in the UK, but a year later in 1954, Commander James Bond was still relatively unknown in the United States.
The earliest attempt at a filmed version of James Bond came in October of 1954, when an American anthology TV series called CLIMAX! produced a live broadcast of Casino Royale.
Fleming was reportedly paid $1,000 for the rights to the story, and Barry Nelson played an `Americanized’ Jimmy Bond of `combined intelligence’.
Bond aficionados will immediately notice a few `discrepancies’ in this production, including the changing of American CIA Agent Felix Leiter into a British agent named Clarence Leiter.
Linda Christian becomes the first `Bond girl’, in a character that was an amalgam of the Royale characters Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis.
Peter Lorre is appropriately menacing as the first Bond Villain, playing Le Chiffre, whom `Jimmy Bond’ must bust playing Baccarat.
Admittedly stage bound, and lacking the sort of sexual conquests, fast cars, jazzy music, and gadgets that Bond movies are famous for, this still makes for an interesting hour of early TV.
A copy of this early TV production has just showed up on the Internet Archive, and you can either watch it online, or download it for your collection.
Interestingly, the only time the words `Casino Royale’ are uttered during this production is during the intro by series host William Lundigan.
For more live productions from the golden age of TV, you may wish to check out:
Although CBS briefly toyed with the idea of a James Bond TV series in the the late 1950s, it would be another 8 years before Bond would return to the screen (Dr. No).
Casino Royale has been remade twice since this Climax version, with the 1967 James Bond spoof called starring David Niven, and most recently in 2006 with Daniel Craig playing a darker, earthier Bond sans many of the gadgets that had defined earlier screen portrayals.