Steve Rubin is an experienced film producer, special features producer and film journalist. He is also an expert on science fiction movies, combat movies and James Bond movies, having written the first behind the scenes book on 007, 'The James Bond Films' (1981), and the first 007 encyclopedia 'The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia' (1990). Steve also worked as a unit publicist on numerous films, and was a successful film journalist. I spoke with him about his writing and producing career and his relationship with Bond ... James Bond.
Where did you grow up?
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in Southern California. My father worked in steel cable distribution, which was allied to the construction business. He couldn't stand the Chicago winters so we moved to LA. I had a fairly normal childhood.
Did you love films as a kid?
I lived across the street from a movie theatre for six years, so I went to the movies every week. This was during a time when they had Saturday matinees, and we saw all these 50s science fiction movies and horror movies.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I went to UCLA and I was a History Major. I wrote for the college newspaper, The Daily Bruin, and I started to see my name in print. I had a lot of fun being a college journalist and it inspired me to start a writing career, although I couldn't make any money at it. In the day I parked cars, I was a messenger, I was a telephone operator. I'd write at night.
How did you get involved with writing about sci-fi movies?
I had submitted a letter to a popular science fiction film magazine in Chicago called Cinefantastique. Fred Clark and I started to be very close. I became their 1950s expert. The irony is that all of those movies that I saw at the kiddies matinees became the sources of my interviews. I did a long retrospective on FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), and THEM (1954). I got a lot of attention. I got a very nice letter from Leonard Maltin, the great film historian, complimenting me on my work. These were not typical magazine articles. For THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL piece I worked for six months gathering all the information and the behind the scenes materials. I went up to Stanford and interviewed Julian Blaustein, I had a long interview with Robert Wise, and I talked to the writer Edmond North. In fact he answered one of the great questions of all time in movie history – 'What does Klaatu Barada Nikto mean?' He told me it means 'There is hope for Earth if scientists can be reached.' I love this kind of stuff. I love looking in old files for old film stills and gathering information on behind the scenes, and interviewing the actual filmmakers.
I decided to write a book, and since I was really interested in WW2 and movies, my first book was called Combat Films. I was really interested in writing about how movies were made. I was fascinated by the concept of how a movie gets put together. The very first interview that I did was with Michael Blankfort. He was a blacklisted American screenwriter who wrote a movie called HALLS OF MONTEZUMA (1950) with Richard Widmark. I sat down with him and he told me all these fascinating stories about the writing of the screenplay and the making of the movie. I just knew I had tapped into something. I started interviewing filmmakers and screenwriters and I did that for years, just gathering information. I did a long interview with John Sturges about the making of THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), I talked to Henry Hathaway about THE DESERT FOX (1951), Don Siegel about HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962), Carl Foreman about THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957). The book was published in 1981 by MacFarland.
Why did you decide to write The James Bond Films (1981)?
By the mid-70s I had been a big fan of John Brosnan's book James Bond in the Cinema (1972). I actually went to London and met him. I decided that somebody should do for Bond what I had been doing for science fiction films and war films. At that time, there was nothing around on Bond. I kind of tested the waters. I wrote a letter to 'Cubby' Broccoli, the prioducer of the series, in mid-1977. I told him I had written a book on combat films and that I was a film historian. He was impressed by that, and I met him. He gave me an entree to his stepson Michael G. Wilson, and so in the summer of 77 I went over to London with this official support of 'Cubby' and met with Michael. They had just wrapped THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), so I was a little too late, but I went out to Pinewood Studios and I was one of the first people to see the finished movie. It was very cool. I went out there with Ken Adam and Michael in a Rolls Royce. I felt like royalty. They were so cooperative. They opened their filing cabinets to me. I was able to copy call sheets from the first ten movies. When I started my book I had carte blanche and a lot of information even before I began doing my interviews. I spent a month in London and did a lot of interviews. I talked to Ken Adam, Lewis Gilbert, John Glen, and back in LA I talked to Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz. I had a lot of fun.
Why did 'Cubby' eventually withdraw his support of the book?
I made a strategic blunder. I was so impressed by my interviews with Richard Maibaum, Terence Young, Ken Adam and Peter Hunt that I decided I was going to show them to Cubby. I was like a little kid saying ''Look how cool all this great information I'm getting is. '' Rather than get Cubby excited about my book project, he became offended. He felt like I was telling everybody's story and not his story. He didn't want to correct what Richard Maibaum said, or Ken Adam or Peter Hunt or Terence Young. He kind of walked away from the project. But he also ordered the movie studio not to give me any movie stills. So there I was, after two or three years of research, and I had no photographs. Fred Clark, who was my editor at Cinefantastique, got wind of it, and he did something that was a real unfortunate thing. He took out a kind of sensationalist tabloid ad for the book and in it there was the question ''Who is this producer and why did he want this book stopped?'' next to a picture of Cubby. Michael G. Wilson saw the ad and was furious at me. He had been sympathetic to me because we had become friends in London, but he thought I was taking a cheap shot at his stepdad. That ended our whole relationship and I haven't spoken to Michael since. I was able to find ways of illustrating the book that got around their edict. I went to places like The Associated Press. In the old days, MGM/ UA would send the movie pictures to AP. They'd stamp on the back 'Official AP Photo'. A person could walk in and buy the picture. So, for example, I would have a picture of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) and I would publish it in the book, and reference it AP. The book came out in 1981 as 'The James Bond Films: A Behind the Scenes History'. It was published by a company in London called Talisman, and the US imprint was Arlington House. It sold really well. An updated edition was published in 1983.
Very proud. I thought it turned out swell. We actually thought it might get banned and never see the light of day, but I'm kind of a tenacious person when it comes to making sure my stuff gets out there in the world. I think I had 235 stills and I couldn't use 190 of them. I expanded the ones I had to about 100. I did things that there were unusual. For example, for the MOONRAKER (1979) chapter I went to NASA and got pictures of the space shuttle. I found file photos of actors. In the same year my book was published I did an article for the LA Times on 'Whatever Happened to All the Bond Women?' Jane Seymour agreed to pose with me for some pictures for the article, and one of those pictures got on the back cover of the book.
How did you get involved with the Criterion laserdisc of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)?
One of my best friends, and now writing partner, David Lee Miller, used to run Criterion when it was just laserdiscs. In 1991 he got the licence to put the first three Bond films on laserdisc. He hired me to do the commentary for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, and we did a great one with Terence Young, Peter Hunt, and Richard Maibaum. I assumed it was all above board, but nobody had mentioned to 'Cubby' anything about a commentary. 'Cubby' was understandably furious because of what the people were saying. Terence Young is one of the great raconteurs of all time, and he would say stuff like ''Oh, Lotte Lenya. I love her. She was like 72 years old and still ...'' well, let's say, very sexually active. And they left it in the commentary! Can you imagine what he must have said when he heard that? The discs were all withdrawn so they could remove the commentaries. An interesting postscript is that years later when the battle between Sony (representing Kevin McClory) and UA (representing the Broccolis) began, both sides called me to be an expert witness. I turned them both down. There was no way I was going to get in the middle of that because I want to have a career as a filmmaker in Hollywood.
Given how things went, how do you feel about the whole situation with the Bond producers now?
I have great respect for the Broccolis. I think of all the producers who have ever graced Hollywood ,I think the Bond producers have been the most responsible to their fans. They really try to do a good job every time and they have protected their franchise well. What happened between us was unfortunate and not really consequential. I think by becoming an outside writer it gave me a little bit more freedom to offer more of a critique in my books. In terms of the illustrations, it allowed me to explore new avenues, particularly when it came to getting the Bond Encyclopedia done.
In 1990 I heard from a publisher called Contemporary Books of Chicago. They had had great success with a Marilyn Monroe Encyclopedia and an Elvis Presley Encyclopedia. The idea of a James Bond Encyclopedia was a real natural. I went to London in 1989 and I went all over looking for photos. I found a real treasure trove. I found pictures in the most unusual places. I went to Ronnie Udell, who was the construction manager at Pinewood. He opened up one of his cabinets and there were tons of wonderful, extraordinary pictures of the sets. I put out an all points bulletin for friends to find pictures and people came out of the woodwork. I did a lot of new interviews. Writing an encyclopedia is a fascinating experience because you literally collect information from everywhere. With the advent of computers, I was able to do everything more efficiently. It was a lot of fun and the book was very successful. It's a fun compendium. I was a little disappointed that the publisher didn't really want to spend the money to realphabetise for the new edition. In the second edition in 1995 and the third edition in 2003, they put all the Pierce Brosnan material at the back of the book.
With all the interviews that you've done for the Bond books, what are some of your favorite revelations that you managed to uncover?
For me personally it's the little details. Kevin McClory was very helpful to me because he gave me a lot of behind the scenes information and some of the early drafts of the THUNDERBALL (1965) script. Usually the most interesting stuff for me was related to the first six films because I grew up with them and they are my favourites. Although I've always enjoyed the series ever since, I would say my love of Bond dissipated after ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969). I love the little details like Peter Hunt explaining that they never changed the line of dialogue in GOLDFINGER (1964) when the A-bomb ticks down to 007 because they couldn't get Sean back to loop the dialogue. He still says ''Three more ticks and Mr. Goldfinger would have hit the jackpot.'' Which makes no sense!
How did you research the Encyclopedia?
One of the things I did was watch each movie and keep a pad in front of me. When I saw an interesting fact or mistake I would note it. I found surprising and fun things. For example, when they are loading the gold into Mr. Solo's limousine in GOLDFINGER, the fork lift drives by the camera and on the side it says Leland Industries of Coventry in England, when it's meant to be Kentucky, where Goldfinger's horse ranch is. It's a bit of trivia that people don't normally notice. It's interesting that Mie Hama's character in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), Kissy Suzuki, is never named in the movie. I've never seen a main character in a movie literally have no name! I remember that when I was writing The James Bond Films, I interviewed Bill Hill, the production manager on FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. I spoke to him in London in 1977, and he told me that he was also the British agent that Grant kills. We joked about what could possibly have made his character follow Grant into the bathroom!
Going back to when I was researching the Combat Films book, I was looking for those things that could only come from the horse's mouth. Maurice Binder told me that when he was doing the main titles for THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), a model's pubic hair was sticking out and he asked her to put some vaseline on it. She asked him ''Can you do it?'', and he was down on his knees applying the vaseline when Cubby Broccoli and Roger Moore walked in. Roger turned to 'Cubby' and said ''Cubby, I thought you were the producer on this picture?'' It was hysterical. Maurice was a lot of fun. In 1981 I started working on movies as a unit publicist. I'd be the PR man on the set. Two years later I was working on a scince fiction film that Ivan Reitman produced called SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983). Frank Tidy was our director of photography, and he also happened to have been a camera assistant working with Trevor Bond and Robert Brownjohn on the titles for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. He told me how they came up with the idea of the credits being projected on the belly dancer's body, and also that they did a joke by putting Ted Moore's credit on the woman's bum. I thought that was funny. There's always someone who has a story.
Christmas 1964. By then I was in junior high school and I had started reading the Signet paperbacks. Everyone had them. My father was doing a lot of travelling and he used to take the Bond books with him. He usually read Westerns but he brought Goldfinger home once. I have to say I was intrigued by the cover, which was very colorful. I started reading it and I loved it. And then it was announced that the movie would be coming out. By 1964 they had released the first two films in the US but they weren't what you call high profile releases. They came out in double features and they weren't really treated with the hoopla that came afterwards. It's not surprising that when GOLDFINGER went through the roof they rereleased DR. NO (1962) and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE as a double feature. And then everybody saw them. I would say that it was the most successful double feature ever because after GOLDFINGER everybody wanted to catch up with the first two. It's also lot more fun than FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The movies for me are equal in stature but GOLDFINGER is a much more fun movie to watch with an audience because they laugh in all the right places and the humour and the drama were just perfectly in tune. Because I had read the book of GOLDFINGER, seeing the movie after that was cool.
The following year we got THUNDERBALL, which had the most beautful women I had ever seen. I had read the book of Thunderball too. I think for me, and with the rest of America, my obsession with Bond peaked with that film. I saw YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and I didn't like it as much as the earlier ones. There are parts of the film that are beautiful, but it felt like Connery was sleepwalking through the movie, like he was already tired with the character and ready to get done with it. It kind of showed in his performance. A big problem of the film for me is the big setpiece of the helicopter chase. I just thought it was by the numbers, and could have been more dramatic. The big complaint at this time was that Bond was becoming too obsessed with his gadgets, and so the big joke in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE is that the only thing left for Q to come up with was radioactive lint, which was hysterically funny. I think SECRET SERVICE, which didn't fare as well, was a much better movie and better produced.
How did Bond impact upon your life around this time?
It kind of ruined me for women for about twenty years! I expected all women to be like Bond women. You'd just flirt with them and they'd hop in the sack with you. They had to be witty and fun and very compliant. I couldn't have been more superficial in my relationships. I would be driving down the road in my car and I would see a pretty girl driving down the highway and I would chase her. I was Sean Connery driving the Aston Martin in GOLDFINGER. Suddenly I'd realise that I was going over the speed limit and I'd reduce my speed and ay to myself ''Discipline, 007.'' Bond has a tendency to turn you into a chauvinist and it took me quite a few years to break myself of the habit. I think when I turned 30 I realised I had to grow up a little bit. Certain aspects of Bond never intrigued me. I never had any interest in smoking. I am not much of a drinker. I do not like Martinis. Ironically when the Encyclopedia came out the LA Times did a story on me and they had me pose holding a Martini. I'd rather drink motor oil! I do love cars though. My very first car was a 69 Mustang, and then I got the 280Z, which was the car I posed with Jane Seymour next to.
I have interviewed a lot of people but I have never really stayed close to actors. I loved Terence Young, who could talk your ear off. Richard Maibaum was a little bit of a mentor for me and I got to know him pretty well. He was very nice, as was Peter Hunt. Actually, when I became a film publicist I got to work with him for two months as a unit publicist on a film shot in Calgary and Alberta. It was called Hyper Sapien. That was produced by Jack Schwartzman, who produced NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. I worked with him for two years from 85-86. We had a very great relationship.
What did Jack Schwartzman have to say about the making of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)? Connery blamed a lot of the problems on his absence.
Jack admitted that he made a lot of mistakes on the film and he took responsibility for them. He really wanted James Horner to do the soundtrack, but Sean Connery had what apparently was a terrible meeting with Horner, and chose Michel Legrand, regrettably, instead. I think Jack really let Sean Connery run certain aspects of the production - and that was a huge mistake. But what can you do, he's ***ing Sean Connery. I believe Jack wanted to fire Irvin Kershner at one point, but saner minds prevailed. There was a lot of rancor on the production - and Jack had to constantly appear in court in London to deal with Cubby Broccoli's suit, etc. So Kersh was finally left alone a lot of the time. The movie needed more action - and, unfortunately, it wasn't happening because Kersh was not an action director. As he mentions in the commentary track, he was just bored with it - and the final action sequence in the temple shows off that boredom. It's BORING! Jack was too inexperienced a producer to have a strong creative say in the matter - he was a deal maker not a story guy.
Can you talk about the teaser you wrote for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN?
When he was finishing the film, Jack asked me if I had any ideas for a teaser. Jack told me about his original teaser, which starts at a medieval jousting match, in which one of the knights turns out to be an assassin who kills a knight with a deadly lance. Bond jumps on a horse and chases him through London traffic on horseback. Jack said it would have been too expensive, and I can believe it. My teaser was fun. Bond is attending the Queen's birthday celebration with the female Governor of New York when a hydrofoil craft comes flying up the Thames and nearly kills the governor. Bond excuses himself and races aboard the HMS Belfast, a World War II heavy cruiser which is moored nearby. Using his naval rank - he's a commander - he takes control of one of the gun turrets, has the gunning team load high explosive shells, and they train their guns on the retreating hydrofoil and blow it out of the water. Bond returns to the Governor's side, and they both head for a romantic dinner, and wherever your imagination lets you go. I do know that the writers were really pissed that the teaser sequence that was filmed was squeezed in under the titles and the music. It was supposed to have a lot more suspense.
How did you come to do the special features for the CASINO ROYALE (1967) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN DVDs?
I did close to a hundred films as a film publicist, a lot of them for Showtime. In addition to being a unit publicist, I started doing EPKs and behind the scenes featurettes. I got hired by Fox and Sony to do the special feature packages on the 67 CASINO ROYALE and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. I got to go back and interview a lot of people with my partner Steve Mitchell. Irvin Kershner refused to do the interview unless we paid him, but we had no money. I gradually wore him down. He gave us a great interview. We were able to cut together some good behind the scenes stuff but we had to leave out a lot of the negativity as he was not happy making the movie!
What occupies your time now?
Since 2000 I've been producing, or at least developing, full time, and I'm focussing on that. I have a lot of irons on the fire. It's hard because being a producer today because it means finding money and I am not very good at finding money! You open up a Rolodex and over the course of six months you might be able to raise 50, 000 dollars. On a typical movie, that pays for the food! Right at the moment I'm putting the finishing touches to a two and a half year project of mine – The Complete Encyclopedia of The Twilight Zone. I also have the cover of the latest issue of Cinema Retro. It's my retrospective of THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN (1969), and has some nifty interviews with George Segal, Robert Vaughn, Bradford Dillman and others.
I spoke to Steve by telephone on 26th October 2012 and by email during October 2015. I'd like to thank him for his time.