If you watch tonight’s BBC in America production of Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, here’s one fact the film might omit: Ian Fleming named his master spy after a Philadelphia bird scientist who spent most of his career at Philly’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Here’s what we know about him:
The original “James Bond grew up on the Main Line, was educated in England and eventually lived in Chestnut Hill,” says Academy Senior Fellow Robert Peck, who got to known Bond during the final decades of his life.
Bond worked at the Academy from the 1920s up to his death in 1989. He was one of many ornithologists who contributed specimens from the Caribbean to the institution’s extensive bird collection. Bond even wrote a book on the region, Birds of the West Indies (1936), which is what caught Fleming’s attention when he began writing Casino Royale.
In a 1962 interview in The New Yorker, Fleming said, “When I wrote the first (Bond novel) in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument … when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.”
The Philadelphia James Bond, says Peck, “was quite private by nature and didn’t enjoy the notoriety the 007 association gave him. One story has it that the real James Bond was once stopped by officials in an airport who thought his passport, which naturally stated he was James Bond, was fake. “This sounds quite likely,” says Peck. “I remember him telling me lots of stories like that.”
But as irritating as that may sound, Bond must have gotten some kind of kick out of it. Among the possessions he left behind is a copy of Fleming’s 11th Bond novel, You only Live Twice, in which the author writes: “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity, Ian Fleming, February, 1964.”