In the late afternoon sunshine I found
him wearing a light golf jacket and a Monte Christi Panama, sitting under
a large umbrella outside Tony and Joe's in the Washington Harbor. Amid all
the noise and bustle, he sat quite still, his intense blue eyes staring
at the river. It was my second meeting with the legendary Kevin McClory.
His demeanor is rather like that of a disgruntled lion who could be fierce
or gentle depending on his environment. Pushing his hat back on his head,
he proclaimed, 'I have to be near the water, it gives me a sense of
Freedom from bondage is just the beginning of the story of this extraordinary
Irishman who has survived shipwrecks, torture, lawsuits and betrayal,
who believes in the enormous gift of the imagination, and who holds children
in high esteem 'because of their inherent honesty.'
A conversation with Kevin O'Donovan McClory is like no other. A true Irish
Seanachai (storyteller), it's as though a silver screen drops before your
eyes. He knows them all, he has worked with the luminaries-Sean Connery,
as well as Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Mike Todd, Orson Welles
and Elizabeth Taylor. (I'd read that he had fallen in love with her after
she made scrambled eggs for him, but we didn't go there in this interview-perhaps
for his autobiography in progress). He worked alongside John Huston on
African Queen, Moulin Rouge, Beat the Devil, and Moby Dick.
It's no wonder his images are so vivid, Kevin McClory's ancestry goes
back to the famous Bronte family. Elinor McClory was the mother of Patrick
Prunty who changed his name to Bronte when he emigrated from Ireland to
England in 1802. Patrick was the father of the talented Bronte sisters-Emily,
Anne, and Charlotte, and of son Branwell, also a writer. Kevin's eldest
son is named after Branwell.
Kevin's father, noted actor Thomas John O'Donovan McClory (stage name
Desmond O'Donovan), was born in Bainbridge, County Down in 1900. His mother,
Winifrede Nee Doran, writer, teacher and actress, was born in County Wexford.
The family called themselves the O'Donovan's and ran 'fitups'
which traveled throughout Ireland. He and his brother, Desmond, appeared
as babies in their productions. In his dramatic debut on stage, his mother
stuck a hatpin in his bottom to make him squeal.
We moved to the peace and quiet of Hisago, a Japanese restaurant where,
over sushi and saki, I waited for the story to continue. I wanted to get
to the roots of what goes into creating such enormous success. How does
this man, with his gifted imagination, see and experience, through his
work, all the excitement the world could ever offer.
I was a dreamer, he told me. 'I was dyslectic, and I did not fit
into the structure of school.' But his dyslexia was never a problem,
other than in school, and it enabled him to 'see and write visually
for films.' Drawn to the adventure of life on the high seas, he left
school to join the Norwegian Marines early in World War II. He became
a radio officer at age 17.
On February 21, 1943 at 12:10 p.m. the
oil tanker M/T Stigstad was torpedoed in the Atlantic, and he and fellow
crewmembers scrambled into the Captain's dingy. Armed with a single nail,
McClory engraved a message on the sole of his boot which had burst with
the pressure of his swollen, frost-bitten feet. The party was picked up
15 days later off the coast of Kerry in Ireland. They had drifted 730
miles, and during the ordeal eight men died. They were starving when found,
the crew of the Welsh trawler that rescued them were shocked by what they
saw. The men were emaciated, covered in boils and pustules, and their
mouths were black. The captain had not taken his hand off the tiller for
15 days, so the tiller had to be sawn from the boat as they lifted him
out. Kevin was suffering from severe shock and exposure and spent nine
months in the hospital, having completely lost his speech. He was left
with a stammer and with a new reverence for life. Undaunted, and rising
to the challenge of overcoming the residuals of fear, he left the hospital
to return to the sea he loved serving in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and
Pacific theaters of war.
When the war was over, McClory held a variety of jobs before landing one
as a film technician at Shepperton Studios in England. He worked on films
such as Cry They Beloved Country, The Third Man, and Cockleshell Heroes.
He then came to Hollywood to work with director John Huston, with whom
he developed a close friendship.
Huston turned down Mike Todd's offer to direct Around the World in 80
Days, but he recommended Kevin McClory for the job. McClory welcomed the
challenge and opportunity and, after several months in nine countries,
McClory and producer Mike Todd completed the film which won six Oscars,
including Best Picture in 1956. With his name in lights, McClory had earned
the freedom to choose whatever he wanted to do. He chose more travel adventure.
In 1957 he was made leader of the 'World's Highways Expedition'
by Ford Motor Company. He led a convoy of six vehicles and 26 men through
104 adventure packed days around the world, producing and directing a
documentary film for Ford's 'One Road.' The journey took them
through Europe, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
India, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. A ship took them to
San Francisco, and from there they drove back to Detroit.
In 1957 Nobel author John Steinbeck invited McClory to the Bahamas to
work on an underwater film based on the discovery of Spanish treasure
at Gorda Cay. In a letter to McClory dated Dec. 8, 1957, Steinbeck said,
'I need not tell you that in recent years my interest in films has
diminished to the vanishing point because of the lack of originality among
film makers. Your proposal attracted me because it was bold and new.'
McClory planned to film with Steinbeck using Todd-AO, the wide screen
format of 'Around the World in 80 Days,' but the project was
He went back to London where he co-wrote, produced and directed 'The
Boy and the Bridge,' a sensitive story about a lost boy. His film
was selected as the United Kingdom entry at the Venice Film Festival.
When he speaks about this film, one senses a stronger enthusiasm for the
subject than for the Bond films.
In 1958 McClory met a man whom he describes as a frustrated journalist
and author-Ian Fleming. Fleming had written seven novels around the literary
character James Bond, but had not succeeded in turning any into films.
McClory declined Fleming's suggestion that he adapt one of his books,
suggesting instead that they collaborate in writing a James Bond story
specifically for film. They took Bond into the underwater world of the
Bahamas, and in collaboration with screenwriter Jack Whittingham, produced
the screenplay, 'Thunderball,' in 1960.
With 'Thunderball,' McClory laid the foundation for the tremendously
successful Bond series that followed. 'Thunderball' remains
the most successful of the James Bond series which has grossed over $2.75
Fleming, meanwhile, having found an idea for a new novel, without the
consent of McClory or Whittingham, wrote the novel Thunderball based on
the screenplay. McClory sued him, and the case came to trial in 1963 in
London. After 10 days in court Ian Fleming capitulated. A court order
was made to the effect that Fleming assign McClory all his rights to the
various James Bond screenplays they had jointly written, and the film
rights in the novel 'Thunderball' in which Fleming was to acknowledge
joint authorship of the story.
In 1983 Kevin McClory was instrumental in bringing Sean Connery back to
play his final Bond role in 'Never Say Never Again,' which McClory
produced. Last year, McClory and his company, Spectre Associates Inc.,
contracted with Sony Pictures Entertainment, licensing the Hollywood studio
to make two more James Bond films, with an option for two further films.
With Sony's Columbia Pictures, Kevin McClory is looking forward to producing
the new Bond films, with a new James Bond, yet to be announced.
Meanwhile, MGM/UA, who were unsuccessful in London courts in stopping
distribution of 'Never Say Never Again,' are again attempting
to prevent production of the new Bond films with Sony. Undaunted, Kevin
McClory, always ready to rise to the challenge, is supremely confident
that he will win. 'They are driven by greed,' he says. 'Unfortunately,
the Bond movies have made so much money that these legal actions have
become endemic, but for me, it's just a temporary nuisance.' After
defending his copyrights for nearly 40 years, McClory says, 'I chose
the brilliant Irish Attorney Frank O'Toole of the Washington firm of Sidley
& Austin because of their rare, unparalleled 100 year history of integrity.'
Twice married with four children, he is a proud father as he describes
each of his children, Branwell, Siobhan, Saoirse and Sean T., individually,
with special affection. The adoring grandfather says his primary reason
for maintaining his Watergate apartment is so his children and grandchildren
can visit. Nomadic, he commutes between his house in the Bahamas, Connemara,
Ireland, and visits to Washington.
The indomitable Kevin McClory, who has reached for the stars and flashed
his sword at windmills, is currently working on two screenplays, one set
in the outback of Australia, the other in Ireland. An expert in the art
of winning, this man, using his imagination and courage, will likely continue
to have fame and fortune on his side.
The sushi and saki had disappeared, but as I left the restaurant I knew
that within this amazing man there were still volumes to be told.