Richard Maibaum (May 26, 1909 – January 4, 1991) was an American film producer, playwright and screenwriter best known for his screenplay adaptations of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.
His widow, Sylvia Maibaum, pointed out that her husband was more than just a marvelously entertaining writer. He was, she said "innovative. Among his works are 'firsts': The first anti-lynching play on Broadway, The Tree (1932); the first anti-Nazi play on Broadway, Birthright (1933); the first movie that dealt with the problem of medication abuse, Bigger Than Life, written in 1955, released in 1956; the first movie that dealt with the ethical and moral decisions in kidnapping cases, Ransom!; the first movie that introduced the American public to the importance of training airmen for the defense of the United States in a war many recognized as coming, I Wanted Wings (Spring, 1941); and Diamonds Are Forever, begun 1970, the first film that discussed the use of laser-like satellite mounted weapons for global warfare."
His papers now reside at his alma mater, the University of Iowa.
Maibaum was born in New York City, and attended New York University. In 1930 he came to The University of Iowa's Speech and Dramatic Arts Department, where he studied under E.C. Mabie. He was graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1931, and in 1932 he received a master's degree, all the while writing plays and acting.
He was only twenty-two and still at the University of Iowa when his anti-lynching play, The Tree, became a 1932 Broadway production under the direction of the young Robert Rossen, later known for Body and Soul (1947) and a life destroyed by the Hollywood blacklist. Back in New York after graduation, Maibaum spent 1933 as an actor in the Shakespearean Repertory Theater on Broadway. He appeared in fifteen different roles in many productions and was the youngest actor ever to perform the role of Iago on Broadway.
As a young playwright in the early 30's in New York City, Maibaum was involved with the challenging politics of the Depression. In 1933, the year in which Hitler ascended to his dictatorial powers in Germany, Maibaum attacked Nazism in his play, Birthright, also directed by Rossen. This was the first of several anti-Nazi plays to appear that year.
Maibaum then wrote "Sweet Mystery of Life," a comedy which eventually became the film "Gold Diggers of 1937." His rapid rise as a playwright soon earned him a contract as a writer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, then the most powerful and prestigious studio in Hollywood. While moving to LA and under contract to MGM, he wrote another play, "See My Lawyer," which was produced in New York by George Abbott and which starred Milton Berle.
His first film as screenwriter was in 1937, after which he penned several shorts and, as the US entered World War Two, patriotic subjects.
World War Two & After
Maibaum joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and, like many other Hollywood writers and directors, was commissioned as a captain in the Signal Corps, During his four and one-half years in the Army, he produced war morale films, assembled and disseminated combat film footage (presumably while stationed overseas) and supervised a documentary history of World War II, whose title, length, whereabouts, and, indeed, purpose, are currently unknown. He eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
With this experience under his belt, Maibaum returned to Hollywood for a contract at Paramount as a producer and screenwriter. He wrote and produced his first picture, O.S.S (1946), which starred leading heartthrob Alan Ladd in a fictional story of the newly-formed Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A. This was the beginning of his fruitful association with actor Alan Ladd. Its subject, of course, leads one to suppose that he did more than just work on morale films and combat footage during the war; its director, Harvard-educated Irving Pichel, would be blacklisted by 1951 and have his career destroyed.
Maibaum was writer and producer on the John Farrow-directed The Big Clock (1948) as well as The Great Gatsby (1949) also with Alan Ladd and co-written with Yale-educated Cyril Hume. The hardboiled star of Noir films, Ladd was so impressed by Maibaum's writing that he had the screenwriter work as a script supervisor for him during filming, a rarity in Hollywood, where writers were invariably persona non grata on the sets of their own films.
In the 1950s, American producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli were making action films in the UK under their Warwick Films banner. When Broccoli signed Ladd on for a three picture deal for Warwick, Ladd insisted on Maibaum co-writing the screenplays. Maibaum moved his family to England in order to do this. He also began writing for the new medium of television, including short teleplays for The Kate Smith Evening Hour, and the critically acclaimed Fearful Decision, which he also co-wrote with Cyril Hume. Fearful Decision was the basis for an unproduced screenplay, Ransom, turned into a Mel Gibson film in 1996.
Maibaum returned to The University of Iowa in 1954 for one semester to teach and supervise the "Footsteps of Freedom" project, a teleplay writing course. In 1955, returning to Hollywood, he co-wrote "Bigger Than Life," (1956) with Hume along with its star and producer, the British actor James Mason. Directed in widescreen Cinemascope by Hollywood maverick Nicholas Ray, this tale of an ordinary man driven mad by the new use of steroids was poorly received in the U.S., but highly respected in Europe and is now considered a complex Noir classic, particularly for its use of the camera to depict the tortured man's distorted POV.
Maibaum became executive producer at M.G.M.-TV in 1958. But his strong ties to the Writer's Guild and the writing profession led him to resign in 1960 during a writer's strike. He then was invited by Broccoli to write the first Bond movie. And thus his future career was sealed.
It is virtually impossible to deduce from anything in Maibaum's previous credits that he would go on to pen twelve phenomenally successful James Bond films, in a series of brilliant screenplays for all but three of the films from Dr. No (1962) until Licence to Kill (1989), and in a working relationship with Broccoli and, later, his stepson Michael G. Wilson, spanning nearly three decades, to be ended only by the 1989 WGA strike.
He wasn't British (but then neither were producers Broccoli and Howard Saltzman.) He made movies, not war, during World War Two, was a one-woman man in a fifty-six-year marriage, father of two sons and came to the Bond screenwriting in middle age, after several dozen films, a handful of lackluster post WW2 battle pictures, a couple of Alan Ladd movies and a failed job as an American television executive. Perhaps the only hint was his 1944 O.S.S. movie, though its grim wartime grays with unsmiling Alan Ladd are a world away from the glossy hijinks of 007.
Nonetheless, Maibaum is the only consistent writing credit in Dr. No (1962) From Russia with Love (1963) Goldfinger (1964) Thunderball (1965) On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) Diamonds Are Forever (1971) The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) For Your Eyes Only (1981) Octopussy (1983) A View to a Kill (1985) The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).
His Bonds range from the original Sean Connery, his personal favorite, to George Lazenby, to Roger Moore, to Timothy Dalton (who Maibaum considered the best actor of the four) and the directors include Terence Young, Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert, Peter R. Hunt (who had been the editor on the first five Bonds and is credited with creating its visual style of quick cuts, whip pans & action) and John Glen.
The explanation, Maibaum once told an interviewer, was that writing for Bond is "a case of Walter Mitty. I'm law-abiding and non-violent. My great kick comes from feeling that I'm a pro, that I know my job, and that I have enough experience that I can write a solid screenplay."
On writing the Bonds Maibaum said "The real trick of it is to find the villain's caper. Once you've got that, you're off to the races and the rest is fun." Maibaum is credited with adding the essential ingredient of humor to the James Bond stories, an element lacking in the original Fleming novels.
However, hidden in Maibaum's history is probably the real key to his Bond career: the ability to juggle multiple writers, bickering producers, a dozen drafts and competing visions—and still keep a firm hand on the keel for ship-owner Broccoli. Although several writers usually work on the Bond films, either before or after Maibaum arrives on the scene, Maibaum is the only writer credit to appear on 12 of the first 15 Bond films, and usually writes his drafts alone.
The exception came towards the end of his career, when he would work directly with Michael G. Wilson , Broccoli's stepson.
"Michael is the only man I've actually worked with on the Bonds," Maibaum says. "Other writers have come on before or after me, but never with me until Michael. He's very receptive, he has lots of ideas and I think we like each other, which always helps."
"Dick is very experienced in this field, he's written many Bond films over the years," Wilson says. "I find him a great collaborator. The actual writing we do separately, although we work together on revising the material. Sometimes he will lead off and write the first draft and I'll rewrite behind him or it's the other way around."
The producers depleted their supply of Bond novels with For Your Eyes Only and have been using Fleming's short-stories as starting points ever since. "For all practical purposes, we've been out of material for the last five films," Wilson says. "We still bring in occasional Fleming elements from the books that haven't yet been used in the films. But that's not much help when you get down to basic plotting."
"I do think I can write a better Bond story than anyone else," Maibaum joked in a 1983 interview, at a point when the franchise was veering between three Bonds, simultaneous releases and warring producers. "But don't say that too many times in your story."
End of life
Maibaum ducked out of Bond duties for occasional forays into other films, generally Broccoli-produced, such as the British children's fantasy film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1967). He continued working on Bond films until the end of his life. He died on January 4, 1991 at the age of 81, survived by his wife, Sylvia (who died in 2006), two sons, Matthew and Paul, and a granddaughter, Shanna Claire.
It is estimated that more than two billion viewers have seen the James Bond movies.
Partial filmography as screenwriter
- Birthright (1933)
- We Went to College (1936)
- Gold Diggers of 1937 (1937) -- story
- The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937)
- Live, Love and Learn (1937)
- They Gave Him a Gun (1937)
- Stablemates (1938)
- The Lady and the Mob (1939)
- Coast Guard (1939)
- The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939)
- 20 Mule Team (1940)
- The Ghost Comes Home (1940)
- I Wanted Wings (1941)
- Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942)
- See My Lawyer (1945)
- O.S.S. (1946)
- The Great Gatsby (1949)
- The Red Beret (1953)
- Hell Below Zero (1954)
- The Cockleshell Heroes (1955)
- Bigger Than Life (1956)
- Zarak (1956)
- Ransom! (1956)
- No Time to Die (1957)
- Tank Force (1958)
- The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) -- additional dialogue
- Killers of Kilimanjaro (1960)
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) — additional dialogue
- S*H*E (1980)
- Ransom (1996) — story
JAMES BOND FILMS
- Dr. No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Thunderball (1965)
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- Octopussy (1983)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Licence to Kill (1989)
Selected films as producer
- O.S.S. (1946)
- The Big Clock (1948)
- The Sainted Sisters (1948)
- Bride of Vengeance (1949)
- The Great Gatsby (1949)
- Song of Surrender (1949)
- Dear Wife (1949)
- No Man of Her Own (1950)
- Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
- Battle at Bloody Beach (1961)
- The Tree (1932)
- Birthright (1933)
- Sweet Mystery of Life (1935)
- See My Lawyer (1939)
- Middletown Mural
- A Moral Entertainment
- The Paradise Question