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Article: JFK and James Bond

American History

JFK and James Bond

President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Ian Fleming’s spy novels, and helped propel him to fame in the American market. In 1960, during Kennedy’s presidential campaign, Fleming attended a dinner at JFK’s residence in Georgetown, where they talked foreign affairs. To Fleming's surprise, Kennedy revealed himself as an avid reader of 007's adventures. Kennedy was an avid Bond fan, having first read Casino Royale in 1954.

 


Although the Bond series was a big success in Fleming’s home country of Great Britain, the books had not reached such fame in the United States. It was not until March of 1961, when Hugh Sidey published an article in Life Magazine on President Kennedy’s top ten favorite books, that the Bond series reached popularity in the American market. The list included Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel, From Russia with Love. The list was designed to show that Kennedy was both well-read and had a taste for well-written fiction. With Kennedy’s endorsement, Fleming’s publishers mounted a major advertising campaign to promote his books, and by the end of the year, Bond novels were among the best-selling thriller books in the United States.

Historian Mark White remarked, “Fleming should have paid Kennedy a percentage of the royalties” given how incredibly the sales skyrocketed following the endorsement. In a way,  Fleming did repay the president: his next book, The Spy Who Loved Me, included the line: “We need some more Jack Kennedys.”


Many claim that Kennedy knew what he was doing when he proclaimed his fandom of James Bond: the result was a press frenzy of articles comparing the real-life president to the fictional spy. It was a persona JFK fit well.  The comparison to the cool and gutsy spy further established him as the stark contrast to his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, as well as a level-headed and diplomatic president for the people.


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