You Only Live Once: Memories of Ivar Bryce and Ian Fleming

Ivar Bryce

Ian Fleming named his James Bond character’s CIA agent friend after Ivar Bryce’s middle name, Felix. His surname was named after another of Fleming’s friends, Tommy Leiter.

Ivar Bryce was born in 1906. His father had made a fortune trading guano, the phosphate-rich deposit of fish-eating seabirds which had been widely used as a natural fertilizer. His mother was a painter and a published author of detective novels.

In 1917 Bryce met Ian Fleming and his brothers on a beach in Cornwall, which Bryce described in his autobiography:

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“The fortress builders generously invited me to join them, and I discovered that their names were Peter, Ian, Richard and Michael, in that order. The leaders were Ian and Peter, and I gladly carried out their exact and exacting orders. They were natural leaders of men, both of them, as later history was to prove, and it speaks well for them all that there was room for both Peter and Ian in the platoon.”

Bryce was sent to Eton College where he resumed his friendship with Fleming. Here the friendship flourished.

During the War

During the Second World War Bryce worked for William Stephenson, the head of British Security Coordination(BSC), a unit that was based in New York City. This group also included Roald Dahl, David Ogilvy and Ian Fleming and were colloquially known as ‘The Irregulars‘ after Arthur Conan Doyle’s Baker Street Irregulars.

Nicholas J. Cull, the author of Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American Neutrality (1996), wrote:

“During the summer of 1941, he (Bryce) became eager to awaken the United States to the Nazi threat in South America.”

Bryce recalls in his autobiography, You Only Live Once (1975):

sudameriqa“Sketching out trial maps of the possible changes, on my blotter, I came up with one showing the probable reallocation of territories that would appeal to Berlin. It was very convincing: the more I studied it the more sense it made… were a genuine German map of this kind to be discovered and publicised among… the American Firsters, what a commotion would be caused.”

William Stephenson approved the idea and the project was handed over to Station M, the phony document factory in Toronto run by Eric Maschwitz, of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It took them only 48 hours to produce “a map, slightly travel-stained with use, but on which the Reich’s chief map makers… would be prepared to swear was made by them.” Stephenson now arranged for the FBI to find the map during a raid on a German safe-house on the south coast of Cuba. J. Edgar Hoover handed the map over to William Donovan. His executive assistant, James R. Murphy, delivered the map to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The historian, Thomas E. Mahl argues that “as a result of this document Congress dismantled the last of the neutrality legislation.”

Bryce was based in Jamaica (his wife Sheila, owned Bellevue, one of the most important houses on the island), during the Second World War, where he ran dangerous missions into Latin America. Ian Fleming, who was personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, the director of naval intelligence, visited Bryce in 1941.

Fleming told him that:

“When we have won this blasted war, I am going to live in Jamaica. Just live in Jamaica and lap it up, and swim in the sea and write books.”

After the War

In 1945 Bryce helped Fleming find a house and twelve acres of land just outside of Oracabessa. It included a strip of white sand on a lovely part of the coast. Fleming decided to call the house, Goldeneye, after his wartime project in Spain, Operation Goldeneye. Their former boss, William Stephenson, also had a house on the island overlooking Montego Bay.

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In 1950 Bryce married Josephine Hartford. Her grandfather, George Huntington Hartford, was the founder of theGreat Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. Josephine was the daughter of Princess Guido Pignatelli and Edward V. Hartford, who was an inventor and president of the Hartford Shock Absorber Company. This incredible amount of wealth, meant that Bryce enjoyed living in many homes including at Black Hole Hollow Farm in Vermont where Ian Fleming would spend summers hiking and dreaming up plots for his next Bond adventure.

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The Bond Years

While staying at the farm one summer, Bryce recounted how a scene from Diamonds Are Forever came about:

“In the storehouse of Ian’s mind nothing was ever forgotten. One dav while we were all staving at the Farm in Vermont , Ian and Ernie Cuneo decided to visit the famous mud baths at Saratoga Springs . Some miles out of Saratoga they saw a battered sign to the mud baths down a side road. They arrived at ramshackle huts deep in the woods, which proclaimed themselves the mud baths. Hesitating only for a moment they went in and received the full treatment. Only when it was too late did they discover that the vastly luxurious mud baths for which they had set out were in Saratoga itself; they had blundered into what was very much a back-street establishment, filled with all the low life which is attracted to a great gambling centre. That was how the famous mud-bath incident in Diamonds are Forever was born.”

Saratoga sulphur and mud baths, Eureka Park, Saratoga Springs, N. Y.

Saratoga sulphur and mud baths, Eureka Park, Saratoga Springs, N. Y.

Bryce’s world would continue to provide Ian with inspiration and in some case names for his characters including Felix, Solange, Ernie Cuneo and others:

“Over the years Ian evolved a formula for writing which enabled him to produce his intended novel a year. His “commonplace book”, in which he recorded detail and incidents which might someday prove useful, was never far from him. Like all writers, I suppose, he viewed every incident of life with an appraising eye, judging what would be of use in the next book, or the next but one. He took immense trouble with names and plots, although the names sometimes came before the plots. He enjoyed using the names of his friends, or even those whom he knew only slightly. It certainly amused me to discover that Mr and Mrs Bryce signed the visitors’ book in Dr No, as well as travelling incognito by train together in Live and Let Die.

But it was the names alone which he used, for in most cases the characters bore no resemblance to their real-life originals. Honeychile, the beach girl in Dr No, comes from Honeychile Wilder, Princess Hohenlohe, American-born in Kentuckyand a celebrated wit and beauty. Leiter – Tommy rather than Felix – was the scion of the Chicago Leiters, a gentle, friendly millionaire. Fox-Strangways, Bond’s station commander in Jamaica , was the Hon. John Fox-Strangways, a great friend of ours at Eton . Ernie Cuneo surfaces as a New York taxi driver. For some of his characters he took both name and background. May Maxwell, our indispensable housekeeper at 74th Street , appears in the same role for James Bond, while Albert Whiting, the golf professional at the Royal Sandwich course, whom Ian knew well, becomes the quick-thinking Albert Blacking in Goldfinger.”

Trouble in Paradise

Bryce and Fleming’s lives were to continue to be twinned when they joined with Ernest Cuneo and a group of investors, to gain control of the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA).

Andrew Lycett has pointed out:

“With the arrival of television, its star had begun to wane. Advised by Ernie Cuneo, who told him it was a sure way to meet anyone he wanted, Ivar stepped in and bought control. He appointed the shrewd Cuneo to oversee the American end of things… and Fleming was brought on board to offer a professional newspaperman’s advice.” 

Bryce went on:

“NANA also provided a wire service to hundreds of subscribers from theNew York ‘limes to unknown local journals in the back-of-beyond, generally of lesser news stories for the inside pages. It fed the American press with the syndicated columns of pundits revered by the public, comic strips with their vast multitude of addicts, cartoons, horoscopes and crossword puzzles. […] It was an interesting life, although nearly impossible to make a profit in such a violently competitive field; but it supplied us with an exaggerated feeling of importance – a feeling shared by no one but ourselves.”

Bryce then became a film producer and helped to finance The Boy and the Bridge (1959). The film lost money but Bryce decided he wanted to work with its director, Kevin McClory, again and it was suggested that they created a company, Xanadu Films. Josephine Hartford, Ernest Cuneo and Ian Fleming became involved in the project. It was agreed that they would make a movie featuring Fleming’s character, James Bond.

The first draft of the script was written by Cuneo. It was called Thunderball and it was sent to Fleming on 28th May. Fleming described it as “first class” with “just the right degree of fantasy”. Fleming eventually expanded his observations into a 67-page film treatment. Kevin McClory now employed Jack Whittingham to write a script based on Fleming’s ideas. In 1961, after the Thunderball novel came out without credit to McClory, a lawsuit was filed. McClory claimed co-authorship and the creation of characters and elements. After 50 years of legal wrangling, Danjaq, LLC, the producer of James Bond films, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the longtime distributor of the Bond films, announced they had reached a settlement with the estate of Kevin McClory.

Ivar Bryce and Ian Fleming leaving court after settling with Kevin McClory

Ivar Bryce and Ian Fleming leaving court after settling with Kevin McClory

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Fleming encouraged Bryce to write his memoirs and gave him some advice on how to deal with the process:

“You will be constantly depressed by the progress of the opus and feel it is all nonsense and that nobody will be interested. Those are the moments when you must all the more obstinately stick to your schedule and do your daily stint… Never mind about the brilliant phrase or the golden word, once the typescript is there you can fiddle, correct and embellish as much as you please. So don’t be depressed if the first draft seems a bit raw, all first drafts do. Try and remember the weather and smells and sensations and pile in every kind of contemporary detail. Don’t let anyone see the manuscript until you are very well on with it and above all don’t allow anything to interfere with your routine. Don’t worry about what you put in, it can always be cut out on re-reading; it’s the total recall that matters.”

Bryce's autobiography, You Only Live Once, was published in 1975.

Bryce’s autobiography, You Only Live Once, was published in 1975.

Ivar Bryce died in 1985.

Incidental Intelligence

Buy You Only Live Once on Amazon

Read extracts from ‘You Only Live Once’ 

5 thoughts on “You Only Live Once: Memories of Ivar Bryce and Ian Fleming

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