To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever on March 26, 1956, we asked American artist and Bond fan Gerry Wadsworth, to take us on a tour of some of the Americana found in the novel.
Ian Fleming was a master of description with an ability to convince the reader that he knew what he was talking about. His depictions of foreign locations within his stories always included believable elements of local color, identifiable architecture, phrases in the native language, use of local patois and slang, and frequent racial or ethnic stereotyping. He has been considered by many to be a cultural snob at best, and a racist at worst, but I think that as a writer of his time, he felt that to bring authenticity to his character Bond, he needed to “speak to the reader, in the language of the reader, about things that the reader wants to hear.”
One of the funniest lines in the book occurs in chapter 3, when Bond is talking to M about gangsters in the US.
“There’s nothing so extraordinary about American gangsters. They’re not Americans. Mostly a lot of Italian bums with monogrammed shirts who spend the day eating spaghetti and meat balls and squirting scent over themselves.”
Was he being a cultural snob, or was he reliving his World War 2 experiences and perceptions from various theatre’s of operation? Perhaps he even knew about the secret plan from the Office of Naval Intelligence to deport mobsters from the major US cities and jails and send them to Italy to fight the Nazi’s as part of the Italian underground.By the time Diamonds are Forever was written, the 50’s were well underway and American Gangsters – Mobsters – were part and parcel of the cultural milieu. Las Vegas was a hotbed of mob-run or mob-influenced operations. New York had gangsters fighting turf wars in the streets. Ditto with Chicago. Cuba – run with the heavy hand of Batista – had mobsters taking over all the casinos and racetracks, with money laundering and smuggling occurring on a regular basis. Guns, rum, numbers rackets, diamonds, narcotics – nothing was sacred and every opportunity that could be exploited, was.
Apparently, Saratoga was no different. Lucky Luciano was gone, but his minions and off-spring still ran the town as Fleming mentioned in the novel:
“They enjoy Saratoga and they must be glad that the likes of Lucky Luciano are gone from the rube town that flourished because it allowed tough guys to fleece the drop-ins.”
When Bond and Felix Leiter drive up to Saratoga Springs in the Studillac, Bond is treated to an exercise in American car culture – a black Studebaker convertible with a Cadillac engine, special transmission, brakes and suspension, designed by Raymond Loewy, and could run circles around Corvette’s and Thunderbird’s of the day.
Their route to Saratoga was detailed, not unlike when Bond would travel through Europe. Roads, highways, turnpikes and various elements of local laws would be routinely described to the reader. Hotels where the Toff’s hightailed to when the racing season was in full swing. Cheap eateries and bars, houses of “Ill Repute” – Fleming left nothing to the reader’s imagination. Local color was injected into the stories for believability and authenticity. Bond reads about the city through the eyes of Post sport’s columnist, Jimmy Cannon.
“The Saratoga…of the twentieth century looked out at him from that piece of newsprint and bared its teeth in a sneer.” What a great line!
Bond then reads all about the “hicks and hoodlums” running the show and ends with “It was a stinking town…but all gambling towns are.”Bond experiences “Bourbon and Branch Water” for the first, but not last, time. Horse racing – something not for the “plebes” – is described in detail and how the betting was undertaken, the odds of the race, actions of the bookies and much more. The reader could feel, smell and hear the electric excitement of the track first hand through Bond’s eyes.
There are so many bits of “Americana” thrown in to the story, that recounting them all would be impossible – without actually re-writing and re-reading the book. But suffice to say, many other sweet touches and a multitude of literary gems hide within.