Cold War, Cool Spies

By Jeff Little
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The Cold War was heating-up in the early 60's, but in the world of fiction, spies were becoming very, very cool.

One might even think that mayhem was marvelous and homicide was hip in the world of high-tech cloak and dagger if they based their opinion on the glut of espionage fare available in films, literature and television of the era.

The groundwork had been laid by novelists such as Ian Fleming, whose series of stories featuring British Secret Service Agent James Bond were among some of the more popular tales in the genre.

With a real-life background in British Naval Intelligence, Fleming set the stage for the 60's spy craze beginning in 1953 with the publication of his novel Casino Royale.

Spring boarding off Fleming's literary success, British television soon followed with its offering of The Avengers (1961-1969), a detective/spy series that generated big ratings and eventually acquired a fan base in the U.S.

But American television would need a stronger nudge before entering full-force into the televised spy business. And that nudge would also come from Ian Fleming.

1962 saw the introduction of Ian Fleming's James Bond to the big screen in Dr. No.

Artfully crafting what would become the stereotype of the suave secret agent, Sean Connery played the debonair and dangerous spy known as 007 with a skill that thrilled men and wooed women into theaters by the millions.

Proving it was no fluke, Connery reprised the roll in 1963 with Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love, and television programmers (especially in the U.S.) fell in love with the whole gadget-laden, love 'em and leave 'em, devil may care spy concept.

There were TV spies aplenty in the 60's.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) chronicled the exploits of agents employed by the fictional United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

Secret Agent (1965-1966) only ran one season, but did have a snappy theme song sung by Johnny Rivers.

I Spy (1965-1968) became one of the first American television shows to feature an African-American in a lead role (Bill Cosby), and co-geniuses Mel Brooks and Buck Henry satirized the whole spy genre with GET SMART (1965-1970).

In addition, there was no shortage of total flops and near-misses attempted by television networks, along with lots of "spy flavored" fare aired throughout the decade.

As the espionage craze of the 60's took off, so did its profits. And where there are profits there is, of course, merchandising.

Spy cameras, spy fashions, spy toys, spy trading cards and anything else spy-related became hot properties during the 60's.

But interest in the items started to wane as did the general interest in "cool espionage" near the decade's end…with one notable exception.

James Bond endured. Otherwise, the spy genre as we know it has become more true-to-life and sophisticated today, with most presentations not nearly as gimmicky and gadget-laden as they were in the 1960's…with the exception of 007.

James Bond is set to appear once again in a film scheduled for release in 2006.

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