.I, James Bond

‘The Other Fellow’ shows the dangers and delights of having the same name as 007

A few years ago, there was a humorous paperback called something like Names You Should Never Give Your Child. On the list were some fairly easy ones: Sluggo. Adolf. Vampira. Zippy. Hannibal. Curly Joe. Doxy. And of course Anton Chigurh. This sort of list is by definition open-ended and completely subjective. A new documentary from the UK, The Other Fellow, adds a new moniker to the discussion: James Bond. 

The reasons for avoiding the name of author Ian Fleming’s immensely popular fictitious British secret agent James Bond, aka 007, aren’t quite the ones a movie-goer might imagine. But after watching filmmaker Matthew Bauer’s user-friendly, chatty documentary, and listening to a few real-life JBs tell their stories, anyone who even thought of calling their offspring James Bond—even if their family name were actually Bond and there was a James among the ancestors—would probably abandon the idea immediately. 

They come in all shapes and sizes. Gunnar Schäfer of Nybro, Sweden has a back story worthy of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. His father, an officer in Hitler’s navy, escaped the Allies at the end of World War II by rowing a lifeboat to Sweden, where young Gunnar grew up in the 1960s enchanted by the Bond novels and modeling his life after 007—at least in the gadget department. 

Now named after his hero, this diminutive bachelor Bond—who looks like a gopher Sean Connery would kill in the second reel—collects Bond-flick memorabilia, operates his own James Bond Museum and sees Fleming’s creation as a replacement father figure, “hyper-masculinity” and all. 

Meanwhile in Texas, clergy member James Neal Bond and retired oil person James Lee Bond don’t cotton to the international player stuff (the preacher “never much cared for” the movies’ sexual carousing). And theater director and actor James Bond from Hoboken, NJ protests a bit too much about how little the Bond mystique means to him. He has guested on Late Night with David Letterman, starred in commercials and now gripes about hearing the same jokes every day from people he meets. To some other guys, the name amounts to a female magnet for nerds.

Director and co-writer (with Rene van Pannevis) Bauer visits the interview vault to establish that the late novelist Fleming named his most famous character after an English ornithologist who wrote Birds of the West Indies. That un-asked-for notoriety eventually drove the “original James Bond” to travel to Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica to meet the author who gave his “flat, quiet name” to a make-believe MI6 assassin who craved martinis and Pussy Galore. 

The bird expert was evidently tired of the late-night phone calls and his friends’ endless ribbing. According to Bauer’s doc, half the world’s population has seen a James Bond film.

A lot of good the box-office largesse did James Bond Jr. of South Bend, IN. Audiences meet this particular Bond in jail, awaiting trial on a murder charge (for which he was ultimately acquitted). He says that having the name James Bond is a liability, especially for a Black man (“I can’t be all those white people,” he complains). When police ask for his name, they’re generally not prepared for what they hear, and trouble often ensues. Among the film’s re-enactments is a depiction of Bond Jr. (played by an actor) establishing his innocence in the murder case. 

The doc’s most poignant testimony about “life as James Bond” comes from an unidentified English woman, recovering from an abusive relationship and now living with her son, whom she named James Bond. Her reason: If the ex-partner comes looking for her son by using an online search engine, there are so many thousands of “James Bond” entries that the unwanted ex will probably give up in frustration. Instead of a marker for violence and sexual conquest, the name will serve as an internet smokescreen to deflect harm. That’s their quantum of solace.

In theaters

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