The First James Bond Was Actually American

By Zack Zagranis | Published

james bond

No one can argue that James Bond is one of the most significant fictional characters of the 20th century. Starring in 39 official novels and 26 films spread out over 71 years, Bond has become something of a British institution. How odd then that the first person to portray James Bond in live-action was American.

That’s right. Before Sean Connery, there was Barry Nelson. Nelson played Bond in an episode of Climax!, a dramatic anthology that ran from 1954 to 1958 on CBS.

The Original Casino Royale

The first-ever screen adaptation of a James Bond novel aired on American TV on October 21, 1954. The Climax! episode was a loose adaptation of the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale—the first of three times Casino Royale would be adapted for the screen. The second time was a largely forgotten 1967 James Bond spoof starring David Niven and Peter Sellars.

Only One Adaptation Is Decent

The final adaptation of Casino Royale starred Daniel Craig and is largely the only adaptation of the story remembered today. Despite the time constraints of a 60-minute television drama, Climax! attempted to adapt the story as faithfully as possible—with one glaring exception. The 1954 live teleplay not only featured James Bond, played by an American actor, but it also made the character himself a Yankee.

American Super Spy

Barry Nelson’s Jimmy Bond is an American spy working for the CIA—the Combined Intelligence Agency. We have no idea what CBS had against the word “Central” that caused them to change the agency’s name, but whatever. The rest of the plot is pretty much the same as Casino Royale, with some slight tweaks here and there.

Failure On TV Led To The Bond Movies

In 1954, CBS paid James Bond author Ian Fleming $1,000 for the rights to adapt Casino Royale for Climax!. The broadcast must have been successful because four years later, in 1958, CBS made a deal with Fleming to write 32 episodes of a 007 television show. Fleming wrote several outlines for potential Bond adventures before CBS canceled the project.

The failure to establish James Bond’s presence on American television led to Sean Connery being cast as 007, thus kicking off the long-running movie series we know and love today. But imagine if it hadn’t.

Hard To Imagine An American Bond

james bond

If CBS had gone through with their James Bond series, the character would have had an entirely different history than the one we’re familiar with. For starters, James Bond would be firmly entrenched in the pop culture consciousness as an apple pie-eating, blue jeans-wearing, red-blooded American spy.

It’s so weird to imagine a hardcore European like James Bond with an American accent. On top of that, calling him “Jimmy,” just feels dirty. “The name’s Bond. Jimmy Bond. Grab me a Budweiser, would ya?” Luckily, Jimmy Bond didn’t take off, and we got the British version of 007 we were always meant to have.

Useless James Bond Trivia

Oddly, this wouldn’t be the last time the character was referred to as Jimmy. In the 1967 Casino Royale, Woody Allen, of all people, played Jimmy Bond, nephew of Sir James Bond—a Brit with an inexplicable American accent. Decades later, Allen Moore included a character inferred to be 007 named “Jimmy” in his 2007 graphical novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. This Jimmy would at least be a proper British gentleman.

Today, the Casino Royale episode of Climax! with James “Jimmy” Bond is a mostly forgotten anomaly in the 71-year history of the world’s most famous fictional spy. It’s not even worth mentioning except as a fun piece of trivia about the one and only time James Bond was portrayed as an American.