Obituary : Cubby Broccoli

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The Independent Online
If he wasn't the richest film producer in the world, Cubby Broccoli was certainly one of the most enduring. He made his first film in 1950 and 12 years later, with an adaptation of Ian Fleming's spy story Dr No, started producing the most profitable series of films ever.

With his Mafia don looks and air of honeyed affluence, Broccoli might easily have been cast as one of 007's power-crazed adversaries, but for one thing. Everybody liked him. Well, almost everybody. You don't get to be the world's richest producer without biting a few heads off. "It's a dog-eat-dog business," he said. "I don't think I'm difficult. You just have to remind people you're there."

Having the same name as a vegetable was probably more of a spur than a handicap in his youth. His uncle imported the first broccoli seed to an initially hostile America. Cubby helped him out on a vegetable farm on Long Island, washing and crating the produce for delivery to Harlem market on horse-drawn carts. For most of his life, Broccoli believed his forebears were peasant farners from southern Italy, until he discovered late in life that his family actually hailed from the north, and were writers, politicians and historians.

Broccoli left the family business to become manager of the United Casket Company, which made coffins, an experience that hardened his resolve to leave New York and go west. He sold jewellery, cosmetics and Christmas trees on the streets of Los Angeles before finding a fill-time job in the mailroom of Twentieth Century Fox. He progressed to tea-boy, through an assortment of behind-the-scenes jobs culminating in assistant director to Howard Hawks on The Outlaw (1943), starring Jane Russell. During the nine-month shoot he doubled as Russell's bodyguard.

In the Second World War he served four years with the US Navy, and was discharged with the rank of lieutenant in the special services.

Returning to Hollywood, Broccoli went to work for Charles Feldman, a leading agent whose clients included Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. Unable to establish himself as an independent producer, Broccoli came to England in 1950 and set up Warwick Films, with another American emigre, Irving Allen. They made what Broccoli later called "profitable crap", such as Hell Below Zero (1954), The Black Knight (1954), Fire Down Below (1957) and, his own favourite, Zarak (1956), with Victor Mature as an Indian brigand and Anita Ekberg with a ruby in her navel. Warwick also produced the more estimable The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) and The Cockleshell Heroes (1955), starring and directed by Jose Ferrer.

Broccoli split with Allen in 1960 and worked on the notion of adapting Ian Fleming's Bond stories for the screen. When he tried to buy the rights, he found someone else had an option on them for 28 days, an abrasive Canadian named Harry Saltzman. The two decided to pool their resources and, after being kicked out by most of the big studios, went to United Artists to ask for a million dollars to make Dr No. They were given $800,000, of which $100,000 had to go to Ian Fleming, plus 5 per cent of the profits.

As the budgets increased and the phenomenon grew, Fleming's books became largely redundant. So long as the screenplay crackled with one-liners and the plot made reasonable sense, what really mattered was the gadgetry and special effects. Broccoli acquired permission from the Fleming estate to carry on making Bonds after the source material had dried up. The series reached its box office peak in 1983 with Octopussy, and has been in decline ever since.

The volatile partnership between Broccoli and Saltzman survived nine successive Bond films. Saltzman sold out to United Artists in 1973 for an estimated pounds l7.5m, although Eon Productions, the company they set up together, is extant.

While it may have been primarily a marriage of financial convenience, Stanley Sopel, who worked as a financial adviser to Bon, said theirs was a complementary working relationship that worked. "Cubby was the practical one. He sorted out problems in shooting, or personal relationships. Harry was the ideas man, and every so often he would come up with a gem."

The casting of the then unknown Sean Connery was a reckless, spur-of- the-moment decision they reached jointly, and its unpopularity with the studio bosses convinced them they were right. Their obstinacy was vindicated when Connery turned out to be a winner with the public. Connery remained a close friend of Broccoli's for two decades, but the relationship soured in the mid 1980s when he tried to sue Broccoli over his alleged share of the profits of the five films he made as James Bond.

Broccoli spent a great deal of his time and money on litigation, always fighting to keep control of the cinema's most sought-after gravy train. While he hated paperwork, he would happily spend hours on the telephone, playing cat-and-mouse games with agents over star salaries. Whenever possible, he would avoid using stars in supporting roles, especially female ones. "It doesn't matter who we use, so long as she's beautiful," he once said.

He particularly enjoyed the films involving Roger Moore, since he and Moore were friends, and Moore's passion for backgammon helped Broccoli stay away from the gaming tables. Earlier on in the Bond series, when he and Saltzman first becane seriously rich, he would disappear for days, winning or losing thousands at one sitting. He once broke the bank at a casino in Macao.

Rarely a boastful man, Cubby Broccoli wasn't averse to the occasional burst of flamboyance. One New Year's Eve in Beverly Hills, he covered the five acres of his estate with "real snow", manufactured by means of a snow machine, using tons of real ice. Justifying the vast expenditure later to an incredulous reporter, Broccoli said, "I don't give a damn. I've worked hard. Now and then I feel I can have some fun."

Albert Romolo ("Cubby") Broccoli, film producer: born Long Island, New York 5 April 1909; OBE 1987; married 1959 Dana Wilson (two sons, two daughters); died Beverly Hills, California 27 June 1996.

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