Sunday, 29 April 2012

Women want to be with him, men want to be him – and other phrases

A feature on Vincent Cassel in the Sunday Times magazine of 23rd April 2012 began with the words: 'Vincent Cassel is married to Monica Bellucci, loves his kids and can afford to turn down any film he's offered. Women want to be with him, men want to be him.' The final sentence is a phrase associated with James Bond, and encapsulates Bond's attraction to both men and women. That the feature's writer, Stefanie Marsh, used the phrase, whether knowingly alluding to the world of Bond or not, is testament to its success as measured by its longevity and spread into wider popular culture.

The phrase is often attributed to Raymond Chandler ('Every man wants to be James Bond and every woman wants to be with him'), which potentially dates it to 1959 or earlier, but it certainly appeared in print in 1963. In a review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service published in the Sunday Times in 1963, Raymond Mortimer wrote, 'James Bond is what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like between her sheets.'

It is possible that Raymond Mortimer had adapted Chandler's line [but click here to read an update and further discussion about the origin of the phrase], but more likely the writers were expressing variants of a phrase already current in cultural space, and since the 1960s, there have been many more variants expressed. Sean Connery, for example, said in Playboy in 1965 that 'Bond is the invincible figure every man would like to be, every woman is excited by, and is everyone's survival symbol.' Even Ian Fleming had his own version. He told Jack Fishman in c 1963, 'Bond is the kind of man every girl secretly dreams of meeting and leads the life every man would like to live if he dared.'

More recently the phrase was used in Austin Powers (1997), in which Mrs Kensington, played by Mimi Rogers, said, 'Women want him, and men want to be him'. And the response from Bond directors John Glen, Martin Campbell and Michael Apted at January's CES 2012 in Las Vegas when asked why people want to see Bond films was that men want to be Bond and women want to go to bed with him.

Another phrase strongly associated with Bond that does not derive from lines in the Bond books or films is 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'. Around the time of Thunderball (1965), Bond was known in Italy (and/or Japan, depending on one's source) as Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and as a result, John Barry composed a piece with that phrase as the title for Thunderball. As with 'Men want to be him...' type phrases, however, 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' was probably already well established in popular culture. Fleming had used it himself. He also told Jack Fishman, 'I admit that Bond is...the feverish dream of the author of what he might have been – bang, bang, kiss, kiss – that sort of stuff.'

We may also add to our list the phrase, 'martinis, girls and guns', which Cheryl Crow used in her song for 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies. What these examples suggest is that memes such as phrases, which are often attributed to a single origin, may already have existed in some form in cultural space, and because of that, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they are expressed in reviews, interviews, articles, films, or song lyrics.

References:

Fishman, J, 1965 007 and me, by Ian Fleming, in For Bond Lovers Only (ed. S Lane), Panther
Jarman, C M, 2009 Licence to quote, Blue Eyed Books

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