SpyCast 3.5.24
Ep 623 | 3.5.24

The James Bond Collector - with Mike VanBlaricum


Erin Dietrick: Welcome to "SpyCast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm Erin Dietrick, and your host is the museum's historian and curator, Dr. Andrew Hammond. Every week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage. Please consider leaving us a five-star review if you enjoy the show. Coming up next on "SpyCast".

Mike VanBlaricom: I got a phone call from Saul Cooper, who was the publicist for Eon Productions, the film production company. And basically he said, hey, Mike, you want a submarine? And I said, Saul, you know I collect books, right? [ Music ]

Erin Dietrick: This is the first of four episodes of "SpyCast" on James Bond 007, to coincide with the launch of our "Bond In Motion" special exhibition at the International Spy Museum. This week's guest is Mike VanBlaricom, the president and founding member of the Ian Fleming Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to the study and preservation of the history of Ian Fleming's literary works, the James Bond phenomenon, and their impact on popular culture. In this week's episode, you'll learn about how Mike became an obsessive James Bond collector with 10,000 artifacts, how Mike once took out a second mortgage on his house to fund this hobby, how "From Russia With Love" was one of John F. Kennedy's favorite books, Mike's tips on the best place to start if you want to read the Bond novels, and much, much more. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for speaking to me, Mike. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights and expertise with our listeners.

Mike VanBlaricom: Sure, I'm looking forward to it. I think the most obvious place to start is, how did you first become interested in the world of James Bond? I think it goes back to when I was 14 years old. I grew up in a very small Midwest farm town, and 5,000 people, which is small. I remember it was a Friday night and I believe January of 1965, I went to see "Goldfinger" and that sort of changed my view of movies and things in general. I always was interested in the movies and it wasn't until probably when I was 30 years old that I actually started reading the books. I know for a fact that I was 30 years old before I read the books. I'm not sure my parents would let me read them as a child. It was funny because they went the night before on a Thursday night to see "Goldfinger" to see whether it was okay for me to go see it. As an adult now, having raised two children, I realized what they were really doing, that was their excuse to go see "Goldfinger" and they just used me as their excuse. So I always had an interest in James Bond as a child, but I was busy doing lots of other things, so I didn't go off the deep end probably until into my 30s.

Andrew Hammond: That's interesting. Most other people, their first Bond movie could be "The Living Daylights" or one of the other movies, but you get "Goldfinger", it's like your first meal is going to a three Michelin starred restaurant or something.

Mike VanBlaricom: Exactly. And what's fun about it is as I got older and got involved in the Ian Fleming Foundation and collecting, I had several encounters with Desmond Llewellyn who played Q, I went to breakfast with Moneypenny, so I got to actually live in a world that I never thought I would live in growing up out in the middle of the cornfields in Illinois where any association with, whether it be a writer or an actor or anything like that, you never even put it in your mind that you would ever meet someone like that.

Andrew Hammond: I think it would be interesting to find out if you have a favorite Bond. We'll go into more depth and some other stuff, but I'm sure people are desperate to know who did the guy that founded the Ian Fleming Foundation, who's his favorite Bond, what's his favorite movie?

Mike VanBlaricom: Certainly Sean Connery has to be at the top, because he was the first and he set the tone for so many things, but going forward, I really like Daniel Craig because I think he epitomized the Bond that Fleming really wrote. He was much more Fleming's Bond, just like "Casino Royale", which one could argue is one of the best Bond movies ever made, followed Fleming's book. He modernized it, obviously it didn't take place in 1953, very modernized, but it was Fleming all the way through that in my mind. But still Sean Connery, just because he set the tone and he's the one that caused the movies to keep going, I think.

Andrew Hammond: Daniel Craig as Bond, I think that it's interesting that you say that because he definitely comes across as more no-nonsense and brusque, which is how I read James Bond in the Fleming novels. He's kind of no-nonsense, get down to business.

Mike VanBlaricom: You know, two aspects about Bond that you see in the Fleming novels, first of all, Bond is a blood instrument for society. He's out there to take out the bad guys, so he's truly a blood instrument. The other is he does get emotional. He'll go on a trip and on the way back, he'll be sitting in an airplane with some remorse about what he just did. And I think, I don't know that I ever saw that in Sean Connery, but you certainly see it in Daniel Craig. He can emote and they bring that out more.

Andrew Hammond: And do you have a favorite Bond movie, Mike?

Mike VanBlaricom: Well, I'm pretty partial to "Goldfinger" because it's the first one I saw, but I think "From Russia With Love" is an amazing movie. And I got to tell you, ever since I was little and probably as a result of seeing "From Russia With Love", I've always wanted to run across the rooftops of Istanbul like a spy. And it's always been a dream of mine. And for my birthday this year, actually it was the day before my birthday, we happened to be in Istanbul, and by talking to a friend of a friend of a friend, I was able to get up on the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar and run across the rooftops of Istanbul. And then we immediately went to the cisterns, which are right down the street, which are in "From Russia With Love" and where James Bond, Sean Connery, James Bond goes through those cisterns. So it was like, wow, pinch me now, this is finally a lifelong dream that I've had to do that. And nothing more beautiful than on a clear day to stand on the rooftops of Istanbul and just look around. The spot we actually ran, were able to get to was a spot where the opening scene of "Skyfall" where Daniel Craig rides a motorcycle across the top of the rooftops. And it's the Grand Bazaar. That was something -- sometimes you get lucky.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah, that's a great bucket list. I'm not sure many people will replicate it.

Mike VanBlaricom: Right.

Andrew Hammond: And it's interesting that you say "From Russia With Love", because I think that that's a really fascinating example. It's one of the movies, the early movies that are often overlooked, the first five Connery ones. And that's one, I think, that often gets overlooked for the Doctor No, because it's the first and then we have "Goldfinger" because it's just, it's "Goldfinger", you don't need to say much more than that. Then you have "Thunderball", which I personally love. I feel like sometimes "From Russia With Love" gets overlooked, but the book also is like -- that's such a fascinating example as well. I mean, that's the one that we have displayed here at the Spy Museum as one of President Kennedy's favorite books. And interestingly, I came across a document on the CIA's declassified files, and it was Alan Dulles talking about how it was Jackie Kennedy that introduced him to James Bond and he ended up becoming a big friend of Ian Fleming. It was "From Russia With Love" that he was given to. So actually, you could maybe make an argument that the fact that Bond blew up as much as it did in part comes from this "From Russia With Love" connection. Do you think that that's something to that?

Mike VanBlaricom: I think that's true. Certainly, the thing in Life Magazine with JFK's 10 favorite books and "From Russia With Love" being one of them certainly helped. And that with "Dr. No" coming out at a similar sort of time. And "From Russia With Love" felt we were pitted against the Russians, but it had everything. I mean, again, it was the exotic scenery in Istanbul, Connery running across the fields shooting down a helicopter, which by the way, the Ian Fleming Foundation owns that helicopter. We found it in England. It was still flying and we brought it to the United States. Unfortunately, it's not in the Spy Museum. It was too big to get in there, but it did show up in another recent Bond immersion.

Andrew Hammond: And how did you end up with this huge collection of James Bond artifacts, Mike? Maybe you can tell our audience a little bit more about that. And I believe you coined the term Bondiana.

Mike VanBlaricom: Yes, I think so. After I started collecting a while -- and I'll come back to how I got started. I was traveling a lot and I was traveling to Washington, D.C. a lot, in fact. And I'd stop in bookstores and I'd buy books. I was trying to enhance my personal collection. So I ended up with a lot of duplicates because I always took the best copy and put it in my collection. So I started the Book Stalker, which was, you know, it was a mail order mystery detective fiction business. And then I started focusing on James Bond and I thought, I have a bookseller friend who sells Sherlockiana because he specializes in Sherlock Holmes. And I thought, well, Bondiana, that's the right word, isn't it? Going back to the collecting, about the time I turned 30, you know, I'm an electrical engineer and a scientist, so I spent most of my life, both as a child and in my 20s, I was focusing on my training and science and nonfiction were really what I read all the time. Well, by the time I was 30 years old, I decided it's time to start reading literature. You know, not that I hadn't read a book now and again. So I decided to start with Fleming because I had never had a chance to read him. And they weren't easy to find in 1980. I think they might have been out of print, but I was having to go into used bookstores and find things. And I wanted the whole collection, I wanted all the books. So my wife went to Manhattan on a trip to visit some relatives. And I knew of a bookstore called the Mysterious Press that Otto Penzler runs. And I said, go in there and see if you can pick up any James Bond novels and bring them back, particularly hardbacks. Well, she ended up coming back with a copy, a first edition of "You Only Live Twice" and a first edition of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". And the "Only Live Twice" copy happened to be Sammy Davis Jr.'s copy. So suddenly I had two first editions, and I saw the Chopping covers, Richard Chopping, the artist for the covers. And I thought, okay, I want all these now. And I asked a good book dealer, Otto Penzler called me the next week and he said, if you like those, I've got a few more. So I bought all he had. And I had the collector's gene to start with. So once I got started, I couldn't stop. And ultimately, I said I wanted everything Fleming ever wrote in the English language. Now I just bought a whole bunch of books from Romania and Israel. And sets of them were coming in in many foreign languages. But yeah, that was really the start. It grew from there.

Andrew Hammond: And we can leave Bond after Fleming to one side. Just for our listeners, how many James Bond novels did Fleming write? I know there's short stories and other things in there, but give them an idea of the canon, so to speak.

Mike VanBlaricom: Well, there were actually -- the canon has 14 books, 12 of those are novels. And two of them are collections of short stories. "Fury's Only" is a collection of five short stories. And "Octopussy and the Living Daylights" is a collection of two short stories. In the United States, it was a collection of three short stories. The British and the American editions are different. Now when they put it out, they put several other short stories in there. But it's really, if you want to collect the canon, it's 14 books. I'm a completist. So Fleming also wrote a travel book called "Thrilling Cities." He wrote, when he was doing research for "Diamonds Are Forever", he ended up gathering a lot of information about diamond smuggling. So he wrote a book called "The Diamond Smugglers". And Fleming, of course, wrote "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang". So there's 17 books right there that he's actually written. So it's really 15 fiction and two nonfiction, plus a bunch of stories and articles.

Andrew Hammond: And as a completist, this is maybe a silly question, but do you have all of the first editions of all of the 14 Bond books?

Mike VanBlaricom: Yes and no. And the no is because I'm giving my collection to the University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library. So yes, at one time I had all the first editions. I still have several first editions because I had duplicates. So the good ones, the really nice ones, like my "Casino Royale" was inscribed and signed by Fleming. So if it were to come up for auction today, it would get well over $100,000. I think I paid about $700 for it. I have those. I have duplicates in my own collection. And I have all the first Americans and all the first British editions. And again, the goal was then to start picking up some of the later editions as well and try to get complete runs. That's fallen by the wayside a bit. They're hard to pick up anymore, but I have a lot of them.

Andrew Hammond: And just to titillate our readers, how much, like over and above the fact that Fleming had inscribed one and one belonged to Sammy Davis Jr. and so forth, imagine it's just first editions without those additions on to them, how much would a complete collection of those 14 books set you back? Does that type of thing come up on the market and what kind of figure does it go for?

Mike VanBlaricom: The British first, "Casino Royale" I think will run you $15,000 to $20,000. They get cheaper after that. But you're probably going to spend, depending on the condition those books are in, you're probably going to spend $100,000 to buy a complete set of Fleming first British editions. Some of the American first editions are extremely hard to find now too, and they're fetching some pretty hefty prices as well. Fortunately, I bought them 40 years ago, so I didn't have to pay that. Although I did get a second mortgage on my house at one time in order to pick up some books.

Andrew Hammond: Really? Wow.

Mike VanBlaricom: It turns out, when I started collecting, about a year after I started collecting, I discovered that a Brit by the name of Ian Campbell, who lived in Liverpool, had written a short bibliography of Ian Fleming. He was a bookseller, a book dealer, and a collector of Fleming and Bond, all things Fleming and Bond. And so at one point, he sat down and put a bibliography together of the books that he had in his collection. And so that became the central piece for collectors to use, but most of the things that were in his book were British editions. I bought the book, and I thought, okay, if I can buy everything that Ian Campbell listed in his book, all the British, and then I can add to that the American editions, then I'll have a bigger collection than Ian Campbell. About three years later, Ian Campbell called me up and said, hey, Mike, you want to buy my collection? At that point, I went to my wife and said, well, I'm either a collector or I'm not. If I'm a collector, we have to mortgage the house, get a second mortgage on the house, and I'm buying this. I want to buy this collection. This big truck showed up, he shipped everything over here, and I picked up some just one-of-a-kind stuff. It was just an absolutely amazing collection, and a lot of British stuff that I would have never been able to find on my own at that time.

Erin Dietrick: According to Psychology Today, approximately 40% of the American public collect something. They could be philatelists, stamp collectors, numismatists, coin and banknote collectors, or even oologists, people who collect bird eggs. If you're not a collector yourself, or even if you are a collector, you might be thinking, why do people dedicate their time, money, and efforts into this art? Well, there are plenty of reasons, many of which stemming from psychology. The idea of connection is crucial here. Oftentimes, the objects that people collect serve as a physical connection or link to something that they deem important. For example, I, Erin, collect pins, and I do this in order to connect back to particular moments, places, or people in my life. I've got pins from all over the world, but my favorite will always remain a pin from a good friend back home in Cleveland that is a pin from the rock hall that says, Women Who Rock. Many people collect objects that have some sort of sentimental meaning to them, perhaps connecting them to their childhood or their family. Think about why you might take home a seashell from a memorable family trip to the beach. Collecting can also be as simple as a genuine interest in the subject or history. The Spy Museum itself has benefited massively from collectors with just this, a love and passion for the world of espionage. We might actually connect to these collectors to the fascinating oddball paradigm, a psychological study that describes a phenomenon in which people's brains react strongly to a stimuli that is particularly unique or unusual. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the draw of the thrill of the chase. Collecting can sometimes be akin to a treasure hunt, a journey that, although frustrating with dead ends and many left turns, leads you eventually to the pot of gold at the end. In many ways, collecting can actually be mentally beneficial as well. Studies have shown that the thirst for collecting particular objects can improve a person's creativity, reduce stress, teach organizational skills, and connect people with a larger community of like-minded collectors. So maybe this is your sign to start your own collection of Bond memorabilia, pins like me, or even bird eggs. We won't judge.

Andrew Hammond: And how many artifacts do you have in your collection or did you have before you started transferring some of it to your alma mater?

Mike VanBlaricom: If you count toys, games, movies, records, LPs,.45s, posters, probably close to 10,000. Even though I've given over 900 items so far to the University of Illinois, everything that they've gotten so far are really -- well, the really rare stuff has gone to them so far because I live in a fire zone in Santa Barbara and I want to get that stuff out of the house and in a safe place. But even as I'm shipping stuff to Illinois, the mailman sort of comes past every day and drops more stuff off. So I actually may have more things in my collection now than I had before I started giving things to Illinois.

Andrew Hammond: And whenever I speak to collectors like yourself, inevitably the question comes up of how well or not their partners, wives, husbands, tolerate the collecting bug. Yeah, do you have any stories on that, mate?

Mike VanBlaricom: Pam actually really likes it, I think. She certainly tolerates it 100%. Keep in mind, she's the one that kind of got me started bringing those two first editions home from New York. So in a way, it's her fault. I think the reason, one reason she doesn't mind it is the places it's taken us. I mean, she got to run on the rooftops of Istanbul, too. My wife's an engineer also. We've met as a result of the collecting and particularly, even before we started the Ian Fleming Foundation, the collecting has taken us to places where we got to meet people firsthand who were right there when history happened and got to meet and hear their stories and those sorts of things. And that continues to this day. So it's pretty exciting from that end. So I've never heard a complaint out of her. I think vicariously, she's living the thrill, too.

Andrew Hammond: And out of all the people that you have met, give our listeners a flavor of who some of them are, politicians, people that are in the Bond movies, other people. Give them a flavor of the types of people that you've came across or things that you've experienced as a result of your interest.

Mike VanBlaricom: Well, the first people I met, of course, were -- not of course -- but were Peter Janson-Smith, who was Ian Fleming's literary agent from the beginning and then became head of Glid Rose and Ian Fleming Publications, their managing director. Through him, I met the Fleming family. My first trip, I went to London in 1984. My company sent me over to a NATO conference. I had to give a paper at Lancaster House, which is right next to St. James Palace. And I called -- I had written a letter to Peter Janson-Smith. We didn't email back in 1984. And he said, when you get here, give me a call. I called him. He came over to the hotel, spent 15 minutes with me. He was screening me. You know, I'm a geek from California who is a James Bond fan. Of course, he's going to screen me. He said, here's the man who's in charge of all James Bond literature in the world. And then he left. And I got a call that afternoon from his administrative assistant, said, can you come on Monday for lunch? And I went over there. I met Nichol Fleming, who was Peter Fleming's son and head of the Fleming Estate at that point. We spent the whole day together just talking about the stuff. That led to meeting other people. The family asked me to dedicate, when they finally put a blue plaque up, in London, they have blue plaques for famous people who've lived, you know, Abraham Lincoln slept here kind of thing. And they put a blue plaque up at Fleming's house. And they asked me to come and give the speech. And when I got there, they said, oh, by the way, would you give a short speech about the significance of the house? Desmond Llewellyn's going to pull the curtain to unveil it. So your job is to introduce Desmond Llewellyn, who's Q, of course. And I had met him before, but, you know, it's pretty cool to get to be in a position where you actually introduce him. But at one point before the talk, I'm sitting there with Peter Janson-Smith, and he introduces to me to Sir somebody, I don't remember the last name, but I know he had Sir in front of it. And so when the gentleman left, I said, who is that? And he said, well, that's the Queen's attorney. You know, but the kind of people -- there was a lady I met, Joan Bright Astley, who at age 93 took myself and John Cork, one of the other founders of the Fleming Foundation, through Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms. And we went inside each of the rooms, and he closed the doors, and we were inside. And she told the story. She worked there during the war. She was keeping track of the intelligence officers. And when we were done, she said, let's go down the street to get a bite to eat. I know a pub. We went down the street, it was in the basement, and she was really enjoying herself and telling stories. And I said, Joan, you've been here before? And she says, yeah, during the war, we'd come down here after work, and Ian and I would come down here, and then we'd go to a movie. And it was an underground pub, so it was safe and things. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. I've gotten to meet lots of really fascinating people. Going back to Joan Bright Astley, this lady actually was the advanced person for Churchill who set up the Alta Conference, the Ottawa Conference. She told me, she said, you know, Churchill introduced me to Stalin, but I refused to shake his hand, because as a Brit, we knew what Stalin was doing during the war. And I thought, talk about degrees of separation here. This lady is bragging about Churchill introducing her to Stalin and refusing to shake Stalin's hand. So that's the sort of people that are just first-hand history. My dad was an American history teacher, my daughter's an American history teacher. So getting to experience that kind of stuff just blew me away.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. And out of all of the artifacts that you've collected, is there ever one that's been on your bucket list that got away from you? Or is there ever one that you're like, darn, this is the one that I always wanted to get my fingers on? Or did you manage to pretty much get what you were looking for?

Mike VanBlaricom: Yes and no. There were things that slipped through my hands because I was a naive collector at the time, and somebody was trading me for something that I thought was more important. And I ended up trading away one of Ian Fleming's notebooks. As a journalist, he always carried a notebook in his pocket and kept notes. I traded away one of those notebooks to get a bunch of Richard Chopping original sketches for the dust jackets, Richard Chopping being the artist for the British first editions. And I regret that. In retrospect, I ended up with some pretty cool stuff, but letting that Fleming notebook slip through my hands was a mistake. The one thing that I've always wanted, Fleming wrote -- if you believe it, Fleming wrote a book called "The Black Dahlia", which is a book of poetry. And according to the biographers, he destroyed all copies. He was embarrassed by it. Now, I've written a book of poetry, and maybe I'm embarrassed by it, but even if I destroyed them all so no other person would read it, I would keep a copy, at least one copy somewhere, wouldn't you? There's got to be some copy of "Black Dahlia", and you know he wrote poetry because sometimes if you look at inscriptions in books, there'll be a poem to the person he's inscribing the book to. "You Only Live Twice" starts off with a haiku that he wrote. So just getting that would be the holy grail. I've never heard of a copy of that anywhere out there.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. And what's the most unusual artifact you have?

Mike VanBlaricom: The first one that comes to mind is Ian Fleming's walking stick with a golden eye in the top. I mean, it really is, you know, it's a glass golden eye embedded in the top of the walking stick. I got to go to a premiere, a pre-premiere of "GoldenEye" when it first came out. And I met, at that pre-premiere, I was standing and talking to Pierce Brosnan, and he sort of looked at the cane I had, or the walking stick I had in my -- I took it with me, and he said, what's that? And I said, well, this is Ian Fleming's "GoldenEye" walking stick. And of course, "GoldenEye" was his premiere Bond movie, and he grabbed ahold of it, and we did a tug of war. I mean, I never let go of it, you know, so I was tug of war with James Bond wanting to hold on to Ian Fleming's "GoldenEye" walking stick. I'm sure he would have loved to have it. So that's pretty unique, obviously, it's one of a kind. I got one of his bow ties, that's kind of cool. I did, at one time, I've given it to the University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library, but I had a copy of Ian Fleming's first short story that I had bought years ago. So whenever you see that short story published, which the Fleming Estate has published it, it's from the copy that I had, because it's the only known copy to exist. It turns out, I say it's the first short story, it turns out he actually wrote a short story in the Eaton Magazine when he was at school in Eaton, which I've never seen a copy, but someone went to the Eaton Library, made a photocopy, and is going to send me a copy of that. But that's the first short story he wrote as a writing student at age 19, I had in my collection. And, you know, the collection at the University of Illinois is called the Michael L. VanBlaricom Ian Fleming and Bondiana Collection, so I guess it's still mine in some sense, even though it's owned by the state of Illinois.

Andrew Hammond: And just very briefly, the walking stick, was this because Fleming needed a walking stick, or was this more like a social convention of the time where men in their '50s had a walking stick whether you needed it or not?

Mike VanBlaricom: I've never seen a photo of Fleming with a walking stick, I've never seen him walking with one. I certainly don't think he needed one. I'm guessing that he bought it because it was cool, or had it made because it was cool, and it had the same name as the name of his house, "GoldenEye". So yeah, I'd like to get the backstory. I've never heard the backstory on this, why it exists. I mean, the provenance on it was fine, so I don't question it, but it clearly was his. But boy, I've never seen a picture of it or a reference to why he had it. Hopefully that'll pop up someday.

Andrew Hammond: Imagine your house goes on fire, Mike, which, you know, obviously would never want to happen, but that question, what would the thing be that you would get? Would it have been the "Casino Royale" first edition, or is that still the case because you've got another one? Yeah, you tell me, what's the thing that you would go for?

Mike VanBlaricom: It's an interesting question, I live in a fire zone. We've had to evacuate -- I mean, I've stood in my front yard and watched houses burn down the street. At one time, we were back at Illinois, my brother called and said, hey, the neighborhood's on fire, why do you want me to take you out of the house? And of course, we talk about baby albums and family pictures at that point. So as a result, I moved all the really rare stuff, as I said earlier, the really rare stuff now is in the library at the University of Illinois. There's still a lot of rare stuff here, but I have a storage unit that's away from the fire zone, it's air conditioned, it's on the second story. We're having floods now, so it won't flood if my house burns down. But that walking stick is in this house, and there's two other things that I certainly would grab, I mean. I mean, I've got a fair number of signed books in my collection, in this room that you can see, or you can see -- the listeners can't. I have some original art hanging on the walls in the house, the American first edition paperback of "Live and Let Die". I have the cover art for that. I have the cover art for "James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me", which was the novelization of the screenplay of "The Spy Who Loved Me". I have the original oil painting of that. And those would get grabbed immediately. In fact, when the fire gets close, we move those things to another -- we move the art out of the house. So yeah, I can't name, well, gee, I'll grab this and run. It's probably the art is what would get pulled now, because that's still here. [ Music ]

Mikaela Ferrara: Hi, everyone, my name is Mikaela Ferrara, and I am the collections inventory technician here at the International Spy Museum. In a nutshell, my job is to open up boxes and make sure all of our artifacts are accounted for and doing well. In working on this project, I came across a pretty interesting artifact just last year. It was a liquid cyanide concealment, but not just like any normal concealment, it was a lipstick concealment. Upon first glance, I definitely thought it was just lipstick. But when I opened it up, I noticed that there was a small cavity dug out of the lipstick itself to make room for a liquid cyanide pill to fit inside. I also decided to look into it a little bit further and learned it was confiscated off of a North Korean spy back in 1997. So this is a very modern artifact that we're dealing with here. There's a lot of question marks, though, as well, behind this artifact. We don't know the name of the person it was confiscated off of. We don't know what their intentions may or may not have been. But just based off some pretty basic research, we can assume that they could have been planning to use it for assassination purposes, or if it came down to it, suicide. Pretty dark, pretty grim, but that's just artifacts here at the Spy Museum. Like I said, very interesting. They can have question marks around them, but that's why continual research is so essential to what we do here. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: Just for our listeners, if they've never picked up one of the novels, where should they start and is there a specific order they should read them in? You know, you get like Star Wars, there's like half a dozen different ways that people say you should approach the Star Wars canon. How would you approach the Ian Fleming Bond canon?

Mike VanBlaricom: I'd start at the beginning with "Casino Royale" and work my way through it. If you got limited time, I'd read "Casino Royale", "From Russia With Love" and "Goldfinger". I think those epitomize his work. Some of the later ones are excellent as well, but those books certainly are really typical, and of course, those are the three famous movies as well.

Andrew Hammond: Tell us a little bit more about the Ian Fleming Foundation, Mike. Where did this idea come from? When did you start it? Tell us a little bit more about the organization.

Mike VanBlaricom: In 1991, I was sitting in my office at work and I got a phone call from Saul Cooper, who was the publicist for Eon Productions, the film production company. And basically, he said, hey Mike, you want a submarine? And I said, Saul, you know I collect books, right? And he said, yeah, but we've got this 23-foot submarine called --

Andrew Hammond: Slightly different things.

Mike VanBlaricom: Right. So we've got this 23-foot submarine from "For Your Eyes Only" called the Neptune. It's sitting on the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York Harbor right now. It had been used after the movie was made, traveled around, ended up in New York. And if you don't take it, there's a dive club in New York that's going to take it and sink it and dive on it. And I said, well, since it won't fit on my bookshelf, let me get back to you, but I've got some ideas. So I called John Cork and Doug Radin, two of the most over-the-top collectors I knew at that time and said, I got an idea. Let's start a nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving the legacy of Ian Fleming. Now the irony is, of course, Fleming never wrote about the Neptune submarine. They used it in the movie. It has nothing to do with Bond, or it has a lot to do with Bond, but Bond the movie. But it led to a lot. And just as an aside, the International Spy Museum that has "Bond In Motion" right now has that submarine on display. It was quite a trick getting it in there, taking it up on a crane and moving it into the museum. That was a little tricky. I would have liked to seen it. I wasn't there when it happened. It's still fairly well-preserved. It was a working submarine. But after that, Doug Radin is one of the founding members. He took it from New York to his place in Illinois and restored it. And he ended up getting an article in People Magazine about the submarine. And people learned about the Ian Fleming Foundation that way. And as a result of that, we got a call from Reed Enterprises who put on U.S. car shows. And they said, we want to do a set of car shows with a James Bond theme. Do you know where there are other James Bond vehicles? And we said, yes, we do, but we're not going to tell you. And they said, okay, here's the deal. If you get them, we'll buy them, we'll restore them, we'll put them in our car show. And when the show's over, we'll give them to you, you being the Ian Fleming Foundation. So that really jump-started us really fast. So some of the vehicles that are actually in "Bond In Motion" and have been in "Bond In Motion" are a result of that. The Ian Fleming Foundation is dedicated, as I said earlier, preservation of Ian Fleming's legacy, his impact on society and popular culture. And while we collect, because of those funny twists of fate, while we're focused on Fleming, we ended up purchasing and acquiring over 40 vehicles from the Bond movies. But we're also buying and acquiring literature and things related to the literary legacy and have a formal collection that we put them in. So what was the question?

Andrew Hammond: Talking about the vehicles, actually, do you have a favorite Bond car or Bond vehicle, Mike?

Mike VanBlaricom: I do. The Aston Martin DB5, for several reasons. The original one. There's lots of DB5s out there now. There's one in the Spy Museum for this show, because I think the Spy Museum owns one. But the ones that were used in "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball", I actually, when we did our first show, car show, it was in Boston, and they had found one of the original DB5s, one of the ones that had all the gadgets on it, and brought it in. And I got to sit behind the wheel and suddenly fantasize that I'm back in "Goldfinger" again. I broke the door handle off that car when they closed the door. I went to close the door, and the door handle came off in my hand, and I thought, oh. And then I thought about it, again, as a 14-year-old boy, I saw that car in a movie, in "Goldfinger", and here I'm sitting in it now. That car disappeared. I believe it was stolen. There's lots of rumors about where it exists, or if it does exist anymore. But there were another one. There's one in Cincinnati. I saw it in the Art Museum in Cincinnati for a while. The rest of the cars, the DB5s you see out there that are used in the other movies, were used in the movies, but they're replicas of that original car.

Andrew Hammond: So the original car's lost?

Mike VanBlaricom: Well, one of them exists, and another one is lost. Interesting, I met John Steers, who was basically one of the designers of that car. I don't know my movies very well, and I asked John Steers when I was talking to him, I said, besides "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball" -- he was a production designer -- I said, is there anything else you did that I would be familiar with? And he said, yeah, there's a small film called Star Wars. I won the Academy Award for that. So the man that created R2-D2 created the gadgets on the Aston Martin DB5 in "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball". And just think about that a minute. These are two iconic pieces that everybody in the world knows of, and it came out of the mind of one man.

Andrew Hammond: Wow. That's pretty incredible. And for the Ian Fleming Foundation as well, tell our listeners a little bit more about how many vehicles is it that you have in total just now?

Mike VanBlaricom: I believe we have 41. I think it may only be 40. We have the Jaguar XKR from "Die Another Day" that Jaguar has loaned us, sort of a permanent loan, if you will. You have one of those, the Spy Museum has one of those on display. It's not ours. It's another one. There were five made for that movie. We have 40. The one I'm most excited about recently that we obtained was we found, and this was Doug Radin found that, he's our archivist and one of the three co-founders of the organization. We found the Lockheed Jetstar that was used in "Goldfinger". It was sitting in an airplane graveyard in Kansas City, and it didn't have the wings on it. We bought the first 25 feet of it, shipped it back to our warehouse, and are in the process of fully restoring it. It should be restored later in this year. By having the front half of that plane, we're setting it up so that if it goes into a museum, somebody could go walk in the back, see what that plane looked like, and then walk out the door that Sean Connery walked out of in "Goldfinger" when Pussy Galore lands the plane and he walks out.

Andrew Hammond: Where do all of these vehicles that are not being used live if they're not in an exhibition like "Bond In Motion"?

Mike VanBlaricom: They reside in a storage place in Illinois, which is extremely well protected, and we usually don't tell anybody where it is. And I can say it is protected by the Army National Guard. It's very secure.

Andrew Hammond: That's better than SimpliSafe or Ring.

Mike VanBlaricom: Right.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. I think it's quite interesting as well, Mike. So your background, you have a technical background. I know that you work in a sector or work adjacent to a sector that could maybe technically be called technical intelligence, which leads to the interesting question, how come your interest didn't go more into the technical intelligence part rather than the human intelligence, Bond and so forth?

Mike VanBlaricom: I think for that very reason that I spent my career doing the technical side of defense work and intelligence work, I've had the privilege of getting into some pretty interesting places that most people -- places that don't exist. I mean, literally, I was told one time that if anybody ever finds out that this exists, it's going to get shut down. Because my specialty is sensors, radar, antennas, things like that, my PhD is in electrical engineering. As you said, it's very technical and it's pretty exciting. But when you come home at night, you don't want to sit there and play with that kind of stuff. So that's why I said when I was 30, I decided to start reading more, reading on the literature side. I still always had this spy interest, if you will, and that goes back to all the stuff I grew up with, you know, "Get Smart" and "Mission Impossible" and James Bond and all those sorts of things. So that was the kind of literature I was reading. I found two aspects of that interesting. One is the techniques of spycraft are fascinating to me, I mean, on the human side are just fascinating to me. And creating literature, I mean, I've always been -- my job has always been managing creative engineers, managing, you know, creating new things that didn't exist before. So I've always been fascinated about the study of creativity. And so between wanting to understand spycraft and that whole human side, as well as creativity, the creativity of someone like Fleming, how one person can change popular culture, you know, ultimately, something that came out of his mind can change popular culture is just fascinating to me. And it's a good respite from the other half. My wife and I both work in the same industry, and we can't come home and sit around the dinner table and talk about it because it's classified to start with, and you just don't do that. So you got to have something to talk about. And so we end up talking about some of the really cool stuff you read and get exposed to.

Andrew Hammond: And tell me a little bit more about how those two worlds intersect for you, like, say, for example, in terms of "Bond In Motion". So we have technical intelligence, we have Q, gadgets, technology, and then we have human intelligence operations and so forth. I'm imagining that one of the journalists that come to the press preview for the launch of "Bond In Motion" at the International Spy Museum are probably going to ask, well, this is great, but did real spy agencies ever do these car modifications? And obviously, a car going invisible is probably something that's not happened or is going to happen anytime soon. But are there other ways in which cars as not just a mode of transport, but as a technology have been adapted for spycraft and so forth? Have both of those worlds ever connected?

Mike VanBlaricom: To my knowledge, yes. Can I talk about it? No. But yes. And it's interesting, it goes both ways. A lot of things that you see in movies and the literature, the spy agencies pick up on and say, well, that really worked, can we try it? And vice versa, there are things that the movies do where they've picked up on maybe technology that's cutting edge and then showed it. I went to dinner -- this is not really a spy thing, but I went to lunch with Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli when they were putting together "GoldenEye". And they were asking questions because one of my backgrounds was nuclear weapons effects EMP, SGEMP, protection of satellites from nuclear weapons, that sort of thing.

Andrew Hammond: Sorry, just briefly for listeners, EMP, this is electromagnetic pulse.

Mike VanBlaricom: Yes, sorry. It's easy to fall into the vernacular of technology. But if you watch "GoldenEye", they worry about electromagnetic pulse and effect on satellites. And Michael Wilson was picking my brain. Now, you got to understand that the producer of the James Bond films is also an electrical engineer. Michael Wilson has a degree in electrical engineering and a law degree. So he's picking my brain about stuff. And it was interesting because he would ask a question. I'd say, no, that's not possible. But just because it's not possible doesn't mean it doesn't show up in a James Bond film. But they try to be very careful and try to do those sorts of things. So it goes both ways. As I said earlier, I mean, things that people have a sense of cutting edge technology. We'll try to use them in the movies. And sometimes the movies will say, hey, that looks cool. You know, can we really do that? And usually they can.

Andrew Hammond: And it makes a lot of sense to me. Because if you think about the kind of Office of Science and Technology people and so forth, and then people that are coming up with scripts and Hollywood movies and so forth, they're both creative envisioning kind of endeavors in some way. And I mean, it's only natural that people in the CIA's Office of Science and Technology don't have a monopoly on creativity and vice versa. So it makes sense that both of those worlds kind of bleed into one another a little bit. And tell us a little bit more about the future plans for the Ian Fleming Foundation. Is it something that people can go online and join, or is it doing something different? Just help our listeners understand how they can engage with it if they want to.

Mike VanBlaricom: Sure. I am president of the foundation, and it seems like it's a full-time job these days, particularly with -- we have a vehicle in "Bond In Motion" in Europe, in Prague right now. We have, of course, the "Bond In Motion" that's in Spy Museum that will be opening soon. And we're part of -- I think we have 12 vehicles in the Spy Museum. And we're part of the "007 Science" exhibition that's opening at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. So we're very active in that. What we're working on now, we're about to come out with a new website. We're trying to, as I told the guys, we've got to enter the 21st century with our website. We're 31 years old. Because of the nature of getting involved with the vehicles, we've in some sense short-changed Fleming, if you will. But many of us on the board were Fleming fans first. So as we move further into the 21st century, we want to become more Fleming-centric. So the new website, we're going to have podcasts about Fleming and the places he went. And one of our co-founders is actually traveling the world right now, looking at places that Fleming went that inspired him for his stories and things. And then he's going to do a podcast for that. We're collecting more Fleming literary-type pieces and moving them. We have a library. There's the Ian Fleming Foundation Endowed Library Collection at the University of Illinois as well. For example, we just bought John Gardner's first draft typescript for "License Renewed". The working title was "Warlock", actually. But it has all his handwritten. The Fleming Foundation bought that and moved it in there. We have a major scholarship at the Media Department at the University of Illinois for media students. And so we've endowed scholarships. We've endowed literary collections. And we're going to be moving more that way. Our podcasts are going to, again, be more Fleming-centric. At the same time, keeping the vehicles and everything and finding more vehicles. And, yes, both with the current website, which is ianflemingfoundation.org, with probably a www.ianflemingfoundation.org, there's a link so you can donate. And the new website will be, which we're hoping to pop up before "Bond In Motion" and "007 Science" open up in March, that people can donate to the foundation. We used to have membership. We used to publish a magazine. But now, people that get involved, we consider members. And we're really looking for donations so that we can buy more stuff. Because we are an all-voluntary. None of us get paid for anything. We've spent 30 years donating our time.

Andrew Hammond: It's a labor of love.

Mike VanBlaricom: Yeah, it is.

Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time, Mike. It's been a real pleasure to speak to you. And I look forward to meeting you in person on Tuesday, probably.

Mike VanBlaricom: Sure. Take care. Thanks so much, Andrew.

Erin Dietrick: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of "SpyCast". Coming up in next week's show. >> And then the question is, well, what happens to the character James Bond? Does it die with its creator and author? Or is there a way to continue? If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast@spymuseum.org or on X at @INTLSpycast. If you go to our page, thecyberwire.com/podcasts /spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm Erin Dietrick, and your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincy, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Renz, Afua Anakwa, Ariel Samuel, Elliott Pelzman, Trey Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.