President Reagan is guest-starring in a new TV special being distributed to U.S. television stations to promote the release of the current James Bond movie, "Octopussy."
"I've been asked to state my feelings about a fellow named Bond--James Bond," Reagan says in the sequence, filmed in April at the White House. "Well, as I see it, 007 is really a '10.' He's our modern-day version of the great heroes who appeared from time to time throughout history. There were many like him in the past--pioneers, soldiers, lawmen, explorers, people who all went out and put their lives on the line for the cause of good."
Hollywood producers are usually eager to enlist Washington stars in ballyhooing or endorsing their films; the Reagans recently hosted a White House reception for the Special Olympics that was masterfully engineered by Warner Bros. to promote the film "Superman III." And it was reported that Reagan enjoyed the movie "WarGames," despite its antinuke message, after screening it at Camp David.
But the former actor's guest shot in "James Bond, The First 21 Years" could mark the beginning, and perhaps the end, of a new era in White House flick flacking.
White House spokesman Mark Weinberg said yesterday that Reagan never intended his appearance to be part of the orchestrated hype for "Octopussy." Reagan filmed his remarks with the understanding that they would be part of a "one-time tribute" by London Weekend Television to the Bond character and that they would be televised in England as part of an "anniversary presentation" for the Bond films. "It was never intended for commercial use," Weinberg said. "Such use is considered inappropriate."
Not only is Reagan a featured performer on the special, but WTTG-TV (Channel 5) here, which will air the program Friday night at 8, has prepared promotional spots for it that begin with an announcer saying "a special announcement from the president of the United States" over a shot of the presidential seal. Then Reagan appears in a clip from the special, calling Bond "fearless, skilled, courageous, optimistic, and one other thing: he always gets his girl."
Reagan's chummy paean to a fictitious British spy is accompanied by shots of actors Sean Connery and Roger Moore, who have played Ian Fleming's womanizing hero in the Bond features, as they kiss women and kill men. In one clip, from "Dr. No," Connery turns from bikini-clad sex goddess Ursula Andress long enough to skewer a foe with a spear gun, after which he says, "I think he got the point."
Reagan's remarks on the program, and as excerpted in the promos, conclude, "James Bond is a man of honor. Maybe it sounds old-fashioned, but I believe he's a symbol of real value to the free world. Of course, some critics might say that Bond is nothing more than an actor in the movies. But then, we've all got to start somewhere."
Asked if the White House would ask WTTG to stop airing the promos, or perhaps attempt to discourage circulation of the special, Weinberg said, "I don't know how it will be pursued, but we are aware of it, and appropriate action will be taken." Although it was produced independently--and is not officially part of the promotional material for "Octopussy"--the special was acquired for distribution in this country by MGM/UA Television. "Octopussy" is an MGM/UA theatrical release.
In Hollywood, a spokeswoman for MGM/UA said she believed Reagan made the appearance as a favor to Bond producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli, a personal friend.
A spokeswoman for MGM/UA TV, distributors of the special, said from New York that the program had been sold to 94 stations, which contracted to play it between June 18 and July 6. Asked if the special were timed to coincide with the release of the film, the spokeswoman said, "Well--yeah. But that wasn't why the special was actually done."
A number of other stars, in addition to Reagan, appear in brief clips on the special praising James Bond as if he were a real person. One of them is former secretary of state Alexander M. Haig, who says, "I frequently wished in the anguish of diplomacy that we could resort to the kind of direct action which is his characteristic form." This is followed by a scene from "For Your Eyes Only" in which James Bond, while piloting a helicopter, drops a bald man in a wheelchair down a chimney and kills him.
Just prior to Reagan's sequence in the special, an announcer harks back to the crises faced by the world 21 years ago, when the Bond films began. When the announcer says, "Just over the horizon were even more awesome terrors," a film clip of Richard Nixon appears on the screen.
Other stars in the special include Alistair Cooke, Gregory Peck, Mr. T, Bob Hope, Jill St. John, Henry Ford II and Liberace, who says of James Bond, "I'm certainly one of his greatest fans." Former CIA director William Colby says spies should be more inconspicuous than Bond is, and Frank Sinatra says he dreamed he was James Bond and thus had "20 gorgeous creatures all over me, and 20 more waiting in line." In the dream, Sinatra says, he was able to kill off a couple bad guys even while balancing all those "gorgeous creatures."
Sandy Pastoor, program director at WTTG, yesterday defended the promotional announcements that feature the president. They were prepared by the station, not by MGM/UA.
"When a program comes in, the normal course for a television station is to go in and pull clips out of the show to make an attractive promo," Pastoor said. As to the presence of the president, something rather unusual for such a program, Pastoor said, "I don't know why he did it. But obviously, in this town, the president is of some interest. As is James Bond. And if we can marry the two of them to make the program more attractive to viewers, we'll do that."
Pastoor said she thought of the program as more than just a one-hour movie plug, but said, "The timing of it is obviously in MGM's interest more than ours."
On Capitol Hill, reaction was not particularly mixed. A wag on the Senate side said, "All the movie companies will start bidding on Reagan now" to promote their films, even though he was not that hot a property when he was an actor in films. Christopher Matthews, administrative aide to Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, said, "We always wondered what would happen when we got an actor in the White House. This is the kind of thing we all thought Reagan would be doing if he had lost the '80 election."