Silberstein, the greatest stamp dealer in New York.

When they let me out of the hospital I went to Silberstein, the greatest stamp dealer in New York. I bought an envelope, just one envelope, full of the rarest postage stamps in the world. I took weeks to get them together. But I didn’t mind what I paid–in New York, London, Paris, Zurich. I wanted my gold to be mobile. I invested it all in these stamps. I had foreseen the World War. I knew there would be inflation. I knew the best would appreciate, or at least hold its value.

Dr. No, Chapter 15

James Bond and Honey Rider are dining with Dr. No, listening to their host tell the story of his life. Having escaped death at the hands of the Tongs whom he betrayed, he recounts his next steps.

Nassau Street in Manhattan was the center of New York City’s “Stamp District” from around 1915 up until the 1970’s. Philately probably hit its peak during the 1950’s. Fleming, with his love of New York was likely aware of the Stamp District and perhaps even had been there during one of his trips through the city.

I was unable to find any reference to a Silberstein as a famous stamp collector. The most famous character of that time in New York Philately appears to have been a fellow named Herman (Pat) Herst Jr. Herst was ubiquitous in the stamp world, constantly making speaking appearances, publishing a newsletter Herst’s Outbursts, writing 18 books, including the best seller Nassau Street in 1960. He contributed to stamp columns in publications all over the country. His sister was Edith Herst Silverstein, which was as close as I could get to a connection.

In the course of writing this post, I came across the British Caribbean Philatelic Study Group, and in the April 2018 edition they have a bit on Ian Fleming – go to the section British Colonial post-World War II High Values (Part 2). I was drawn to this part:

Ian Lancaster Fleming has never been noted as a stamp collector or philatelist. As far as is known, he never had a collection — his interest was first editions — none of them philatelic (Figure 3). Valuable stamps never play a part in any of the James Bond adventures — they should!

Well, this is a minor part in a Bond novel. They must’ve overlooked this bit from Dr. No!

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The great Tong wars of the late ‘twenties.

Then began the great Tong wars of the late ‘twenties. The two great New York Tongs, my own, the Hip Sings, and our rival, the On Lee Ongs, joined in combat. Over the weeks hundreds on both sides were killed and their houses and properties burned to the ground. It was a time of torture and murder and arson in which I joined with delight.

Dr No, Chapter 15

James Bond and Honey Rider are dining as guests of Dr No on Crab Key, listening to the Dr tell them the story of his life. He recalls his early years in China where he first became associated with the Hip Sings tong gang as a young man, and subsequently ran into some trouble which forced the gang to send him to New York.

Tong wars in the United States began in the 1880’s in San Francisco. Gangs spread to Chinatown communities across the United States. The Hip Sing tong was the first established on the east coast, and became the only bicoastal tong. Among their rivals in New York was the On Leong tong, with whom they battled from the early 1900’s to the 1920’s. The On Leong had the cops in their pockets; the Hip Sing won the district attorney’s office to its side.

New York tong members under arrest in the early 1900s.

The On Leong and Hip Sing organizations exist to this day.

The two plus decade run is well documented in Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money, and Murder in New York’s Chinatown published in 2016.

Pictured in the top photo are members of the Hip Sing tong.

Bill’s on the Beach

In Goldfinger, James Bond, who had been jonesing for a slice of the easy life, is given his wish, for a night at least, by Mr Junius Du Pont, who is hoping that 007 can help him out with a problem. When Bond accepts, they head out to dinner.

They drew up at a white-painted, mock-Regency frontage in clapboard and stucco. A scrawl of pink neon said: BILL’S ON THE BEACH. While Bond got out, Mr Du Pont gave his instructions to the chauffeur. Bond heard the words. ‘The Aloha Suite,’ and ‘If there’s any trouble, tell Mr Fairlie to call me here. Right?’

They went up the steps. Inside, the big room was decorated in white with pink muslin swags over the windows. There were pink lights on the tables. The restaurant was crowded with sunburned people in expensive tropical get-ups . – brilliant garish shirts, jangling gold bangles, dark glasses with jewelled rims, cute native straw hats. There was a confusion of scents. The wry smell of bodies that had been all day in the sun came through.

Mr Du Pont also takes care of the ordering.

Mr Du Pont slapped his menu shut. He said to Bond, ‘Now, why don’t you just leave this to me? If there’s anything you don’t like, send it back.’ And to the head waiter, ‘Stone crabs. Not frozen. Fresh. Melted butter. Thick toast. Right?’

‘Very good, Mr Du Pont.’ The wine waiter, washing his hands, took the waiter’s place.

‘Two pints of pink champagne. The Pommery ’50. Silver tankards. Right?’

‘Vairry good, Mr Du Pont. A cocktail to start?’

Mr Du Pont turned to Bond. He smiled and raised his eyebrows.

Bond said, ‘Vodka martini, please. With a slice of lemon peel.’  ‘

Make it two,’ said Mr Du Pont. ‘Doubles.’

While they awaiting their meal, Mr Du Pont tells Bond of his problem. When the meal comes, conversation ceases.

A bustle of waiters round their table saved Bond having to think up a reply. With ceremony, a wide silver dish of crabs, big ones, their shells and claws broken, was placed in the middle of the table. A silver sauceboat brimming with melted butter and a long rack of toast was put beside each of their plates. The tankards of champagne frothed pink. Finally, with an oily smirk, the head waiter came behind their chairs and, in turn, tied round their necks long white silken bibs that reached down to the lap.

Bond was reminded of Charles Laughton playing Henry VIII, but neither Mr Du Pont nor the neighbouring diners seemed surprised at the hoggish display. Mr Du Pont, with a gleeful ‘Every man for himself, raked several hunks of crab on to his plate, doused them liberally in melted butter and dug in. Bond followed suit and proceeded to eat, or rather devour, the most delicious meal he had had in his life.

The meat of the stone crabs was the tenderest, sweetest shellfish he had ever tasted. It was perfectly set off by the dry toast and slightly burned taste of the melted butter. The champagne seemed to have the faintest scent of strawberries. It was ice cold. After each helping of crab, the champagne cleaned the palate for the next. They ate steadily and with absorption and hardly exchanged a word until the dish was cleared.

Afterwards, Bond is slightly horrified at the entire display, but then realizes he got exactly what he had been asking for just a couple of hours before.

According to multiple accounts, including the officially sanctioned James Bond: The Man and His World, the inspiration for Bill’s on the Beach was the well-known Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach. Ian Fleming himself ate there, thought enough of the experience to include a version of it in Goldfinger.

Given Fleming’s fondness for name-dropping various locations, I’ve often wondered why for some places he uses the real name, while for others he creates a fictional name based on a real location. Did “Bill’s on the Beach” just sound better to him than “Joe’s Stone Crab?”

This looks pretty good to me:

stone-crabs

Joe's as Ian Fleming/James Bond might've seen it.
Joe’s as Ian Fleming/James Bond might’ve seen it.

"white-painted, mock-Regency frontage in clapboard and stucco"
“white-painted, mock-Regency frontage in clapboard and stucco”

J. Edgar Hoover inside Joe's.
J. Edgar Hoover inside Joe’s.

The Beverly Hills Hotel

Yes, James Bond went (to) Hollywood.

In Diamonds Are Forever, after he finishes up his meeting with Seraffimo Spang and company in Spectreville, he and Tiffany Case meet up with Felix Leiter, who drives them to Los Angeles in his Studillac.

Then they were rolling easily along Sunset Boulevard between the palm trees and the emerald lawns, the dust-streaked Studillac looking incongruous among the glistening Corvettes and Jaguars, and finally, towards evening, they were sitting in the dark, cool bar of the Beverley Hills Hotel, and there were new suitcases in the lobby and brand new Hollywood clothes and even Bond’s battle-scarred face didn’t mean they hadn’t all just finished work at the studios.

They don’t actually spend the night at the hotel, it’s just a “rest-stop” in order to clean up, change, have a drink and make arrangements to fly to New York that night.

The Beverly Hills Hotel (and Bungalows) has been a destination for top Hollywood figures and Royalty and celebrities from around the world since before Beverly Hills was even a city. The hotel was built in 1912 and renovated in the early 1990’s. Ian Fleming was a guest here when he came to Hollywood to talk movie deals.

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Skyway Drive-in Theatre

When James Bond and Ernie Cureo are being chased by the hoods in the old model Jag in Diamonds Are Forever, they take a detour in hopes of finding a place to hide from their pursuers.

“Keep goin’,” muttered Ernie Cureo. “This’ll get you near the Boulder Dam road. See anything in the mirror?” “There’s a low-slung car with a spotlight coming after us fast,” said Bond. “Could be the Jag. About two blocks away now.” He stamped on the accelerator and the cab hissed through the deserted side street. “Keep goin’,” said Ernie Cureo. “We gotta hide up some place and let them lose us. Tell ya what. There’s a ‘Passion Pit” just where this comes out on 95. Drive-in movie. Here we come. Slow. Sharp right. See those lights. Get in there quick. Right. Straight over the sand and between those cars. Off lights. Easy. Stop.”

The cab came to rest in the back row of half a dozen ranks of cars lined up to face the concrete screen that soared up into the sky and on which a huge man was just saying something to a huge girl.

“Passion Pit” was 1950’s slang for a drive-in movie theatre. Couples could go in the privacy of their own cars, and (pretty much) do as they liked.

Based on the slim descriptions Fleming gives – near Boulder Dam road, near 95, it would seem that he was referencing the Skyway Drive-in Theatre, a facility that was located off the Boulder highway and close to 95. It was closed sometime in the early 1980’s and is now the location of the Boulder Station and Casino.

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1955 Ad. These movies may have been playing when Bond was there.
1955 Ad. These movies may have been playing when Bond was there.

While the Drive-in is long gone, the original neon sign sits decaying in a “neon graveyard.”

4483606750_f296c996e4_o

From Spectreville To Sunset Boulevard

In Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Tiffany Case are driven from Nevada to Sunset Boulevard and The Beverly Hills Hotel by Felix Leiter in his Studillac. Leiter outlines the route they will take to get there:

“We’re doin’ all right so far,” said Felix Leiter. “Be at Beatty in ten minutes, then we’ll get on to 58 and be over the line in half an hour. Then there’s a long ride through Death Valley and over the mountains down to Olancha where we hit No6. We could stop there and get James to a doc and do some eating and cleaning up. Then just stay on 6 until we get to LA. It’ll be a hell of a drive, but we should make LA by lunchtime.

If you just look at a current map and try to figure out the route, you might be confused. You won’t see a Route 58 and you won’t see a Route 6.

The route today looks like this:

What used to be Route 58 is now called Route 374. As mentioned by Fleming it connects Beatty with Death Valley and route 190 through the Valley.

Here is 374/58 entering Beatty, which is a view the trio would’ve had while coming through.

1280px-BeattyNevada_from_374

They would’ve then headed on 374/58 towards the California border and the Sierras.

Nevada_Highway_374

Then they’d be on California Route 190 and through Death Valley – the hottest place on Earth.

190-death-valley

They’d have then come to the stop of Olancha – not really a town, just a stop.

olancha7

From Olancha they would get on Route 6, which is now Route 395. This also would’ve provided more gougeous views.

US395_near_lone_pine_ca

You’ll note that Leiter said they would take 6 “until we get to LA.” Prior to a 1964 highway renumbering project, US 6 extended to Long Beach, CA along what is now US 395, California 14, Interstate 5, Interstate 110/California 110, and California 1

So, a closer look at the route shows that Fleming got the details exactly right in this case. It would be a neat drive to do today, at least until you got to the LA suburbs.

Nevada Ghost Towns of Spectreville and Rhyolite

Some of the principal action in Diamonds Are Forever takes place in a western ghost town. Bond is talking to cab driver Ernie Cureo, who fills him in on the habits of Seraffimo Spang:

“He’s daft,” said the driver. “He’s crazy about the Old West. Bought himself a whole ghost town way out on Highway 95. He’s shored the place up-wooden sidewalks, a fancy saloon, clapboard hotel where he rooms the boys, even the old railroad station. Way back in ’05 or thereabouts, this dump-Spectreville it’s called seeing how it’s right alongside the Spectre range-was a rarin’ silver camp. For around three years they dug millions out of those mountains and a spur line took the stuff into Rhyolite, mebbe fifty miles away. That’s another famous ghost town.

Tourist centre now. Got a house made out of whisky bottles. Used to be the railhead where the stuff got shipped to the coast. Well, Spang bought himself one of the old locos, one of the old ‘Highland Lights’ if y’ever heard of the engine, and one of the first Pullman state coaches, and he keeps them there in the station at Spectreville and weekends he takes his pals for a run into Rhyolite and back.

We read later that took about two hours to drive from Las Vegas to Spectreville. The town of Spectreville is fictitious, while Rhyolite was a real town.

John Griswold puts forth the theory that Fleming (mistakenly) referenced Spectreville when he really meant Rhyolite, seeing as how Rhyolite fits better for distance and time to drive there.

Griswold’s work is amazing, and I enjoy that he attempts to put every scene in the Fleming novels into context and make it “real” in terms of making everything in the stories fit together and be completely plausible. While I appreciate and admire that approach, my own is slightly more pragmatic. I like to look at the real places Fleming mentions and see what inspirations he drew from them when creating the fictional locations of his stories. To me, it’s simple, Spectreville was not real, but Ian Fleming got much of his inspiration for it from the town of Rhyolite.

For the real aspects – there is a Specter Range in Nevada, and it is where Fleming says it is. There is also a ghost town of Rhyolite, founded in 1905, (or thereabouts) and it is about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It is off of Highway 95.  So at 60 miles per hour, it would take about two hours to make that drive. Rhyolite has a house made of  bottles. The rail depot still stands.

Rhyolite Train Station
Rhyolite Train Station

Bottle_house__Rhyolite__NV__postcard

Bottle house today.
Bottle house today.

Highland Light Locomotive
Highland Light Locomotive

Las Vegas Tour With Ernest Cureo

When James Bond arrives in Las Vegas in Diamonds Are Forever, he hooks up with cab driver Ernie Cureo who brings him to his hotel, The (fictitious) Tiara, while showing him some of the other (real) hotels on the strip.

They passed a motel with a swimming pool which had built-up transparent glass sides. As they drove by, a girl dived into the bright green water and her body sliced through the tank in a cloud of bubbles.

mirage-motel-pool
The old Mirage Motel with its famous swimming pool.

“On ya right, The Flamingo,” said Ernie Cureo as they passed a low-lying modernistic hotel with a huge tower of neon, now dead, outside it. “Bugsy Siegel built that back in 1946.

flamingo

Then here’s The Sands. Plenty of hot money behind that one. Don’t rightly know whose. Built a couple of years ago. Front guy’s a nice feller name of Jack Intratter

sands

“Well then, here’s The Desert Inn. Wilbur Clark’s place. But the money came from the old Cleveland-Cincinatti combination.

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And that dump with the flat-iron sign is The Sahara. Latest thing. Listed owners are a bunch of small-time gamblers from Oregon.

sahara
sahara

Then,’ he waved to the left where the neon was wrought into a twenty-foot covered wagon at full gallop, “Ya get The Last Frontier. That’s a dummy Western town on the left. Worth seein’.

50s_LastFrontier-F

And over there’s The Thunderbird, and across the road’s The Tiara.

thunderbird

(Thanks to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries among others for the images.)

Saratoga Springs

After the events in New York City in Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Felix Leiter head up to the city of Saratoga. Bond is headed there to receive a payoff, while Leiter is investigating some shady racing practices.

They go from the Plaza, out to the Henry Hudson Parkway, through the Henry Hudson Bridge Toll, then through the Westchester County Toll and onto the Taconic Parkway.

Fleming writes that Bond stays at The Sagamore Motel which is right in Saratoga Springs. There is a Sagamore resort in the upperstate New York area, but it is 36 miles away from Saratoga Springs. The Sagamore in the novel is within walking distance (1/2 mile) of the Saratoga racetrack. Fleming might’ve been familiar with the Sagamore and “transported” it (or the name, anyway) to Saratoga Springs for the sake of novel.

Saratoga Race Course has been racing thoroughbreds since 1863, so when Bond and Leiter showed up on the scene, it had already been around for 90 years or so. The morning after their arrival, they head over to the track at dawn, to catch a look at Shy Smile.

Saratoga-dawn
Saratoga Race Course at dawn, close to the year in which Bond and Leiter were there.

That afternoon, Bond familiarizes himself with the track and betting process, then downing a few Bourbons and Branch Water with his dinner outside the sales ring.

The next day is Bond’s race – The Perpetuities Stakes. Bond settles in to watch his horse, never making the bet which he knows will now fail, thanks to Leiter.

saratogasaratoga3

Bond has agreed with Leiter to give the payoff to the jockey of Shy Smile for ditching the race. For this, he has to head to a most un-Bond-like place, the Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths. Reading Bond’s pure disgust for the place gives you the shivers he experienced:

Outside the bus the smell of sulphur hit Bond with sickening force. It was a horrible smell, from somewhere down in the stomach of the world. Bond moved away from the entrance and sat down on a rough bench under a group of dead-looking firs. He sat there for a few minutes to steel himself for what was going to happen to him through the screen doors and to shake off his sense of oppression and disgust. It was partly, he decided, the reaction of a healthy body to the contact with disease, and it was partly the tall grim Belsen chimney with its plume of innocent smoke. But most of all it was the prospect of going in through those doors, buying the ticket, and then stripping his clean body and giving it over to the nameless things they did in this grisly ramshackle establishment.

The place was likely something like this establishment:

Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths- Eureka Park Saratoga Springs

Bond went through the entire experience, getting and seeing a bit more than he wanted.

Mud-Baths

The above picture is from a different establishment, but it gives you idea of what Bond experienced in the bath. This one is even nicer than the experience Fleming describes for Bond. He describes the beds as “coffins” in the novel.

After meeting Felix back at the Sagamore Motel, they go to dinner at “the ‘Pavilion’ , the only smart restaurant in Saratoga.” Whether this is a reference to what is now the Pavilion Grand Hotel, which has been some business in some shape or form since the 1800’s, I’m not sure.

After dinner, Bond and Leiter talk about their next stop – Las Vegas.

Voisin

In Diamonds Are Forever, after smuggling in the Diamonds and taking Tiffany case to dinner at 21, James Bond spends the day in his Astor hotel room writing his report to M. He takes a break for dinner.

Bond sent the cable ‘Collect’ via Western Union, had his fourth shower of the day and went to Voisin’s where he had two Vodka Martinis, Oeufs Benedict and strawberries. Over dinner he read the racing forecasts for the Saratoga meeting, from which he noted that the joint favourites for The Perpetuities Stakes were Mr C. V. Whitney’s Come Again and Mr William Woodward Jnr’s Pray Action. Shy Smile was not mentioned.

Voisin was a famous Park Avenue French restaurant that operated from 1913 until the late 1960’s. Originally located at 375 park Avenue, that building was torn down and the restaurant moved in the early 1950’s to 575 Park Avenue – which still exists as The Beekman.

The meal was pretty standard for Bond – the Martini’s, Eggs Benedict and the strawberries – a meal replicated in some form or another several times throughout the novels.

Also of note is the reference to William Woodward, Jr. This was a friend of Fleming’s who he met at their mutual friend Ivar Bryce’s farm in Vermont. In Andrew Lycett’s biography of Fleming, he says that Woodward and Ian had a “cool, sardonic friendship.” Fleming also pronounced him “one of the best Americans he had ever met.” Fleming also told Woodward that he should divorce his wife – advice that actually might’ve been the right thing to do.

Woodward also introduced Fleming to the Studillac. After Woodward’s shocking death, Fleming honored Woodward by writing him into the book as well as by using the Studillac.

Here is the interior of Voisin, just as James Bond would’ve seen it:

voisin-interior

Also see: Remembering Voisin, The Always-Moving French Restaurant