Autobiographies are a two-edged sword: On the one side, reading the subject’s own words theoretically preclude any hearsay or poor research. On the other, unless the subject was in actual practice an author, the reader must often wade through less than stellar writing.
Such is the case of When the Snow Melts, the life story of late film producer Albert Romolo Broccoli, best known for having brought to the screen—along with business partner Harry Saltzman—legendary secret agent James Bond.
Let me preface these remarks by stating that Broccoli’s contributions to the film industry—not simply on a commercial basis but a personal one—are unparalleled in modern movie making. Broccoli was an old-school auteur in the mold of Goldwyn or Selznick. But unlike the personas often associated with those moguls, “Cubby”—a moniker bestowed on him as a child for his similarity to a certain comic strip character—could be a man of great generosity and humble gestures. That he overcame ignoble beginnings to reach this pinnacle is also a matter of no contest. Yet over the course of 327 pages it’s also apparent that Broccoli was more than a little enamoured of his own publicity and easily dismissive of that which failed to reinforce the myth, two conditions that may also have fueled his ability to hold a grudge; who better to hold in disregard than those with a potential to upset the legend?
Broccoli’s formative years were definitely earthy and the reverence he held for his parents was unstinting. But more than a few entries—like the one noting young Albert’s inspirational encounter with Lindbergh as the aviator embarked on his historic transatlantic flight—impart a surreal, screenplay-like quality to much of the proceedings, something which co-writer Donald Zec undoubtedly enabled, though his contribution beyond the pro- and epilogues is unclear. (For example, certain turns of phrase appear so frequently [e.g., “in the event”] you might wonder if anyone was consulted on the project at all.)
The chapters detailing to Broccoli’s childhood are few and brief, the bulk of the book focusing instead on his introduction to Hollywood and the characters populating it prior to WWII, then shifting to his post-war career in film—first as an agent and later as a producer-including his various marriages. (Broccoli writes lovingly of each but it is third and last wife Dana—who would figure prominently in shaping the Bond films—for whom he surely held the greatest affection. Indeed, the book is dedicated to her.)
As the result of a chance meeting, Albert became fast friends with Howard Hughes. Though popularly remembered as a wealthy recluse and aviation innovator, Hughes also dabbled in film (though more to the point of this book, he dabbled in starlets). While their lifelong friendship is fascinating—Broccoli’s anecdotes offer a unique perspective on Hughes, underscored by the men’s contrasting styles-many of the stories have little or nothing to do with Cubby’s own rise to fame. Indeed, a good portion of … Snow essentially amounts to a wholly unrelated biography of Hughes, a pattern repeated with passages on Connery, Moore, et al. I would rather have read more on Broccoli’s stint in the navy—”a lively and eventful three years” to which he grants a cursory four pages—the first of several instances where a possibly unimpressive record (he never rose above ensign) appears to have been glossed-over in favor of his own brand of bravado.
The balance of the book is devoted to Broccoli’s orchestration of the most successful film franchise in history. It’s this latter half of the biography that will naturally appeal to 007 fans but also where the story telling gets most unwieldy. For example, a long section about Grace Jones seems designed primarily to vilify her for what most already know: Entitled or not-Broccoli doesn’t openly take sides on this one-she’s given to regular bouts of diva-like behavior. Perhaps Broccoli wanted to tell some stories we hadn’t heard before, but so much of this comes-off as petty. Why else mention Connery’s suit against EON—a move which Cubby clearly regarded as ungrateful—while skipping the infamous McClory trial or the founding—along with Harry Saltzman—of tax-shelter Danjaq? In that same vein, Broccoli is kind in his recollections regarding Saltzman, but it’s clear he found their partnership more often trying than enduring.
The book is obviously skewed in favor of the Bond series (it did, after all, consume the last 35 years of Broccoli’s life) with occasional references throughout even the early chapters. As such, it’s sure to please those hardcore fans seeking every nuance and thus willing to excuse the occasional sin of omission. The casual reader, however, may be disappointed by the manuscript itself and Broccoli’s lack of humility—despite constant protestations to the contrary—in particular.
Even before his untimely death in 1995, those who knew Cubby were quick to cite at least his magnanimity if not his actual genius yet these qualities are—surprisingly—not exhibited in …Snow…. Indeed, nothing here really gets at the heart of the man; the book is essentially a reasonably detailed chronicle of events sans introspection. I’m not suggesting that yet another Hollywood “tell all” was needed but some “why” along with the “how” would have been a welcome addition. EON is effectively a family business with a well-deserved reputation for acting defensively; Broccoli’s death may still be too recent a memory for them to permit a third-party biography, but one suspects there’s an untold story equal to what’s revealed in When the Snow Melts and we can only hope that one day it also gets written.