The 49ers beat the Packers and it’s time to find something else to watch. The BBC is showing an MGM documentary called Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 to commemorate 50 years of James Bond. A little over halfway through the show, they flash a still photograph of Sean Connery and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli talking to each other. While the still is only on-screen for a couple seconds, the backdrop is something I’ve looked at almost every day for the last two years, since first stepping foot in the original Bank of Italy (later, Bank of America) building at 550 Montgomery.
And here is the exact same wall covering in one of our rooms at 550 Montgomery as photographed during my recently-blogged-about wedding reception at the Club:
Now, it is obvious that the wall covering is the same. Originally, I thought this enough would be definitive proof that the photo was taken in our space as someone had told me that the wall coverings were hand painted. With the help of Google Image search, I now knowthat that is not the case as I turned up a movie poster from 1961 for the Italian film, La Notte.
The movie poster, in turn, led me to 1stdibs.com, a high-end home decor site where a dealer is selling the same wallpaper, and gives us more information about it: it’s a Series of Three Grisaille Panels of Zuber Wallpaper of Neoclassical Horse Racing, Figures, and Architecture. Designed in France by Joseph Dufour et Cie around 1900, it’s hand silkscreened on paper and then mounted to a linen mesh. Buying the panels today will run you $10,500.
So the wall covering, in and of itself, is not enough to prove that Connery & Broccoli were in our space. However, there are a few other details that strongly suggest the photo was taken in our space when it was still the Bank of America building. Here, I lay out the photographic and circumstantial evidence that lead me to believe that perhaps the two men most responsible for the success of the James Bond franchise were photographed in the space Wingtip now occupies.
To begin, I put on a tux shirt, cufflinks, studs, a bow tie, and my best pensive gaze to try to recreate the photo in the same space.
First, you can see in the Connery & Broccoli photo that there is a molding a few feet off the ground that frames the bottom of the wall covering. Even if the wall covering were a mass produced wallpaper, it seems highly unlikely that two different spaces would install it at the same height with the same molding (we have since finished it in a dark espresso stain). How can we know if it’s the same molding? We can’t be certain, but if we establish scale, we can make a very educated guess.
To help with this, I bought the digital file from Capital Pictures (which owns the right to the still photo), and took it to a FedEx Kinko’s to make a glossy 30″ x 40″ print (the size of the file). We can use this physical print plus our actual version on the wall to establish scale. To start, we measured from the top of the white fence to the top of the roof on the main building on the photographic print.
As you can see, from the top of the fence to the beginning of the roof is 5 1/16″. Then, we measured the same distance on our wall (photo taken today).
The height of that same distance on our actual wall is approximately 15″, so we are dealing with a scale of 3:1 (reality: print). We can use this scale to determine if the molding on our wall is the same as the molding in the photo.
Above is a clean view of the molding behind Sean Connery in the original photo. Because of the shadows, we thought it best to measure from the top of the molding to the top of the bottom of the molding (in other words, ignoring any of the shadowed space underneath since it’s impossible to tell if it’s millwork or shadow). On the full-size print of the original photo (above), the molding measures approximately 1 1/8″. Below is a photo taken today of our molding in the same spot on the wall behind Connery (we can tell because it’s under the windy road on the wall).
As you can see, our molding is approximately 3 3/8″, or extremely close to the 3:1 scale we discovered earlier. Now, it’s possible that someone else had this wall covering, and installed it a couple feet off the ground, and framed the bottom of it with a 3.5″ molding, and had a reason for Sean Connery and Cubby Broccoli to be in their room for a photo which is why we then have to look for unique anomalies in the wall.
So let’s assume that this was a mass produced wallpaper you could buy in the 1940s-1960s. The paper is made of panels which were applied to the walls which means there are seams, and the seams provide the greatest clues leading me to think the photo had to be taken in our space. The easiest detail to spot in the Connery & Broccoli photo and our space has to do with a horse with a 90° angle in his underbelly. Below, we have zoomed in on the digital file of the photo to pick out the second horse from the right which straddles a seam in the wall covering. If you look closely, you will see that the horse has a right angle in the middle of his belly where the wall covering was installed 1/4″ off.
That same horse in our space has the same right angle in his belly as you can see from the photo we took of our wall today.
This would mean that the paper would have had to be installed slightly off in the room where the photo was taken and in our room with the same imprecision for that to be a coincidence.
Let’s assume you’re with me on the photographic evidence; was there any reason for Sean Connery to be in San Francisco in the 1960s? Or for that matter, doing anything with Bank of America? Actually, yes! Here are the facts we know:
- A.P. Giannini starts the Bank of Italy in 1904, builds its first post-quake headquarters at 550 Montgomery (where Wingtip is now).
- In 1923, Giannini creates a motion-picture loan division and helps Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith start United Artists (UA).
- In 1928, Giannini creates Transamerica Corporation as a holding company for various interests, mostly insurance. It becomes a giant conglomerate with interests in banking, consumer loans, insurance, airlines, rental cars, manufacturing, and…later…a movie studio.
- In 1930, Giannini merges his Bank of Italy with the smaller Bank of America of Los Angeles. Giannini changes the name “Bank of Italy” to “Bank of America”.
- In 1961, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who had already secured the exclusive screen rights to all but one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, partner with United Artists to help produce and distribute the first Bond film, Dr. No.
- In 1962, the partnership takes a loan from the Bank of America to finance Dr. No. From the book The James Bond Archive:
Cubby Broccoli The film opened in England to almost unanimous praise. The London Times, recognizing its intrinsic tongue-in-cheek approach, praised the care and expertise that had gone into the production. Superlatives like “magnificent” and “superb” burst out of most of the tabloids. Connery achieved his own personal triumph…Audiences, specifically the women, reacted strongly to his raw, rugged manliness and his sardonic double entendres. Within a few months, the picture practically recouped its production costs in London alone.
Stanley Sopel We repaid the Bank of America bank loan in about three months, much to the chagrin of the Bank of America, who had lost 15 months’ interest on the picture, having penciled in 18 months’ interest on this loan.
- In 1963, Connery visits San Francisco as part of a U.S. press tour. According to the book United Artists, Volume 2, 1951-1978: The Company that Changed the Film Industry,
The main goal was to build up Sean Connery as a star, and, to do this, they scheduled him for a cross-country tour in March 1963. Accompanied by Terence Young, the director, Connery visited New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Kansas City. Connery hosted at each city, a special preview of Dr. No and a gala postscreening gourmet party, “sumptuously prepared and served on a Lucullan scale.” The following day at each stop he gave himself to newspaper, radio, and TV interviews.
- In 1967, Transamerica Corporation, the holding company started by A.P. Giannini, and with headquarters just a stone’s throw from the original Bank of America headquarters (now home to Wingtip), buys United Artists for $185 million.
I can think of at least two possible –and highly probable– explanations.
- The most likely scenario is that the photo was taken during the 1963 U.S. press tour which included a stop in San Francisco. Given that Bank of America had helped finance the first movie, perhaps the bank offered for the following day’s press interviews to be conducted on their private dining floor. That would explain the lighting on Connery and the shadow of the boom mic protruding from the top of the photo. While I’d like to think the lavish post-screening party was held in our space, I have no evidence of that…yet.
- Alternatively, Connery & Broccoli were in San Francisco around 1967 as the deal between United Artists and Transamerica Corporation was taking shape, or to celebrate its completion.
Sadly, this has obsessed me for the past few days, so I now have several books about A.P. Giannini, United Artists, Cubby Broccoli, and the story behind 007 en route to me so I can try to find more corroborating evidence. And make no mistake: this is not over. But at this point, I am confident in claiming that James Bond was in our club before it was our club.
P.S. Sean Connery could likely confirm my hypothesis, so if you know how to get in touch with him, I’d love an introduction.