NEW YORK — "Seventeen-eighteen years old, I was a fan of Lindbergh," says Cubby Broccoli, the producer of 16 James Bond pictures, the most popular film series of all time. The one-time teen-aged truck farmer sips the morning coffee his butler poured for him under blue skies in the interior courtyard of his townhouse just off Fifth Avenue.
"I read Lindbergh's gonna try to fly the Atlantic--all alone. The Lone Eagle. Six guys had already died trying to make the first non-stop airplane flight between New York and Paris. But I told my father, at our broccoli farm on Long Island, 'Lindbergh's gonna do it. He's gonna fly the Atlantic.'
"My father said, 'He's gonna end up in the drink.'
"So the morning of May 20, 1927, I'm on the farm, sitting on a tractor, and I see in the distance a plane flying very low, because it's carrying so much fuel. I could see the cowling. I could see the name of the plane, Spirit of St. Louis . I could see the pilot in the cockpit. I waved to him. He waved back. I remember thinking, 'If he ends up in the drink, I'll be the last human being to see Charles Lindbergh alive--but I know he's gonna make it--he's gonna fly the At lantic all alone.' "
Glowing with enthusiasm, Broccoli's passionate brown eyes and his flushly renaissance cardinal's face, seem to be seeing the flight on a movie screen:
"Imagine the guts of that guy!"
All his life, Albert Romolo Broccoli, who turned 80 on April 5, has been drawn to Lone Eagles with guts--Lindberg, Howard Hughes, and, of course, the fictional British agent 007 whose self-introduction, thanks to Broccoli, is now imitated around the globe: "My name is Bond . . . James Bond."
Broccoli's latest tribute to gutsy Lone Eagles, "Licence to Kill," opens Friday across the United States, but Broccoli will be in Los Angeles Monday as the guest-of-honor at a post-premiere dinner celebrating the native-born Italian's contributions to the British film industry. His James Bond movies, most of which were filmed in England, have been good to the British film industry, and good to him.
For Broccoli, the 1980s has been a decade of personal awards. In 1982, he was presented the Irving G. Thalberg Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, joining such legendary figures as Walt Disney, David O. Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Samuel Goldwyn, Billy Wilder and William Wyler.
Queen Elizabeth II of England gave Broccoli an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1987, he's received special honors from the Spanish and French governments and in Italy, where his father was born, he has been made a commandatore order of the crown.
His father, Giovanni Broccoli, who worked as a common laborer when he first came to America, ordained big things for his New York City-born son when he gave Albert the middle name Romolo--after romulus, one of the mythical founders of Rome.
Giovanni Broccoli and his brother emigrated to Long Island from Calabria at the turn of the century. According to research done in Florence by Broccoli's wife of 30 years, Dana, the brothers were descended from the Broccolis of Carrera, who first crossed two Italian vegetables, cauliflower and rabe, to produce the dark green, thick-stalked vegetable that took their name and eventually supported them in the United States.
Giovanni's brother started a broccoli farm on Long Island, and soon all of Giovanni's family worked for him. "Myself, my brother, my mother, my father--all working on our hands and knees," said Broccoli, who picked up the nickname Cubby (after a round-faced comic strip character) at about that time. "Later on, we had our own farm."
Broccoli's cousin Pat DeCicca, meanwhile, had left Long Island for the movie capital of the world and married the silent film star, Thelma Todd. Cubby vowed to follow.
"I'm gonna go out to Hollywood and I'm gonna get involved!"
"CUT TO HOLLYWOOD," says Cubby, as if he were describing a movie scene. "I'm in the Colony Club, waiting for Pat. In those days, they had silver dollars and I'm spinning one on the bar. A very nice-looking man leans over and says to me, 'Heads or tails?' I called it wrong; he took my dollar, and he gave me a sardonic smile: 'Again?' In about a minute, I lost $3.
"Then I spotted Pat. I went over to him, and the nice-looking man came over to us. 'Hi, Sam,' says Pat. 'I want you to meet my cousin.'
'I just met him,' he says. 'I just won $3 from him.'
Pat says, 'Cubby, say hello to Howard Hughes.' "
Broccoli's involvement with Hollywood remained pretty tangential through the 1930s. He worked for a while for a jeweler, and was thrilled to have been able to make a personal delivery to Irving Thalberg. Eventually, it was Hughes who got him directly involved, making Broccoli an assistant director on "The Outlaw."