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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 22, 1993|DICK RORABACK

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF JAMES BOND by David R. Contosta (Sutter House: $16.95; 130 pp.) Caveat emptor. Unless the reader is an avid birder--or a fervid Philadelphian for that matter--this biography will disappoint, if not cheat. Tucked inside the slim volume are but 11 whimsical pages on how and why 007 got his name. That comes to $1.54 a page, a rate at which Tolstoi himself would rise from the tomb for the royalties. The real James Bond was a "proper Philadelphian" with an impeccable pedigree dating back to 1645 and including ancestors who hung out with Ben Franklin. Eschewing the jejune life of investment banking, he became an amateur ornithologist, then the honored and acknowledged expert on avifauna of the West Indies. A man of dedication and diligence but little humor, Bond was shaken, not stirred, to read in a London Times review of one of his bird books: "To show that his life is not all sadomasochism . . . and ecrivisse tails in a brandy sauce," Bond has revealed himself as "a student of the nuptial plumage of the copper-rumped hummingbird. . . ." Bond, perturbed, had never heard of the spy. Wife Mary, a charmer, had, and wrote to chide Ian Fleming, who confessed to having lifted "James Bond" from one of the original's books as a name "brief, unromantic and yet very masculine." Along with an apology, Fleming offered to lend his name to "any particularly horrible species of bird" Bond might discover. The sedate ornithologist had to cope with his own name until his death in 1989. Happily, he had Mary, who fielded crank calls with: "Yes, James is here, but this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

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