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Intelligence quotient

August 07, 2003|Carolyn Patricia Scott | Times Staff Writer

Anyone who had a red, plastic decoder ring, read Ian Fleming novels after lights out and was chagrined when Mom threw out the lot including the James Bond attache case they got for Christmas in 1965 -- original retail price: $9.99 -- will be more than a little miffed to find that the toy spy kits now fetch as much as $2,500.

Get over it.

This weekend will offer spy aficionados a flood of gadgets as well as a chance to revisit the Fleming volumes, scan the comic book spies in "Sabre" and "Nathaniel Dark." Then they can meander through James Bond memorabilia, Matt Helm ephemera, props from TV spy shows such as "The Avengers," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," "Mission Impossible" and the groundbreaking "I Spy," starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as two globe-trotting CIA agents working undercover as globe-trotting tennis players. It all happens at the first annual Spyfest at the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

Unlike many fan-based festivals celebrating Bond and other fictional spy characters, Matt Sherman, one of the event's organizers, says that "we're the first to bring people from the intelligence community with people from the fictional spy world -- film producers, prop masters, actors -- together with fans in one big confab."

"I Spy's" Culp wasn't all that interested at first.

"I have an absolute abhorrence of trekkies and groups like that," he says. "But when I realized that a comic book writer friend of mine, Don McGregor, who created characters and wrote the narrative for things like 'Sabre' and 'Nathaniel Dusk,' was going to be there, they had me."

According to Sherman, there will be serious individuals from the intelligence community participating -- such as H. Keith Melton, an intelligence historian and author of five books. One of those books, "Ultimate Spy," is a highly regarded primer on espionage that is widely used within the intelligence community. Melton will take part in Spyfest because "it will be an opportunity to expose people to some of the technology that has been used in the past."

Just as Bond's Q consistently invented and presented James Bond with wildly imaginative gagdets, which were later spoofed in the TV spy farce "Get Smart," Melton brings a number of devices on loan from CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. One item from Hollywood that bears a close resemblance to a Langley device will be there: the shoe/phone carried by Maxwell Smart, Agent 86.

Although members of the intelligence community see the world of fictional spies as quite different from the world of espionage, they nevertheless represent a significant fan base for the fiction. The Heritage Foundation's threat assessment specialist Dexter Ingram says that "I've always been a fan of James Bond. In my office, I have 20 Bond posters, signed by all the Bonds, from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan, and Halle Berry as well."

Ingram's career was inspired by the novels of Ian Fleming. But professionals like Ingram and Melton agree that, although Hollywood may provide the inspiration, it often has little to do with reality.

"The world of James Bond is a world of assassination and seduction; the real world of espionage is about information, communication and personal relationships," Melton says.

Among those participating at Spyfest are vendors such as Danny Biederman, owner of one of the world's largest collections of fictional spy props, and online cataloguers www.spyguise.com. In addition, Ingram and others will conduct workshops on real-world intelligence operations and career opportunities. A number of actors from "The X-Files," "24," "Mission: Impossible," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" and one of the Bonds -- George Lazenby -- will be there.

*

Spyfest

Where: Queen Mary Exhibit Hall,

1126 Queen's Highway, Long Beach

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Sunday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Info: (562) 435-3511, TicketMaster (213) 365-3500 or go to www.spyfest.org.

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