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Continuing on the subject of TV theme songs . . . Another theme that popped up on the iPod the other day was the one from “The Munsters.” So, naturally, my thoughts turned to . . . lunch boxes.

When I was in kindergarten, I had a Munsters lunch box. This was back in the glory days for these metal containers. Every middle-class kid like me had one. They came with a matching thermos, and they always retained an odor of sour milk, peanut-butter-and-jelly, and apples. Most importantly, the lunch box exterior bore images from some pop cultural touchstone, usually a TV show or movie. Although I have it from good authority that the most popular lunch box of all was Peanuts.

I don’t think kids use lunch boxes anymore. It seems they’ve been replaced by backpacks.

I’m not sure why I was the proud possessor of a Munsters lunch box. I don’t recall being a big fan of the show. For a long time I called it ”The Monsters,” and was mildly irked that everyone else seemed to be mispronouncing it. My parents thought the show was funny, so maybe they persuaded me to pick that particular box. Every day I would trudge off for the miles-long hike to school with the plastic handle of the lunch box clenched in one little hand, and every day I would retrace my steps home, with my school papers stuffed inside the box, along with my sandwich crusts and maybe an apple core.

One day, I returned home and opened the lunch box, only to find, to my shock and horror, that I had taken another boy’s Munsters lunch box by mistake. I recall being quite upset when I discovered the remains of someone else’s lunch and—worst of all—someone else’s schoolwork, which wasn’t even close to being up to my standards. I think my mother called the other boy’s home to sort everything out. I had to lie down with a case of the vapors.

bond lunchbox1

Bond lunchbox images via Bond art.

I upgraded when I entered the second grade. I got a James Bond lunch box. This one featured scenes from a bizarro universe hybrid of Thunderball and Goldfinger. Bond’s Aston Martin was on one side, and the hydrofoil boat from Thunderball was on the other. There were frogmen, too. Once again, I am slightly mystified by why I picked this particular container. I had never seen a Bond film at that point, although I had once met Ian Fleming at a cocktail party.* I suspect my father might have influenced me in my lunch box choice. He had a number of Bond paperbacks, which I read avidly years later.

The Bond was my last lunch box. After that, I upgraded to hot lunches. Lunch boxes were for kids.

Bond lunchbox2Some time ago, I visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. I found it to be a pretty interesting place, but the exhibit about James Bond really stopped me in my tracks. There, inside a glass case, was an example of my James Bond lunch box. A piece of my childhood, preserved as a museum piece. It was enough to make a guy feel old.

*Full disclosure: The statement about Ian Fleming is a lie. I never met him—but he did once invite me to his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye.**

**Sorry. Another lie.

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GoldfingerDuring today’s walk the iPod segued from Shirley Bassey doing the theme from Goldfinger to Frank Sinatra singing “Day in, Day out.” It made me think, as I often do, of a lost opportunity. I wish Sinatra had played Felix Leiter in the James Bond films.

Leiter, for all who don’t know this important fact, was 007’s CIA connection. The character appeared in several of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, and also showed up in the movies—usually played by a different actor each time. Jack Lord was perfectly adequate in the role opposite Sean Connery’s Bond for the first film, Dr. No, but things went downhill from there. In Goldfinger, Leiter was played by charisma-challenged Canadian actor Cec Linder. Cec Linder! Suffice it to say, you can easily imagine Linder’s Leiter taking a break from his agency duties to peddle Fuller brushes door to door. In Thunderball, Leiter shows up in the guise of an actor named Rik Van Nutter. I’ve seen the movie several times and I can barely remember him.

But there is a parallel universe, one that’s just a little better than ours, where Sinatra did play Leiter. Here’s an excerpt from a film history published in that alternate universe:

“Sinatra had already provided the vocals for the title song for From Russia with Love, so an on-screen teaming with Connery for Goldfinger seemed like a natural fit. ‘Sinatra brings a tough, wolfish American quality to the character of CIA agent Felix Leiter, and he meshes perfectly with Connery’s suave British spy,’ wrote Arthur Knight in his review of Goldfinger for Saturday Review. Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman immediately signed Sinatra to reprise his role in Thunderball. Before shooting, the actors demanded script rewrites. “Haggis [Connery] and I both thought the gadgets had run their course,” Sinatra told an interviewer. “We wanted to get back to pure spy stuff, like the books.” The result was the leanest, tautest Bond yet. Connery was so pleased with the result, he insisted Sinatra receive a cameo in the next film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (considered by most Bond fans to be the best of the series), and then agreed to give Sinatra co-billing on Diamonds Are Forever, a gritty revenge thriller that unfolds in the shadows behind the bright lights of Las Vegas. Sinatra went on to play Leiter in three “Agency” films, with diminishing results. The first film, The Agency (with Connery taking a cameo as Bond) was generally well received, but the last in the series, Leiter’s Out! degenerated into a grab bag of Rat Pack shenanigans with everyone from Joey Bishop to Sammy Davis, Jr., showing up to join in the alleged fun.”

In this different and better parallel universe, Richard Castellano reprises his role as Clemenza for Godfather II and George Lucas decides that three Star Wars films are enough.

(For those wanting a complete Leiter list, here’s one from the Internet Movie Database.