Cinema Retro mourns the loss of Sir Ken Adam, the ingenious, Oscar-winning production designer who has passed away at age 95. Adam's work helped redefine films in terms of the elaborate and creative designs he invented, particularly for the James Bond franchise. Adam's work on the first 007 film, "Dr. No" in 1962 was deemed to be nothing less than remarkable, considering that the entire film was shot on a relatively low budget of just over $1 million. His exotic designs so impressed Stanley Kubrick that he hired Adam as production designer on his 1964 classic "Dr. Strangelove." For that film, Adam created the now legendary "War Room" set which many people believe actually exists at the Pentagon. In fact when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President in 1981 he asked to see the War Room, only to be told that it was a fictional creation. Reagan acknowledged that he had been intrigued by the concept since seeing it in "Dr. Strangelove". Adam had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Kubrick, whose habit of changing his mind at the last minute caused Adam enormous grief. However, the two collaborated again on "Barry Lyndon" and Adam won his first Oscar for his work on that film. Adam's close relationship with the Bond franchise is based on his now famous designs seen in the early films. They include the massive Fort Knox set for "Goldfinger", which was created entirely on the back lot at Pinewood Studios on the outskirts of London. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the gigantic volcano set that housed a full size rocket capable of lifting off. This was done for the 1967 Bond film "You Only Live Twice". Incredibly, Adam's work was not recognized with an Oscar nomination despite what many feel is one of the greatest production design achievements in film history. His other Bond films were "Thunderball", "Diamonds Are Forever", "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker". For "The Spy Who Loved Me", Adam built the first incarnation of the massive "007 Stage" at Pinewood Studios. It burned down in 1984 and was rebuilt by his protege, production designer Peter Lamont.
Adam's other film achievements include two of the Michael Caine Harry Palmer spy films, "The Ipcress File" and "Funeral in Berlin", "Sleuth", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (for which he designed the famed "flying car"), "The Madness of King George" (for which he won a second Oscar), "The Last of Sheila", "Woman of Straw" and "Addams Family Values". He was also a prolific race car driver and had the distinction of serving in RAF in action against Hitler's forces, despite being a German national himself.
On a personal basis, Sir Ken was a good friend of Cinema Retro and had contributed to our magazine in its early stages through interviews conducted by his friend, Sir Christopher Frayling, who co-authored books about Sir Ken's remarkable life and career.He also contributed valuable interviews for documentaries we worked on about the Bond film franchise as well as "Dr. Strangelove". In his later years, Adam appeared at events pertaining to the Bond franchise that were held at Pinewood Studios by www.bondstars.com With his laid back mannerisms, wry sense of humor and omnipresent cigar, he always delighted fans with his remarkable stories. This writer sat next to him a few years ago to watch the digital screening of "Goldfinger" at Pinewood. Ken told me that he was incredulous at how wonderful it all looked. When the scene came to the interior of Fort Knox, he said to me, "I never thought I'd live to see my work presented so gloriously". It's safe to say we won't see his kind again.
(For full interview with Sir Ken Adam, see Cinema Retro issue #2)