His widow, Sylvia Maibaum, pointed out that her husband was more than just a marvelously entertaining writer. He was, she said "innovative. Among his works are 'firsts': The first anti-lynching play on Broadway, The Tree (1932); the first anti-Nazi play on Broadway, Birthright (1933); the first movie that dealt with the problem of medication abuse, Bigger Than Life, written in 1955, released in 1956; the first movie that dealt with the ethical and moral decisions in kidnapping cases, Ransom!; the first movie that introduced the American public to the importance of training airmen for the defense of the United States in a war many recognized as coming, I Wanted Wings (Spring, 1941); and Diamonds Are Forever, begun 1970, the first film that discussed the use of laser-like satellite mounted weapons for global warfare."
Maibaum was born to a Jewish family in New York City, and attended New York University. In 1930 he came to The University of Iowa's Speech and Dramatic Arts Department, where he studied under E.C. Mabie. He was graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1931, and in 1932 he received a master's degree, all the while writing plays and acting.
He was only twenty-two and still at the University of Iowa when his anti-lynching play, The Tree, became a 1932 Broadway production under the direction of the young Robert Rossen, later known for Body and Soul (1947) and a life destroyed by the Hollywood blacklist.
Back in New York after graduation, Maibaum spent 1933 as an actor in the Shakespearean Repertory Theater on Broadway. He appeared in fifteen different roles in many productions and was the youngest actor ever to perform the role of Iago on Broadway.
As a young playwright in the early 30's in New York City, Maibaum was involved with the challenging politics of the Depression. In 1933, the year in which Hitler ascended to his dictatorial powers in Germany, Maibaum attacked Nazism in his play, Birthright, also directed by Rossen. This was the first of several anti-Nazi plays to appear that year.
Maibaum then wrote Sweet Mystery of Life (1935) a stage comedy which eventually became the film Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). His rapid rise as a playwright soon earned him a contract as a writer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, then the most powerful and prestigious studio in Hollywood.
While moving to LA and under contract to MGM, he wrote another play, See My Lawyer which was produced in New York by George Abbott and which starred Milton Berle. This was Maibaum's most successful play, running for 224 episodes from 1939 to 1940.
Maibaum's first credit was The Old School Tie (1936) at MGM. He did They Gave Him a Gun (1937) which he worked on with Cyril Hume. They worked on Live, Love and Learn (1937) and The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937) and Stablemates (1938) for Wallace Beery.
At 20th Century Fox he wrote Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942).
Maibaum joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and, like many other Hollywood writers and directors, was commissioned as a captain in the Signal Corps, During his four and one-half years in the army, he produced war morale films, assembled and disseminated combat film footage (presumably while stationed overseas) and supervised a documentary history of World War II, whose title, length, whereabouts, and, indeed, purpose, are currently unknown. He eventually achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He contributed to the story for the Olsesen-Johnson film See My Lawyer (1945).
With this experience under his belt, Maibaum returned to Hollywood for a contract at Paramount as a producer and screenwriter.
He wrote and produced his first picture, O.S.S (1946), which starred leading heartthrob Alan Ladd in a fictional story of the newly formed Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. This was the beginning of his fruitful association with actor Alan Ladd.
He wrote and produced The Great Gatsby (1949) also with Alan Ladd and co-written with Yale-educated Cyril Hume. Maibaum ended up sacking John Farrow as director after a dispute over casting. The hardboiled star of Noir films, Ladd was so impressed by Maibaum's writing that he had the screenwriter work as a script supervisor for him during filming, a rarity in Hollywood, where writers were invariably persona non grata on the sets of their own films.
In the 1950s, American producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli were making action films in the UK under their Warwick Films banner. When Broccoli signed Ladd on for a three-picture deal for Warwick, Ladd insisted on Maibaum co-writing the screenplays.
He also began writing for the new medium of television, including short teleplays for The Kate Smith Evening Hour, and the critically acclaimed "Fearful Decision", which he also co-wrote with Cyril Hume for The United States Steel Hour.
Maibaum returned to The University of Iowa in 1954 for one semester to teach and supervise the "Footsteps of Freedom" project, a teleplay writing course. For Warwick, he worked on the war story, The Cockleshell Heroes (1955) which starred Jose Ferrer.
He co-wrote "Bigger Than Life," (1956) with Hume along with its star and producer, the British actor James Mason. Directed in widescreen Cinemascope by Hollywood maverick Nicholas Ray, this tale of an ordinary man driven mad by the new use of steroids was poorly received in the U.S., but highly respected in Europe and is now considered a complex Noir classic, particularly for its use of the camera to depict the tortured man's distorted POV.
Maibaum did another for Warwick, Zarak (1956), directed by Terence Young and starring Victor Mature. He and Young collaborated on the script for Warwick's No Time to Die (1958) with Mature and he did some uncredited work on Warwick's The Man Inside (1959). He wrote some episodes of Wagon Train (1958) and provided the story for Warwick's The Bandit of Zhobe (1959) and Killers of Kilimanjaro (1959).
Maibaum became executive producer at M.G.M.-TV in 1958, for whom he wrote and produced the TV series The Thin Man (1957–59). He also produced a pilot for a TV series Maisie (1960), based on the film series, and worked on the script for The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960). His strong ties to the Writer's Guild and the writing profession led him to resign in 1960 during a writer's strike.
Maibaum wrote and produced a war film for 20th Century Fox starring Audie Murphy, Battle on the Beach (1961). He then was invited by Broccoli to write the first Bond movie. And thus his future career was sealed.
It is virtually impossible to deduce from anything in Maibaum's previous credits that he would go on to pen 13 of the James Bond films, in a series of brilliant screenplays for all but three of the films from Dr. No (1962) until Licence to Kill (1989), and in a working relationship with Broccoli and, later, his stepson Michael G. Wilson, spanning nearly three decades, to be ended only by the 1989 WGA strike.
He wasn't British (but then neither were producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.) He made movies, not war, during World War Two, was a one-woman man in a fifty-six-year marriage, father of two sons and came to the Bond screenwriting in middle age, after several dozen films, a handful of lackluster post WW2 battle pictures, a couple of Alan Ladd movies and a failed job as an American television executive. Perhaps the only hint was his 1946 O.S.S. movie, though its grim wartime grays with unsmiling Alan Ladd are a world away from the glossy hijinks of 007.
Maibam was brought on to write the first Bond, Dr. No (1962), sharing credit with Johanna Harwood and Berkley Mather. He wrote the episode "The Medal" for Combat! (1963) then wrote From Russia with Love (1963), sharing credit with Harwood.
You Only Live Twice (1967) was the first Bond film on which Maibaum was not credited as a writer, the producers using Roald Dahl. Albert Broccoli wanted to produce a non-Bond movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Maibaum did some work on the script.
Maibum received sole script credit for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), starring George Lazenby. He did an early draft of Diamonds Are Forever (1971), then the producers wanted an American writer and hired Tom Mankiewicz to rework it.
Maibaum was brought back to the Bonds to work on Mankiewicz's draft of The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). He was one of the many writers who worked on The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), sharing credit with Christopher Wood. Maibaum was not used on Moonraker (1979), the producers preferring Wood. Instead Maibaum worked on a Bond spoof S.H.E: Security Hazards Expert (1980).
Maibum was brought back to work on the Bonds in association with Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli's step-son. Their first movie together was For Your Eyes Only (1981). It was followed by Octopussy (1983), on which George MacDonald Fraser also did a draft; A View to a Kill (1985), Moore's last Bond; The Living Daylights (1987), the first Bond from Timothy Dalton, whom Maibaum considered the best actor of the four Bonds; and Licence to Kill (1989).
Maibaum once told an interviewer that writing for Bond is "a case of Walter Mitty. I'm law-abiding and non-violent. My great kick comes from feeling that I'm a pro, that I know my job, and that I have enough experience that I can write a solid screenplay."
On writing the Bonds Maibaum said "The real trick of it is to find the villain's caper. Once you've got that, you're off to the races and the rest is fun." Maibaum is credited with adding the essential ingredient of humor to the James Bond stories, an element lacking in the original Fleming novels.
However, hidden in Maibaum's history is probably the real key to his Bond career: the ability to juggle multiple writers, bickering producers, a dozen drafts and competing visions—and still keep a firm hand on the keel for ship-owner Broccoli. Although several writers usually work on the Bond films, either before or after Maibaum arrives on the scene, Maibaum is the only writer credit to appear on 12 of the first 15 Bond films, and usually writes his drafts alone.
"Michael is the only man I've actually worked with on the Bonds," Maibaum says. "Other writers have come on before or after me, but never with me until Michael. He's very receptive, he has lots of ideas and I think we like each other, which always helps."
"Dick is very experienced in this field, he's written many Bond films over the years," Wilson says. "I find him a great collaborator. The actual writing we do separately, although we work together on revising the material. Sometimes he will lead off and write the first draft and I'll rewrite behind him or it's the other way around."
The producers depleted their supply of Bond novels with For Your Eyes Only and have been using Fleming's short-stories as starting points ever since. "For all practical purposes, we've been out of material for the last five films," Wilson says. "We still bring in occasional Fleming elements from the books that haven't yet been used in the films. But that's not much help when you get down to basic plotting."
"I do think I can write a better Bond story than anyone else," Maibaum joked in a 1983 interview, at a point when the franchise was veering between three Bonds, simultaneous releases and warring producers. "But don't say that too many times in your story."
Maibaum continued working on Bond films until the end of his life. He died on January 4, 1991 at the age of 81, survived by his wife, Sylvia (who died in 2006), two sons, Matthew and Paul, and a granddaughter, Shanna Claire.
It is estimated that more than two billion viewers have seen the James Bond movies.
JAMES BOND FILMS