Moonraker came out 35 years ago this summer. I was 13 at the time, and I saw it opening night. In the summer of 1979 Moonraker was the greatest thing I had ever seen and Roger Moore the most important person on Earth (or in space).
I no longer think so highly of the movie — when I rank the Bonds, it lands near the bottom — but I will always have a soft spot for Moonraker. It was extremely important in my development as a Bond fan and also, in a weird way, my development as a person.
Moonraker was the first James Bond movie I saw in a theater. I was already hooked on Bond having seen The Spy Who Loved Me roughly six months earlier on Home Box Office, but to see Bond on the big screen was a huge deal. The impact of that opening sequence, with Bond being shoved out of an airplane without a parachute, should not be forgotten. Watching Moonraker spurred me to start reading the Ian Fleming novels. I checked out the few that the West Erie Plaza branch of the Erie County Public Library carried, but I needed to read more.
Most of the books were out of print at the time, so to find the remaining volumes I had to visit a used book store. Don Hullenbaugh, my friend who lived next door, knew of one, called Trade-A-Book, on Erie’s east side, but that required a bus trip downtown and a five-block walk to the store. We were suburban kids. It was unheard of for suburban kids to take a bus into the city to shop for books. We were supposed to ask our parents for a ride to the Millcreek Mall. But the only Bond book I could find at the mall was Doctor No, so Don and I took the bus and walked to the bookstore. One of the books I bought that day was the Bantam paperback edition of Casino Royale with the slick black cover and the Frank McCarthy artwork.
Once I realized there was nothing scary about travelling downtown (in other words, black people weren’t lining up to mug me; it was also at this point that I realized the stupidity of racism and prejudice), I made many more visits to Trade-A-Book on my own. Saturday trips to the main library branch on Perry Square also became a ritual. That’s where I found John Pearson’s biography of Ian Fleming. Heady reading for a 13-year-old, but I had to know everything.
If I remember correctly, Moonraker played exclusively at the Strand Theater that summer, and the Strand was in the heart of downtown Erie, 10th and State. I saw Moonraker 10 more times during its first run, which meant 10 more bus trips downtown by myself. My parents were unaware of most of these excursions.
The summer of 1979, the summer before I started high school, was the summer I discovered my independence (not to mention an appreciation of public transportation). And it was all thanks to Moonraker and James Bond.
I transferred this spirit of spy-inspired independence to Brian Parker, the hero of my spy novel, The Boy Who Knew Too Much. Also a suburbanite, Brian takes the bus into downtown Milwaukee to buy Foster Blake paperbacks at used book stores.