PRINCETON – Today marks 60 years since author Ian Fleming introduced the world to the famous 007 agent, James Bond, through his publication of “Casino Royale.”
With that said, it’s hard to tell if anyone is as fascinated with Fleming and the unfolding of his Bond phenomenon than Princeton native Michael VanBlaricum.
VanBlaricum is known around the world for his mega project of acquiring all things Fleming and Bond. His collection includes manuscripts, letters, first edition books, ephemera, movie props, art, recordings, videos, toys and much more.
VanBlaricum’s vast fascination, amazingly, all began in downtown Princeton.
On a Friday night in February 1965 at the Apollo Theater, VanBlaricum purchased a ticket to see “Goldfinger” – the third film in the Bond series.
“My parents went to see (it) on Thursday night to make sure it was suitable for their 14-year-old son to see on Friday,” he said. “So part of the allure was the forbidden fruit thing. The Aston Martin DB5 was awesome; the girls were exotic; and there was a 14-year-old girl sitting in front of me at the Apollo that I kind of liked.”
The fascination was put on hold, however, until after VanBlaricum graduated from PHS in 1968, attended the University of Illinois – where he received a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in electrical engineering – and turned 30, which is around the time he picked-up and read, “Casino Royale.”
“(Until then) I was too busy being an engineering student and science and math geek to read fiction,” he said.
The most intriguing certainty VanBlaricum saw in Fleming’s work was his way of using imagination and creativity to generate a major cultural icon.
“Also, since he was a journalist, the fact that he can write a tight thriller in 200 pages is great. I have a short attention span. He didn’t waste words,” he said.
The first item in VanBlaricum’s collection was a first edition of “You Only Live Twice,” which was once owned by singer, Sammy Davis Jr.
In 1992, VanBlaricum founded The Ian Fleming Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that preserves Fleming’s legacy, works and impact on 20th century culture.
The foundation has preserved about 34 vehicles from several Bond movies and the submarine used in “For Your Eyes Only,” which VanBlaricum snagged from Bond publicist Saul Cooper in 1991.
Besides living and breathing Fleming and Bond, VanBlaricum is chief scientist at Toyon Research Corporation in Goleta, Calif. Although he resides in the golden state, he still makes his way to Princeton at least once a year. When he returns he always visits the canal, Red Covered Bridge, drives past the house he grew up in on First Street and wanders aimlessly to see the various changes in his hometown.
He claims that before he grew up and left Princeton, his No. 1 hangout was in his own “’hood.”
“I had a club house in the backyard, I went fishing at the canal, worked at Wind Power Electric and the BCR,” he said. “I spent a lot of time doing Boy Scout things, band things and science geek stuff in my basement and tried not catching the house on fire.”
Wind Power Electric owner Frank Bouxsein remembers his friend from long ago, and said when VanBlaricum returns to visit Princeton, they still find time to visit and reminisce about the past.
“We were in Scouts together. He worked a year for my dad and delivered appliances,” Bouxsein said. “He’s a year older than me. He went to U of I, and then when I went there a year later, we were roommates ... He was a good roommate in college and was intent on getting his PhD. I was in engineering also, so when it was time to study, it was time to study,
“He’s a real nice guy. He’s got a lot of different interests he’s developed over the years, more than just the Ian Fleming and James Bond stuff. He was a good friend. We had a good time,” Bouxsein added. “Yeah, he’s just a real nice guy.”
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