Jay Milligan, Sr., owner of JM Productions, Inc., of Hamburg, stands in front of the AMC Hornet Hatchback that was used in the chase scene during the 1974 James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” starring Roger Moore. Milligan helped design and build the car, along with helping coordinate the spiral stunt, which he said was done in one take. The stunt can be seen in the picture directly behind Milligan.
Fifty years after the release of “Dr. No,” the first film about British spy James Bond, the franchise continues to go strong, and on Friday, the 23rd movie, “Skyfall,” will hit the big screens nationwide.
A part of the Bond experience can be traced to Hamburg, as Jay Milligan, Sr., owner of JM Productions, located at 4751 Southwestern Blvd, played a role in a key scene in “The Man With The Golden Gun,” a 1974 film starring Roger Moore, the third actor to play the role.
Milligan, who helped start the annual Demolition Derby at the Erie County Fair, describes himself as a “motorhead,” and said his love of cars and motorized vehicles began when he was a child. Eventually it led him to participate in the making of a James Bond film, which is an experience he will always cherish.
At two days old, Milligan was adopted by a couple from South Buffalo from a church home in Pennsylvania.
“They brought me to Buffalo. He was a milkman,” Milligan said.
Growing up, Milligan said he was never into athletics, but rather cars.
“If it had a wheel or a motor, I was the kid who was there,” Milligan said. “That was my toy.”
Eventually, the family moved to Hamburg, where he graduated as a member of the Hamburg High School Class of 1950, pointing to Art Howe, a teacher of health and athletics director at the school, as a mentor to him.
Once out of high school, he went to school for engineering “at a little college out in Arkansas.”
Because his grades were not high enough, he was drafted into the Army, joking that “I didn’t have a choice.”
He met a lot of talented engineers in the military, and eventually became a testing engineer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
In the mid-1950s, he owned and operated Milligan’s Kendall Service in Orchard Park and also raced cars.
One day, a man named Roy Milligan walked in and asked him if he was the Jay Milligan who was a race car driver? At the time, the Lancaster Speedway was being built, and despite joking with Roy Milligan that as a race car driver, he was “not very good,” Jay was offered the chance to serve as race promoter for the speedway.
“I operated the speedway for five years,” he said, noting that he began racing in Civic Stadium in Buffalo prior to his involvement with the Lancaster Speedway, racing 1937 Ford Coupes.
He became a shared stockholder and was bought out from the speedway around 1970.
As a result of his experiences, including starting the demolition derby in Hamburg, Milligan was sent a letter by the American Motor Company asking him to set up stunt shows to compete with Joie Chitwood, whose “Thrill Show” was a popular attraction throughout the country.
“I had a three or four year contract with AMC to put on stunt shows at fairs,” Milligan said.
As he gained a reputation for his work with the stunt shows, he was approached one day by Raymond McHenry of Cornell Aeronautical Labs in Buffalo, who talked to Milligan about tests they were doing as a result of accidents that kept happening at a location in Williamsville where automobiles kept going airborne.
With the help of William Milliken, head of flight research at Cornell Aeronautical Labs, they came up with a design for the terrain, as well as designed the remote control in which a car could go up a ramp, do a 360 degree turn and land on its wheels.
The design brought attention to them as it was written about in aeronautical magazines.
The cost at that time for the computer graphics in designing the plan was about $25,000, Milligan said.
“We’re going to put this into a film,” Milligan said, so they could now show this could defy the odds and actually be performed.
As notoriety came about for the stunt, he was asked to perform it at the Houston Astrodome by Allen Becker, a promoter of offeseason events for the Astrodome.
At the time, Milligan was doing a demolition derby at the Kansas State Fair, when he received the call from Becker. “I’ll meet you in Witchita. I want you to show me that film,” he recalled Becker saying to him.
They managed to pull the stunt together in a few months. Over the course of two days, he said it drew a total of about 98,000 people to the dome to witness it.
The highlight of that trip was that Becker wanted Milligan’s parents to see it. He flew them out and paid for their hotel. It was special for Milligan because it was also their 55th wedding anniversary and he teared up recalling how his parents were wished a happy anniversary in front of the Astrodome crowd.
After the success of doing the spiral stunt at the Astrodome, Milligan was at a stop in Hershey, Pa., when Chitwood was also there and suggested to him that maybe the stunt could be performed in a James Bond film. Chitwood played a role in a stunt performed in the film “Live and Let Die.”
Milligan said although he and Chitwood got along well, because they were competitors, he could not be seen with him in public.
Later, while having a conversation with Chitwood as the two were having a drink in Milligan’s hotel room, Milligan received a call. It was from Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the producer of James Bond films.
“Can you do a stunt in a James Bond film?” Broccoli asked him.
He laughed as he recalled telling Broccoli he would call him back in two hours because he was in a meeting, with the irony being that he was in the same room as the guy who did a stunt in the previous Bond film.
Broccoli asked him to meet him at the Plaza Hotel in New York City the next day, so he flew there and met with the famous Bond producer.
They wanted him to perform the spiral stunt in Bankok, Thailand that spring – a few months after it was done at the Astrodome.
This began an amazing journey that first landed him in London. He said another irony was on the plane ride to London, he struck up a conversation with a man and told him he was on his way there to discuss details about an upcoming Bond film that he was asked to participate in.
The man next to him on the plane was Harry Saltzman, who had been Broccoli’s partner up to that point.
When the subject of Bond came up, he got a cold reception from Saltzman. “The relationship between Broccoli and I are finished,” Milligan said Saltzman told him.
The journey eventually led he and Broccoli to American Motor Company headquarters in California.
Broccoli asked if 15 cars could be shipped to London, but heads of the company were reluctant and said they would have to discuss it during a meeting that was scheduled that afternoon. In the meantime, Broccoli asked the secretary to get Ford Motor Company on the phone.
Within 24 hours, Milligan said the reaction of executives of AMC was “how many cars do you want and what color?”
At the time, Milligan’s ramp design was for the Javelin, but AMC executives told Milligan the car would soon be obsolete and they viewed the film as a way to introduce the Hornet Hatchback to audiences. The only problem was that the car was smaller than the Javelin.
Milligan was reassured by Cornell Aeronautical Labs that they would help redesign the take off ramp to fit the specifications of the Hornet Hatchback.
He ended up building two cars for the film, both of which were shipped on separate flights.
“We built it like a stunt car,” Milligan said.
In the design of the car, there is one seat up front, with the steering wheel and seat in the middle.
In the scene from the film, Bond, in need of a car, drives it out of an AMC Dealership in Bankok and the car chase ensues. In an attempt to save time, he stops and drives the car over a broken bridge, where the car does the spiral stunt and lands on its four wheels.
According to Milligan, the scene was shot in one take. As part of his memorabilia, he has autographs from the films’ star, Roger Moore, and he has a photograph of he, Moore and Broccoli holding a champagne toast to celebrate the success of the stunt.
Milligan is still in possession of the car from that film, along with the one that was flown over but not used.
His experiences have led him to continue to own and operate JM Productions, Inc., with its origins dating back to the 1960s “I built this building in 1998.”
His son, Jay Milligan, Jr., plays a big part in the company’s success, his dad said.
As a result of his work, JM Productions is found at 68 shows a year, starting in June and ending in October.
This includes demolition derby’s, stock car football, figure 8 auto racing and auto rollover contests. “We play the top 50 fairs in the Northeastern United States,” Milligan said.
This includes continuing to coordinate the demolition derby at the Erie County Fair every August, which is something Milligan still looks forward to after doing it for nearly 50 years.
In his offtime, Milligan enjoys restoring antique cars. He also enjoys the fact that he does not have to work a lot in the winter months.
Milligan added he isn’t rich, but no amount of money is greater than the happiness he enjoys every day going to work and being surrounded by what he loves.
“We’re good at what we do. Good where we are,” Milligan said.
But as his cell phone rang, and played the theme from “The Man with the Golden Gun,” it is a reminder of a special memory of his life and career.
For more information, visit the website www.jmproductionsinc.com.