Norman Felton on the origins of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Twelve years ago, retired television producer Norman Felton did an extended interview with writer Lee Goldberg to discuss Felton’s long career.

One of the highlights was Felton describing the origins of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which ran three-and-a-half seasons on NBC and which spawned eight “movies” edited from episodes, mostly released outside of the U.S.

A few highlights:

–Felton had been approached about doing a project based on Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities non-fiction book. Felton concluded there was no viable TV or movie project. Instead, he BS’d his way through a meeting and spun an idea involving a U.S.-born, Canadian-raised character. This would later be the basis for Napoleon Solo, the title character of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

–One of the participants in the meeting, an executive from Ford Motor Co., suggested Felton ought to get together with Ian Fleming to put together a TV or movie project. The irony: Ford was never a sponsor of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and never supplied cars for the series (the Chevrolet division of General Motors would supply vehicles for the first season, Chrysler would take it over for the remaining two-and-a-half seasons).

–Fleming was recovering from a heart attack and wasn’t really engaged. This spurred Felton to write up a lot of ideas on his own. Fleming liked many of the ideas while Felton said to lay off. Fleming’s main suggestion was the character should be named Napoleon Solo.

–Felton regretted the spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and never thought it was very good but NBC was pressing him for a spinoff series so he relented.

Here’s the key U.N.C.L.E. portion of the interview, which starts at about the 7:19 mark of this video:

Portions of this interview were also included in extras that were part of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. box set that was first sold through Time-Life in late 2007 and which is available in retail outlets.

Felton, who celebrated his 96th birthday earlier this year, has had a fascinating life. Like 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum, his papers are stored at the University of Iowa.

To see this extended interview from the beginning, just CLICK RIGHT HERE.

The real-life Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

This just in, from the “Holy Cow, I Did Not Know That” Department:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian FlemingFirst thing, any James Bond fan worthy of the name knows that 007 creator Ian Fleming also wrote what became to be a classic children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car. What is less known (i.e., I didn’t know it,) is that the famed jalopy actually existed… albeit without the amphibious and flight characteristics.

The facts, briefly, these… Sometime after World War I, lunatic millionaire and motor sports buff Count Louis Zborowski (wouldn’t that be a fine name for a Bond villain?) had a brainstorm: Hey, let’s see what happens if we put a military aircraft engine into a lightweight automobile body! He acquired a 23-liter engine of a surplus German-made Gotha bomber, and loaded it onto a modified Mercedes chassis.

The resulting behemoth [christened “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”] made its debut at Brooklands2 in the 1921 Easter racing series, winning two races and turning laps at over 100 mph, which must have impressed the living daylights out of little 12-year-old Ian Fleming.

“Must have impressed,” indeed! Fleming’s novel went on to acquire status as a children’s classic, spawning a 1968 film adaptation, and a still-touring musical stage show based on Roald Dahl’s movie script.

1922: Start of the first race at Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey. Left to right No 9 Crouch, D B K Shipwrights experimental SPA, Brocklebank's Berliet, Bentley, No4 HP Talbot, Vauxhall 30/98, Count Zborowski's 'Chitty Bang Bang III' (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Read the whole story at the Friday Challenge blog, The True Story of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.

Additional details are also to be found at the official Chitty Chitty Bang Bang website.

A tour of Ian Fleming’s London

There is a short, but interesting article at the Livery Traveler website on the London that James Bond creator Ian Fleming was born into and lived in.

Martin Loughlin takes us on a quick tour of the British capitol, pointing out the various houses and streets known to be connected to Fleming. He also speculates on places Fleming probably would have frequented, based on their proximity to his known haunts, or their nature in keeping with his known tastes in character.

Throughout his life, Fleming would have a taste for the finer things in life and his first home in London was in the elegant Belgravia neighborhood. Belgravia today–as it was then–is an area of expensive town houses, hotels and exclusive shops. Thus Fleming could not resist making this area the home of one of his characters, Hugo Drax in his novel, Moonraker.

So, take an imaginary tour of Ian Fleming’s Distinguished London for a peek into the life, and lifestyle, of the architect of our favorite fantasy world.

The mysterious 007 movie writing credit

One of the more intriguing credits — and one we suspect has an interesting story behind it — is in the main titles of You Only Live Twice. It reads, “Additional Story Material by Harold Jack Bloom.”

It appears in a noticeably smaller font than the “Screenplay by Roald Dahl” credit. What does this mean exactly?

Some Bond reference sources omit mention of Bloom’s work on YOLT entirely, including James Bond, The Legacy by John Cork and Bruce Scivally and James Chapman’s Licence to Thrill. You can read all sorts of things about Roald Dahl, a prolific author who made his screenwriting debut with YOLT, helped by the fact that Dahl himself described his 007 experience in Playboy magazine.

But what of Bloom? Cork and Scivally provide a few clues in their Inside You Only Live Twice documentary that Cork wrote and directed and Scivally co-produced. Ken Adam, the film’s production designer, said this in the documentary:

We were in serious trouble. Because the film had a release date, Sean’s contract was running out and we had no script. So, the pressure was on everybody and we lost the writer.

As Adam says this, there is one shot of five men sitting at a table. Four are recognizable: producers Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, director Lewis Gilbert and Adam, smoking one of his trademark cigars. At the far left fo the shot is a man who is apparently Bloom, but he’s not identified as such. A few seconds later is a headshot of Bloom, who looks to be the same man as in the previous shot but we’re not told that for sure.

Narrator Patrick Macnee simply says, “After Harold Jack Bloom’s departure, the producers decide to hire noted short story writer Roald Dahl.” No further mention of Bloom, or his apparent troubles, is made.

After Dahl’s death in 1990, Starlog magazine profiled the writer and described how he worked on YOLT.

In the midst of that 1991 article, there’s this mention:

“We had a writer,” Broccoli told a gathering at the Museum of Modern Art in 1979, “who came up with the idea of having these Ninja-like Japanese characters crawling all over Tokyo, and it just wouldn’t work. So, we flew all over Japan with a fleet of kamikaze pilots,, and that’s when we found the volcano.”

So the question remains how much of Bloom’s work made the final film. A set piece or two? If that’s the case, why give Bloom a credit at all? Or did Dahl actually rewrite a Bloom draft rather that coming up with his own story?

This was the first time Broccoli and Saltzman junked the plot of a Fleming novel, retaining only the title and a few characters. The principals in this tale are mostly dead (Bloom died in 1999, Saltzman in ’94 and Broccoli in ’96). Richard Maibuam, whose papers are at the University of Iowa, didn’t work on the film.

In any case, here’s a sample of Bloom’s work pre-YOLT. If you CLICK HERE you can see the trailer to The Naked Spur, a 1953 James Stewart Western co-written by Bloom and Sam Rolfe.

Eleven years later, Rolfe had developed and was producing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Its second episode was The Iowa Scuba Affair written by Bloom. Here’s a scene;

Huffington Post analyzes Thunderball

Ken Levine, who has written for shows such as M*A*S*H, The Simpsons and Cheers, earlier this month re-examined in the Huffington Post one of his favorite childhood movies: Thunderball, the fourth James Bond movie and which sold the most theater tickets of the series.

The article reflects the sentiments of a lot of middle-aged guys as they re-watch 007 films. Here’s an observation about the script:

The dialogue, which seemed so sparkling at the time, now comes off as cringeworthy.

Bond Girl: What sharp eyes you’ve got.
Bond: Wait til’ you get to my teeth.

Yikes! Since when did Bob Hope become a British Secret Agent?

Or how, when watching the movie the first time, he overlooked a few things:

Other minor story points didn’t bother me either, like how do super villains amass large armies and trained scuba divers? How clueless are the British Intelligence and CIA that they have no knowledge of 200 henchmen being recruited? And where do all these people sleep?

To read all of Levine’s revisiting of Thunderball, JUST CLICK HERE.

National Lampoon: praise for Dalton, a pan of for Lazenby

Over at National, there’s a short essay full of praise for Timothy Dalton but not much love for George Lazenby.

Titled Apology to Dalton, the story by Mike Rosolio has this to say about Timothy Dalton’s 007 debut in 1987’s The Living Daylights:

The guy playing Bond… is acting. It’s not like watching a Bond movie, it’s like watching a guy really, actually win awards with this stuff. The character is interesting, human, flawed, affected, real.

Meanwhile, Rosolio’s opinion of George Lazenby is stated thusly:

Old George wasn’t any good. Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas at the top of their game. But Lazenby was atrocious and Bond gets…married. Let’s move forward.