May 1963: Ian Fleming cries U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

May 1963 was an eventful month for James Bond author Ian Fleming.

It was THE MONTH that Dr. No finally reached the U.S. market after a slow rollout that began the previous October in the U.K. At last Americans, who’d heard about how President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s books, could sample the first film adaptation. Meanwhile, a second Bond film, From Russia With Love, was in production.

It was also the month that things were coming to a head with the television project that producer Norman Felton had wanted to title Ian Fleming’s Solo.

In the middle of the month, things were picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt from CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE:

Tuesday, May 14, 1963
New York entertainment lawyer Ronald S. Konecky, in a letter to Fleming, delivers his legal opinion that Solo is not an infringement on Eon’s James Bond film rights.

Tuesday, May 14, 1963

Sam Rolfe delivers five-page memo to Norman Felton outlining in print for the first time the Solo format developed to date — with an organization known as U.N.C.L.E., headed by a Mr. Allison, employing Solo and agents of all nationalities, “even Russians,” and recurrent encounters with an international criminal group called Thrush. Rolfe eliminates Doris Franklyn, who’s both a secretary to Solo’s boss and a part-time actress in the Fleming-Felton notes, adding Allison’s secretary Miss Marsidan, “who is fat, fifty and somewhat on the motherly side.”

According to the timeline compiled by Henderson, writer Rolfe agreed a few days later “to rewrite the existing Solo format, develop story ideas and make further contributions to the format.”

Meanwhile, Fleming was getting cold feet under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their company, Eon Productions. In the early 1990s. Rolfe said at an event called Spy Con that Felton told him that Fleming was scared of Saltzman in particular. (Rolfe’s talk is on a YOUTUBE VIDEO but the sound is very feint; the Saltzman anecdote is around the 17:57 mark.)

The truth of this story is hard to determine. All concerned (Fleming, Felton, Rolfe, Broccoli and Saltzman) are dead and Rolfe was told about it second hand. In any event, on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, the author wrote to the Ashley-Steiner Agency, where Phyllis Jackson, his U.S. agent worked, according to the Henderson timeline. The message: Fleming didn’t want to participate in Solo after all.

It was the beginning of the end for Ian Fleming’s Solo. Less than a month later, the author would sign away his rights to the show. Meanwhile, the James Bond films were gaining momentum and steps were being taken that would result in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. emerging in the place of Ian Fleming’s Solo.

3 Responses

  1. Fascinating video. Do you think Fleming would have written in Saltzman as a Bond villain, had he lived beyond 1964? Or perhaps he had him in mind with Scaramanga…

  2. […] MAY 2 POST: MAY 1963: IAN FLEMING CRIES U.N.C.L.E. […]

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