Footnote to Fleming’s involvement with U.N.C.L.E.

Last week, an artifact of Ian Fleming’s involvement in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up on social media.

It was a copy of a November 1964 article in the Daily Mail with a headline of “FLEMING’S LAST CASE: The Man From UNCLE versus The Girl From THRUSH.”

An excerpt:

Mr. (Napoleon) Solo was the last creation of Ian Fleming before he died. You will see Napoleon Solo when a new TV series called The Man From UNCLE comes to Britain next year. Mr. Solo, I predict, will soon have a following. Not perhaps quite as large as Agent 007 but satisfying enough. I like him.

What’s interesting about the article is how earlier in 1964, attorneys for Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sent a cease and desist letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where the U.N.C.L.E series was produced).

That led to legal negotiations. The result was the TV series being retitled The Man From U.N.C.L.E. instead of Solo (also the name of one of the gangsters in Goldfinger), as originally planned. At one point, MGM issued a press release saying Ian Fleming had nothing to do with the TV show. The text of both the cease-and-desist letter and the MGM press release can be FOUND HERE.

The Daily Mail story contains an amusing gaffe. It identifies the “Girl From THRUSH” as actress Anne Francis. It was really actress Janine Gray (b. 1940). The Daily Mail also used a severely cropped image of Gray from her appearance in an U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Deadly Games Affair. Here’s the full image:

Bond questions: The new continuation novel

Image for the cover of With a Mind to Kill

So, a third James Bond continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz is scheduled for May 2022. Horowitz’s Bond stories are set in the original Ian Fleming timeline.

According to early publicity material for With a Mind to Kill, “It is M’s funeral. One man is missing from the graveside: the traitor who pulled the trigger and who is now in custody, accused of M’s murder – James Bond.”

While we’ll have to wait until May, naturally the blog has questions.

What kind of security does MI6 have, anyway?

With a Mind to Kill begins after the events of The Man With the Golden Gun, Fleming’s last Bond novel. That book (published in 1965, after Fleming’s death) began with a brainwashed Bond unsuccessfully trying to kill M.

The whole point of the 1965 novel was for Bond to be un-brainwashed and given a suicide mission to show his loyalty. So Bond turns around and tries to kill M, again? And this time it works? That doesn’t say much for MI6 security.

What does this mean for Colonel Sun?

Colonel Sun, written by Kingsley Amis under the name Robert Markham, was the first Bond continuation novel. M gets kidnapped and Bond has to rescue him.

So does that not count now? For that matter, does With a Mind to Kill write off the John Gardner continuation novels?

You have more questions?

Does that mean the Gardner novels are now, officially, their own universe? Does that apply to all the other continuation novels aside from the ones Horowitz has written?

Truth be told, it has been shaping up that way for some time. Gardner and Raymond Benson basically timeshifted Fleming’s Bond. Jeffery Deaver essentially did a hard reboot but that was never followed up. Horowitz and other continuation authors set their stories in the Fleming timeline.

Still, Colonel Sun had been special. It was the first continuation novel. And it’s the only one acknowledged by Eon Productions, which produces the James Bond films. Eon used a torture scene from Colonel Sun in SPECTRE and had a “special thanks” credit to Amis’s estate.

It could be in the new novel that M’s death is a fakeout. It should also be noted that a detailed description of the book surfaced in September on the website of HarperCollins before being taken down. (Don’t click on the link if you don’t want to know.)

Still, there are a lot of questions.

What’s left of Fleming for future Bond films?

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

The other day, the blog published a post about whether Ian Fleming content matters much anymore for James Bond movies. Still, how much “Fleming content” is left?

Bond screenwriters (most likely Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) have added scraps and bits over the past two decades. The first half of Die Another Day was a de facto adaptation of Fleming’s Moonraker novel. Skyfall, SPECTRE and No Time to Die have mined the novels On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

What follows is a partial list of what’s left. Consider this a starting point for a broader conversation.

–A brainwashed Bond tries to kill M: The Man With the Golden Gun novel is uneven because Fleming was in bad health. But the start of the novel includes a memorable set-piece where Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, attempts to assassinate M.

Playboy magazine, when it serialized the novel, led off with an illustration of Bond (drawn, understandably, like Sean Connery) immediately after the failed attempt. It included an M drawn like Bernard Lee and a Moneypenny drawn like Lois Maxwell.

–Gala Brand: At one point, the lead female character of Fleming’s Moonraker novel was going to be named Gala Brand in Die Another Day. But the name was changed to Miranda Frost (a traitor) when the movie was filmed

–Bond vs. a giant squid: In the novel Dr. No, the villain sends Bond through an obstacle course. The agent eventually has to take on a giant squid. This never appeared in the first Bond film made by Eon Productions.

-The Spang Brothers: Jack and Seraffimo Spang were the villains of Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming’s fourth novel. One of the brothers owns an old western ghost town called Spectreville.

-Stuffing a fish down somebody’s throat: The character Milton Krest, from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity, has already been used in 1989’s Licence to Kill. But Krest’s literary demise, having a rare fish stuffed down his throat, still is out there.

Separately, a late friend of mine, Paul Baack, once designed a make-believe movie poster of an Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of The Hildebrand short story.

Bond films: Does ‘Fleming content’ matter anymore?

Some guy who had something to do with James Bond

I watched an entertaining video about the future of James Bond films. One of the issues it raised was do we really want to rehash Ian Fleming’s original texts anymore.

Go to the 12:19 mark of this video:

An excerpt:

I also know there are a lot of Bond fans out there who want to see them go back to the Ian Fleming source material and do super-faithful adaptations of those books. This is something I’m really unexcited about. Largely, I feel because I feel a good chunk of those books have already been adapted quite faithfully.

As noted in the video, Goldfinger’s screenplay improved upon Fleming’s novel. Also, check out the comments section of the video.

Regardless, Ian Fleming (1908-1964) has been dead longer than he was alive. Sherlock Holmes has gone on far longer than his creator Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). In that regard, Bond and Holmes have something in common.

To be clear, I know the creator of the YouTube video. He’s a great guy and he produces wonderful Bond-related videos.

Also, for the sake of clarity, I have done an article updated three times that attempted to put a value on the “Fleming content” of the Eon film series.

Finally, for a character to be long-lived, that character goes beyond his or her creator. Holmes and Tarzan fall into the category. Others, not so much.

Bond is approaching his 60th anniversary as a film character. Changes take place.

Once upon a time, Batman was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Batman is a lot different than those days. But the Finger-Kane imprint still is present. And Batman is one of the most popular characters in the world.

The same thing may be happening with Bond.

RE-POST: A sample of Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

This month marks the 59th anniversary of the meetings Ian Fleming had with television producer Norman Felton. Those meetings led to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran from 1964 to 1968. This is a re-post of a 2015 article.

A Bond collector friend let us look over his photocopies of various Ian Fleming correspondence. Much of it included the 007 author’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

First, there were photocopies of 11 Western Union telegraph blanks where Fleming in October 1962 provided ideas to U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. The first blank began with “springboards,” ideas that could be the basis for episodes.

One just reads, “Motor racing, Nurburgring.” Fleming had a similar idea for a possible James Bond television series in the 1950s. This notion was included in this year’s 007 continuation novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horwitz, which boasts of containing original Ian Fleming content.

On the fifth telegram blank, Fleming includes this idea about Napoleon Solo: “Cooks own meals in rather coppery kitchen.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea saw the light of day in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie released in August. In an early scene in the film, Solo (Henry Cavill) is wearing a chef’s apron, having just prepared dinner for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) after getting her across the Berlin Wall.

Fleming also made some other observations about Solo and the proposed series.

Telegraph blank No. 8: “He must not be too ‘UN’” and not be “sanctimonious, self righteous. He must be HUMAN above all else –- but slightly super human.”

Telegraph blank No. 11: “In my mind, producing scripts & camera will *make* this series. The plots will be secondary.”

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sends a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wants a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.

On June 7, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a letter containing material devised by Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer commissioned to write the U.N.C.L.E. pilot.

“In the latter part of the material, which deals with the characterization of Napoleon Solo, you will discover that those elements which you set down during our New York visit have been retained,” Felton writes Fleming. “However, the concept for a base of operations consisting of a small office with more or less a couple of rooms has been changed to a more extensive setup.”

This refers to the U.N.C.L.E. organization that Rolfe has created in the months since the original Fleming-Felton meetings in New York.

“It will give us scope and variety whenever we need it, although as I have said, in many stories we may use very little of it,” Felton writes. “This is its virtue. Complex, but used sparingly.

“In my opinion almost all of our stories we will do little more than ‘touch base’ at a portion of the unusual headquarters in Manhattan, following which we will quickly move to other areas of the world.”

At the same time, Felton asks Fleming for additional input.

“I want the benefit of having your suggestions,” Felton writes Fleming. “Write them in the margin of the paper, on a telegraph blank or a paper towel and send them along. We are very excited, indeed, in terms of MR. SOLO.” (emphasis added)

However, Fleming — under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman — soon signs away his rights to U.N.CL.E. for 1 British pound.

On July 8, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a brief letter. It reads in part:

Your new book, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.

They tell me that there are some islands in the Pacific where one can get away from it all. They are slightly radioactive, but for anyone with the spirit of adventure, this should be no problem.

Fleming responds on July 16, 1963.

Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.

Your Pacific islands sound very enticing, it would certainly be nice to see some sun as ever since you charming Americans started your long range weather forecasting we have had nothing but rain. You might ask them to lay off.

With best regards and I do hope Solo gets off the pad in due course.

Details about Horowitz’s 3rd Bond novel emerge

The Ian Fleming Publications 007 logo

Some details about Anthony Horowitz’s third James Bond novel have emerged via HarperCollins’ website.

HarperCollins lists the novel as “Unti Bond #3.” Here’s part of the description from the publisher:

Iconic spy 007 must pose as a double agent to infiltrate a secret Soviet intelligence organization planning an attack on the West—and face off against a man who could be the most diabolical enemy he’s ever encountered—in internationally bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s third James Bond novel.

The Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH may be defeated, but a new organization, Stalnaya Ruska, has arisen from its ashes. Under Moscow’s direction, the group is planning a major act of terrorism which, if successful, will destabilize relations between East and West.

Returning from Jamaica and his encounter with Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun), James Bond ponders his future. He is aware of a world that is changing all too rapidly around him. The old certainties of the early postwar years are gone. Disdain for the establishment is rising, and the intelligence services are no longer trusted. Bond is beginning to wonder if his “license to kill” is still valid.

But the threat to the free world remains all too real, and now 007 has a new assignment: discover what Stalnaya Ruska is planning and prevent it from happening. To succeed, Bond will have to make the Russians believe he’s a double agent and travel behind the Iron Curtain.

First though, he will have to convince Sonya Dragunova, the Soviet psychiatric analyst as brilliant—and as dangerous—as she is beautiful. Sonya knows more of what’s happening in Bond’s mind than he does himself. She’s also hiding secrets of her own. It’s a love affair that is also a treacherous game.

Sonya’s boss is a man who has previously played his part to bring Bond and the West down behind the scenes in two previous Bond novels—but who has never yet appeared, until now. A Fleming creation, the evil genius responsible for Stalnaya Ruka just may be Bond’s most dangerous enemy yet.

Horowitz previously penned Trigger Mortis (2015), which took place after the events of Goldfinger, and Forever and a Day (2018), set before Casino Royale, the first Bond novel by Ian Fleming.

Both books incorporated previously unpublished material by Fleming.

Ian Fleming Publications commissioned a number of novels by John Gardner and Raymond Benson from 1981 to 2002. Starting in 2008, IFP had a series of one-offs. With Horowitz’s arrival, IFP has gone with the author on “adult” Bond novels.

UPDATE: John Cox of The Book Bond site says “FYI, Anthony Horowitz confirmed this is a leak and should not be online. I took mine down.”

The thing is, things don’t work that way. As of 7:15 p.m. New York time, the release is STILL ON HARPERCOLLINS WEBSITE.

The horse is out of the barn, the toothpaste is out of the tube, etc. I’m not taking this post down.

UPDATE II (Nov. 4, 2021): HarperCollins eventually did take down that plot description it posted. At least it was gone when I looked today.

Without whom, etc. (57th anniversary)

Real-life Hugo Draxes play with rockets

Cover to a recent edition of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker novel

In the 1955 novel Moonraker, Ian Fleming wrote about Hugo Drax, a mysterious multi-millionaire who was building a missile for Britain.

Today, the 21st century has its own billionaire Hugo Draxes, except they’re playing with rockets as part of private space companies: Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Elon Musk (SpaceX).

These billionaires can be flamboyant as Fleming’s Drax. Branson is scheduled to fly to the edge of space today. Fellow billionaire Bezos is scheduled to fly to space on July 20. The billionaires are feuding whether Branson is making a true space flight.

A Dec. 13, 2019 episode of the podcast James Bond & Friends mused whether you could do an updated adaptation of Live And Let Die in the 21st century. Toward the end (about the 1 hour, 6-minute mark) the discussion briefly turned to how to do a 21st-century Moonraker adaptation and how billionaires and their rockets could be a hook.

Perhaps it could still be done. Branson had a cameo in 2006’s Casino Royale. Bezos, with his shaved head, has been compared to a James Bond villain. And Musk is a big James Bond fan.

UPDATE (11:47 a.m. New York Time): Branson’s flight was successful. CNN provided a lot of breathless, context-free coverage.

In a way, cinema Bond’s 60th already is underway

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

h/t to David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier who researched the founding date of Eon Productions.

2022 will mark the 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. But in one sense, the 60th already is underway when it comes to key events that led to the movie.

What follows is a sampling (hardly a comprehensive list) of key dates.

June 29, 1961: United Artists issues a press release that it will distribute a series of James Bond films to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. A partial image of the press release is shown in Inside Dr. No, a documentary included in Bond film home video releases.

The producers earlier agreed to join forces. Saltzman held a six-month option on most of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. But he had been unable to reach a deal with a studio.

Broccoli had been interested in the Bond novels for years. He was introduced to Saltzman. Broccoli was unable to buy out Saltzman’s option. So they approached UA together.

July 6, 1961: Eon Productions is incorporated. It is the Broccoli-Salzman company that will produce the Bond films. A separate company, Danjaq, was formed to control the copyright to the movies.

Aug. 18, 1961: Eon receives a script by Richard Maibaum adapting Thunderball, Fleming’s most recent Bond novel. However, the novel had been based on material from an unmade film. Thunderball would generate legal fights. Eon would switch gears and begin its Bond series with Dr. No instead.

Aug. 23, 1961: Broccoli sends a note to Saltzman. “Blumofe reports New York did not care for Connery feels we can do better.”

The note appears in both Inside Dr. No and When the Snow Melts, Broccoli’s autobiography.

Blumofe may refer to Robert F. Blumofe, a West Coast-based UA executive from 1953 to 1966.

A 1961 article in The New York Times described him as “Hollywood symbol of cinematic revolution.” That referred to how UA provided producers and filmmakers more autonomy than other studios.

Connery, of course, was Sean Connery who got the Bond role. UA would soon change its mind about Connery’s suitability for the part.

UPDATE: Last year, Eon’s official Twitter feed listed Nov. 3, 1961 as the date when Connery’s casting was announced.

Film and literary 007: Is there a plan going forward?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

In the next year, James Bond fans (hopefully) will get to view a new film (No Time to Die) and a new novel (title yet to be chosen).

What happens after that? Does either the cinematic Bond or the literary Bond have a plan for the future?

No Time to Die was filmed in 2019 after starting pre-production two years earlier. A third 007 continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz was announced today by Ian Fleming Productions.

The thing is, the film and literary franchises are on the same track. Each pushes out “events” with no regular releases.

Back in the day, Ian Fleming cranked out novels annually. This was copied during the continuation novel eras of John Gardner and Raymond Benson. Since then? Not so much.

Once upon a time, James Bond movies came out every two or three years. Today? Absolutely not. If No Time to Die makes its (current ) release date, it will have been a six-year gap since SPECTRE.

With the novel, Anthony Horowitz has made an impact with readers. But he operates in the original Ian Fleming timeline. He’s done mid-career (Trigger Mortis) and and the start of his career (Forever And a Day). The new novel picks up with the end of Fleming’s final novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.

Back in 2010, Ian Fleming Publications hired Jeffery Deaver to do a new novel (Carte Blanche) that was supposed to be a start of a new, timeshifted series. Remember that? Well, here’s a video where he talked about the concept:

Never mind. Deaver’s novel was never followed up upon.

Is there anyplace yet to go with the current course? Horowitz comes out with another novel with Bond at the one-quarter phase of his career? His three-quarter phase? His five-sixth phase?

With the films? Who knows. Eon opted to reboot things with 2006’s Casino Royale. No Time to Die (apparently) deals with many loose ends after 2015’s SPECTRE.

Fine. But what happens with Bond 26, whenever that comes out?

Netflix is paying more than $400 million for two Knives Out sequels. It’s hard to imagine Daniel Craig (who has suffered various injuries playing Bond) coming back to play Bond again when he can make good money with less stress. That won’t make Eon boss Barbara Broccoli happy.

The point is both the film and literary Bond franchises are at a key point. There’s a lot to anticipate the next couple of years. But is there much after that?

We’ll see.