60th anniversary of the end of Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.

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

The spring and summer of 1963 was a decisive period for Ian Fleming’s involvement — and in the end non-involvement — in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming and producer Norman Felton had met just months earlier, Oct. 29-31, 1962. The two had co-created Napoleon Solo. Felton turned over that material to writer-producer Sam Rolfe to do the heavy lifting. Rolfe revamped the previous ideas into a series proposal. It was titled Ian Fleming’s Solo. Rolfe was not happy about that. It was mostly (actually, almost entirely) his work.

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sent 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 wanted 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.

However, Fleming was under pressure from Bond film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to exit U.N.C.L.E. Fleming would sell off his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound.

In early July 1963, Felton sent Fleming a letter: “May I thank you for meeting with me when I was in England recently. It was deeply appreciated in view of all of the pressures on you at that time. I am hoping, incidentally, that your move to the country has worked out satisfactorily.

“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.”

Fleming sent a reply to Felton 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.”

Remember when Bond was going back to the ’60s?

One-time image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

I was going back through the archives of the blog, when I came across a 2015 article in The Express

That article claimed the makers of Bond franchise planned to turn “back the clock to its original time period following the departure of Daniel Craig.”

Well, Craig filmed his final Bond scenes in 2019 and his last Bond film came out in 2021.

The Express further claimed that studio “bosses have asked TV’s award-winning Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner to head a new team to oversee Bond’s return to his heyday 1960s.”

All this time later, there isn’t the slightest sign that Weiner has been hired to oversee future Bond films.

To be sure, since then, Amazon has purchased Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. Still, Eon Productions still controls the creative side of the 007 films.

U.K. tabloids and papers love to generate interest from Bond. Agent 007 is part of the fibre of the U.K.

Those tabloids count on how readers won’t review their accuracy. Once one story is out, the U.K. publications are on to the next thing.

For the most part, the audiences of such publications don’t perform fact-checking.

U.N.C.L.E.’s end: A footnote

On Twitter, @Stingray_travel posted an old trade advertisement from MGM Television pitching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for syndication to local television stations.

The show was canceled by NBC midway during the 1967-68 season. “How can a network series like the Man From U.N.C.L.E. become available for local station programming in mid season?” the ad reads.

MGM suggested national ratings underestimated the show’s appeal in metro areas. The ad presents a chart MGM said showed U.N.C.L.E. was in first or second place in 15 of 22 markets in October 1967.

“So someone goofed on the national scene,” the ad reads. “So now you can make it big on the local scene with U.N.C.L.E. — still the original, still the swingest show of its kind.”

As it turned out, U.N.C.L.E. was not a huge hit in syndication. Certainly not like the original Star Trek, where that science fiction show took on a whole new life in syndication and won over new fans.

An interesting part of the ad is its tagline. “128 hours of high-spying adventure. Call your MGM Television man and say U.N.C.L.E.”

U.N.C.L.E. actually generated 134 hours — 105 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and 29 for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Not all episodes were being made available. One third-season Man episode, scripted by Harlan Ellison, generated a lawsuit, causing the episode to be withheld from syndication distribution for years.

Some episodes that were re-edited into movies may also have been withheld at this point. Eventually, all TV episodes and all movie versions would become available. In some cases, there are major continuity differences. In The Four-Steps Affair, Australian U.N.C.L.E. agent Kitt Kittridge (Donald Harron) survives, but he is killed by a Napoleon Solo impostor in The Spy With My Face film.

About a certain No Time to Die anniversary

No Time to Die teaser poster

March 4 is the third anniversary of a No Time to Die event, the first time the 25th James Bond film made by Eon Productions, was delayed because of COVID-19.

Context: COVID-19 was spreading across the globe, causing major health problems.

No Time to Die had already been delayed multiple times, from fall 2019 to April 2020 because the original director, Danny Boyle, had departed the project.

Now, a virus was going to have an impact. At the time, there was no vaccine. People were dying.

Here is one social media form of the announcement:

Two days before the announcement, MI6 HQ and the James Bond Dossier published an open letter urging the movie’s premiere be delayed because of COVID-19.

This caused a huge controversy in the Bond fan community. (Disclosure: I have been on MI6 HQ’s James Bond & Friends podcast and I have done some livestreams with the James Bond Dossier,) I know both were criticized after the open letter was published.

In the end, No Time to Die wouldn’t come out until the fall of 2021.

There may still be hard feelings about the open letter in the fan community. Still, it’s hard to believe three years have passed since the COVID-19 delays of No Time to Die.

The unheralded James Bond anniversary

Albert R. Broccoli (Illustration by Paul Baack)

Last month marked a notable anniversary of the James Bond film franchise, but it dealt with behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

In December 1992, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer settled a lawsuit filed by Danjaq LLC, the parent company of Eon Productions. The legal fight had paralyzed the production of Bond films.

The dispute was related to a takeover of MGM by financier Giancarlo Parretti. Here’s an excerpt from a UPI story about the settlement.

The companies said the agreement settles the suit Danjaq filed in February 1991 against MGM and its former parent company, Pathe Communications Corp. Danjaq claimed in the suit that then-MGM owner Parretti had breached contracts with it by selling the rights to the Bond films to help finance his $1.4 billion purchase of the studio in late 1990 from Kirk Kerkorian.

This is how Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq and Eon, described the situation leading up to the lawsuit in his autobiography When the Snow Melts.

We learned that our sixteen James Bond pictures were being sold off as part of Parretti’s cash-raising in order to clinch the purchase of MGM/UA. Moreover, it was clear — to us least — that these pictures were to be sold off at bargain-basement prices in a number of foreign TV and video licensing deals. The longer we looked at the fine print, the more our attorneys, Michael (G. Wilson) and me were convinced that not only an alleged breach of contract was involved. This was becoming a question of the virtual survival of James Bond…Our action was a matter of simple prudence…During the protracted lawsuits that arose from this situation we were forced to put James Bond on hold and carry on with our lives.

The legal settlement changed that. Much work would remain to relaunch the film series, such as hiring a director and writers. Still, the conclusion of the legal fight more than 30 years ago was a significant milestone.

Ex-MGM executive talks about working with Eon

Michael Nathanson, an executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond films, discussed what it’s like working with Eon Productions, which produces the movies.

Nathanson was president and chief operating officer at the time. He was interviewed in a November episode of The San Francisco Experience podcast.

Among the highlights:

Bond was “critically important” for MGM: “The Bond franchise was critical,” Nathanson said. “There was an active and open dialogue going on” between MGM and Eon.

Nathanson came aboard as Tomorrow Never Dies was going into production. “The Bond movie is an industry onto its own in terms of product placement, cooperative advertising and merchandise. Whenever you have a movie that has all of those components, it’s all built upon a release date.”

“Our ability to move” the release date was limited because of all the corporate partners, the former MGM executive said.

Tomorrow Never Dies had a tight schedule. Principal photography didn’t begin until spring 1997, with a Christmas release date. Post-production, in particular, had a short schedule.

Eon protects Bond as the “crown jewels:” “They protect that movie like it’s the crown jewels and it is the crown jewels for the (Broccoli) family.”

After Harry Saltzman exited the series (selling his interest to United Artists), Albert R. Broccoli “became, sort of, a tyrant, with the whole thing. A lot of that rubbed off on the children.”

To be sure, Nathanson compliments both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Selecting a Bond actor: Eon was “1,000 and 10 percent” involved in picking a Bond actor.

Selecting a Bond director: “The selection of the director was always the most challenging part.” MGM and Eon often disagreed about directors, the ex-MGM executive said.

In MGM’s view, he said, Eon choices for director were “traffic cops.”

“I always believed we could really take the Bond movie to a new height if we didn’t get a traffic cop as a director.”

In the 21st century, Eon picked an “auteur” director, Sam Mendes, who helmed Skyfall and SPECTRE.

MGM had no advanced notice that Pierce Brosnan was fired as Bond: “It was always a see-saw. Keeping Pierce happy, the Broccolis not going too far with how unreasonable he was.”

MGM believed Brosnan could do one more Bond movie. But the executive got a call from Barbara Broccoli. “I’m going to tell him (Brosnan) we’re going to make a switch.”

“I was shocked,” the ex-MGM executive said. “Pierce was shattered.”

Daniel Craig as Bond:” “He had that sort-of Steve McQueen thing about him.”

MGM watch: Amazon tightens its grip on Leo the Lion

Recently, Amazon, which acquired Metro-Goldwyn Mayer for $8.45 billion, has been taking control over the home studio of the James Bond film franchise.


–Deadline: Hollywood acquired internal emails showing that Jennifer Salke, chief of Amazon Studios, is now formally in charge of MGM.

Salke now is in charge of Amazon Studios and MGM. Christopher Brearton, who had been chief operating officer of MGM, now has a new executive job.

Before the Amazon deal, MGM’s film division was headed by Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. Eon liked the duo and said they wished they’d stay. But they departed earlier and landed at Warner Bros.

–Mark Burnett, who had created Survivor The Apprentice and other “reality” shows and who had headed MGM’s TV division, is gone, noted The Hollywood Reporter.

Back in 2018, THR reported that Burnett was instrumental in having then MGM CEO Gary Barber fired. What goes around, comes around, one supposes.

To be sure, anytime there’s an acquisition, executive changes occur.

The main question — from the perspective of James Bond fans — is whether any of this affects the 007 franchise. Eon and its parent company Danjaq control the creative rights to the franchise. But Danjaq/Eon relies on its studio partner to finance the films.

Cinema Bond at 60

A one-time avatar for Eon’s Twitter feed

The cinema James Bond is a few days from its 60th anniversary. For Eon Productions, it has been a run of 25 films, starting with Dr. No through No Time to Die.

Eon has spent most of 2022 celebrating that run. At the same time, there’s uncertainty what happens now.

We all know that Eon boss Barbara Broccoli feels Daniel Craig is the best Bond. She made that clear in multiple interviews. A year ago, when No Time to Die came out, Broccoli said she just wanted to celebrate Craig’s run. That celebration continues this year.

Broccoli and Eon have made clear they’re in no hurry for post-Craig films. Broccoli has said it will be at least two years before Bond 26 starts filming. At least two years. That implies it could be longer.

Eon also is making a big deal about a new Bond actor having to make a 10- to 12-year commitment. At the same time, Eon isn’t making commitments to how many films it intends to make during that time. Three? More? If so, how many?

That’s something to be determined later. Bond — despite various studio issues, including a 2010 MGM bankruptcy — has had a long run. It’s no longer 1965 — when Bond dominated global popular entertainment — but 007 (despite being killed off in No Time to Die) still makes an impact.

Happy anniversary, Mr. Bond.

MGM watch: Epix to be renamed MGM +

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Epix premium TV channel will be renamed MGM + in early 2023, various outlets reported, including Deadline: Hollywood and Variety.

Epix originally was formed in 2008 as a joint venture between MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate. MGM eventually acquired all of Epix.

The Variety story had this passage citing Michael Wright, president of Epix, commenting how things have changed since Amazon acquired MGM.

“The good news is, Amazon has increased investment in content,” says Wright, who declines to get into specifics on how much that means. But, he contends, the new owners are “really helping us to grow this thing. So, we’re doing more of the same with, I will say, a greater emphasis on and celebration of MGM. We’re not going to be exclusive to MGM, we’re still going to be acquiring films from other studios. But a celebration of the MGM brand is a is a bigger part now of the service.”

MGM is the studio home to the James Bond film series produced by Eon Productions.

Bond 26 questions: The Variety interview edition

A previous Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

So, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson gave an interview to Variety. The Eon Productions duo again said James Bond won’t return to theater screens soon and they’re looking for the next actor to make a long-time commitment.

However, there were other interesting tidbits. Naturally, the blog has questions.

How many Bond films will get made during an actor’s “10-, 12-year commitment”?

That’s the kind of commitment the Eon pair said they’re looking for from a new Bond actor. But at the current rate of production, that might only be three films. The Eon series had only two entries — Skyfall and SPECTRE — during the entire decade of the 2010s.

Yes, there were external factors, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s bankruptcy in 2010 and COVID-19 in 2020. But some of the gaps were self-imposed, including putting off the development of what became No Time to Die to try and get Daniel Craig back for another movie.

Will Bond 26 with a new actor really be that much different than Craig’s run?

One passage in the Variety story suggests not.

Both Wilson and Broccoli, who is a director of the U.K. chapter of women’s advocacy org Time’s Up, have left their mark on Bond, particularly in humanizing the once-womanizing spy and ensuring more fulfilling, meatier roles for the female stars of the franchise. These are qualities that will continue in the next films, says Broccoli. (emphasis added)

What are they up to in the interim?

Barbara Broccoli is one of the producers of Till, a fact-based film about the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 and its aftermath. It’s due out next month. Wilson “has written a TV show that the duo are looking to set up,” according to Variety. And both are involved in producing an Amazon streaming show 007’s Road to a Million. That is currently in production, Variety says. Amazon also owns MGM.