March 1963: Ian Fleming caught between two worlds

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Fifty years ago this month, Ian Fleming was a busy man. Maybe too busy. He would soon be caught between the worlds of movies and television.

Dr. No, the first movie based on one of his 007 novels, had gotten off to a promising start. But as March 1963 began, it still had yet to debut in a number of major markets, including the U.S. Production would begin a month later on From Russia With Love. That was good news for the author. But Bond still wasn’t a phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Fleming had another iron in the fire. According to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. For Your Eyes Only Web site:

March 1963
Ian Fleming, passing through New York on his way home to London after his annual stay at Goldeneye, discusses Solo with Phyllis Jackson.

She starts negotiations with MGM for Fleming’s participation in the series. NBC reconfirms that it will put an Ian Fleming TV series on the air without a pilot. At the same time, (producer Norman) Felton, realizing Fleming will not devote the time necessary to actually creating a concept ready for weekly production, enlists Sam Rolfe to develop a full series presentation.

Jackson was Fleming’s agent in the U.S. and was with the Ashley-Steiner Agency.

Presumably, Fleming had a copy of his You Only Live Twice novel manuscript in either his briefcase or luggage. The year before, in early 1962, Fleming had penned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service while in Jamaica and he had visited the Dr. No set. Readers wouldn’t discover for more than a year that Fleming has surprise in mind for the literary 007.

By early March 1963, it had been more than four months since Fleming had his first meetings in New York during late October 1962 with producer Felton to discuss a proposed television series to be called Solo that would feature a lead character named Napoleon Solo. Fleming hadn’t done the heavy lifting but his March ’63 meeting would seem to indicate he still remained interested in the project.

Within a few months, that would change. Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the producers of the 007 series, weren’t happy about Fleming’s potential new venture. According to the U.N.C.L.E. For Your Eyes Only site, Fleming was making counterproposals for his Solo deal as late as May 8. But on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, he writes to Ashley-Steiner Agency to indicate he wants out of the television project.

Saturday, June 8 – Wednesday, June 12, 1963

Jerry Leider of Ashley-Steiner travels through London and meets with Fleming, who tells Leider that Saltzman and Broccoli have pressured him to drop out of Solo.

Fleming’s final exit occurs June 26. He signs away his interest in the television show for one British pound. By that time, filming on From Russia With Love was well underway, with a world premier scheduled for the fall of 1963.. Meanwhile, Fleming wouldn’t live to see debut of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the television’s show new title, debut on Sept. 22, 1964.

For more, CLICK HERE to see the U.N.C.L.E. For Your Eyes Only Web site for significant 1962 dates. CLICK HERE for significant 1963 dates.