Welcome to the
Frederick Nolan website
(a sort of autobiography in the making)
Believe it or not, this stunningly beautiful woman once ruffled my hair (in the Ritz Hotel in London, if you must know) and told me not to worry, the future would take care of itself. And she was right, it did! I'll maybe come back to that story later, First I want to tell you about how movies like Brass Target get made.
To my agent's huge surprise--I don't think until it happened that Artie Pine ever believed they would actually make a movie from a book that had only taken six weeks to write--MGM went ahead with their plan to film The Oshawa/ Algonquin Project. It had been announced, you may recall, that it would be directed by Blake Edwards and it would be called The Colonels. That sounded pretty good to me.
Blake Edwards (who sadly died comparatively recently -- and now I'll never get to ask him what he might have done with my story) was a former actor-writer with some pretty fine movies to his credit, among them Mister Cory, Operation Petticoat, Breakfast at Tiffanys, and Days of Wine and Roses, one of my all-time favourites and the beginning of a long (and I hasten to add entirely imaginary) love-affair with beautiful Lee Remick. The title they'd given the project, The Colonels, suggested someone had even read the book, which was about a plot by two high-ranking staff officers (yes, colonels) to assassinate an outspoken maverick General not unlike the real-life General George Patton whose actions might interfere with the chances of their boss--Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower--becoming President of the United States.
But it was not to be.
Somewhere along the way Blake Edwards decided to bow out of the project, and it wasn't long before I found out why. One middle-of-the-night, the phone rang at my home and I stumbled sleepily to answer it, You know how you feel when the phone rings at four a.m. -- it's got to be bad news, right? Somebody had a car crash, your mother died, whatever, nothing good. But not this time; at the other end was a cheerful Berle Adams, executive producer of the movie.
"Berle," I said, "do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Sure," he said cheerfully, "it's a little after eight p.m."
And it was -- in California.
"I've got some great news," the producer told me. "Couldn't wait to tell you. We just signed Sophia Loren for the movie."
"Sophia Loren, huh?" I said thoughtfully. "That's pretty good."
"Pretty good?" he shrieked, "Pretty good? Didn't you hear what I said -- we just signed Sophia Loren. I thought you'd be cockahoop!"
"Well I would, Berle, except for one thing," I said. "There aren't any women in the book."
Actually that wasn't quite true, but the only females in the story were largely incidental to the plot and there certainly wasn't anyone who could be played by as big a star as Sophia.
"No problem," Berle said brightly, fondly imagining he was reassuring me, "We're writing a part specially for her."
And that's how I learned the Hollywood rules: the same way all the other writers whose books have been filmed learned them. The best stories I know about the experience are the one by Ernest Hemingway and the other by Irwin Shaw. Papa first. He said what you do is this: you arrange a meeting at the Arizona-California state line. You're in Arizona, the movie people are in California. You bring your book, they bring their money. On a count of three you toss the book over to them and they toss the money over to you. Then you all get the hell out of there and never talk to each other again.
Irwin Shaw's was shorter but no less evocative. He attended the premiere of the movie version of his magnificent World War Two novel The Young Lions, which starred Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin. As Shaw came out of the screening a newspaperman asked him what he'd thought of the movie. And Shaw said "It's a great movie -- as long as you didn't write the book."
And that's how I feel about what became Brass Target.
Look what it had going for it: not just the gorgeous Sophia, but John Cassavetes, Patrick McGoohan, Max von Sydow, Robert Vaughn, George Kennedy, Bruce Davison, Edward Herrman ... how could it fail?
Trying to put Sophia into it just screwed up the story, which reduced to essentials was a simple chase--can Our Hero catch the Deadly Assassin before he executes the Unwitting Victim? But the scriptwriter -- a fellow named Alvin Boretz who, as far as I have been able to ascertain, had never written a movie screenplay before and never did again--made a whole series of killer mistakes: he added hints of homosexuality between two of the conspirators, he gave Sophia some of the dumbest lines ever dished out to an actress and worst of all (from my point of view) he stole the guts of the story (the Reichsbank robbery) central to The Mittenwald Syndicate, thereby not only screwing up Brass Target but simultaneously destroying any chance the other (and better) novel had of ever being made into a movie.
If you'd like to see for yourself, the Warner Archive has just (9/2012) announced it will be releasing Brass Target as a download burn for DVD. You'll find all the details (and a very two-edged review) at:
Of course, I didn't know all that back then. And anyway, I was moving on, already deep-researching the history of the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad, the lives of the super-rich in the Gilded Age, beginning to work on what would eventually become a big historical novel, Carver's Kingdom. Not to mention writing articles for Bob Guccione's Penthouse magazine, and promoting the hell out of the Jay J. Armes biography which came out in a British hardcover edition around the same time as the American paperback from Avon (by the way, I insisted on the byline "as told to" because if anyone was going to call anyone a liar, I didn't want it to be me). And then, in October ...
all of that paled into insignificance when Sphere Books launched their £20,000 (this is 1977, remember, multiply by ten for today's money) publicity blitz for the paperback of The Mittenwald Syndicate--the whole schmeer, dump bins, posters, showcards, bookholders and all the fun of the point-of-sale fair, with double crown posters in railway stations and on 500 London buses--you can't believe what a buzz it gives you to see your name and book title on the upstairs corners of a good old red London double-decker Routemaster from Putney coming up the hill towards Piccadilly.