Welcome to the
Frederick Nolan website
(a sort of autobiography in the making)
Hemingway lived here: 74, rue du Cardinale Lemoine, Paris (a photograph I took in 1964).
“For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”
Mine, in the context of what followed, would have to be "Wrote books. Got paid. Had fun." Because 1978 was a big, bi9 year for us. We moved into the lovely old house we'd always wished we could afford (and in which we're still living nearly forty years later), we travelled all over the world, and it seemed like I couldn't write fast enough. In May, the same month we moved into our new home, The Sound of Their Music was published, and The Oshawa Project came out in paperback. Five months later, my 'Gilded Age' novel Carver's Kingdom was published by Macmillan. The following month, The Ritter Doublecross and two (retitled) 'Angel' westerns appeared in paperback.
As if all that were not enough, we had the excitement of the advance publicity for the movie Brass Target, scheduled to open simultaneously in 450 theatres at Christmastime. And then the really big surprise: MGM -- the same studio that made all those marvellous musicals I watched in my salad days -- invited me to fly to Hollywood to help promote the movie.
I’ll say this for MGM, they did it first class all the way, with a limo waiting to whisk me to my suite at the Beverly Shmeverly, where I found a fruit bowl (the size of a Carmen Miranda headpiece) and a bottle of vintage champagne chilling on the table.
Beside them I found a card inviting me to call an internal number on arrival, which I dutifully did. Because I was with “the studio” it seemed I was Special. “So, if there’s anything you want, and I do mean anything,” the silky voice on the other end whispered, “just call this number.”
I’ve wondered ever since what that “anything” might have been.
Next day they sent a driver to bring me out to
So here I am --me!!!! -- in Hollywood, with a big fat grin on my face,
standing in front of the famous Irving Thalberg Building
(and looking a bit too much like Jimmy Carr's stand-in).
I'd just had a private screening of the movie (just me, no one else!!!)
in the Cecil B. deMille-like splendour of a huge, leather-lined screening room.
I have to confess I didn't think Brass Target was particularly good,
but reflecting upon the odds against any book ever being made into a movie,
I kept my mouth shut.
Good, bad, or indifferent, it was still my movie!
That Saturday evening in Tinseltown I swapped Polish jokes on the phone to Peggy Lee—
nothing to do with the movie, the PR man just knew her.
Sunday morning, MGM publicity supremo Jack Berwick laid it all out for me.
In a few days I was going to be meeting the media in
San Francisco, Dallas , Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York and Boston
with Horace “Woody” Woodring, the (then) nineteen year old soldier
who was driving the car when General George Patton
had his fatal accident that long-ago day in 1945.
This is Woody and his wife, Jerri; the story of how they located him
(in 1978 he was a 52 year old car dealer in
would make a movie of its own …
So off we went into the wild blue yonder where, pretty soon, we were dubbed “the Fred and Woody show”—Woody insisting Patton’s death had been an accident pure and simple, and me saying well maybe it was, and then again, maybe it wasn’t. And -- I can't speak for Woody, but I certainly can for myself--we tripped off more than a couple of booby traps. On our first stop in
In Dallas, the driver of my limo (it was pink) made a detour to show me a Henry Moore sculpture at the Civic Centre. “Whatcha thinka that thang?” he asked me. I said I wasn’t very keen, and he nodded agreement. “Looks lak a dinosaur took a crap ta me.”
In Boston, I shared a spot on a talk show with General Patton’s daughter, the marvellously-named Ruth Ellen Patton Totten, who had no time whatsoever for me or my conspiracy theory. “In polite circles, if there were ladies around, my father always Latinized the swear words,” she said. “If he was sitting here now listening to this, he’d say it was ‘taurine excreta.’”
And then it was back to London for the British “premiere” of Brass Target on March 22, 1979 (nothing to do with MGM, who I suspect had also smelled turkey and decided to just let it open without fanfare) at the Plaza, Haymarket (for some years between then and now converted to a supermarket but restored as a cinema, albeit without that huge signboard). My premiere was a block of seats in the balcony and a family-and-friends champagne party for about thirty of us at the Café Royal. My mother just ate it all up with a spoon, but I think maybe even my pals smelled turkey, too. But the show went on, and all around it, we did another hectic seven day round of press, radio and TV interviews—they’d flown Woody over and we did our “yes-it-was-no-it-wasn't” act again—to promote it. But even with competition as poor as the movies you can see in the picture above, Brass Target quietly curled up and died.
Well, not quite.
In fact, the Warner Archive
has reissued Brass Target
for download to DVD.
You'll find all the details (including a not-too-friendly review)
It was disappointing, but I understood now why Artie Pine had told me to take the money and run. So we did what we always do, and got on with life. By mid-April I was 140,000 words into a vast, complex novel—my Gone with the Wind— contracted for by Macmillan in New York and Hutchinson/Arrow in the UK . Set in the years leading up to and during the Russian revolution, and at first tentatively titled Like Water, Like Fire (one of the main characters was Vladimir, heir-to-be of the fantastically wealthy Smirnoff family, vodka-makers to the Tsar of all the Russias, who ended his life driving a taxi for a living in Cannes, France—in fact, Smirnoff flew me there to meet his widow, Tatiana) it eventually became White Nights, Red Dawn.
Among the many other things that happened that summer there was, I recall, a talk at the Writers’ Summer School (one of my favourite "secret places"), I wrote the scripts for and appeared in the first two of a series of Tyne-TV series called “A Better Read” on “Westerns” with J. T. Edson and John Harvey (yes, the [later] fine crime writer), and “Spies” with Brian Freemantle and Ted Allbeury. Then at the end of 1980 I really hit the jackpot with a contract with Bantam Books in New York (which they later reneged on) and Arrow Books in London, for a five-book series A Call to Arms, which was to be about an American family living through the War of Independence, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World Wars One and Two. Never did the two world wars and always regretted I never did. Plus c'a change: Ken Follett is doing something similar, right now with his "Century" trilogy -- but on a much grander scale (and far more successfully).
So as you can see, I was having a marvellous time—plenty of work, plenty of fun, plenty of life's ambition boxes ticked. But it’s in the nature of the writing business that there will be some disappointments, and sure enough there were, one of the biggest of which was a project that came my way in February, ’84 when I was picked to ghostwrite a book with Elvis Presley’s stepbrothers, Rick and Dave Stanley, for which I came up with the title How Fast Does This Thing Go? (one of the stories the boys told me about Elvis was that every time he bought a car--and he did that pretty often, sometimes for complete strangers--that would be his first question). I spent a week interviewing them in a motel in
Richard "Rick" and Dave Stanley, Waco, TX. February 1984
And then there was Nazi Gold.
During the excitement surrounding the publication of The Mittenwald Syndicate, I was contacted by a young fellow named Ian Sayer, who owned a trucking company and seemed to be very wealthy (he had a Ferrari, as I recall) who, with a friend, Harry Seaman, had been industriously and with some success investigating the Reichsbank robbery, in the course of which he amassed a transatlantic phone bill the size of the national debt. He was interested in what I’d found out, and I likewise in his research. He had documents, photographs, names and numbers, and we all agreed there was a marvellous book in there, and that although all our names would be on the masthead, I would be the one who actually wrote it. On the heels of my novel it was a natural, which Sphere Books signed for a substantial advance. It was an enormously complex story and I did what I thought was a masterly job of making it concise and yet pacy, comprehensive but not bean-counting. Sphere were delighted and the book was announced for November, 1980 publication—in fact, here’s the cover they were going to use.
Frankly, Scarlett, I didn't give much of a damn--I was writing what I wanted to write, travelling wherever I wanted to go, realising ambitions -- some of them quite mad -- I'd waited all my life to fulfil. With the backing of the Society of Authors, I spearheaded and masterminded the first-ever survey of the promptitude (or otherwise) of publishers’ royalty payments in a landmark article ("The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly") which appeared in The Author and was then reprinted in The Bookseller and Publishing News. I remember the late, much missed literary agent Abner Stein shaking his head and telling me what a schmuck I was for doing it -- and he was right. So I tried something new, and with my friends Bill Barrow and Dennis Moore I co-produced LPs of Rodgers & Hart's first musical Dearest Enemy and the "lost" score from the movie Hollywood Party (both now available on CD) and teetered on the verge of doing (but never actually did) a third, an album of "unsung" R&H to be performed by Denis Lawson and Sian Phillips, who were then starring in a London revival of Pal Joey. We enjoyed a fabulous launch party for White Nights, Red Dawn thrown by Hutchinson (well, the Smirnoff vodka people, actually) at the Travellers’ Club in Pall Mall (with lots of champagne and real caviar and several genuine Russian princesses in attendance).
And on the side, as it were, I wrote and fronted three more Tyne-Tees "Better Read" scripts; translated a dozen or so of the French-language Goscinny-Morris “Lucky Luke” books for Hodder-Brockhampton Press; "novelised" a dire German TV hospital soap for Sphere called The Black Forest Clinic on Channel 4; wrote six or eight short books for children; served four years on the Society of Authors’ Management Committee; put together the first-ever “Crime Writers Road Show” which, featuring Harry Keating, Anthony Price, Simon Brett, Anne Morice and Lady Antonia Fraser, toured all over Buckinghamshire; was writer in residence at the Wooburn Festival; helped set up the All-Bucks Literary Festival; held a weekend seminar “So You Want To Be A Writer?” at my home; wrote a weekly column in The Bookseller that ran for almost three years ...
... and, oh, yes, I nearly forgot, wrote another dozen books. And here they are …
A PROMISE OF GLORY
(London: Arrow,1983- New York: Bantam, 1984)
(London: Arrow, 1983- New York: Bantam, 1985)
(London: Piatkus, 1983; New York: St Martins Press, 1984)
Also published in Dutch, and in British and American paperback editions.
- Nelson de Mille.
- Publishers Weekly.
Also published in Japanese, and in British and American paperback editions.
(London: Century, 1989
and [as Donald Severn.
- Christopher Hirst,
Also published in a British paperback edition.
(London: Century, 1990)
(London: Century, 1991)
- Martha Gellhorn,
(and it only took sixteen-months) …
REMEMBER THIS DREAM