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,
but first I want to tell you how movies like Brass Target get made.
To my agent's huge surprise -- until it actually happened,
I don't think 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, real name William Blake Crump, died in 2010 aged 82,
(I'd have loved to ask him what he might have done with my story).
He was a former actor-writer with some pretty fine movies to his credit,
among them Mister Cory, Operation Petticoat, Breakfast at Tiffanys,
and especially Days of Wine and Roses,
one of my all-time favourites and the beginning for me 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 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,
the executive producer of the movie.
"Berle," I yawned, "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," he 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 excited!"
"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 there certainly wasn't anyone
waiting to 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.
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 speak to each other again.
Irwin Shaw's was shorter but no less evocative.
At the premiere of the movie of his magnificent WW2 novel The Young Lions,
starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin,
a newspaperman asked him what he thought of the movie.
To which he replied "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 the story just screwed up the story
which, reduced to essentials, was a simple chase:
can Our Hero catch the Deadly Assassin
before he assassinates 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 gave Sophia some of the dumbest lines ever written for an actress,
he added hints of homosexuality between two of the conspirators,
and worst of all (from my point of view)
he stole the guts of the story
central to The Mittenwald Syndicate, (the Reichsbank robbery)
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 released 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 was going on --
the last thing the makers of a movie would dream of doing is
to ask the author of the book.
And anyway, I was already 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).
Then, in October ...
Sphere Books launched their £20,000 (this is 1977, remember,
so 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 major railway stations
and on 500 London buses --
and wow! 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.