The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: the long and the short and the tall

"Who's going to play me?" "Looks like you're getting the short end of it this time, Napoleon."

“Who’s going to play me?”
“Looks like you’re getting the short end, Napoleon.”

There’s the possibility that 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise may be paired with 6-foot-5 Armie Hammer in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to a story this week on the DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE.

You’d think it’d be hard to film the pair together. But it’s actually only the latest twist in a spy property that’s had its ups and downs when it came to the subject of height.

It began with executive producer Norman Felton, who began work on U.N.C.L.E. in 1962. The 1950s and the early 1960s were a period when Westerns, with stars such as 6-foot-7 James Arness and 6-foot-6 Clint Walker, dominated U.S. television. Even in other genres, other stars might be tall. Felton himself had cast 6-foot-1 Richard Chamberlain as the title character in the television version of Dr. Kildare.

Felton, in a 1997 interview (portions of which can be seen on U.N.C.L.E. DVD extras), said he wanted a different type of lead character for U.N.C.L.E. and not “big, ballsy men.” He was looking for heroes who were more average looking.

Eventually, the producer cast 5-foot-10 Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (who had worked on the Felton-produced The Lieutenant) and 5-foot-8 David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. They were hardly runts, but definitely not built like Arness’s Matt Dillon.

Supposedly, according to dossiers held by the evil Thrush organization (in The Thrush Roulette Affair in the show’s FOURTH SEASON), Solo the character was 6-foot while Kuryakin was 5-foot-10 1/2.

Thrush clearly had some faulty information. In the FIRST SEASON episode The Never-Never Affair, 5-foot-8 1/2 guest star Barbara Feldon wears flat shoes to appear shorter than the leads. Even wearing the flat shoes, there is an Act II scene where her Mandy Stevenson character is clearly taller than McCallum’s Kuryakin.

That doesn’t mean McCallum was insecure was his height. The late writer-actor Stanley Ralph Ross, in a 1997 INTERVIEW with THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. EPISODE GUIDE said McCallum used his height to his advantage in a scene where Ross played a thug.

Question: What was it like for you a pretty tall fellow, working with a somewhat shorter David McCallum?

Ross: David asked me to stand on a box. I am already 6-6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having beaten me up.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. began almost 50 years ago but even in the 21st Century, height or the lack of it can still create a stir. In 2005, Amy Pascal, a Sony Pictures executive, told THE NEW YORK TIMES that the newly cast 007 Daniel Craig “is tall. He’s the same size as Sean Connery.” Craig is 5-foot-10 while Connery is 6-foot-2 and change. Eight years later, the subject doesn’t come up that much, at least with Craig.

In any case, U.N.C.L.E. fans have been buzzing about the possibility about a new movie, and are getting worked up whether Cruise and Hammer have the right look, etc. For now, we’ll bide our time and have a cocktail — maybe a short one — while we wait for things to develop.

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6 Responses

  1. Six-foot-five Hammer just recently worked with the 5’7″ Johnny Depp. No biggie.

  2. […] EARLIER POST: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: the long and the short and the tall […]

  3. […] Hammer seems to have a baby face in many of his roles. In the new Lone Ranger movie, he appears to be unshaven for much of the movie, perhaps an attempt to look tougher. At 6-foot-5, he towers over either Vaughn or Cruise. U.N.C.L.E. was a show that never had tall actors in leading roles. […]

  4. […] Solo and Illya Kuryakin are about to get a lot taller: As this blog HAS NOTED BEFORE, executive producer Felton wanted more average looking (at least in terms of height) actors for the […]

  5. […] April 2013 HMSS Weblog post: THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL […]

  6. […] Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 series, was on record as not wanting “big, ballsy men” as his leads, which is one reason why Vaughn and McCallum, each below 6-feet tall, got the roles. […]

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