Luca Calvani is U.N.C.L.E. movie villain, Deadline says

Luca Calvani

Luca Calvani

Luca Calvani will play the lead villain in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, the Deadline entertainment news site said IN A SHORT ITEM. Here’s an even briefer excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Luca Calvani, is set to play the lead villain role of Alexander in director Guy Ritchie‘s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at Warner Bros. (snip) The U.N.C.L.E. character is a wealthy Italian shipping heir who smuggled Nazi gold at end of WWII. Junior’s behind the sale of nuclear weapons.

What Deadline didn’t mention: Rip Torn played Alexander, a wealthy industrialist who idolized Alexander the Great in the two-part episode that led off the second season of the original 1964-68 series. In fact, the character’s real name was Baxter. He just decided to adopt the name of Alexander.

What’s more, the TV series villain wanted to take over the world and break each of the Ten Commandments in doing so. The Rip Torn version of Alexander perished at the end of Part II. The two-part story was penned by Dean Hargrove, one of the best writers on the original show.

Calvani wasn’t mentioned in THE WARNER BROS. RELEASE formally announcing the U.N.C.L.E. movie, which stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

The fact that director Ritchie and his producing partner/co-screenwriter Lionel Wigram is using the Alexander name suggests some degree of familiarity with the original source material. We’ll see.

For more information about the original Alexander, CLICK HERE and read the review for episodes 30 and 31. Also, the two-part episode was edited into the movie One Spy Too Many. Here’s the trailer:

UPDATE, You can CLICK HERE to see a story about Calvani’s casting from The Wrap entertainment news Web site.

RE-POST: The 45th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E.

Originally published Dec. 28. Re-posted for the actual anniversary.

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)


Jan. 15 marks the 45th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also the beginning of the end for 1960s spymania.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.” Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty. NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969. NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but abandoned spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done. Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

45th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)


Jan. 15 marks the 45th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also the beginning of the end for 1960s spymania.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.” Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty. NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969. NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but abandoned spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done. Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

Happy 80th birthday, Robert Vaughn

Happy birthday, Mr. Solo

For people of a certain age, it’s doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Robert Vaughn, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., turns 80 on Nov. 22.

The 1964-68 spy series was just one stop on a long, and still continuing, career.

He’s the last surviving actor of those who portrayed the title characters in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven. He picked up a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1959’s The Young Philadelphians, holding his own in a veteran cast. He was twice nominated for an Emmy in political-related drams and received one playing a thinly veiled version of H.R. Haldeman in the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. And he’s played more than his share of oily and/or villainous businessmen and/or politcians, thanks to 1968’s Bullitt.

Still, when he shows up at collectible shows, he’s more than often or not autographing stills of himself as Napoleon Solo, the television spy with a name courtesy of 007 creator Ian Fleming and developed by Sam Rolfe under the supervision of executive producer Norman Felton. For those who weren’t there during its run on NBC, U.N.C.L.E. really was a big deal.

The production values may look cheap compared to modern-day television. The series did all of its filming within about a 30-mile radius of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Culver City, California, studios. None of that matters. Vaughn established a U.S. beachhead for 1960s spy entertainment beginning in the fall of 1964. U.N.C.L.E. was pitched as “James Bond for television” but it successfully developed its own spin on the genre. Other fondly remembered shows followed, starting in the fall of 1965.

Vaughn had help, of course. His co-star, David McCallum, became popular in his own right. Early episodes were directed by the likes of Richard Donner and Joseph Sargent, who’d go on to direct feature films. Writers including Alan Caillou, Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields spun tales that hold up today, despite the modest production budgets.

Still, it was up to Vaughn to sell everybody on all this. And sell it he did. Vaughn last played the character in the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But he remains tied to Solo. So happy birthday, Mr. Vaughn.

The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.’s 45th anniversary: a spinoff fails to take off

This week is the 45th anniversary for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Its failure to find an audience — it only lasted one season — is a reminder of what can happen when creators don’t especially believe in what they’re doing.

A spinoff of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., featurng a woman agent, was the idea of NBC. The wife of a network executive had even suggested a name for such an operative: Cookie Fortune. Norman Felton, the executive producer of The Man From From U.N.C.L.E., wasn’t keen on the notion. He counterproposed having two hour-long shows each week simply called U.N.C.L.E., where agents could be mixed and matched. NBC stood firm.

Girl’s pilot aired at a second-season episode of Man called The Moonglow Affair, scripted by Dean Hargrove. Hargrove passed on using Cookie Fortune as a name; he ended up going to Ian Fleming’s list of ideas for Man and used April Dancer (envisioned by Fleming as a Miss Moneypenny type character).

In Moonglow, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) are incapacitated. April (Mary Ann Mobley) is assigned to take over the assignment, aided by a middle aged Mark Slate (Norman Fell). For the series, April was recast with Stefanie Powers and Slate was turned into a Brit in his 30s, with Noel Harrison in the role.

What happened next was a vicious cycle. By many accounts, Powers and Harrison couldn’t take the material seriously. Douglas Benton ordered scripts to take a lighter tone, figuring it would play to the strengths of Powers and Harrison. One of the crew was associate producer Max Hodge, who had written the first two Mr. Freeze stories on the 1966 Batman series.

Also, Felton & Co. weren’t comfortable having April actually fight guys (and absorb at least some punishment).
As a result, Slate’s Harrison had to take the beatings for two characters, making him look weaker. Meanwhile, ABC was importing episodes of the U.K.-produced The Avengers featuring Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Peel. April looked weak by comparison.

A light tone can work when 1) the jokes are funny and 2) the audience laughs with the hero. The problem with Girl is frequently the jokes weren’t funny and came at the expense of April Dancer and Mark Slate. Late in the season, Hargrove returned and wrote The Double-O-Nothing Affair. It was still light (Thrush villain Edward Asner’s base of operations is disguised as a used-car lot) but the jokes worked and April and Mark came across as capable and brave agents. Perhaps Hargrove had invested enough in the character of April Dancer to try to make it work.

Too little, too late. Girl was canceled in the spring of 1967 and an opportunity was lost. The show is now on DVD. Here’s a clip from what may be the worst episode of the series, The Paradise Lost Affair, in which the supposedly professionally trained April looks weak against villain Genghis Gomez VIII (Monte Landis). Warner Bros. uploaded this clip to YouTube to try to get people to buy the DVDs. Oops.

A proposal for revamping U.N.C.L.E. creator credits

All of a sudden, if you want U.N.C.L.E., you got U.N.C.L.E.: the complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. series (first released in 2007), The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (out today, Aug. 23) and the eight Man From U.N.C.L.E. movies (ditto). But there’s one nagging aspect about all of them: none of the creator credits is entirely accurate.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series and movies have the credit, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe.” The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. has “U.N.C.L.E. Format Developed by Sam Rolfe.” Both are accurate as far as they go. But do they go far enough?

Rolfe created a good 90 percent or more of the finished product. Still, he wasn’t brought in until an idea had been hatched, and developed for a bit, by producer Norman Felton, who tried to get Ian Fleming involved., The 007 author had contributed some ideas, the most enduring to name the lead spy Napoleon Solo and the other that a Miss Moneypenny type be named April Dancer.

Trying to entice Fleming was a bit of salesmanship by Felton; NBC was willing to commit to a series without a pilot made if it could market a show as being created by Ian Fleming. (For further details, VIEW CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE BY CLICKING HERE. Meanwhile, Rolfe didn’t really have much to do with The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. itself. The spinoff show would be part of the U.N.C.L.E. universe that Rolfe had mostly created. But writer Dean Hargrove did the heavy lifting in coming up with a woman U.N.C.L.E. agent.

With that in mind, these revamped credits might be more accurate. They might not pass muster with the Writer’s Guild of America (which has specific rules for creator credits on TV shows). In any case, judge for yourself:

FOR THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.:
(Big type)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by
SAM ROLFE

(smaller type)
Based on a Character Created by
NORMAN FELTON and IAN FLEMING.

FOR THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.:

(same size type for both)
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by
DEAN HARGROVE

Based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by
SAM ROLFE

Of course, it’s too late to change at this late date and Fleming signed away any rights he had for one British pound to keep 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman off his back. Still, credits approximating these might be more representative of what actually happened.

The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. available on DVD this week

The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., the spinoff series from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will become available on Aug. 23 on DVD from Warner Bros.

The price is $59.95. Be warned: the picture has not been digitally remastered (similar to Warners Bros.’s releases of The FBI) and appears to be a “manufactured on demand,” or MOD. That means no extras. That’s a far cry from Warners’s 2007 release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was loaded with extras.

Girl featured the adventures of agent April Dancer (Stefanie Powers), assisted by fellow U.N.C.L.E. operative Mark Slate (Noel Harrison). Leo G. Carroll played U.N.C.L.E. boss Alexander Waverly in both the spinoff and parent series. The pilot for Girl was a second-season episode of Man called The Moonglow Affair, which featured Mary Ann Mobley and Norman Fell, playing a frumpy, older-than-40, American Mark Slate.

Norman Felton, Man’s executive producer, wasn’t particularly keen on the spinoff, which was the brainchild of executives of NBC. Girl, which ran during the 1966-67 season, often had even goofier humor than Man’s third season. But it has some gems, including The Double-O-Nothing Affair, written by ace Man scripter Dean Hargrove, who also wrote The Moonglow Affair. Double-O-Nothing features Edward Asner is a Thrush operative, with a used-car lot as his cover.

Another notable episode was The Mother Muffin Affair, where Man’s Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) appeared to oppose independent woman criminal Mother Muffin, played by Boris Karloff. Thus, it was the one production with both U.N.C.L.E. characters named by Ian Fleming. (Fleming had suggested the name of April Dancer for a Miss Moneypenny-type character when he met with Felton in 1962.)

Douglas Benton, Girl’s producer, in a late 1990s interview said the production team was thinking about casting Dame Judith Anderson. Joseph Calvelli, the writer, was asked to describe Mother Muffin and he replied, “Boris Karloff in drag.” Benton had worked with Karloff on the 1960-62 anthology series Thriller, offered him the role and Karloff, according to the producer, immediately accepted. (The interview is recreated on a commentary track on the Thriller DVD set, with Benton’s son reading his father’s words.)

Finally, for Bond fans, Luciana Paluzzi is a guest star in Girl’s first episode, The Dog Gone Affair.

For more information about the DVD set, including how to order, JUST CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, here’s a clip from The Mata Hari Affair, the fourth episode. Truth be told, it’s not that good despite being directed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best of the Man directors. For some viewers, though, this scene is still a highlight:

45th anniversary of TV spy mania part I: U.N.C.L.E.’s 2nd season premier

September is the 45th anniversary of television spy mania. With James Bond films helping to create a market for spy entertainment, U.S. television networks decided they needed to meet that demand. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., already on the air for a year, had a head start but faced its own challenges as well as new competitors.

To begin with, NBC shifted the show to Fridays from Mondays, plus moving it to 10 p.m. ET. Would the show’s viewers follow suit? Also, Sam Rolfe, who had written the show’s pilot and had been its first-season producer, had departed. Rolfe’s associate producers (Joseph Calvelli in the first half of season one, Robert Foshko in the second half) were also long gone.

Executive Producer Norman Felton initially brought over David Victor, producer of Felton’s Dr. Kildare series to U.N.C.L.E.’s producer chair. The production team also relied heavy on two writers, Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields, who had penned U.N.C.L.E. scripts during the second half of season one. As it turned out, Victor would be but one of three producers that season, but he would oversee production of the first several episodes.

NBC opted to begin season two with the show’s first two-part story, written by Hargrove and directed by Joseph Sargent, Alexander the Greater Affair (no “The” in the title). Felton’s Arena Productions would then re-edit the story into the movie One Spy Too Many. Hargrove’s story featured the mysterious industrialist Alexander, whose idol was Alexander the Great. Alexander also wanted to take over the world, starting with an unnamed Asian country and break each of the Ten Commandments as part of his plan.

The television version of the story was never rerun by NBC and was left out of the syndicated package MGM would offer later. A print was discovered in Atlanta in 1999 and would be shown by TNT on July 4, 2000. It has been available (including on DVD) ever since.

Here’s a clip from midway part one, where U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) plays Alexander (Rip Torn) in an unusual game of chess. Fellow agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) and Alexander’s ex-wife (Dorothy Provine) look on:

UPDATE: We originally embedded a clip from Part I, but the person who uploaded it took it down. So instead, here’s a sampling of the footage that was added to the movie version. Yvonne Craig showed up in One Spy Too Many as an U.N.C.L.E. woman Solo supposedly had scheduled a date with but can’t remember doing so:

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