New U.N.C.L.E. book coming out in 2015

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

A new book about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series is due out next year.

“Solo and Illya: The Secret History of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” by Craig Henderson is to be published by Bear Manor Publishers, according to the Facebook page of THE GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY AFFAIR, the two-day event held in the Los Angeles area last month in connection with the show’s 50th anniversary.

Henderson created the File Forty fanzine in 1970, according to a Jon Burlingame response to the post. Henderson also assisted Burlingame when the latter produced a series of U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks in the 2000s.

“He’s uncovered a lot of information about the show no one else has,” Burlingame wrote.

Finally, Henderson produced A CENTURY OF U.N.C.L.E., which details how the worlds of U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond intersected for more than a century, beginning with the birth of Ian Fleming in 1908 until the death of U.N.C.L.E. executive producer Norman Felton in 2012. It’s a resource this blog has cited numerous times.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. celebrates its 50th anniversary

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 50 years ago today with the telecast of The Vulcan Affair on NBC.

The series had false starts. First Ian Fleming was a participant, then after several months he wasn’t, bowing out to pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Then there was threatened legal action from Eon Productions stemming from the show’s original title, Solo.

In turn, the series got a new title and the legal problems went away. The makers of Goldfinger did make one change in their film. A gangster named Solo died the most spectacular death among hoodlums invited to Goldfginer’s Kentucky stud farm, a change from earlier drafts and from Fleming’s original novel. (Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger details the changes in the movie’s script.)

Nor did U.N.C.L.E. get off to an easy start. Airing on Tuesday nights, it was up against The Red Skeleton Show on CBS, which nearly led to cancelation before a mid-season switch to Monday nights.

But the audience discovered the series, eventually ensuring a renewal for a second season for 1965-66, which would be its highest-rated campaign.

Executive Producer Norman Felton soldiered on. His developer-producer Sam Rolfe departed after the first season and things weren’t quite the same, certainly not as consistent. Various other producers — David Victor, Boris Ingster and Anthony Spinner among them — put their own stamp on the show with varying degrees of success. Major contributions were made by writers such as Alan Caillou (who arguably shaped the Illya Kuryakin character), Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields.

It remains to be seen whether U.N.C.L.E. can resonate with modern audiences. A movie version won’t be out until next year, and some fans aren’t crazy about the idea. It is back on U.S. television, via MeTV, which is showing it on Sunday nights.

Regardless, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E.’s odd post-series history

"It's hard to find our show some times, Illya."

“It’s hard to find our show sometimes, Illya.”

UPDATE: The 1980s section, corrects name of network to Christian Broadcasting Network. CBN changed its name to Family Channel name after it showed U.N.C.L.E.

Also, readers (one is a comment below, the other was on Facebook) have mentioned the following: The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, a 1986 A-Team episode with U.N.C.L.E. memes (Robert Vaughn was a regular in that show’s final season and David McCallum was the episode’s guest star) as well as a Dec. 31, 1989-Jan. 1, 1990 U.N.C.L.E. marathon on TNT.

While we’re at it, Turner Classic Movies a few years ago had a daylong marathon of the eight U.N.C.L.E. movies, with the first beginning at 6 a.m. eastern time. TCM still occasionally shows them.

With the news that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is going to be shown by MeTV in the U.S. starting next month, here’s a review of the show’s odd history after it ended its 1964-68 run on NBC.

This is by no means a definitive history. But it gives you an idea how a series that once was very popular had trouble finding an audience after its first run. The show made stars of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, even to the point where the Beatles wanted to meet Vaughn in 1966. But later, it was as if the show disappeared.

Meanwhile, other series that were on at the time, such as Mission: Impossible and The Wild Wild West, were much easier to find on local television stations. And, of course, the original Star Trek (which shared many of the same guest stars as U.N.C.L.E.) became a broad pop culture event while in syndication.

Circa 1968-1969: For a period, U.N.C.L.E. could be seen in syndication. An Indianapolis independent station showed U.N.C.L.E. (Both Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.) Monday through Friday in an afternoon time slot.

However, this did not last that long. In general, there was a concern about violence on television and this perhaps affected U.N.C.L.E. For whatever reason, U.N.C.L.E. soon became virtually invisible.

1970s: The best chance to see U.N.C.L.E. was when one of the eight “movies” — re-edited from series episodes — popped up on local television. In the `1970s, I caught To Trap a Spy (an expanded version of the series pilot) on a local television station. CBS even showed The Spy With My Face, an expanded version of the first-season episode The Double Affair, on the CBS Late Movie. At the time, CBS didn’t have its own viable late-night show and was content to show movies starting at 11:30 p.m. eastern time.

1980s: In the early 1980s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which made the series in association with producer Norman Felton’s Arena Productions, dusted off U.N.C.L.E. The studio made a renewed syndication push. The original MGM logs at the end of episodes were removed and new ones added.

In 1985, the Christian Broadcasting Network — controlled by tele-evangelist Pat Robertson — showed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at 11 p.m. eastern time in the U.S. But for the CBN debut,the channel skipped over the entire black-and-white first season. Its first telecast was The Arabian Affair from the second season.

By the spring or summer of 1986, CBN showed all but four episodes: the two-part Alexander the Greater Affair and The Very Important Zombie Affair from the second season and The Abominable Snowman Affair from the third. The latter two weren’t shown, reportedly because of their un-Christian content (voodoo with Very Important Zombie, depictions of Eastern religions in Snowman). As for Alexander the Greater, it turned out nobody could find it. More about that shortly.

Meanwhile, there were changes behind the scenes. Television mogul Ted Turner bought MGM, primarily to gain control of its film library, including classic films such as Gone With the Wind and Ben-Hur. But Turner borrowed heavily for the purchase. So he sold the studio, while keeping the film library — which also included U.N.C.L.E.

Thus, in 1988, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was part of TNT’s Saturday morning (and later Saturday afternoon) programming. TNT telecast Very Important Zombie and Abominable Snowman shortly thereafter.

1990s: By the mid-1990s, U.N.C.L.E. shows up in the early-morning hours of Tuesday (technically part of its Monday schedule). In 1999, a Turner employee finds Alexander the Greater. The two-part story was telecast July 4, 2000, the last U.N.C.L.E. telecast on the cable network. In the interim, Turner has sold out to Time Warner, whose Warner Bros. now controls the show.

NBC had never rerun Alexander the Greater. So the TNT telecast was the first time the television version had been seen since September 1965. Until then, only the movie version, One Spy Too Many, had been available.

In 1999, TV Land had a “spy week” promotion in connection with the second Austin Powers movie. Four episodes each of The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. are shown on separate nights, along with series such as It Takes a Thief and The Avengers. For Man, four first-season episodes are telecast. (Girl only ran one season, making selection easier.) TNT, around the same time, showed some episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. in connection with the birthday of star Stefanie Powers.

21st century: Both The Man and Girl From U.N.C.L.E. have shown up on other cable channels but don’t enjoy a lot of visibility.

In 2007, the series is released on DVD, initially by Time-Life. The original MGM logo at the end of episodes was restored. Within a few years, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and the eight U.N.C.L.E. movies are released by Warner Archive, the manufactured-on-demand arm of Warner Bros.

MeTV picking up The Man From U.N.C.L.E. comes just ahead of the show’s 50th anniversary as well as a movie version of the show coming in January.

Spring 1964: U.N.C.L.E. gets a new chief

Leo G. Carroll's title card for first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes

Leo G. Carroll’s title card for first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes

With less than a month before regular series production began, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had some tweaks, both major and minor.

Superficially, star Robert Vaughn changed his hairstyle, switching his part and going for more of a “dry look” compared to the pilot that would air as the first episode.

More substantively, U.N.C.L.E. would have a new chief: Leo G. Carroll, a mainstay of several Alfred Hitchcock films, was cast as Alexander Waverly, replacing Will Kuluva’s Mr. Allison.

Carroll was three decades older than Kuluva. He had two basic on-screen personas: kind and bumbling (the 1955 comedy We’re No Angels or the Topper television series) or cold and calculating (“The Professor” in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest).

Occasionally, he got to a character where he displayed *both* personas (such as THIS EPISODE of the Boris Karloff Thriller anthology series where his character’s seeming bumbling masked his true persona).

Here’s an entry from Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE:

Monday, May 18, 1964

(Executive Producer Norman) Felton officially informs NBC that (Rober) Vaughn and (David) McCallum will remain to play running characters but Will Kuluva has been dropped. The new chief at U.N.C.L.E. will be played by Leo G. Carroll, and the character’s name has changed from Allison to Alexander Waverly.

Arguably, Carroll’s Waverly is an extension of his “Professor” character. Waverly is calculating and, as the series went on, showed he was more than willing to sacrifice his operatives if necessary. In one second-season episode (The Foxes and Hounds Affair), Waverly drops Solo (just returning from a vacation) into the middle of a complicated assignment where the ace agent’s life is in danger.

The official casting of the new U.N.C.L.E. chief came less than two weeks before series production began on June 1. The first draft for The Double Affair, which would be the eighth episode broadcast, still refers to Allison as the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

As the first season unfolded, the production team would seek to expand Carroll’s role. Waverly would be given a cousin who bore an uncanny resemblance (The Bow-Wow Affair) and would occasionally demonstrate he had once been a pretty mean operative himself (knocking out a lackey in The Deadly Decoy Affair).

The on-camera team was now complete. The question now was whether the show would work — or even survive.

Eleanor Parker, U.N.C.L.E.’s last villainess, dies

Eleanor Parker in the final episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  That's Leslie Nielsen in the background. She's not going to like what his character does moments later.

Eleanor Parker in the final episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That’s Leslie Nielsen in the background. She’s not going to like what his character does moments later.

Eleanor Parker, who played the final villainess in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, has died at 91, according to AN ASSOCIATED PRESS OBITUARY ON THE MIAMI HERALD WEBSITE.

Parker played a wide variety of parts according to her HER ENTRY ON IMDB.COM. For spy fans, though, one significant role was filmed in 1967 and aired in January 1968. She was in the final two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Seven Wonders of the World Affair. It was released outside the U.S. as a movie called How to Steal the World.

In that story, an U.N.C.L.E. official named Robert Kinsley (Barry Sullivan), decides to tip the fight between good and evil in favor of good via a “will docility gas” that will force the world’s population to be compliant. What Kingsley doesn’t know is that his wife (Parker) has been manipulating him in partnership with a Thrush operative named Webb (Peter Mark Richman).

Originally, the story, written by Norman Hudis, was intended as a one-hour episode. But, with NBC opting to cancel U.N.C.L.E. in the middle of its fourth season, executive producer Norman Felton had the script expanded to be a two-parter. It would be the eighth, and final, U.N.C.L.E. movie for international audiences.

Parker’s character meets her demise when Robert Kingsley, finally aware of his wife’s plans, orders a General accidently exposed to the docility gas (Leslie Nielsen) to kill her. Overall, the story’s quality varies greatly, in part because of the last-minute expansion. But it’s still a major part of U.N.C.L.E. lore.

1964: Broccoli and Saltzman try to derail U.N.C.L.E.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

By early 1964, post production was underway on the pilot for Solo. On Jan. 7, composer Jerry Goldsmith recorded his score, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline. But things would shortly get bumpy for Norman Felton’s production.

Toward the end of January, The New York Times ran an article about spy-oriented pilots, including Solo. In early February, Albert R. Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, which made the 007 films, had had enough. Here’s how the Henderson website describes it:

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1964
Cubby Broccoli telephones Sam Kaplan of Ashley-Steiner, telling Kaplan he intends to sue Arena, Felton and all others connected with Solo for violating Broccoli’s and Saltzman’s rights to the James Bond stories, referring specifically to the Jan. 26 New York Times story.

Ian Fleming hadn’t been involved with Solo since June of the previous year. The author signed away his rights under pressure from Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the other co-head of Eon. The name Napoleon Solo had been one of his few contributions to make it to the final product of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot..

Still, it appears Broccoli couldn’t stand U.N.C.L.E. In his later years, in ill health, Broccoli worked on an autobiography that wouldn’t be published until after his death. Here’s how he described U.N.C.L.E.:

MGM came in with The Man From UNCLE, which was a straight steal from Fleming’s use of acronyms like SMERSH and SPECTRE.

When The Snow Melts, the autobiography of Cubby Broccoli with Donald Zec, 1998, page 199

Of course, Smersh wasn’t an acronym and Fleming was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until June 1963. Nothing had been stolen from Fleming (though he signed away his rights for a mere one British pound). Also, it was pretty easy to tell Napoleon Solo, suave U.N.C.L.E. agent apart from Mafia boss Solo in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel and Eon movie.

None of that mattered. Again, an excerpt from the Henderson website:

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1964
New York law firm for Saltzman and Broccoli sends cease-and-desist letter to Felton, MGM, NBC and Ashley-Steiner demanding immediate end to use of Fleming’s name in connection with planned Solo series — and end to all use of name and character “Solo,” “Napoleon Solo” and “Mr. Solo,” claiming theft of the “Mr. Solo” character in Goldfinger, which Eon is currently filming.

By April, the two sides agree Solo won’t be the title but the Napoleon Solo name is retained for the television series. NBC picks up the series to debut the following fall.

In May, the new series title ends up being The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By that time, first drafts of series scripts have been written. The first draft for an episode to be called The Double Affair refers to the villainous organization as MAGGOT. The name is later changed to Thrush, which had been the choice of Felton and Sam Rolfe, the writer of the pilot, all along.

U.N.C.L.E. is now on its way to becoming reality. But more changes await before the cameras roll on the early episodes of the show.

CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. BOND TIMELINE FOR 1964

Earlier posts:

JUNE 1963: IAN FLEMING SIGNS AWAY HIS U.N.C.L.E. RIGHTS

MAY 1963: IAN FLEMING CRIES U.N.C.L.E.

Fall 1963: Norman Felton casts his Solo

The Solo that William Boyd forgot

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Producer Norman Felton had to make a decision: Who would be cast as Napoleon Solo, the character he co-created with Ian Fleming?

The task may not have been difficult as finding a Solo for a 21st century movie version of the show (finally cast with Henry Cavill). But it wasn’t a slam dunk, either.

According to Jon Heitland’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. book, Felton for a time considered a friend, Harry Guardino, for the part.

Also in the running was actor Robert Brown, who five years later would briefly be cast as Hawaii Five-O’s Steve McGarrett until the part was re-cast with Jack Lord. Also, according to the Heitland book, Felton decided to offer the role to Robert Culp, but the actor wasn’t available.

Felton ended up going with an actor already in his employ: Robert Vaughn, 30, who was the second lead in The Lieutenant, a drama about U.S. Marine Corps officers. Felton was the show’s executive producer, with Gene Roddenberry as the creator-producer.

“I was looking for someone who would give the character a certain visual sense of sophistication,” Felton told Heitland in an interview for the 1986 book.

Vaughn, in 2007, recalled the deal being done quickly:

Other work on the project proceeded. Sam Rolfe turned in his second-draft script and Don Medford was hired to direct on Oct. 9, 1963, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline.

By November, the rest of the cast was in place. David McCallum would play the small part (in the pilot script) of Illya Kuryakin, a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent, and Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison, the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

Production was scheduled to begin on Nov. 20. It would be shut down for four days because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy two days later.

In the coming months, two men named Broccoli and Saltzman would present another challenge.

Earlier posts:

July 1963: U.N.C.L.E. presses on without Fleming

June 1963: Ian Fleming signs away his U.N.C.L.E. rights

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