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.

Who’s the (not so) new writer on the U.N.C.L.E. movie?

U.N.C.L.E. logo on a second unit crew T-shirt

U.N.C.L.E. logo on a second unit crew T-shirt


The IMDB.COM ENTRY for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. lists a new name on the list of writers: Jeffrey Hatcher, a playwright with a list of a dozen television, video and movie credits.

It’s hard to consider him a “new” writer on the project given it completed production in December. Presumably, Hatcher performed his work before production commenced, but there’s simply no additional information. Also, given how entries in IMDB can change based on member input, it’s unclear the source of the information..

The official Sept. 3 Warner Bros. press release doesn’t mention Hatcher. It says the movie’s screenplay is by director Guy Ritchie and his producing partner Lionel Wigram.

It’s certainly possible the final writing credit will change before the final release because of Writer’s Guild rules. For example, it’s not known whether Sam Rolfe, who developed the original show, will get a credit the way, say, Bruce Geller, creator of Mission: Impossible, receives on M:I movies.

Hatcher’s list of IMDB credits begins with a 1998 Columbo made-for-television movie. His IMDB entry lists some of his plays.

Meanwhile, a (pretty breathless) video showed up on YouTube that provides a primer about the movie. Not a lot new, but given how the film won’t be out until January 2015, it’s presented here.

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

Two more questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in photo on Zimbo.com site

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming

Photos appeared on Oct. 2 on places such as Zimbio.com and Us magazine’s Web site of filming of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Shots included stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer together and in costume. There were also PHOTOS of Hugh Grant as Waverly and actress Alicia Vikander. So this seems a good time to pose two more unanswered questions.

What’s the name of Alicia Vikander’s character? The Sept. 3 PRESS RELEASE doesn’t specify.

When Vikander was identified by THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER in May as being in the film, the trade publication said she “will play a British agent who has a thing for cars. The character did not appear in the TV series nor the short-lived spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and is a new creation.”

What if, by chance, that’s not correct? Remember the filming of Skyfall? Naomie Harris’s Eve wasn’t supposed to be Moneypenny — except she was.

Thinking out loud, what if Vikander is playing April Dancer, the lead character in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.? There’s no evidence of that, of course. And given how complicated rights can be, the April Dancer character might even be unavailable for director Guy Ritchie & Co. to use. Time will tell.

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode


Will the original U.N.C.L.E. insignia return? Over the past few days of filming in Italy, some shots of crew members have shown up on social media. In some cases, people are wearing security badges that appear to have the original U.N.C.L.E. insignia used in the main titles of the original 1964-68 series.

Even if it’s the original insignia (and in some cases it’s pretty small in the photos), that’s no guarantee it will show up in the movie. On the other hand, if it is used in the film, it would be another of the seeming homages to the original show.

UPDATE: The U.K. Daily Mail has A STORY WITH MORE PHOTOS of the filming in Rome.

The story has one noteable mistake. “Set at the height of the Cold War, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which stands for United Network Command for Law Enforcement), was originally a TV series created by Sam Rolfe, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.”

Robert Vaughn played Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill’s role) and David McCallum played Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer’s role). Neither actor created the show.

Norman Felton and Ian Fleming created the Solo character and Sam Rolfe devised the U.N.C.L.E. detail and created Kuryakin and other characters.

Of that trio, only Rolfe had an on-screen credit for the show’s concept: “Developed by” in the first season, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by” for the rest of the series. Felton was the executive producer throughout the series, and was credited for that. Rolfe was also producer for the first season.

Also, the formal name is United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. The Daily Mail isn’t the first media outlet to drop the “and.”

Earlier posts:

RETURN OF THE ICONIC U.N.C.L.E. TURTLENECK?

HOW THE U.N.C.L.E. MOVIE WILL DIFFER FROM THE ORIGINAL SHOW

U.N.C.L.E. movie has young Solo character

UNCLE logo 02

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie now being filmed in the U.K. has a “Young Napoleon Solo” character to be played by an actor who looks similar to star Henry Cavill who’s playing Solo in the film.

Jonathan Nadav, 23, has been cast as the young Solo, according to CASTINGCALLPRO.COM, a Web site that tracks casting.

That raises a couple of the possibility of either flashback scenes or some kind of prologue with the young Solo.

The original 1964-68 show didn’t reveal a lot about Solo’s background. One piece of information was he served during the Korean War under the command of a Colonel Morgan, who he encountered again in the first-season episode The Secret Sceptre Affair.

Whether director Guy Ritchie is going to explore that angle remains to be seen.

Shoutout to LaneyBoggs2001 (who Tweeted the Castingcallpro link) and others.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 141 other followers