Norman Felton on the origins of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Twelve years ago, retired television producer Norman Felton did an extended interview with writer Lee Goldberg to discuss Felton’s long career.

One of the highlights was Felton describing the origins of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which ran three-and-a-half seasons on NBC and which spawned eight “movies” edited from episodes, mostly released outside of the U.S.

A few highlights:

–Felton had been approached about doing a project based on Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities non-fiction book. Felton concluded there was no viable TV or movie project. Instead, he BS’d his way through a meeting and spun an idea involving a U.S.-born, Canadian-raised character. This would later be the basis for Napoleon Solo, the title character of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

–One of the participants in the meeting, an executive from Ford Motor Co., suggested Felton ought to get together with Ian Fleming to put together a TV or movie project. The irony: Ford was never a sponsor of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and never supplied cars for the series (the Chevrolet division of General Motors would supply vehicles for the first season, Chrysler would take it over for the remaining two-and-a-half seasons).

–Fleming was recovering from a heart attack and wasn’t really engaged. This spurred Felton to write up a lot of ideas on his own. Fleming liked many of the ideas while Felton said to lay off. Fleming’s main suggestion was the character should be named Napoleon Solo.

–Felton regretted the spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and never thought it was very good but NBC was pressing him for a spinoff series so he relented.

Here’s the key U.N.C.L.E. portion of the interview, which starts at about the 7:19 mark of this video:

Portions of this interview were also included in extras that were part of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. box set that was first sold through Time-Life in late 2007 and which is available in retail outlets.

Felton, who celebrated his 96th birthday earlier this year, has had a fascinating life. Like 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum, his papers are stored at the University of Iowa.

To see this extended interview from the beginning, just CLICK RIGHT HERE.

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for linking to the interview, which I conducted for the Archive of American Television. And speaking of Richard Maibaum, I’ve interview him, too… sadly, those interviews aren’t on film. But some are online. You can find them here:

    http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/articles/interview_lee_goldberg_avtak_screenwriters.php3

    http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/articles/interview_lee_goldberg_25_years.php3

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1347&dat=19870731&id=QrUSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7fsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1457,6620456

  2. Lee; Some of us are big fans of those Archive of American Television interviews, both those of onscreen talent and of the people who worked behind the scenes. There is a particularly fascinating one with William Self, who headed 20th Century Fox’s television division in the 1960s.

  3. As I may have alreay told you , was supposed to write an official ‘ Man From U.N.C.L.E ‘ book for a French publisher around 87’ .
    Book – although written – never saw publication for various reasons .
    Title was ‘ James Bond à la Télèvision : Des Agents Très Spéciaux ‘ . ( ‘Agents Très Spéciaux ‘ being the French title of The Man From U.N.C.LE) .
    Anyway, was fortunate to exchange some letters then with a very cooperative Mr Felton …
    Amongst the most notable Fleming rough ideas were also the name of Solo’s secretary, a Miss April Dancer ,and various plot ideas …As you undoubty know…

  4. […] year, we had a post that included links to a Felton interview on the origins of U.N.C.L.E. He worked, for a short while, with Ian Fleming, to bring U.N.C.L.E. to television before Fleming […]

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