Happy 99th birthday to the real Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Norman Felton

April 29 is the 99th birthday of Norman Felton. Without Felton, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would never come to be.

Fifty years ago, Felton pursued an escapist television show that would eventually be pitched as “James Bond for television.” Felton had been involved in a number of television series, including Dr. Kildare, based on a series of MGM movies.

In October 1962, Felton conducted meetings in New York with Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Fleming’s participation would be brief but his contributions included the hero’s name, Napoleon Solo. Another character name from Fleming, April Dancer, would be used for the spinoff series, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.. Felton eventually engaged a writer-producer named Sam Rolfe (1924-1993) to flesh out the concept of a multi-national security organization, a sort of United Nations of spies. Rolfe created the character of Illya Kuryakin.

The Felton-Rolfe project became reality in the fall of 1964, under the title The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum playing Solo and Kuryakin. The original title was to have been Solo. Eon Productions, which produced the James Bond film series, cried foul (well, sued), saying that Mr. Solo was a character in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel. There was little in common between U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo, a dashing secret agent, and Goldfinger’s Mr. Solo, a Mafia leader. So, the lawsuit that Eon filed was settled and the series renamed. (Eon later got a measure of revenge by making sure its Solo character died a memorable death in Goldfinger.)

Both Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe (along with future movie director Richard Donner) made cameo appearances in the The Giuoco Piano Affair, the seventh episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Below is a link to the end tiles to that episode (embedding was disabled for the video, so if you click below, there’s a link to watch it on the YouTube site). At the 0:33 mark, you can see Felton’s executive producer credit and, at the far left of the screen, Felton himself portraying a chess player at the far left of the screen. Happy birthday, Mr. Felton.

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