U.N.C.L.E.: Sam Rolfe’s Solo is ready for filming Part III

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy, the first U.N.C.L.E. movie.

The Solo pilot was filmed in late 1963. The only significant delay was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. What started out as a light day (star Robert Vaughn’s 31st birthday) turned solemn and the production shut down for a few days.

Despite the conclusion of filming, writer Sam Rolfe wasn’t done. In early 1964, producer Norman Felton commissioned the scribe to write addditional scenes. Solo would be expanded into a feature film.

Initially, it would be distributed in international markets. But when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. became popular, the film version, To Trap a Spy, would get a U.S. release.

Rolfe turned it a number of pages dated Feb. 26, 1964, with some dated later.

The first scene involved U.N.C.L.E. agent Lancer. In the original pilot, U.N.C.L.E. official Allison tells Solo that Lancer had gotten a job at the company headed by Thrush official Andrew Vulcan. Lancer had tried to communicate information to Allison but was cut off.

In the new scene we’re introduced to Lancer “about forty-five years old, dressed in laborer’s clothing.” He’s driving a car that hits a post box with the address of 112 Old Post Road in Alexandria Virginia.

Lancer is wounded. “One hand is clutched against his side, blood staining through his fingers,” according to the stage directions. Another car is coming up from behind. “Lancer, frantic, scurries ahead.”

Lancer reaches a nearby house and calls out to Angela. She doesn’t answer. He reaches a fireplace where a small fire burns. He rips out the label from his jacket and puts in the fireplace. Lancer picks up a telephone.

LANCER (into phone, quickly)
Operator, get me Plaza 3-6098 in New York City.
Yes, I’m calling from Arlington, Virginia
Lancer here. Channel D inoperative. Direct report. When the premier of Western Natumba visits the plant, they’re going to assassinate…

He breaks off as there is a sharp silence that indicates the line has been cut. Lancer CLICKS the phone frantically.

Before Lancer can do anything else, Angela makes her appearance.

ANGELA is an attractive girl, with short, cropped hair. She is wearing a negligee and carrying a hairbrush. The feeling is that she has just come from a bath and was brushing out her hair when she encountered Lancer. Her eyes reflect surprise. As Lancer spins around she sees the blood on his shirt and she gasps.

Lancer tells Angela he didn’t want to involve her. Angela says they need to get Lancer to a doctor. However, Angela is really working for Thrush and lures Lancer to a window. “She shows no emotion as she watches Lancer,” according to the stage directions. Lancer opens the window and bright lights shine on him. That enables a gunman outside  to kill the operative.

Two men, including one identified as “the Leader” come into the room. He asks Angela if the dead agent had made contact before she could break the connection.

“Too bad,” the Leader replies. “We’ll have to make some immediate arrangements there.” This sequence now sets up the raid on U.N.C.L.E. headquarters that began the original Solo pilot.

Much later, after Solo has been assigned to investigate Andrew Vulcan, he’s driving his car when he smells perfume. “For a moment, he hesitates, ‘tasting’ the scent. He likes it, but not enough to stop being alert. His casualness is studied.”

Solo pulls the car over to the side of the road. He holds both a gun and a pack of cigarettes. Angela is in the back seat. Also, Solo is about to get his first name restored after it was stripped out of the Solo script.

My name’s Napoleon Solo. I hope you don’t mind filters.

Angela tells Solo that Lancer is still alive but wounded. She claims that Lancer’s communicator can receive but not send.

“Her voice has been extremely sincere,” according to the state directions. “I’ll have to find out…won’t I?” Solo responds.

The couple go to Angela’s house. Solo is on guard, moving defensively.

You move beautifully. If this were a trap, you’d undoubtedly be able to kill me before you went down.

SOLO (smiles in return)
No question about it.

This cat and mouse game goes on for several pages. The banter includes claiming to have a nervous grandmother “back home in Topeka, Kansas. I’m afraid I inherited her genes.”

“Oh…are you from Kansas?” Angela asks.

“Of course,” Solo replies. “In’t everyone?”

This being a sequence intended for a movie, Solo and Angela make love. The banter continues afterward, but Solo hasn’t forgotten about Lancer. He finds the label to Lancer’s jacket in the fireplace. The conversation takes on a serious tone.

ANGELA (voice cooling in turn)
You weren’t rude just a short while ago. You gave much pleasure.

And I enjoyed you in return. That makes us even. We don’t owe each other anything.

Just then, Lancer supposedly arrives outside. It’s actually his corpse popped up in position. Behind him is “SHOTGUN-MAN,” his weapon ready to fire.

Meanwhile, Solo (wisely) hesitates calling out to Lancer. The agent finally opens the window but swiftly moves to the side. The lights that helped get Lancer killed are activated. But with no one standing in front of the window, there isn’t any fire yet.

“Angela abruptly attempts to shove Solo back in front of the window…He spins away from her shove, as Angela now off-balance lands right in the line of fire…the Machine-Gun spray slams Angela’s body across the room,” according to the stage directions. ”

Solo fights his way out of the house and gets away. He chased by two thugs. But as Solo drives off, one of the thugs says he tampered with Solo’s car just in case. This sets up the scene in the Solo pilot where the agent’s car is booby trapped.

Luciana Paluzzi would be cast as Angela. To Trap a Spy would be, in effect, a dry run for her performance in 1965’s Thunderball as femme fatale Fiona Volpe.

Recasting a Major Part

There was one more writing task. Solo was picked up as a series by NBC. It would be renamed The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll and Robert Vaughn in a scene written in August 1964, a little more than a month before it’d be included in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. first broadcast.

Rolfe became the day-to-day producer for the show’s first season. Between the pilot and the start of series production, the production staff opted to fire actor Will Kuluva who played U.N.C.L.E. chief Allison. In his place was veteran actor Leo G. Carroll as Alexander Waverly.

This meant refilming scenes in the pilot, scheduled for broadcast on Sept. 22, 1964.

Thus, on pages dated August 18, 1964, came Waverly’s introduction. Immediately after Solo has killed the Leader of the Thrush attack on U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Waverly appears.

Waverly has come out of his office and is standing besides one of the posts in the room. He holds the folder with Vulcan’s picture on the cover.

Quite right, Mr. Solo. Their idea was to prevent me from acting on some new information we’ve received.
(holds out folder)
Here…you may have the information, and Thrush can try to kill you for a while.

Waverly proceeds to tell both Solo and Illya about Andrew Vulcan and his place in Thrush. The name of Vulcan’s company has been changed to the United Global Chemical Corporation.

The mission is so urgent Waverly conducts the briefing in the same room with the body of the Leader of the Thrush raid on the floor. Meanwhile, the new pages don’t reference how the other members of the Thrush raiding party died after being poised by their own organization.

There is one more change. There is a brief scene where Illya gives Solo the college yearbook and says it was Waverly’s idea. Illya tells Solo about Andrew Vulcan having a girlfriend in college. That of course will be Elaine, the episode’s innocent.

It’s still a small role for Illya but he ends up taking a slightly bigger role helping Solo on the assignment. Illya would soon have a bigger presence.

U.N.C.L.E. was now on its way.


6 Responses

  1. The article doesn’t explain why Kuluva was fired, nor it is mentioned in Heitland’s book. Could he have been too harsh as the operative patriarch of UNCLE? The MFU series was expected to be a breakout vehicle for Vaughn (coming off of Rodenberry’s “The Lieutenant”). Solo in terms of being youthful and a confirmed ladies man; curiously Waverly always gives a wink to Solo’s escapades. Eventually in the episode titled “The Bow Wow Affair” reveals why. Perhaps Kuluva wasn’t able to convey that kind of (emotional) indulgence towards Solo (Vaughn).

    In casting Kuryakin, McCallum was spotted in other performances (incl.“the Great Escape” 1963). He was originally meant to be a peripheral character. But his popularity and onscreen chemistry with Vaughn elevated him to co-star status. Which gave him the opportunity to create his own mysterious persona. As noted in Heitland’s book, the producer noted there was always “something” about McCallum’s presence which drew the audience’s attention to him. And yet, without ever upstaging the central character (Vaughn). If you watch McCallum’s performances carefully, what he does with nuance (expression) and emotion (concentration) enriches the total effect of the scene and character relationships. This is known as ensemble teamwork!

    The Spy Commander’s series of articles (explaining how the MFU developed from concept to reality) makes us ask whether these production adjustments were intentionally strategic maneuvers. Or a matter of fortunately placed instinctive gambles!

    Great series, thank you so much!

  2. What Really Happened:

    When NBC picked up SOLO, it was understood that Robert Vaughn would be The Show; all else was incidental, and subject to change.

    When the NBC Suits came to give their notes on the pilot, one of them said something to this effect:
    “Can we lose the guy with the ‘K’?”
    Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton weren’t sure what Mr. Suit meant, but they didn’t want to blow the sale.
    So, with extreme caution, they asked:
    “You mean Kuluva?”
    And Mr. Suit replied:
    “Yeah, lose the ‘K’ guy!”
    So Felton & Rolfe paid off Will Kuluva, and after considerable effort (and expense), engaged Leo G. Carroll to be Mr. Waverley.

    Fast forward to a few weeks later, as filming was gearing up.
    Mr. Suit comes back to check out the progress, and Felton & Rolfe tell him about the hiring of Leo G. Carroll.
    And Mr. Suit was puzzled:
    “Isn’t he kind of old to be Solo’s sidekick?”
    Came The Dawn: everybody belatedly realized that “the ‘K’ guy” that Mr. Suit was referring to was ‘Kuryakin’, whose part in the pilot was barely a bit.
    But production had begun in earnest, and it was too late to make another change.
    And then THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. started airing, and David McCallum broke out …
    … and if Mr. Suit ever said anything to anyone again, it would have been to take credit for McCallum.

    In Hollywood, history is made by mistake.

  3. That’s the standard narrative. However, the Solo pilot had a five-minute presentation for network executives and potential sponsors. Vaughn describes the cast and characters. Referring to Illya, he says: “He’s a rather interesting young man. You’ll see him often.” Even at that early period, somebody saw potential.

    As for Mr. Suit? He was likely none other than the late Grant Tinker, one of the smartest TV executives in the medium. Even the best have an off day.

  4. [Mike Doran] You are absolutely correct. Well almost. To the degree I miss characterized my own comments. It has been a long while since I nearly memorized Jon Heitland’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book,” and from which are the following quotes: “Reactions varied, but were generally enthusiastic. The series considered novel and unique. The pilot script was well through-out and written. However NBC in New York was not completely happy with casting.” “Felton received a call from an NBC executive in New York saying they wanted to replace one of the secondary players, but the executive could not think of the name.” “He kept saying ‘K…K…’ and I said Kuluva? And he said ‘That’s it.’” “To the executive’s surprise, Felton did not argue and agreed to recast Kuluva’s part. In fact, Felton and Rolfe had already discussed replacing him.” “Sam Rolfe had the idea, Felton remembers that since we had very few things going for us, with Vaughn and McCallum still relatively unknown, maybe we could get an older actor who has name value to play the head of U.N.C.L.E.. He felt that now that we had a deal for a series we could afford a name actor even though we couldn’t in the pilot.”

    “So Felton told the executive he was filling the role with Leo G. Carroll. The executive responded with surprise, and asked if Leo G. Carroll wasn’t a little old for the role. Felton was puzzled by this response, but the reason became clear sometime later. Felton recalls that the executive called again and said, ‘Norman, what was the name of the guy who was replaced by Leo G. Carroll?’ And I told him it was Will Kuluva. And he said, ‘We actually meant David McCallum – Kuryakin.’ He wanted to get rid of that Russian with the long hair, and he thought Carroll might be a little too old to play Solo’s sidekick. I told him it was too late, we had already picked up a deal on McCallum for seven of the first thirteen episodes. I also told him that if I had realized that, I would have fought him on it, because we felt he was important. He said to just forget he ever made this call; he was very embarrassed about it. Several years later when I saw him at a party, he said it was the best mistake he’d ever made.” Heitland adds regarding McCallum, that he escaped another near miss, when the producers were able to work out a severance deal releasing him of his work on the “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” enabling him to pick up the MFU series long term. pg.30

  5. To clarify my original comment relative to the Waverly character Heitland writes,“he was described as being seedy and old-fashioned, in contrast to the ultra-modern organization he headed.” “He tolerated Solo’s girlfriends, but not too well.” He forgot names, spot checked agents, (and to Felton and Rolfe) “offered just the right touch of bureaucratic authority.” “He brought both authority and compassion to the role of U.N.C.L.E.’s chief, Alexander Waverly.” “The addition of Carroll was well received by the cast and crew.” “Norman, British by birth, kind of favored Leo (in terms of casting) and I think everyone did after a while. Sam initially, I think, wanted Kuluva, but after a while felt (he) was too much on the heavy side.” “George (Lehr) feels Leo G. Carroll brought to the role of Waverly a warmth that was missing in Kuluva’s portrayal of Allison. ‘There was something about Leo. He was an authority figure and at the same time he had a certain impish pixie quality that had a certain sense of humor.’” In addition to Heitland, Robert Vaughn wrote(in his autobiography “A Fortunate Life,” how much they respected Leo G. Carroll. And how self-depreciating he was about being cast in the part, despite his age. Regarding Kuluva, while dropped from the pilot, the role of Allison did remain in the movie version.

  6. I’ve heard about that story regarding getting rid of ‘K’. Thank goodness it wasn’t the blonde fella. Leo G. Carroll was the definitive Waverley and he never took himself too seriously. Will Kuluva himself did appear in some other UNCLE stories as another character, including The Spy In The Green Hat.

    I saw To Trap A Spy a few years ago and thought it stood up really well as a cracking, fast-paced spy thriller. Well written, acted, exciting and tense.

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