The Spy Command marks its 10th anniversary

Today marks the 10th anniversary of The Spy Command.

It has been a long journey. Initially, the blog was a spinoff of a website (Her Majesty’s Secret Servant) that’s no longer online.

It took a few months for the blog to find its own voice, its own point of view.

Yet it did. The blog’s main reason for being has been to apply some journalistic principles to a fan endeavor.

The blog is a hobby. But it also keeps track of what has been said and revisits whether that’s occurred.

Some James Bond fans don’t like that. They want to celebrate all things 007. If there have been inconsistencies, they don’t care.

That’s fine. There are plenty of sites on the internet.

But here, the basic idea is to keep track of what is happening now while providing context of how it compares with the past.

One example: What really happened with the script of Quantum of Solace? which examined various contradictory accounts of how the 22nd James Bond film came together.

In hindsight, a better title would have been “Whatever happened to Joshua Zetumer?”

Zetumer was the scribe who was doing rewrites during filming. His contributions were noted in stories published while the movie was in production. Examples include a story on the Rotten Tomatoes website as well as pieces on the MI6 James Bond website and the Commander Bond website.

However, Zetumer’s is a forgotten man these days. That’s because of  later stories quoting Daniel Craig how he and Quantum director Marc Forster rewrote the movie during production. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, I suppose.

Another example: A 2015 post, A SPECTRE reality check, noted how, in 2012, Eon said the SPECTRE organization was passe and that Quantum was much better than SPECTRE in the 21st century. All that changed, of course, once the rights to SPECTRE were secured from the Kevin McClory estate in 2013.

Finally, more recently, the blog documented (so far) the writing process of Bond 25 complete with various contradictions.

Paul Baack (1957-2017) and the Spy Commander in 2013.

Origins

The blog was the idea of Paul Baack (1957-2017), one of the co-founders of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. He wanted HMSS to have a presence in between issues of the “e-magazine,” which specialized in producing magazine-length stories on James Bond and related topics.

Paul informed HMSS contributors about the blog and said it was all of theirs.

I was the one who took him up on it.

Initially, I was skeptical. But, after a few posts, I got hooked. It was an outlet that quickly became one of my main hobbies.

Over time, I took it over. By 2009, I was the primary contributor. By 2011, the blog established its own voice separate from HMSS. By 2014, the blog was totally on its own after HMSS went offline. On Feb. 8, 2015, the blog took the new name, The Spy Command.

So much different. Yet so much the same.

Since its debut, there have been three James Bond films released (Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and SPECTRE); three Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible films; and a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which I long thought would never happen).

Blog Highlights

The blog tries on occasion to get into the business side of the entertainment industry. One of my personal favorite series of posts was a three-part series about the involvement of Film Finances Inc. with Dr. No.

Film Finances supplies “completion” bonds to ensure movies can finish production. The company ended up taking control of Dr. No during post production.

It’s an episode that hasn’t been written much outside of a book Film Finances published about its work with Dr. No, which reproduced many documents. One example was a memo showing Dr. No fell a half-day behind schedule on its first day.

Photocopy of the title page of Richard Maibaum’s 1961 draft of Thunderball

Some other personal favorite posts include those about scripts for Bond movies. In some cases, like this 2015 post about You Only Live Twice, dealt with drafts similar to the final film with a few significant differences. Others, like this 2017 post about a Bond 17 treatment dealt with stories that never saw the light of day.

Perhaps the most enjoyable was an examination of three Thunderball scripts, including Jack Whittingham’s first draft in 1960 and Richard Maibaum’s first try in 1961.

On this 10th anniversary, my thoughts keep going back to Paul Baack, who died last year. Last month was what would have been his 61st birthday. He gave me the chance to contribute. After I had taken over, he always provided encouragement.

If there is an after life, I hope Paul is pleased with the result.

I’d also like to thank, one more time, J. Kingston Pierce’s Rap Sheet blog. The Rap Sheet had some kind words in 2009 about a series this blog did about Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary. That, and other feedback, indicated there was interest in what this blog was doing.

Finally, two replies to posts were particularly satisfying.

In 2013, the blog had a post about how the current Hawaii Five-0 series was remaking an episode of the original series titled Hookman. The post noted how a CBS press release left off the names of the original writers, Glen Olson and Rod Baker. The post raised the question whether they’d get a credit.

Baker wrote a reply. “Thank you for pointing out that Glen Olson’s name and my name were left out of the CBS press release as the writers of the original Hawaii Five-0 ‘Hookman’ episode.. The Writer’s Guild contacted CBS today and that omission was corrected immediately.”

In July, the blog wrote about Adrian Samish, who had been an ABC executive and later one of producer Quinn Martin’s key lieutenants. It’s part of a series dubbed “unsung figures of television.”

The post got this reply: “There are two sides to every story… I am Adrian Samish’s granddaughter and it’s been nice to read some kinder comments about him, especially since he isn’t here to defend himself or tell his side of the story. Thank you for writing this.”

Well, enough sentiment. Bond 25 and other spy entertainment topics are present to be analyzed and written about.

Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.: More than a footnote

Ian Fleming

This weekend marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming.

Understandably, there were the usual observations of his passing. After all, without Fleming, we wouldn’t have James Bond movies or the 1960s spy craze.

After all these years, however, there’s an oddity. That is, Fleming’s connection to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

U.N.C.L.E. originated because there was interest in turning Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into some kind of television show.

That led to television producer (who concluded the book would not be the basis of a show) into doing a pitch for something different. In turn, that led to NBC saying it Fleming could be enticed into participating, it’d buy the series without a pilot being produced.

In turn, that led to meetings between Felton and Fleming in New York in October 1962. In turn, that led to Felton writing up ideas and Fleming (after days without much being accomplished) writing on 11 pages of Western Union telegram blanks. In turn, that led to Felton employing Sam Rolfe to concoct something that went beyond far beyond the initial Felton-Fleming ideas.

Eventually, Fleming exited the project (under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), selling off his interest for 1 British pound.

Regardless, without Fleming, U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t exist given the history with Thrilling Cities. But some long-time (i.e. original) U.N.C.L.E. fans hesitate to acknowledge that. Felton and Rolfe did the heavy lifting — there’s no denying that at all. But Thrilling Cities was the catalyst.

Also, Fleming’s idea of naming the hero Napoleon Solo (Felton’s initial idea was Edgar Solo) was huge. The original idea was Solo would be an ordinary looking fellow. But a character named Napoleon Solo was not going to be your next door neighbor or the guy in the apartment down the hall.

At the same time, Bond movie fans don’t even consider it. And Ian Fleming Publications, run by Fleming’s heirs, don’t even mention U.N.C.L.E. in the IFP timeline of Fleming’s life. 

Fleming was connected to U.N.C.L.E. for less than eight months (late October 1962 to June 1963). Not an enormous amount of time but more than just a footnote.

It is what it is, as the saying going. The 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t give a credit to either Sam Rolfe or Ian Fleming, while Felton (who died in 2012) got an “executive consultant” credit. Ironically, one of Fleming’s 1962 ideas — of Solo being a good cook — was included in the film.

It would appear that U.N.C.L.E. will remain Fleming’s bastard child (figuratively, of course) now and forever.

1 million page views later

Today, Aug. 1, The Spy Command reached 1 million page views. Sounds like a big number but it’s actually pretty modest for the internet. But it’s not bad for a blog with a niche audience.

The blog’s best day for views was Nov. 15, 2013. That’s when it published a post with the press release that Danjaq LLC (parent of Eon Productions) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had reached an agreement with the Kevin McClory estate.

The deal brought all rights that had been held by McClory into the Danjaq-MGM fold “thus bringing to an amicable conclusion the legal and business disputes that have arisen periodically for over 50 years,” according to the statement. Thus, the Eon 007 series could again use Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE without fear of legal action.

That, however, was not the most viewed post in the history of blog. That honor goes to a post quoting Guy Ritchie that his first choice for Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was Brad Pitt.

Who’d have thought? Perhaps more surprises lay ahead.

Armie Hammer gives an update on U.N.C.L.E. sequel effort

Armie Hammer in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Armie Hammer, in an interview with the Uproxx website, included an update about efforts to try to get a Man From U.N.C.L.E. sequel off the ground.

Previously, the actor told the /Film website he had convinced Lionel Wigram, co-writer and co-producer of the 2015 movie, to start work on a script for a sequel.

In the Uproxx story, Hammer was asked about comments from U.N.C.L.E. director Guy Ritchie that he didn’t know much about it. This excerpt picks up from there with Hammer asking the interviewer a question. Interviewer comments are in boldface.

 

Was this before King Arthur premiere or after the King Arthur premiere?

Before.

Okay, because he came into town for the premiere and we all had dinner: Guy, Lionel, myself, and Lynn Harris, who was one of the executives on the movie. And we all had dinner together and that’s when I told them. I was like, “So, guys.” So, yes, it is completely conceivable that he didn’t know. After you interviewed him, probably about a week after that, sat down and was like, “So here’s the deal. We’re doing this.”

He seemed very happy people were discovering it.

Yeah, people bring it up quite a bit and it just makes me really happy for Guy and it makes me really happy for Lionel and for Henry and for myself. You know, we put a lot of work into it and we really enjoyed making it, so the fact that people enjoyed watching it is a lot of fun. And if people enjoyed watching enough to sort of warrant making another one, I would be there. You know, I loved working with those guys. I loved working on that project. I’d love to do another one.

Again, the odds would seem to be against an U.N.C.L.E. sequel. The 2015 movie generated less than $110 million in global box office.

Then again, at times, the odds were against the original movie being made. It had been in development at Warner Bros. for more than 20 years.

U.N.C.L.E. sequel being written, /Film says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

Armie Hammer is quoted by the /Film website as saying a sequel for the 2015 Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is being written despite the film’s tepid box office.

According to the website, Hammer said he contacted Lionel Wigram, the co-producer and co-scripter of the 2015 movie.

“I was like, ‘Dude, what’s the deal? I get asked about this shit all the time. Can you just write a sequel?’” Hammer is quote as saying.

“He was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, fuck it, I’ll do it. Sure, I’ll write a sequel.’ I was like, ‘If you write one, I’m sure we can get one made,’ so who knows? Today is the first day I’ve actually told anyone that story.”

Two caveats: 1) Studios and production offices are littered with scripts that were never made into films. 2) Wigram, in this telling, doesn’t exactly sound like it’s his top priority.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s global box office was less than $110 million. During its opening weekend in the U.S., it came in No. 3, behind Straigh Outta Compton and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. The latter debuted two weeks earlier than U.N.C.L.E.

Wigram’s collaborator in writing the film was director Guy Ritchie. The duo’s latest project is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which has had three separate release dates but is currently scheduled to come out May 12. That movie also is being scored by Daniel Pemberton, who did the music for the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The 2015 project was an “origin” story and dispensed with familiar U.N.C.L.E. tropes such as a secret headquarters. It had Hammer as Illya Kuryakin and Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo. Cavill currently is working on Mission: Impossible 6.

UPDATE (April 17): The Collider website also chatted with Armie Hammer. That story had slightly different quotes from the actor. “I actually recently talked to Lionel Wigram… and I was like, ‘Dude if you don’t start writing this script I’m gonna show up at your house and cut all of the tires of all of your cars, I swear to God.’”

So, in this telling, Wigram replied (according to Hammer), “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna do it, I’ll probably start writing it.”

Henry Cavill joins M:I 6 cast, Deadline says

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

Henry Cavill is joining the cast of Mission: Impossible 6, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Few details are available. The entertainment news website linked to an Instagram exchange between MI:6 director Christopher McQuarrie and Cavill, which is how the announcement was made.

There’s a certain irony to this. The fifth installment of the Tom Cruise M:I series, 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, was a major factor why The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie with Cavill as Napoleon Solo flopped.

M:I Rogue Nation originally was scheduled for Christmas 2015. But Paramount moved it up to late July of that year. U.N.C.L.E. came out two weeks later. But M:I helped suck the oxygen, and interest, for spy entertainment.

There’s another irony. Tom Cruise was approached to play Napoleon Solo in the U.N.C.L.E. movie. But he bowed out, in favor of doing Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. That left the role open for Cavill.

McQuarrie scripted and directed Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

M:I 6 is scheduled to be released in late July 2018.

 

UPDATE: 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Originally posted May 18. Re-posting (with some tweaks and additions) today, Dec. 1, the date of the actual anniversary.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary today. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

As far as those two geeky incidents? I don’t really have regrets. Felton died in 2012 and Vaughn on Nov. 11 of this year. My interactions with them may have been awkward. But at least I did gain some insight because of them.

In particular, I remember Vaughn talking about the end of the series at one of the collectibles shows. He said he wasn’t crushed about the show being canceled.  “I just went on to the next thing I had to do.”

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.