5 U.N.C.L.E. stories to watch this weekend

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

With the passing of actor Robert Vaughn, a natural reaction for fans would be to view some episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

This list was originally devised last year ahead of the 2015 movie version. It was intended for people not familiar with the series.

It’s still a good list of episodes to view, even for long-time fans.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But the list was intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelan), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hound Affair.

Vincent Price and Patricia Medina as rival villains in The Foxes and Hounds Affair.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

50th anniversary of U.S. TV spymania

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

This week marks the 50th anniversary of spymania in the United States, when three spy television series premiered.

I Spy (Sept. 15): The hour-long drama on NBC was the most serious, least escapist spy program on U.S. television. Its greater significance, however, was having an African American actor receiving equal billing with a white star.

That African American actor was Bill Cosby. Cosby has been in the news since last year for numerous accusations of rape, the subject of a notable cover of New York magazine this summer.

A half century ago, Cosby’s presence on I Spy was a major breakthrough for U.S. television. The show debuted in the midst of  the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert Culp, the show’s other star, also wrote episodes that gave Cosby’s Alexander Scott plenty to do and Cosby ample opportunity to show his acting ability.

“People writing…said that I was the Jackie Robinson of television drama,” Cosby said during a 2010 appearance. “I say to all of you if this true that Robert Culp has to be Eddie Stanky, Pee Wee Reese.” He said Culp’s “contribution in I Spy was very valuable in terms of civil rights.”

Besides the show’s social significance, I Spy also had extensive location filming. The lead actors accompanied a small crew that actually traveled to places such as Hong Kong and Tokyo to film exteriors. That footage would be paired with interior scenes shot at stages leased from Desilu Studios.

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

The Wild Wild West (Sept. 17): The show was originally pitched to CBS as something like “James Bond and cowboys.” It became something much greater.

The series concerned the adventures of ace U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). They traveled in style on a train.

They traveled a lot taking on, among other foes, a 19th century cyborg (John Dehner); Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), a short scientist with major plans, such as wiping out the world’s population to restore ecological balance; and Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a villain whose magic tricks might not be tricks at all.

Highlights included Conrad frequently fighting a roomful of thugs. In reality, it was usually the same group of stuntmen and it took ingenuity to disguise that fact from the audience. Also a highlight was Martin donning various disguises.

The Wild Wild West really was catching lightning in a bottle. Attempts to recapture the magic (made-for television movies in 1979 and 1980 as well as a 1999 feature film) fell short.

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Get Smart (Sept. 18): The half-hour comedy created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind. The network rejected it. NBC, looking for a show for Don Adams, snapped it up.

Brooks and Henry revamped the script to adapt it for Adams. For example, Adams had already perfected his “would you believe?” bit, using it on The Bill Dana Show situation comedy series. Thus, it was incorporated into the Get Smart pilot.

Adams’ Maxwell Smart was a force of nature. He bumbled his way through his adventures but, always confident in himself, emerged triumphant. It helped to have Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) on his side.

Get Smart, naturally, parodied the spy genre, including one episode that did a takeoff on I Spy. But the series had other targets, including an episode that parodied The Fugitive. There have been various attempts over the decades to revive Get Smart, most recently a 2008 feature film with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

5 U.N.C.L.E. TV stories new fans should see before the movie

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The original U.N.C.L.E.s

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure since its last broadcast on Jan. 15, 1968. Yet, seemingly against long odds, a big-screen version comes out on Aug. 14.

There are a lot of new fans — particularly those who are fans of actors Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer — who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to catch the original show. With that in mind, here are five U.N.C.L.E. stories from the 1964-68 series that may enhance the experience of new fans ahead of the film.

These aren’t necessarily the very best episodes. But some have elements in common with the movie. Also, this list is intended to include examples from all four seasons of the show. Stories told over two episodes are listed as a single entry here.

The Quadripartite Affair/The Giuoco Piano Affair: These two episodes were filmed together but presented as separate, but related episodes.

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Solo verbally jousts with Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen) in The Giuoco Piano Affair

Quadripartite was the third episode broadcast. It’s also the first episode where Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) function as a team. There’s plenty of good “bits of business” for both characters.

The story involves a power-hungry woman, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis), whose lover, Harold Bufferton (John Van Dreelen), is one of the world’s richest men and who’s more than willing to finance her plans. That’s not unlike the new film, where Elizabeth Debicki, is the lead villain.

Giuoco Piano (the seventh episode broadcast) is even better than Quadripartite, showing how manipulative Solo can be. The title comes from a chess gambit that symbolizes Solo’s plan. If James Bond is the blunt instrument, this story demonstrates how Solo is the sharp operator.

Both episodes were written by Alan Caillou, who did intelligence work for the British in World War II. Think an Ian Fleming, who actually went out into the field. Caillou’s two scripts helped define the Kuryakin character. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the pilot, envisioned Kuryakin as a large, massive man. Caillou provided McCallum with the material so the actor could make Illya his own.

Also, the two episodes were directed by Richard Donner, who’d become an A-list film director in the 1970s.

The Never-Never Affair: Through the first season, the show tried to find the right balance of drama and humor. Never-Never, aired late in the season, became the model for future episodes.

"I can't believe everything that's going on, Illya."

Solo and Illya during the theater shootout in The Never-Never Affair

In the story, Solo feels sorry for U.N.C.L.E. translator Mandy Stevenson (Barbara Feldon), who yearns for an adventure. He sends her to get pipe tobacco for U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), while telling her she’s acting as a courier. However, she accidentally is given a valuable microdot covered by the villainous organization, Thrush.

The episode includes a memorable set piece, where a Thrush assassin is firing through a movie theater screen at Solo and Kuryakin, who are having to deal with other Thrush operatives. A high percentage of the jokes work, and writer Dean Hargrove would become one of the main scribes of the series. It was the second episode of show helmed by Joseph Sargent, one of the best directors on the series.

The Foxes and Hounds Affair: A breezy episode that aired early in the show’s second season. The new movie’s tone is supposed to be similar to the second season and Foxes and Hounds is one of the season’s better entries.

U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush are both after a mind-reading machine. That’s pretty fantastic, but no more so than what can be seen in a Marvel Studios film of the 21st century. Both Solo and Kuryakin get chances to shine. We also see that Waverly is perfectly capable of being cold blooded. On top of everything else, Vincent Price is a very good villain who has to watch his back for attacks from a rival in Thrush (Patricia Medina).

The Concrete Overcoat Affair: This two-part episode was edited into a movie for international audiences called The Spy in the Green Hat. Thrush has another ambitious plan that U.N.C.L.E. is trying to foil. But some retired gangsters end up becoming involved and act as a wild card.

This ran during the third season, when the drama-humor balance got out of whack in favor of humor. This Joseph Sargent-directed story reins that in to an extent. There’s also a good scene early in Part II where Solo wants to go save Kuryakin but Waverly disapproves. The U.N.C.L.E. chief relents, but only reluctantly. It’s an unusual moment of drama in a season where that was in short supply.

The Test Tube Killer Affair: In the fourth season, new producer Anthony Spinner wanted to dial the humor way back. This episode, early in the season, is one of the better entries produced by Spinner.

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's "test tube" killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Christopher Jones, center, as Greg Martin, in The Test Tube Killer Affair.

Thrush’s Dr. Stoller (Paul Lukas) has been raising young men from childhood to be the perfect killing machines, able to turn their emotions on and off as needed. Stoller’s prize pupil, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones), has been chosen to blow up a dam in Greece. It’s strictly an exercise and the dam has no strategic importance but many will die if Martin succeeds.

Meanwhile, the young killer is highly intelligent — intelligent enough where it appears Solo and Kuryakin may have met their match. The episode has a less-than-happy ending, something not common on the show.

Happy Mother’s Day from The Spy Command

Here’s a sampling of images of Mothers from the spy genre for Mother’s Day. If your mother is still available for a chat, take advantage of the opportunity.

99 became a mother toward the end of Get Smart's 1965-70 run.

Barbara Feldon’s 99 became a mother toward the end of Get Smart’s 1965-70 run.

Boris Karloff's title card from The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.'s The Mother Muffin Affair

Boris Karloff’s title card from The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.’s The Mother Muffin Affair

Judi Dench, who played two versions of M.

Judi Dench, who played two versions of M in James Bond films.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: the long and the short and the tall

"Who's going to play me?" "Looks like you're getting the short end of it this time, Napoleon."

“Who’s going to play me?”
“Looks like you’re getting the short end, Napoleon.”

There’s the possibility that 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise may be paired with 6-foot-5 Armie Hammer in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to a story this week on the DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE.

You’d think it’d be hard to film the pair together. But it’s actually only the latest twist in a spy property that’s had its ups and downs when it came to the subject of height.

It began with executive producer Norman Felton, who began work on U.N.C.L.E. in 1962. The 1950s and the early 1960s were a period when Westerns, with stars such as 6-foot-7 James Arness and 6-foot-6 Clint Walker, dominated U.S. television. Even in other genres, other stars might be tall. Felton himself had cast 6-foot-1 Richard Chamberlain as the title character in the television version of Dr. Kildare.

Felton, in a 1997 interview (portions of which can be seen on U.N.C.L.E. DVD extras), said he wanted a different type of lead character for U.N.C.L.E. and not “big, ballsy men.” He was looking for heroes who were more average looking.

Eventually, the producer cast 5-foot-10 Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (who had worked on the Felton-produced The Lieutenant) and 5-foot-8 David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. They were hardly runts, but definitely not built like Arness’s Matt Dillon.

Supposedly, according to dossiers held by the evil Thrush organization (in The Thrush Roulette Affair in the show’s FOURTH SEASON), Solo the character was 6-foot while Kuryakin was 5-foot-10 1/2.

Thrush clearly had some faulty information. In the FIRST SEASON episode The Never-Never Affair, 5-foot-8 1/2 guest star Barbara Feldon wears flat shoes to appear shorter than the leads. Even wearing the flat shoes, there is an Act II scene where her Mandy Stevenson character is clearly taller than McCallum’s Kuryakin.

That doesn’t mean McCallum was insecure was his height. The late writer-actor Stanley Ralph Ross, in a 1997 INTERVIEW with THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. EPISODE GUIDE said McCallum used his height to his advantage in a scene where Ross played a thug.

Question: What was it like for you a pretty tall fellow, working with a somewhat shorter David McCallum?

Ross: David asked me to stand on a box. I am already 6-6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having beaten me up.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. began almost 50 years ago but even in the 21st Century, height or the lack of it can still create a stir. In 2005, Amy Pascal, a Sony Pictures executive, told THE NEW YORK TIMES that the newly cast 007 Daniel Craig “is tall. He’s the same size as Sean Connery.” Craig is 5-foot-10 while Connery is 6-foot-2 and change. Eight years later, the subject doesn’t come up that much, at least with Craig.

In any case, U.N.C.L.E. fans have been buzzing about the possibility about a new movie, and are getting worked up whether Cruise and Hammer have the right look, etc. For now, we’ll bide our time and have a cocktail — maybe a short one — while we wait for things to develop.

Would you believe…Don Adams would have been 90 today?

Don Adams and Barbara Feldon grace the cover of TV Guide

Don Adams and Barbara Feldon grace the cover of TV Guide

April 13, besides being the birthday of the literary James Bond, is also the birthday of one of the better known actors from the 1960s spy craze: Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart on Get Smart, the 1965-1970 spy comedy.

He was born April 13, 1923, according to his IMDB.COM BIOGRAPHY. As we’ve written before, Adams wasn’t the first choice to play Maxwell Smart.

The show was originally developed with Tom Poston as the lead character. But it was rejected by ABC, where executives were not amused by the Mel Brooks-Buck Henry script, which included a dwarf as a villain called Mr. Big. All this came out in interviews Poston and producer Leonard Stern made for the Archive of American Television decades later.

Shortly after the ABC rejection, a crestfallen Mel Brooks encountered an NBC executive who asked the writer what was wrong. Brooks told the story of his unsold pilot. As it turned out, NBC had Don Adams under contract and had to pay him until the network could find Adams a show. NBC, thus, was now very interested. Brooks and Henry worked in Adams’ “Would you believe?” routine and other changes. Michael Dunn, soon to be the villainous Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West, brought Mr. Big to life.

Get Smart was one of the most successful of the ’60s spy shows, running five full seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS). It was revived as a 1980 theatrical movie starring Adams, The Nude Bomb (which didn’t include Barbara Feldon as Agent 99) and a later television movie Get Smart Again (this time with Feldon). There was also another short lived Get Smart television series on Fox.

The concept was brought back in 2008 with Steve Carell in another theatrical movie. This one insisted on providing a backstory for Max, where he had once been an obese back-office employee who dreamed of being an agent, etc., etc. In the original, there was no attempt to explain Max; he simply was.

The 2008 film did OK at the box office, with with $230 million in worldwide ticket sales. But Steve Carell didn’t make anybody forget Don Adams, who had died three years earlier. As it turned out, that would be impossible.

For Warner Bros., which released the ’08 movie, the box office wasn’t good enough to order up a sequel. Sorry about that, Chief.

45th anniversary of TV spy mania part IV: Would you believe…Tom Poston was the first choice to play Maxwell Smart?

We conclude our look at the 45th anniversary of TV spy mania with Get Smart, which premiered in September 1965. Now, Don Adams as Maxwell Smart. A television classic. How could anything go wrong with that? You’re probably thinking that there could not have been any doubt about that casting.

Well, if you’re thinking that, you’re wrong. Not only was Don Adams not the first choice to play the lead in a parody of James Bond, NBC wasn’t the first network approached. ABC was.

The script was penned by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Producer Leonard Stern and actor Tom Poston take it from there:

Once Don Adams was on board, he incorporated his own comedic persona. This clip isn’t from Get Smart, but The Bill Dana Show, where Adams appeared as a hotel detective, Byron Glick. The clip contains a familiar gag that’d be a regular part of Get Smart:

In the pilot, Maxwell Smart and agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) encounter Mr. Big of KAOS, played by an actor who’d shortly make a big impression on CBS’s The Wild, Wild West:

Get Smart’s 45th, 30th and 21st anniversaries

Would you believe Get Smart has three important anniversaries this year? Would you believe two significant anniversaries and a footnote? How about some minor trivia?

First, this fall is the 45th anniversary of the debut of the spy spoof created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and starring Don Adams as the bumbling, but ever triumphant CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart.

Get Smart is often described as a James Bond parody but it also owes much to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which featured the intrepid U.N.C.L.E. versus the mysterious Thrush. The first several episodes of Man showed agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin entering a secret headquarters and going through a series of doors. Get Smart’s title sequence seized upon that and exaggerated it.

The Brooks-Henry pilot scripted pilot established a number of bits that would be repeated throughout the series. One of the best of the best concerned the Cone of Silence:

Get Smart would run five successful seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS) and outlast other 1960s spy favorites including U.N.C.L.E. But you can’t keep a good agent down. So, in 1980, 15 years after his debut, Max made his theatrical movie debut in The Nude Bomb. Universal, which released the film, hired Arne Sultan and Leonard B. Stern, writer-producers on the original series, to help do the script. Don Adams reprised his most famous role. But the studio jettisoned Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 and other characters from the series. Don Black, a frequent 007 songwriter, collaborated with Lalo Schifrin on a title song. The results were mixed. Here are the main titles:

Despite the mixed reaction, nine years later, much of the (surviving) original cast was reunited in a 1989 television movie. This time, the producers sought to emphasize the original source material as much as possible. That’s reflected in the main titles:

A mere two years ago, Maxwell Smart returned to the big screen, courtesy of Steve Carrell. One of the tips of the hat the movie made was to the Brooks-Henry cone of silence:

1965: Mad’s Jack Davis depicts NBC’s lineup

Artist Jack Davis was one of William M. Gaines’s “gang of idiots” who was a major to Mad magazine. But he often did other art jobs as well.

One came in 1965, when David did a giant, “Where’s Waldo?” style drawing of the stars of NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup for TV Guide. There’s a TV spy connection to this, of course, because it includes Robert Culp and Bill Cosby of I Spy and Robert Vaughn and David McCallum of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Think you can spot them? Well, just CLICK RIGHT HERE.

UPDATE: Sorry about that, chief! We didn’t note that Don Adams as Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 from Get Smart are in the Jack Davis drawing.

Would you believe…Barbara Feldon discusses Get Smart?

Would you believe…Barbara Feldon turned down the role of 99 on Get Smart?

It’s not a punchline but the answer is yes. She didn’t want to move from New York and didn’t want to be tied down for five years. Other actresses were tested but producers went back to her, saying she’d only be committed to two years. And, of course, she ended up playing the role for all five seasons on the spy comedy.

That’s just part of what Feldon disclosed in a 2007 an Archive of American Television interview. She also discussed her role in a guest shot on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and how it was almost like preparing her for Get Smart. “You’re not asking me to repeat this silly script,” she says at one point about the U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Never-Never Affair, which is actually one of the best installments of that series.

“I’m sure Man From U.N.C.L.E. influenced Get Smart, she says. “I think Buck (Henry) once said it was just taking (it) a little further. There was the Bond series and there was Man From U.N.C.L.E. then you go all the way out.” Buck Henry collaborated with Mel Brooks on the pilot and would be story editor the show’s first two seasons.

All of the ’60s spy stuff starts shortly after the 18:00 mark of this video:

And it continues at the start of this segment: