Norman Felton, an appreciation

Norman Felton, the executive producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., died last month at age 99. The news was first reported by Variety and other outlets, including the BBC’s Web site have run items.

Norman Felton

It took Felton two years of effort to get the show on the air. His efforts included wooing Ian Fleming, who contributed the Napoleon Solo name for the lead character; Fleming dropped out, rather than risking the wrath of Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the 007 film producers. Fleming’s participation would have guaranteed a sale to NBC.

So Felton had to make a pilot to get NBC to buy the show. The pilot did sell, but the show had a near-death experience its first season when it ran on Tuesdays in the fall of 1964. A movie to Mondays (plus increased spy interest thanks to Goldfinger) saved the series.

Ace U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum)

U.N.C.L.E. wasn’t Felton’s biggest hit. Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain, ran five seasons to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s three-and-a-half. U.N.C.L.E. also ran a bit unevenly.

For many fans, the first season was great because Sam Rolfe, who had developed the show was on board as producer.

The second season was the most popular, ratings wise. The third season ran to the goofy side.

The abbreviated fourth season was as serious as a heart attack as that season’s producer, Anthony Spinner, a veteran of Quinn Martin shows, imported QM’s brand of gravitas. (One notable exception of The Prince of Darkness two parter that is more second season; even there, some serious stuff creeps in).

What made Felton’s contribution unique is he produced, in effect, the utopian spy show. An American (Solo) and a Russian (Illya Kuryakin) worked side by side.

Pretty heady stuff given that the program’s September 1964 premier was less than two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was an element of idealism you didn’t find in James Bond movies or other television spy efforts.

Also, U.N.C.L.E. was the first spy hit of the period. It may have been helped by 007, but U.N.C.L.E. had things that made it different than Bond.

With Felton’s passing, almost all of the key production team including Rolfe, David Victor (producer or supervising producer in seasons 2 and 3), Boris Ingster (producer during seasons 2 and 3), Joseph Calvelli (associate producer for the first half of season 1) are gone. U.N.C.L.E. isn’t remembered by the general public as much as, say, Mission: Impossible. Periodic attempts to make an U.N.C.L.E. movie fizzle out.

Still, Felton was responsible for something that entertained and thrilled fans in its day. Perhaps it will be rediscovered by the general public. Even if it’s not, U.N.C.L.E. fans still remember. And it all started with Norman Felton.

Cesar Romero and a Man From U.N.C.L.E. mystery

A video has surfaced on the Internet from 1966. An Austin, Texas, television station interivewed cast member of the 1966 Batman movie, based on the 1966-68 Batman TV series. The movie had its world premier in Austin in the summer of 1966. In one of the interviews, Cesar Romero (in full Joker makeup but wearing an undershirt and smoking a cigarette) says one of his upcoming project is a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Romero had earlier played a villain in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By the time of the Austin television interview, production had begun on the show’s third season. In August of 1966, The Concrete Overcoat Affair, a two-part episode, would begin filming. Later, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would re-edit the show into a movie for international markets called The Spy With the Green Hat.

The plot of The Concrete Overcoat/The Spy With the Green Hat had U.N.C.L.E. enlisting the aid of three old mobsters, the Stiletto brothers, against Thrush, the criminal organization that was U.N.C.L.E.’s main opponent. Romero likely would have been portraying one of the Stiletto brothers. Initially the U.N.C.L.E. production team wanted Edward G. Robinson to play the Thrush chieftain of the story; instead, Jack Palace got the part.

Still, why did Romero bow out? We’ll probably never know. Romero died on Jan. 1, 1994. Key U.N.C.L.E. production staff of that era (producer Boris Ingster, associate producer Irv Pearlberg and supervising producer David Victor) are no longer with us. To view the Austin television station footage JUST CLICK HERE.

The Romero footage appears in the middle of the video. It begins with Lee Meriwhether (in full Catwoman costume), followed by Romero, followed by Adam West (also in full costume) and producer William Dozier (who also was the narrator of both the 1966 movie and the 1966-68 television series).