UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

U.N.C.L.E.’s connection to The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

This week, Turner Classic Movies televised a series of spy films, including The Prize (1963). The movie, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had a number of connections to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some of this stemmed from how U.N.C.L.E. was also produced at MGM. In any case, here’s a partial list of U.N.C.L.E. ties to The Prize.

Crew: These names show up on just about every production either produced by MGM or made at MGM in the 1960s: George W. Davis (co-art director), Henry Grace (co-set decorator) and Franklin Milton (sound or recording supervisor). Another name that shows up in many MGM-related productions is William Tuttle, who headed MGM’s makeup department.

(Totally as an aside: Grace resembled Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, he played the Allied supreme commander in 1962’s The Longest Day.)

The Prize also includes a score by Jerry Goldsmith. At this point, Goldsmith was transitioning from a television composer to a movie composer. Despite that, Goldsmith scored the pilot episode for U.N.C.L.E. as well as two additional episodes.

Speculation: The Spy Commander has long wondered if Goldsmith, in his early 1960s work, was influenced by Bernard Herrman. Both Herrmann and Goldsmith did work at CBS during this period. In his score for The Prize, there are bits of Goldsmith’s score that evokes Herrmann (this also applies to Goldsmith’s score for 1964’s In Harm’s Way).

Cast: The Prize (which, essentially is a star vehicle for Paul Newman) includes a number of cast members who would later appear in U.N.C.L.E. Among them:

Leo G. Carroll: Played U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. In the Prize, he plays a small, but key, role as a Swedish count who helps administer the Nobel Prizes.

John Banner: Most famous for playing Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, the character actor also played one of a group of scientists trying to take over the world in The Neptune Affair in U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. In The Prize, he plays a newscaster during the movie’s title sequence.

Teru Shimada: In U.N.C.L.E., he plays the head of an Asian country who’s the target of an assassination plot in Season Two’s Part Two, Alexander the Greater Affair. In The Prize, he’s another newscaster in the title sequence. Shimada also played Mr. Osato in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Kevin McCarthy: He played the villain in the U.N.C.L.E. Season Two episode The Moonglow Affair (which was also the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). In The Prize, he plays a Nobel Prize winner.

Ben Wright: The character actor was in two U.N.C.L.E. episodes (The Deadly Games Affair and The Girls of Nazarone Affair). In The Prize, he plays a reporter who asks question of Andrew Craig (Paul Newman’s character) at a press conference.

Noel Drayton: Played a physician who conducts an autopsy on a seal in U.N.C.L.E.’s The Finny Foot Affair. In The Prize, he plays a policeman trying to verify what seems to be a wild story from Newman’s character.

Miscellaneous

Irving Wallace: The Prize is based on a novel by Wallace, who also had written some episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, which was co-created by Sam Rolfe, who developed U.N.C.L.E. Wallace’s nephew was Danny Biederman, a first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan who (with Robert Short) attempted to produce an U.N.C.L.E. movie in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

 

EPILOGUE: The U.N.C.L.E. movie that wasn’t

A sample of The End of the World Affair

Solo and Kuryakin in peril in The End Of The World Affair

The other day, this blog published a POST about the storyline for a late 1970s-early 1980s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that was never produced. It turns out that wasn’t the entire story.

About 20 years ago, the Robert Short-Danny Biederman story was almost adapted into a comic book — except it wasn’t published. Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say.

Background: In 1993, Millenium Publications, an independent publisher of comic books, came out with a two-part comic book based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. called The Birds of Prey Affair.

Millenium planned a second U.N.C.L.E. foray, to be based on the aborted Short-Biederman movie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Feature Film. The title would have been The End Of The World Affair.

The project ran into problems. There were management changes at Millenium while the project was underway. Eventually, the art was completed. However, the studio that controlled U.N.C.L.E., which would have been Turner Entertainment at the time, wanted an increase in the licensing fee. (Turner was acquired by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros., in 1996). As a result, nothing was published.

Thus, the imaginative story line again was denied an audience. The tale involved an all-out assault on U.N.C.L.E. by Thrush, the villainous organization of the original 1964-68 series. Also, the story revealed that Thrush already exerted control over the world through economic means, including controlling ownership of multi-national conglomerates.

Two decades later, a new U.N.C.L.E. movie is scheduled to begin production in September. This one will be a 1960s period piece, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. It remains to be seen what the new film, to be directed by Guy Ritchie, has in store or whether it can match the scope of the Short-Biederman story.

1979: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that wasn’t

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The impending start of production of a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a reminder of other attempts at reviving U.N.C.L.E. One of the most ambitious story lines was devised in the late 1970s as an attempt at a feature film.

Robert Short and Danny Biederman pitched what they called The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Feature Film. The Short-Biederman tale involved an all-out assault by Thrush, the villainous organization of the 1964-68 series, against U.N.C.L.E. Short and Biederman also intended that Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprise their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

What’s more, according to a 17-page outline dated April 1979, Thrush “has gained a solid grasp on the world’s economy by having bought controlling interest in numerous multi-national corporations.”

A more elaborate 74-page treatment was later written but the outline provides an idea what this version of U.N.C.L.E. would have been like.

What follows are a few examples:

— We witness the destruction of U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters.

— The “innocent” character is Brandy Burns, an advice columnist for The New York Times. (For a movie made in 1979-80, the New York Daily News or New York Post would have been closer to real life.)

— The femme fatale is Serena, played by Senta Berger in The Double Affair of the original series or The Spy With My Face, the movie version based on that episode.

— Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief of the original show isn’t seen but we’re told by the end of the 17-page outline is still alive. LEO G. CARROLL, who played Waverly in the original series had died in 1972.

— Dr. Egret, a Thrush master of disguise who appeared in two first-season episodes, makes an appearance late in the story.

— The Thrush Ultimate Computer, only seen in one second-season episode (where it was blown up), plays a prominent role in the story.

— Late in the story we’re told that Thrush’s ruling council consists of “major world figures known to have died during the past several decades. As it turns out, each death had been a phony, staged to provide the individuals a means of exiting one position of power and enter another.”

No specific examples are given, but had a movie been given the go ahead in 1979-80, the possibilities are endless. John F. Kennedy (died 1963)? Robert F. Kennedy (died 1968)? Joseph Stalin (died 1953)? Mao Zedong (died 1976)? Nikita Khrushchev (died 1971)?

In the end, it was not to be.

The Short-Biederman project kicked round until the spring of 1982, according to CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE ON THE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEBSITE. Sometimes it was pitched as a made-for-television movie as an alternate for a feature film. Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. timeline says in 1981 Short and Biederman lined up Laura Antonelli to play Serena, Jane Seymour as the innocent and Klaus Kinski as the villain.

A 1983 TV movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was made instead and was broadcast in April 1983. Vaughn and McCallum reprised the Solo and Kuryakin roles and Robert Short was technical adviser.

There hasn’t been an official U.N.C.L.E. production since. That will change if director Guy Ritchie begins filming his U.N.C.L.E. movie in early September with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Solo and Kuryakin.

NEVER-MADE U.N.C.L.E. SCRIPTS:
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. EPISODE GUIDE

DECEMBER 2010 POST:
DANNY BIEDERMAN’S SPY-FI COLLECTION

HMSSWEBLOG POSTS ABOUT THE U.N.C.L.E. MOVIE: CLICK HERE

Two spy events of note

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–In Southern California, there’s an April 30 showing of Live And Let Die at the Alex Theater in Glendale.

You can read the full details by CLICKING HERE. here’s a preview from the Web site:

Glendale Arts and Prospect House Entertainment present the final film in a James Bond 007 – 50th Anniversary Series: LIVE AND LET DIE.

Roger Moore debuts as suave secret agent James Bond, who’s sent to the United States to go after a master criminal scheming to take over the country by turning the populace into heroin junkies. Paul McCartney provides the Oscar-nominated title tune.

The film features: Roger Moore (James Bond), Yaphet Kotto (Kananga/Mr. Big), Jane Seymour (Solitaire), and Gloria Hendry (Rosie).

Event includes a Q&A with appearances by Gloria Hendry (Rosie).

Special appearance by Danny Biederman author of ‘The Incredible World of Spy-Fi’ Sponsored by Larry Edmunds Bookstore.

Tickets are $15 and there may be additional fees.

UPDATE (April 29): Biederman said on his Facebook page that there have been program changes and his discussion won’t be taking place.

–Michele Brittany, a scholar of popular culture, with an emphasis on the spy and espionage genre, is accepting proposals for an anthology. Some details from an e-mail:

My goal has been to expand the scholarly dialogue regarding the expansive influence the Bond franchise has had on culture in all media forms….I have signed a contract to edit a collection of essays analyzing media inspired by James Bond.

Michelle Brittany has a blog and you’re interested in submitted an essay for her project, you can CLICK HERE. That post includes contact information.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

Warner Bros, which wants to make a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has seen two possible leading men, George Cooney and Bradley Cooper drop out of the project, is finding it hard to pull off a remake of the 1964-68 televison series.

Welcome to the club.

What follows is a guide to *some* of the previous attempts. Maybe this possible movie really is cursed.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous orgnaization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983:: The only post-series U.N.C.L.E. project, the made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011:: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. As of now, nothing concrete has occurred. Whether that remains the case remains to be seen. Still, the odds seem long that Ian Fleming’s other spy (created with Norman Felton) will make a comeback.

UPDATE: For crying out loud, according to THIS STORY ON THE PLAYLIST WEB SITE, Johnny Depp wanted to play the Illya Kuryakin role played by David McCallum in the original show. But when Depp backed out, that complicated matters.

Wo Fat 2.0 now No. 1 criminal mastermind of all time

On the May 16 season finale of CBS’s Hawaii Five-0, it was revealed that Wo Fat controlled the Governor of Hawaii. That means he controlled the state. Now, criminal masterminds like to try to take over the world, or least signficant parts of it. But they fail. The revamped Wo Fat, it appears, has taken more territory than his mastermind colleagues. Therefore, he must be the No. 1 criminal mastermind of all time.

You scoff? Well, consider the following:

— Original Wo Fat. He tried to take over China (in the Nine Dragons episode of the original Hawaii Five-O). FAIL. He tried to develop a Star Wars-style weapon system two years before the Reagan administration announced such a project in the original Five-O’s final episode. He couldn’t even recognize that Steve McGarrett 1.0 was right in front of him wearing a fake wig and goatee. BIG FAIL.

— Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE. He tried to “inaugurate a little war” between the U.S. and Soviet Union so China could take over (You Only Live Twice). He tried to conduct an auction where nuclear supremecy would go to the highest bidder (Diamonds Are Forever). FAIL.

— Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me) and Hugo Drax (Moonraker), each tried to kill off the world’s population and they would take over. FAIL.

— Franz Sanchez (Licence to Kill) had off the president of Isthmus to leave him alone. You could argue he had de facto control of the country except he got killed off by the end of the movie. FAIL.

— GALAXY tried to take over the world with a weather-controlling maching (Our Man Flint). FAIL.

— BIGO tried to take over the world in Matt Helm movies. FAIL.

— Thrush tried to take over the world in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on multiple occasions. FAIL.

— KAOS tried to take over the world multiple times on Get Smart. FAIL.

Clearly, Wo Fat 2.0 is on to something. Instead of a grand goal (taking over the world, taking over a country), he has broken it down to smaller, accomplishable parts. Of course, he did kill the Governor in the May 16 episode, so it’s not entirely clear his control over the state of Hawaii will continue. Still, being an accomplished criminal mastermind, he may have a Plan B. The beauty of Wo Fat’s situation is *nobody knows he has control of Hawaii* except Steve McGarrett 2.0. And McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) is in jail for the Governor’s murder.

Also, Wo Fat didn’t take over just any state. He took over “our extended finger into the Pacific (Ocean),” as the Governor (that is the original Governor from the original Five-O pilot, played by Lew Ayres) put it. That’s not to be confused with the Governor (Jean Smart) who was under Wo Fat’s control in the new Five-0

This is even more impressive because Wo Fat 2.0 (Mark Dacascos) have probably has *less than 20 minutes of screen time* all season long.

It should be noted that Robert Short and Danny Biederman, who tried to develop a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in the early 1980s, had a storyline where Thrush had taken over the world (economically) but nobody knew it. That project, though, never saw the light of day, so it doesn’t count.

Congrats, Wo Fat 2.0.