Movie draws attention to U.N.C.L.E.’s origins

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

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie comes out this week, prompting the Los Angeles Times to examine the origins of the 1964-68 series it’s based on.

The story looks at a number of angles, including how 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the first few months of the show’s development.

Susan King of the Times talked to the likes of Dean Hargrove, one of the main writers on the show; Steven Jay Rubin, author of books about James Bond; film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who produced a series of U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack recordings in the 2000s; and Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

Here’s an excerpt:

Young moviegoers checking out the feature film version Aug. 14 starring Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin probably don’t realize the original TV series existed — let alone know of the show’s impact on baby boomers.

“Man From U.N.C.L.E.” hit at the right time. Noted Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, “The same excitement seeing the Beatles live on television which happened a few months before, I think the same thing happened when ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ debuted in fall 1964.

“There was something cool about it. It created an emotional resonance for TV. It became the most popular show on campus in 1964, ’65 and ’66 — the first two seasons. It was a cultural phenomenon.”

Separately, The Hollywood Reporter talk about how U.N.C.L.E. MAY HERALD THE RETURN OF SPY ACRONYMS.

U.N.C.L.E. helped popularize such acronyms, although Marvel Studios has beaten the U.N.C.L.E. movie to the punch by including SHIELD (which didn’t debut until a year after U.N.C.L.E.) in its films.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in knowing more about the show, CLICK HERE for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, produced by The Spy Command.

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 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.

"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.

Gone (and mostly forgotten): The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Over the weekend, on a Facebook group, there interesting give and take about a television series that doesn’t get much attention these days: The Name of the Game.

The 1968-71 series consisted of 90-minute episodes dealing with three major figures at a magazine publishing company: its proprietor, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry); a top reporter/writer, Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa); and Dan Farrell, an FBI agent turned journalist (Robert Stack). Universal dubbed this the “wheel,” with rotating leads. Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell would end up assisting all three.

The “wheel” concept would become a staple at Universal with the NBC Mystery Movie in the 1970s.

There’s a bit of spy connection. During the series, there was an episode that revealed Glenn Howard worked for the OSS during World War II. The episode concerned accusations by a Washington politician that Howard used an OSS operation to obtain the funds he’d use to start his publishing empire.

Essentially, Glenn Howard was a younger, handsomer version of Henry Luce (1898-1967), who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports llustrated. Like Luce, Glenn Howard was an influential man and traveled the globe.

The series had its origins with Fame Is the Name of the Game, a 1966 TV movie starring Franciosa as Jeff Dillon.

That TV movie also included George Macready as Glenn Howard, Dillon’s boss. But when NBC decided on a series, either Universal, NBC, or both, decided they needed a better known actor. As a result, Gene Barry, who had already done at least two Universal TV movies by this point, got the nod.

The Name of the Game attempted to deal with contemporary issues: the environment, race relations, corruption.

Over time, the 90-minute format fell out of favor for television syndication. The preferred formats are either 30 or 60 minutes or two hours. As a result, The Name of the Game is not seen very much these days. The show ran 76 episodes — hardly a flop, but syndicators usually prefer at least 100 episodes.

Nevertheless, a number of talented people worked on the show. Among them was Steven Spielberg, who directed a third-season Glenn Howard episode about environmental dangers. That episode, LA 2017, has a Twilight Zone quality. Did Howard really travel into the future or what it just a dream?

Other crew members included Norman Lloyd (producer of some Franciosa episodes), Dean Hargrove (a writer-producer who worked on Glenn Howard episodes), Steven Bochco (who was story editor for the Robert Stack episodes the last two seasons) and Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits who produced the first-season Franciosa episodes.

The show also featured a snappy theme by Dave Grusin, seen below:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. celebrates its 50th anniversary

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 50 years ago today with the telecast of The Vulcan Affair on NBC.

The series had false starts. First Ian Fleming was a participant, then after several months he wasn’t, bowing out to pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Then there was threatened legal action from Eon Productions stemming from the show’s original title, Solo.

In turn, the series got a new title and the legal problems went away. The makers of Goldfinger did make one change in their film. A gangster named Solo died the most spectacular death among hoodlums invited to Goldfginer’s Kentucky stud farm, a change from earlier drafts and from Fleming’s original novel. (Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger details the changes in the movie’s script.)

Nor did U.N.C.L.E. get off to an easy start. Airing on Tuesday nights, it was up against The Red Skeleton Show on CBS, which nearly led to cancelation before a mid-season switch to Monday nights.

But the audience discovered the series, eventually ensuring a renewal for a second season for 1965-66, which would be its highest-rated campaign.

Executive Producer Norman Felton soldiered on. His developer-producer Sam Rolfe departed after the first season and things weren’t quite the same, certainly not as consistent. Various other producers — David Victor, Boris Ingster and Anthony Spinner among them — put their own stamp on the show with varying degrees of success. Major contributions were made by writers such as Alan Caillou (who arguably shaped the Illya Kuryakin character), Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields.

It remains to be seen whether U.N.C.L.E. can resonate with modern audiences. A movie version won’t be out until next year, and some fans aren’t crazy about the idea. It is back on U.S. television, via MeTV, which is showing it on Sunday nights.

Regardless, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.

Luca Calvani is U.N.C.L.E. movie villain, Deadline says

Luca Calvani

Luca Calvani

Luca Calvani will play the lead villain in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, the Deadline entertainment news site said IN A SHORT ITEM. Here’s an even briefer excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Luca Calvani, is set to play the lead villain role of Alexander in director Guy Ritchie‘s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at Warner Bros. (snip) The U.N.C.L.E. character is a wealthy Italian shipping heir who smuggled Nazi gold at end of WWII. Junior’s behind the sale of nuclear weapons.

What Deadline didn’t mention: Rip Torn played Alexander, a wealthy industrialist who idolized Alexander the Great in the two-part episode that led off the second season of the original 1964-68 series. In fact, the character’s real name was Baxter. He just decided to adopt the name of Alexander.

What’s more, the TV series villain wanted to take over the world and break each of the Ten Commandments in doing so. The Rip Torn version of Alexander perished at the end of Part II. The two-part story was penned by Dean Hargrove, one of the best writers on the original show.

Calvani wasn’t mentioned in THE WARNER BROS. RELEASE formally announcing the U.N.C.L.E. movie, which stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

The fact that director Ritchie and his producing partner/co-screenwriter Lionel Wigram is using the Alexander name suggests some degree of familiarity with the original source material. We’ll see.

For more information about the original Alexander, CLICK HERE and read the review for episodes 30 and 31. Also, the two-part episode was edited into the movie One Spy Too Many. Here’s the trailer:

UPDATE, You can CLICK HERE to see a story about Calvani’s casting from The Wrap entertainment news Web site.

RE-POST: The 45th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E.

Originally published Dec. 28. Re-posted for the actual anniversary.

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)


Jan. 15 marks the 45th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also the beginning of the end for 1960s spymania.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.” Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty. NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969. NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but abandoned spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done. Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

45th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)


Jan. 15 marks the 45th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also the beginning of the end for 1960s spymania.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.” Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty. NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969. NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but abandoned spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done. Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

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