July 1963: U.N.C.L.E. presses on without Fleming

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s logo from a second-season episode

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s logo from a 2nd-season episode

With Ian Fleming out of the picture, producer Norman Felton continued to press on with his TV spy project that would eventually become The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

NBC was still interested, but Felton would have to make a pilot episode. NBC had been willing for dispense with a pilot had it been able to promote the show as being created by the James Bond author.

Sam Rolfe, who had been working on the project since March, continued writing a detailed outline for the show. It had gone from a five-page memo in May to a 40-page presentation in early July, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Rolfe elaborated on the character of Napoleon Solo and devised new characters, including Mr. Allison, the U.N.C.L.E. chief, and a Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin. Author Jon Heitland, in his 1986 The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book, wrote that Rolfe reworked ideas from a series he had proposed called The Dragons and St. George.

Felton hired Rolfe to write the script for the pilot in August and the first draft was submitted in mid-September, according to Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. Timeline. A second draft would be completed in October and Don Medford, who had credits extending back to 1951, was hired to direct.

The question now was who Felton would cast to bring Napoleon Solo to life.

JANUARY 2013 POST: DON MEDFORD, VERSATILE TV DIRECTOR, DIES

JUNE 2013 POST: JUNE 1963: IAN FLEMING SIGNS AWAY HIS U.N.C.L.E. RIGHTS

RE-POST: Ian Fleming cries U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Originally published May 2. Reposted today, May 28, the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s letter saying he wanted to pull out of the Solo television project.

May 1963 was an eventful month for James Bond author Ian Fleming.

It was THE MONTH that Dr. No finally reached the U.S. market after a slow rollout that began the previous October in the U.K. At last Americans, who’d heard about how President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s books, could sample the first film adaptation. Meanwhile, a second Bond film, From Russia With Love, was in production.

It was also the month that things were coming to a head with the television project that producer Norman Felton had wanted to title Ian Fleming’s Solo.

In the middle of the month, things were picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt from CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE:

Tuesday, May 14, 1963
New York entertainment lawyer Ronald S. Konecky, in a letter to Fleming, delivers his legal opinion that Solo is not an infringement on Eon’s James Bond film rights.

Tuesday, May 14, 1963

Sam Rolfe delivers five-page memo to Norman Felton outlining in print for the first time the Solo format developed to date — with an organization known as U.N.C.L.E., headed by a Mr. Allison, employing Solo and agents of all nationalities, “even Russians,” and recurrent encounters with an international criminal group called Thrush. Rolfe eliminates Doris Franklyn, who’s both a secretary to Solo’s boss and a part-time actress in the Fleming-Felton notes, adding Allison’s secretary Miss Marsidan, “who is fat, fifty and somewhat on the motherly side.”

According to the timeline compiled by Henderson, writer Rolfe agreed a few days later “to rewrite the existing Solo format, develop story ideas and make further contributions to the format.”

Meanwhile, Fleming was getting cold feet under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their company, Eon Productions. In the early 1990s. Rolfe said at an event called Spy Con that Felton told him that Fleming was scared of Saltzman in particular. (Rolfe’s talk is on a YOUTUBE VIDEO but the sound is very feint; the Saltzman anecdote is around the 17:57 mark.)

The truth of this story is hard to determine. All concerned (Fleming, Felton, Rolfe, Broccoli and Saltzman) are dead and Rolfe was told about it second hand. In any event, on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, the author wrote to the Ashley-Steiner Agency, where Phyllis Jackson, his U.S. agent worked, according to the Henderson timeline. The message: Fleming didn’t want to participate in Solo after all.

It was the beginning of the end for Ian Fleming’s Solo. Less than a month later, the author would sign away his rights to the show. Meanwhile, the James Bond films were gaining momentum and steps were being taken that would result in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. emerging in the place of Ian Fleming’s Solo.

May 1963: Ian Fleming cries U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

May 1963 was an eventful month for James Bond author Ian Fleming.

It was THE MONTH that Dr. No finally reached the U.S. market after a slow rollout that began the previous October in the U.K. At last Americans, who’d heard about how President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s books, could sample the first film adaptation. Meanwhile, a second Bond film, From Russia With Love, was in production.

It was also the month that things were coming to a head with the television project that producer Norman Felton had wanted to title Ian Fleming’s Solo.

In the middle of the month, things were picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt from CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE:

Tuesday, May 14, 1963
New York entertainment lawyer Ronald S. Konecky, in a letter to Fleming, delivers his legal opinion that Solo is not an infringement on Eon’s James Bond film rights.

Tuesday, May 14, 1963

Sam Rolfe delivers five-page memo to Norman Felton outlining in print for the first time the Solo format developed to date — with an organization known as U.N.C.L.E., headed by a Mr. Allison, employing Solo and agents of all nationalities, “even Russians,” and recurrent encounters with an international criminal group called Thrush. Rolfe eliminates Doris Franklyn, who’s both a secretary to Solo’s boss and a part-time actress in the Fleming-Felton notes, adding Allison’s secretary Miss Marsidan, “who is fat, fifty and somewhat on the motherly side.”

According to the timeline compiled by Henderson, writer Rolfe agreed a few days later “to rewrite the existing Solo format, develop story ideas and make further contributions to the format.”

Meanwhile, Fleming was getting cold feet under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their company, Eon Productions. In the early 1990s. Rolfe said at an event called Spy Con that Felton told him that Fleming was scared of Saltzman in particular. (Rolfe’s talk is on a YOUTUBE VIDEO but the sound is very feint; the Saltzman anecdote is around the 17:57 mark.)

The truth of this story is hard to determine. All concerned (Fleming, Felton, Rolfe, Broccoli and Saltzman) are dead and Rolfe was told about it second hand. In any event, on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, the author wrote to the Ashley-Steiner Agency, where Phyllis Jackson, his U.S. agent worked, according to the Henderson timeline. The message: Fleming didn’t want to participate in Solo after all.

It was the beginning of the end for Ian Fleming’s Solo. Less than a month later, the author would sign away his rights to the show. Meanwhile, the James Bond films were gaining momentum and steps were being taken that would result in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. emerging in the place of Ian Fleming’s Solo.

March 1963: Ian Fleming caught between two worlds

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Fifty years ago this month, Ian Fleming was a busy man. Maybe too busy. He would soon be caught between the worlds of movies and television.

Dr. No, the first movie based on one of his 007 novels, had gotten off to a promising start. But as March 1963 began, it still had yet to debut in a number of major markets, including the U.S. Production would begin a month later on From Russia With Love. That was good news for the author. But Bond still wasn’t a phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Fleming had another iron in the fire. According to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. For Your Eyes Only Web site:

March 1963
Ian Fleming, passing through New York on his way home to London after his annual stay at Goldeneye, discusses Solo with Phyllis Jackson.

She starts negotiations with MGM for Fleming’s participation in the series. NBC reconfirms that it will put an Ian Fleming TV series on the air without a pilot. At the same time, (producer Norman) Felton, realizing Fleming will not devote the time necessary to actually creating a concept ready for weekly production, enlists Sam Rolfe to develop a full series presentation.

Jackson was Fleming’s agent in the U.S. and was with the Ashley-Steiner Agency.

Presumably, Fleming had a copy of his You Only Live Twice novel manuscript in either his briefcase or luggage. The year before, in early 1962, Fleming had penned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service while in Jamaica and he had visited the Dr. No set. Readers wouldn’t discover for more than a year that Fleming has surprise in mind for the literary 007.

By early March 1963, it had been more than four months since Fleming had his first meetings in New York during late October 1962 with producer Felton to discuss a proposed television series to be called Solo that would feature a lead character named Napoleon Solo. Fleming hadn’t done the heavy lifting but his March ’63 meeting would seem to indicate he still remained interested in the project.

Within a few months, that would change. Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the producers of the 007 series, weren’t happy about Fleming’s potential new venture. According to the U.N.C.L.E. For Your Eyes Only site, Fleming was making counterproposals for his Solo deal as late as May 8. But on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, he writes to Ashley-Steiner Agency to indicate he wants out of the television project.

Saturday, June 8 – Wednesday, June 12, 1963

Jerry Leider of Ashley-Steiner travels through London and meets with Fleming, who tells Leider that Saltzman and Broccoli have pressured him to drop out of Solo.

Fleming’s final exit occurs June 26. He signs away his interest in the television show for one British pound. By that time, filming on From Russia With Love was well underway, with a world premier scheduled for the fall of 1963.. Meanwhile, Fleming wouldn’t live to see debut of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the television’s show new title, debut on Sept. 22, 1964.

For more, CLICK HERE to see the U.N.C.L.E. For Your Eyes Only Web site for significant 1962 dates. CLICK HERE for significant 1963 dates.

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.

October’s other Ian Fleming 50th anniversary

Ian Fleming

This month has seen the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, the first screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s spy hero, James Bond, as well as the world premier of Skyfall, the 23rd film in the Eon Production series.

Next week is the 50th anniversary of another milestone involving the author, but it’s not likely to get the same publicity.

Oct. 29 through Oct. 31 marks 50 years since Fleming met with television producer Norman Felton concerning a project that would emerge as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran on NBC from September 1964 to January 1968.

The two men met over three days in New York City about the project. Craig Henderson’s For Your Eyes Only Web site has a day-by-day account that you can read BY CLICKING HERE. In a 1997 interview, Felton (who passed away earlier this year at age 99) described how it was difficult to keep Fleming focused on the subject.

On the third, and final, day of meetings, Fleming produced some notes written on Western Union telegraph blanks. The one idea that Fleming has that would stick is naming the hero Napoleon Solo. Fleming would remain interested in the project until May 28, 1963, his 55th birthday and he’d finally sign away his rights on June 26, 1963.

The author was pressured by the producers of the Bond films, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, to abandon a television show they viewed as an unwelcome competitor. In any event, Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. involvement while brief, was eventful. He’d also end up supplying the name of April Dancer (which he intended as a Miss Moneypenny-type character), which would be used in the spinoff series, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

Dr. No’s 50th anniversary part II: the $40,000 man

Terence Young, wearing a Turnbull & Asser shirt.

Terence Young is heralded for establishing the James Bond film style when he directed 1962’s Dr. No. It was he who got star Sean Connery, who grew up in modest circumstances, familiar with Saville Row suits, Turnbull & Asser shirts and how to navigate a wine list. By many accounts (such as the Inside Dr. No documentary directed by John Cork), that’s all true.

He was also nobody’s first choice for the job. Sometimes, screen legends are molded by the fourth (or even fifth) option.

According to Inside Dr. No, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted an English director. Three — Guy Hamilton, Guy Green and Ken Hughes — said no.

Meanwhile, according to British film historian Adrian Turner, United Artists had an American in mind: Phil Karlson, known for tight, efficiently made movies such as 1955’s The Phenix City Story. He also worked in television, including helming a two-part 1959 presentation of The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The title? The Untouchables, which ended up launching the 1959-1963 television series.

Karlson’s agent asked for $75,000 to direct Dr. No and that took the American director out of the running, according to Turner. Meanwhile, Terence Young, who had directed films that Broccoli had made with former partner Irving Allen (The Red Beret/Paratrooper, Zarak and Tank Force) emerged as a candidate and snared the job. He received $40,000, according to Turner’s account in Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

As it turned out, the $40,000 man and the subject matter were made for each other. In addition to his appreciation for the finer things in life, Young had been a tank commander in World War II. Thus, he had experienced danger for real. By the time Dr. No went into production, Young had 17 films as a director under his belt. He knew Ian Fleming’s Bond and worked to bring that to the screen.

Young would direct three of the first four films in the Broccoli-Saltzman 007 series, departing after 1965’s Thunderball. His record would include the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark. But many of his other later films aren’t terribly well remembered (The Klansman and Inchon, among them).

Barbara Broccoli, now co-boss of Eon Productions, said in an interview published at Comingsoon.net that, “We’ve always wanted a director that would put a stamp on the movie, so we’ve never been one to hire directors for hire.”

Terence Young was a director for hire. His price for Dr. No was $40,000. It ended up being among the best-spent money in the history of the film series that celebrates its golden anniversary this year.

Meanwhile, CLICK HERE to view an obituary of Terence Young that originally ran in the fan newsletter For Your Eyes Only.

NEXT: “A pretty rough diamond”