Historian notes U.N.C.L.E., NxNW anniversaries

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Historian Michael Beschloss used his Twitter feed to note two spy-entertainment landmarks: The first telecast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the end of production on North by Northwest.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted on Sept. 22, 1964 on NBC. The show had been in development for almost two years.

Producer Norman Felton, invited to discuss doing a TV series based on Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book, instead pitched an adventure show.

The network said it’d commit to a series without a pilot episode if Felton could get Ian Fleming on board. The two had discussions in October 1962 in New York. In June 1963, Fleming dropped out because of pressure by 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Despite Fleming’s departure, the project continued, although a pilot would have to be made before NBC committed to a series. Writer Sam Rolfe did the heavy lifting on scripting the pilot and would be the day-to-day producer on the show’s first season. The series paired Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (the character name being one of Fleming’s surviving contributions) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin.

North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Ernest Lehman, would set the style for a lot of 1960s spy entertainment. It balanced drama and humor as Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill would dodge spies, with a climax on Mount Rushmore. The film ended production in September 1958 and would be released in 1959.

Here are Beschloss’s tweets:

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UPDATE (9:30 p.m. New York time): Beschloss was busy with other 1960s TV shows, including Get Smart.

 

U.N.C.L.E. script: The show’s popularity surges Part I

Lobby card for One Spy Too Many, the movie edited from Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had escaped cancellation in its first season. At the start of its second, the show’s popularity was surging.

Major changes were underway. Sam Rolfe, who had written the show’s pilot and produced its first season, had departed. Executive producer Norman Felton, who had co-created Napoleon Solo with Ian Fleming, moved over David Victor, producer of Felton’s Dr. Kildare series, to the same post at U.N.C..L.E.

Dean Hargrove, who had scripted two U.N.C.L.E. episodes late in the first season, was hired as “staff writer.” At least that’s how he described it in a 2007 interview that was part of an U.N.C.L.E. home video release.

Hargrove Takes Charge

Hargrove wrote a two-part story, Alexander the Greater Affair, early in pre-production for the second season. It would not be the first story filmed. But NBC would lead off the second season of U.N.C.L.E. with Alexander in September 1965.

NBC would air the two-parter only once After that, it’d be an MGM movie, One Spy Too Many. As it turned out, the TV version wouldn’t be seen (officially, anyway) until July 4, 2000, the final U.N.C.L.E. telecast on cable network TNT.

Hargrove’s script, though, has been available for years. I’ve had one since the 1990s. Re-reading it, you get the sense that U.N.C.L.E. was mostly a smooth-running machine by this point.

The script is pretty close to what NBC viewers saw in 1965. A few scenes are longer, but that’s not unusual. The script’s title page is dated June 14, 1965. Some pages are dated as early as June 1. Some pages are dated as late as July 1965.

We wish to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement without whose assistance this blog post would not be possible.

The Ten Commandments

The plot concerns the mysterious industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn), whose real name is Baxter. Alexander is described in the script as “tall, intelligent-looking, enigmatic” and 32 years old. The part was cast with Rip Torn, 34 at the time the episode was broadcast.

Alexander intends to implement a coup at an unnamed Asian country. That will be part of his plan to eventually rule the world.

Alexander wants to do this with flair. He will have broken every one of the Ten Commandments by the time the coup takes effect.

The industrialist’s activities have come to the attention of U.N.C.L.E. after he has stolen “will gas” from the U.S. Army. One of Alexander’s companies was an Army supplier. So he was invited to a demonstration.

Alexander Waverly, the Number One of U.N.C.L.E.’s Section One gives Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) their respective assignments.

SOLO
Which leaves me with…

WAVERLY
Mr. Alexander. It’s most important to recover this gas, Mr. Solo, there was enough of it stole to cause considerable difficult if used improperly. Also, its composition is top secret.

(snip)

SOLO
I’ll find Mr. Aleander and if has the gas…
(wry smile)
I’ll ask him to return it.

Alexander’s primary lackey is Parviz, “a mustachioed Turk.” The part would be cast with character actor David Sheiner. He played an almost identical part in the I Spy episode Carry Me Back to Old Tsing Tao. His appearance and accent in both series is virtually identical.

However, when Sheiner was called back for extra scenes for One Spy Too Many, he’s wearing a bald cap. Sheiner also appeared in a later second-season U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Nowhere Affair. There, he’s wearing a hairpiece.

Meet Tracey

Along the way, Alexander’s ex-wife, Tracey (Dorothy Provine) shows up. She was rich when she married Alexander. She wants the million dollars she had Skipping ahead,

Tracey is the “innocent” for this story. However, I suspect this isn’t exactly what Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe had in mind when devising the show. Originally, the “innocent” was supposed to be a surrogate for the audience, someone who was “ordinary.” Tracey isn’t exactly “ordinary.” But, hey, that’s how things go.

Chess Game 

Skipping ahead, Solo and Illya crash a party Alexander is throwing. Alexander has already abducted Tracey, so she’s there also.

Solo has been investigating, but he’s getting some heat from Parviz. Thankfully (from Solo’s perspective), Alexander likes to play chess with human chess pieces (in this case the party guests). So Solo takes Alexander up on his challenge and avoids problems with Parviz.

The party is part of Alexander’s plans. Alexander explains it to Tracey.

ALEXANDER
The party that I’m holding this evening to honor Prince and Princess Phanong has a special significance. The Princess is an admirer of mine. Her husband, however, is an obsessively jealous man. He misinterprets the Princess’ appreciation for me.

TRACEY
Just how much does she appreciate you? If you don’t mind my asking.

ALEXANDER
(matter of fact)
She worships me. I allow it because I think it’s healthy for a young woman to have an idol.

Tracy knows better than to laugh, so she tries to appear very sincere.

The Princess is described as “a beautiful French girl in her middle twenties.” The part was cast with Donna Michelle, a one-time Playboy playmate. The prince was cast with veteran character actor James Hong.

Anyway, when we get to the chess game, there are some details that didn’t make the final version.

ALEXANDER
It’s a shame your husband was detained. A major disappointment.
(smiles)
Now when do you suppose he will arrive?

PRINCESS
(smiles knowingly)
The Prince received an emergency call to go and see his mother. I suspect she’ll keep keep him occupied for some time. They’re very close.

ALEXANDER
Well then, let’s begin the entertainment.

Solo prepares to play chess with Alexander. There’s another exchange that wouldn’t make the final version.

WOMAN – SOLO’S POV

A matronly woman standing on one of his square.

WOMAN (smiles)
I’m your queen.

RESUME – SOLO

SOLO (smiles wryly)
I’ll try very hard not to lose you.

The game unfolds. The script refers different diagrams that weren’t part of the script I have. After a few moves, Alexander makes a comment that doesn’t appear in the show.

ALEXANDER
I see. The Vienna gabmit. Rather pedestrian, Mr. Solo. Pawn takes pawn.

The script moves the game ahead. Solo sacrifices his Queen. “The matronly woman looks over at Solo, somewhat hurt,” according to the stage directions. But Solo puts Alexander into checkmate. Solo celebrates his win by dancing with the princess. What follows pretty much follows the final version.

“It’s lucky for you I’m a busy man,” Solo says while not drawing a revolver.

Suddenly, Solo is confronted by PRINCE PHANONG. The Prince slaps Solo.

PHANONG
I will kill any man who makes indecent advances to my wife. Let this be a warning to you.

The people around them are shocked. Even more so when Solo draws his revolver. (emphasis added.)

SOLO
It’s lucky for you I’m a busy man.

The problem: Solo never carried a revolver unless he relieved one off a thug. The U.N.C.L.E. Special was a semi-automatic pistol. The main version was based on the Walther P-38. Evidently, despite having written two U.N.C.L.E. episodes prior to this, Hargrove didn’t know much about firearms.

Later, Solo, Illya and Tracey check out a rock quarry owned by Alexander. They encounter his parents, Harry and Miriam Baxter, who are kept prisoners.

Middle-aged HARRY BAXTER, dressed in tattered evening clothes and middle-aged MIRIAM BAXTER, dressed in the ragged remains of a formal gown stand at the bottom of the pit. The Man holds a pick-axe in his hand, the woman lowers a wheelbarrow full of rocks to the ground as they look thi way. Their feet are chained.

The scene was only shown in the TV version. It would edited out of One Spy Too Many. In the TV version, David McCallum’s Illya has a line not in the script. “Let’s get those chains off!” It’s a great moment. Was it a last-minute revision in the script? Or a McCallum ad-lib? I don’t know.

Suffice to say, the U.N.C.L.E. agents rescue Alexander’s parents after a chase sequence. The agents also head to an ancient Greek temple where Alexander is running things.

Solo in a tight spot at the end of Part I.

Tables Are Turned

Solo gets to explain how he figured out the Ten Commandments angle and how this was all a trap. Nevertheless, Alexander gets the upper hand.

ALEXANDER
You see, Mr. Solo, you’ve only scratched the surface. I am breaking the universal law of morality — call them the Ten Commandments if you like — but for a special reason.

The script (as in the TV version) ends with a cliffhanger. Solo is tied up, a scimitar swinging ever closer to him. Illya and Tracey are tied together, held above a bottomless pit, with a candle burning the rope.

ANGLE – ILLYA AND TRACEY

TRACEY
Now what are we going to do?

ANGLE – SOLO AND THE SCIMTAR

The huge blade swings down, getting closer and close.

SOLO
The best we can.

FADE OUT

END OF PART i

Thrilling Cities audio book available

Cover to a 2009 edition of Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book

An audio book version of Ian Fleming’s 1963 book Thrilling Cities is now available, Ian Fleming Publications said Sept. 12.

Thrilling Cities was a non-fiction book by Fleming. It was based on a series of stories he did for The Sunday Times about important cities around the world.

The audio book is narrated by actor Barnaby Edwards.

It is available at Amazon U.K. and the website of W.F. Howes Ltd. 

Thrilling Cities, indirectly, also begat the creation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran from September 1964 to January 1968.

Producer Norman Felton was approached whether the book could be made into a television show. Felton had access to gallies. He decided it couldn’t but made a pitch for an adventure show. Ian Fleming was involved in the project from October 1962 until mid-1963.

50th 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)

Originally published Dec. 28, 2012. Adjusted to note it’s now the 50th anniversary along with a few other tweaks.

Jan. 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also a sign that 1960s spymania was drawing to a close.

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 shifted away from spy story lines 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.

Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.: More than a footnote

Ian Fleming

This weekend marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming.

Understandably, there were the usual observations of his passing. After all, without Fleming, we wouldn’t have James Bond movies or the 1960s spy craze.

After all these years, however, there’s an oddity. That is, Fleming’s connection to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

U.N.C.L.E. originated because there was interest in turning Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into some kind of television show.

That led to television producer (who concluded the book would not be the basis of a show) into doing a pitch for something different. In turn, that led to NBC saying it Fleming could be enticed into participating, it’d buy the series without a pilot being produced.

In turn, that led to meetings between Felton and Fleming in New York in October 1962. In turn, that led to Felton writing up ideas and Fleming (after days without much being accomplished) writing on 11 pages of Western Union telegram blanks. In turn, that led to Felton employing Sam Rolfe to concoct something that went beyond far beyond the initial Felton-Fleming ideas.

Eventually, Fleming exited the project (under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), selling off his interest for 1 British pound.

Regardless, without Fleming, U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t exist given the history with Thrilling Cities. But some long-time (i.e. original) U.N.C.L.E. fans hesitate to acknowledge that. Felton and Rolfe did the heavy lifting — there’s no denying that at all. But Thrilling Cities was the catalyst.

Also, Fleming’s idea of naming the hero Napoleon Solo (Felton’s initial idea was Edgar Solo) was huge. The original idea was Solo would be an ordinary looking fellow. But a character named Napoleon Solo was not going to be your next door neighbor or the guy in the apartment down the hall.

At the same time, Bond movie fans don’t even consider it. And Ian Fleming Publications, run by Fleming’s heirs, don’t even mention U.N.C.L.E. in the IFP timeline of Fleming’s life. 

Fleming was connected to U.N.C.L.E. for less than eight months (late October 1962 to June 1963). Not an enormous amount of time but more than just a footnote.

It is what it is, as the saying going. The 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t give a credit to either Sam Rolfe or Ian Fleming, while Felton (who died in 2012) got an “executive consultant” credit. Ironically, one of Fleming’s 1962 ideas — of Solo being a good cook — was included in the film.

It would appear that U.N.C.L.E. will remain Fleming’s bastard child (figuratively, of course) now and forever.

Fred Koenekamp, director of photography, dies

Fred Koenekamp

Fred J. Koenekamp, an Oscar winning director of photography, has died, according to an announcement on Facebook by cinematographer Roy H. Wagner. He was 94.

Koenekamp received an Oscar for his work on 1974’s The Towering Inferno. He was also nominated for photographing Patton and Islands in the Stream.

He graduated to feature films after his work on television. That included 90 of 105 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Koenekamp was twice nominated for an Emmy for his U.N.C.L.E. photography.

Koenekamp was the son of cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp (1891-1992). The elder Koenekamp began his career at the Mack Sennett Keystone Studio early in the 20th century, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fred Koenekamp got his start at RKO as a film loader, according to a biography on the Turner Classic Movies website. He worked his way up to camera operator on movies such as 1955’s Kismet and 1957’s Raintree County.

By 1963, he became director of photography, working on the MGM television series The Lieutenant. The show was created and produced by Gene Roddenberry, with Norman Felton as executive producer.

Fred Koenekamp title card from a fourth-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Lieutenant only lasted the 1963-64. Felton hired Koenekamp for his new series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The series pilot had been photographed by Joseph Biroc. Koenekamp and Biroc would both work on The Towering Inferno and shared the Oscar for that movie.

Koenekamp would remain on U.N.C.L.E. until part way through the show’s fourth, and final, season. However, Koenekamp would have one final U.N.C.L.E. credit when he photographed the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Koenekamp also subbed as director of photography for two episodes of the Mission: Impossible television series.

The cinematographer’s career extended into the 1990s, according to the IMDB.COM ENTRY. He was among the U.N.C.L.E. crew members who appeared at The Golden Anniversary Affair, a 2014 event in Los Angeles celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary.

UPDATE (6:30 p.m.): Variety has posted a short obituary that states Koenekamp died on May 31. A memorial service has been scheduled for June 17, Variety said.

UPDATE: 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

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

Originally posted May 18. Re-posting (with some tweaks and additions) today, Dec. 1, the date of the actual anniversary.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary today. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

As far as those two geeky incidents? I don’t really have regrets. Felton died in 2012 and Vaughn on Nov. 11 of this year. My interactions with them may have been awkward. But at least I did gain some insight because of them.

In particular, I remember Vaughn talking about the end of the series at one of the collectibles shows. He said he wasn’t crushed about the show being canceled.  “I just went on to the next thing I had to do.”

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.