The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 55th anniversary

Familiar third-season publicity still for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted and updated from a Sept. 22, 2014 post

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 55 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.)

Rough Start

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 cancellation 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 (1913-2012) faced other challenges.

His developer-producer Sam Rolfe (1924-1993) 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.

Time Takes Its Toll

Few of the creative personnel are still with us. In the five years since the show’s 50th anniversary, time has taken its toll. Frequent U.N.C.L.E. director Joseph Sargent died in December 2014, three months after the anniversary. Star Robert Vaughn died in 2016. Fred Koenekamp, who work as director of photography on U.N.C.L.E. got him movie jobs, passed away in 2017. Peter Allan Fields died earlier this year at 84.

Dean Hargrove

There are still survivors. David McCallum just celebrated his 86th birthday. Dean Hargrove, 81, in a long interview in March with the Writer’s Guild Foundation provided some insights into the show. He acknowledged it put him on the map, setting up a long and successful career as a TV writer-producer.

The franchise is in limbo. A 2015 movie based on the series wasn’t a financial success. There was talk of trying to get a sequel going but there’s no sign much is happening.

Hargrove, in the interview this year, said studio Warner Bros. may have simply waited too long to do a movie version.

All of that is a story for another day. For now, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.

Peter Allan Fields, U.N.C.L.E. writer, dies

Movie poster for The Spy in the Green Hat, movie version of The Concrete Overcoat Affair, scripted by Peter Allan Fields

Peter Allan Fields, one of the key writers of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. whose career also extended to The Six Million Dollar Man and Star Trek, has died, according to the Gizmodo website.

He was 84, according to his Wikipedia entry.

Fields had worked at the William Morris Agency. He switched careers to television writing.

Midway during The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s first season, he was assigned to write an U.N.C.L.E. script.

In the documentary that was part of a 2007 DVD release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., star Robert Vaughn said Fields simply didn’t know how long it was supposed to take to write a script for a one-hour TV show. As a result, Vaughn said, Fields turned out a “shootable” script in four days, writing one act a day.

His first U.N.C.L.E. credit was The Fiddlesticks Affair. It was the second episode after NBC switched the show to Mondays during its first season (1964-65).

The story evoked Mission: Impossible (which wouldn’t debut until the fall of 1966) where agents Solo (Vaughn) and Kuryakin (David McCallum) plot to blow up a key treasury of the villainous organization Thrush. The episode even was scored by Lalo Schifrin, who’d later do the classic M:I theme.

From that point through the show’s third season, Fields was a major U.N.C.L.E. contributor. Fields also became a friend of Vaughn’s.

Fields’ final writing credit for U.NC.L.E. was the two-part The Concrete Overcoat Affair, which was re-edited into the movie The Spy in the Green Hat for international audiences.

Fields turned out scripts for various shows, including The FBI, McCloud, and The Six Million Dollar Man. He was also one of the story editors for A Man Called Sloan, a 1979 series from QM Productions that contained elements from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond movies.

The Gizmodo obituary emphasized Fields’ contributions to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Fields; death was referenced by Ira Steven Behr, a producer for that series.

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UPDATE (July 10, 2019): The Writers Guild gave a belated tribute on Twitter to Peter Allan Fields.

 

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.

Season 4 of The FBI now available

"Sorry, Arthur, no time to talk right now. I'm ordering season four of The FBI."

“Sorry, Arthur, no time to talk right now. I’m ordering season four of The FBI.”

The Warner Archive division of Warner Bros. this week brought out season four of The FBI, confirming a post we had last month.

If you CLICK HERE you’ll see ordering information as well as a sample clip of a 1969 episode called “A Life in the Balance” with James Caan as the guest star.

Here’s a description:

As the Summer of Love faded to the winter of our national discontent in the fall of 1968, Inspector Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds), and Assistant Director Ward (Philip Abbott) continue to battle the nation’s enemies, foreign and domestic. Delivering drama at the height of its powers, The FBI’s well-oiled machine of TV talent continued to draw in the star power – both the iconic and the up-and-coming, from golden age great Ralph Bellamy (as a Nazi sympathizer!) to soon-to-be TV superstar Chad Everett (as a psycho wannabe Vietnam War hero). Other faces found among the cases of extortion, espionage, kidnapping and killing include Dawn Wells, Susan Strasberg, Dorothy Provine, Cicely Tyson, Lynda Day and Gene Tierney as well as Dean Stockwell, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, James Caan, and a young teen Ronny Howard.

As with the previous releases, this is manufactured on demand, so it’s not available in stores. The price for the season is $49.95.

The Quinn Martin-produced series had 26 episodes during the 1968-69 season. The season included a number of espionage-themed episodes, starting the opener, Wind It Up And It Betrays You (plotted by Harold Jack Bloom, who wrote an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and was involved in the scripting of You Only Live Twice) as well as The Enemies (written by Peter Allan Fields, a leading U.N.C.L.E. writer) and Ceasar’s Wife, featuring a young Harrison Ford.

Happy 80th birthday, Robert Vaughn

Happy birthday, Mr. Solo

For people of a certain age, it’s doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Robert Vaughn, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., turns 80 on Nov. 22.

The 1964-68 spy series was just one stop on a long, and still continuing, career.

He’s the last surviving actor of those who portrayed the title characters in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven. He picked up a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1959’s The Young Philadelphians, holding his own in a veteran cast. He was twice nominated for an Emmy in political-related drams and received one playing a thinly veiled version of H.R. Haldeman in the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. And he’s played more than his share of oily and/or villainous businessmen and/or politcians, thanks to 1968’s Bullitt.

Still, when he shows up at collectible shows, he’s more than often or not autographing stills of himself as Napoleon Solo, the television spy with a name courtesy of 007 creator Ian Fleming and developed by Sam Rolfe under the supervision of executive producer Norman Felton. For those who weren’t there during its run on NBC, U.N.C.L.E. really was a big deal.

The production values may look cheap compared to modern-day television. The series did all of its filming within about a 30-mile radius of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Culver City, California, studios. None of that matters. Vaughn established a U.S. beachhead for 1960s spy entertainment beginning in the fall of 1964. U.N.C.L.E. was pitched as “James Bond for television” but it successfully developed its own spin on the genre. Other fondly remembered shows followed, starting in the fall of 1965.

Vaughn had help, of course. His co-star, David McCallum, became popular in his own right. Early episodes were directed by the likes of Richard Donner and Joseph Sargent, who’d go on to direct feature films. Writers including Alan Caillou, Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields spun tales that hold up today, despite the modest production budgets.

Still, it was up to Vaughn to sell everybody on all this. And sell it he did. Vaughn last played the character in the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But he remains tied to Solo. So happy birthday, Mr. Vaughn.

45th anniversary of TV spy mania part I: U.N.C.L.E.’s 2nd season premier

September is the 45th anniversary of television spy mania. With James Bond films helping to create a market for spy entertainment, U.S. television networks decided they needed to meet that demand. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., already on the air for a year, had a head start but faced its own challenges as well as new competitors.

To begin with, NBC shifted the show to Fridays from Mondays, plus moving it to 10 p.m. ET. Would the show’s viewers follow suit? Also, Sam Rolfe, who had written the show’s pilot and had been its first-season producer, had departed. Rolfe’s associate producers (Joseph Calvelli in the first half of season one, Robert Foshko in the second half) were also long gone.

Executive Producer Norman Felton initially brought over David Victor, producer of Felton’s Dr. Kildare series to U.N.C.L.E.’s producer chair. The production team also relied heavy on two writers, Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields, who had penned U.N.C.L.E. scripts during the second half of season one. As it turned out, Victor would be but one of three producers that season, but he would oversee production of the first several episodes.

NBC opted to begin season two with the show’s first two-part story, written by Hargrove and directed by Joseph Sargent, Alexander the Greater Affair (no “The” in the title). Felton’s Arena Productions would then re-edit the story into the movie One Spy Too Many. Hargrove’s story featured the mysterious industrialist Alexander, whose idol was Alexander the Great. Alexander also wanted to take over the world, starting with an unnamed Asian country and break each of the Ten Commandments as part of his plan.

The television version of the story was never rerun by NBC and was left out of the syndicated package MGM would offer later. A print was discovered in Atlanta in 1999 and would be shown by TNT on July 4, 2000. It has been available (including on DVD) ever since.

Here’s a clip from midway part one, where U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) plays Alexander (Rip Torn) in an unusual game of chess. Fellow agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) and Alexander’s ex-wife (Dorothy Provine) look on:

UPDATE: We originally embedded a clip from Part I, but the person who uploaded it took it down. So instead, here’s a sampling of the footage that was added to the movie version. Yvonne Craig showed up in One Spy Too Many as an U.N.C.L.E. woman Solo supposedly had scheduled a date with but can’t remember doing so:

Deja vu: A scene from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. shows up in It Takes a Thief

The great thing about the Internet is you can sometimes see it for yourself.

Fall 1965: An early second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Foxes and Hounds Affair, has agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin locked in the same cell with an “innocent,” Mimi, a woman who’s inexperienced in the ways of love. Solo wants her to flirt with the guard outside the cell. But she’s having trouble getting his attention.

KURYAKIN: You’re a woman, haven’t you had your basic training?

MIMI: No not me. No, I-I…I avoid…I travel a lot, instead.

A moment later…

KURYAKIN: Inxperience is not inability, young lady. And you can do anything you believe you can do.

Just then, Solo tugs here away and gives her a long kiss.

MIMI: My goodnesss!

SOLO: Forget your goodness. Now I want you to introduce that guard to the Mimi Doolitttle I just met.

Now, let’s travel three years in the future, the spring of 1968, and ABC is airing It Takes a Thief’s final first-season episode, The Lay of the Land. Alexander Mundy is imprisoned with Zizi, a young innocent woman who’s been caught up with intrigue. Mundy asks Zizi to try to flirt with a guard outside but is initially unsuccessful.

ZIZI: I told you I’m not the entricing type.

MUNDY: Well, you’re a woman, you must have had some basic training.

ZIZI: No, I always avoid…I mean to me the interest was always…

MUNDY: You’ve got to get that man’s interest.

ZIZI: I don’t know how….Don’t you understand, I just don’t know how.

MUNDY: Zizi, inexperience doesn’t necessarily mean inability.

Mundy gives Zizi a passionate kiss. As they separate:

MUNDY: Now go introduce that guard to the Zizi I just met.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode has the credit, “Teleplay by Peter Allan Fields, Story by Eric Bercovici,” While the Thief episode has the credit, “Teleplay by Richard Collins and Alvin R. Friedman, Story by Richard Collins.”

UPDATE: Friedman died in 2000, according to imdb.com. We thought Friedman might have been a pen name for Fields but the latter is still listed as being with us in imdb.com and was interviewed for extras in the 2007 DVD release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Anyway, to see for yourself, here’s the start of Act IV of the U.N.C.L.E. episode:

To view the It Takes a Thief episode, you can CLICK RIGHT HERE or go to Hulu’s Web site. The scene in question starts around the 42:00 mark.