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

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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.

53 years ago today…

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the early moments of Act I of The Iowa-Scuba Affair, as photographed by Fred Koenekamp.

…production began on The Iowa-Scuba Affair, the first regular series episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The pilot, The Vulcan Affair, had been filmed in late 1963.)

On June 1, 1964, even the earliest U.N.C.L.E. fans didn’t knew what awaited them in a few months. For the crew, it was another job.

What a crew it was.

The director, Richard Donner, would eventually become a big-time film director. The writer was Harold Jack Bloom. He shared an Academy Award nomination with episode producer Sam Rolfe on the screenplay of The Naked Spur, a 1953 western starring James Stewart.

The director of photography was Fred Koenekamp, who’d later photograph Patton. The composer for the episode was Morton Stevens.

While he’d never become famous, Stevens was a few years away from composing the theme for Hawaii Five-O, one of the best-know television themes.

When the cameras rolled, star Robert Vaughn, as Napoleon Solo, would be in almost every scene. David McCallum, signed to play Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin, wasn’t even in the episode. But McCallum would make his presence known shortly.

Robert Vaughn dies at 83

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

Robert Vaughn, star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, died today at 83, according to an obituary at Deadline: Hollywood.

The actor died after battle with acute leukemia, according to the entertainment news website.

Vaughn had plenty of roles over a long career, including The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Bullitt (1968). He remained active in recent years, including a U.K. stage production of 12 Angry Men.

Still, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which ran from September 1964 to January 1968 on NBC, made Vaughn a star. He played Napoleon Solo, a character created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming. Solo was an enforcement agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, an international agency. U.N.C.L.E., which was developed fully by writer-producer Sam Rolfe, was a post-Cold War series airing in the midst of the Cold War.

Vaughn’s Solo had similarities to Fleming’s James Bond. Both were womanizers and sophisticated in the ways of the world. But Solo worked with a Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). In the Bond film series, the notion wouldn’t occur until 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Solo also had more of a moral code than Bond. Part of the format called for Solo to interact with “innocents,” ordinary people either recruited to help U.N.C.L.E. or who stumbled into the action. As a result, Solo had to look out for the innocents, which made his character different than 007.

In the final episode of the series, Vaughn had one of his best scenes as he confronted the conspirators of a plot to take over the world. That was a familiar plot of escapist 1960s spy entertainment. Yet, in that scene, Vaughn played it entirely seriously, giving the proceedings a gravitas they might ordinarily lack.

Years after the series, Vaughn had a lengthy interview with the Archive of American television. Here’s a clip where he discussed U.N.C.L.E.

In real life, Vaughn was an intellectual. He studied for his Ph.D while U.N.C.L.E. was in production. Vaughn, an opponent of the Vietnam war, debated the subject with William F. Buckley on the latter’s Firing Line series. Buckley introduced Vaughn as “a professional actor.” However, Vaughn was thoroughly prepared and the debate (on Buckley’s home turf) was judged a draw.

Post-U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn tended to play villains, such as the politician he portrayed in Bullitt. He did get to reprise the Solo role in the 1983 television movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. He indicated he’d be willing to play a cameo role in the 2015 film version directed by Guy Ritchie. But he was never approached.

Vaughn died 11 days short of what would have been his 84th birthday.

We’ll have a more detailed “appreciation” post tomorrow.

This month’s ‘other’ Ian Fleming anniversary

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Earlier this month, Oct. 5, was Global James Bond Day, celebrating the 54th anniversary of the original U.K. premiere of Dr. No.

Today, Oct. 29, is the 54th anniversary of another Ian Fleming-related annivesary: When the James Bond author first met television producer Norman Felton in New York.

The results, eventually, would be The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series. However, those meetings, which lasted into Oct. 31, 1962, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. Timeline website, don’t get much attention.

Ian Fleming Publications, for example, doesn’t mention the meetings in its detailed ONLINE TIMELIME OF FLEMING’S LIFE. Ironically, IFP’s 2013 007 continuation novel by William Boyd was titled Solo, the original title for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming was bullied by James Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman from exiting the project. You can read some of the correspondence involved by CLICKING HERE. Fleming sold his interest in U.N.C.L.E. for the princely sum of 1 British pound.

Meanwhile, U.N.C.L.E. fans downplay Fleming’s involvement. Yes, some say, he named Napoleon Solo, but so what? And, to be fair, others did the heavy lifting on U.N.C.L.E.

On the other hand, Fleming’s involvement, however limited, had attracted NBC’s interest.

Had Fleming remained on the show, the network was willing to commit to a series without a pilot. After Fleming’s departure, a pilot would be necessary. Still, by that time a lot of energy and time had been invested. It wasn’t just dropped after Fleming’s exit.

Title page to pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. when the title was still Solo.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. originally was to have been billed Ian Fleming’s Solo.

Thus, ironically, Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. involvement isn’t celebrated by either the Bond and U.N.C.L.E. sides. On the U.N.C.L.E. side, the narrative (understandably) plays up the contributions of Felton and Sam Rolfe, the writer of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot who produced the first season of the show.

It didn’t help that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where U.N.C.L.E. was produced) put out a press release denying had been involved (even though he was). No doubt that was the result of threatened legal action from Eon Productions. Lawyers for Eon had sent a cease and desist letter in early 1964 claiming the character Napoleon Solo infringed on the production company’s rights to Goldfinger, which included a gangster named Solo.

Also, Felton, on advice of his attorneys, declined to write up notes about his meetings with the 007 author for Fleming biographer John Pearson concerning U.N.C.L.E. (Read Text of Letters About Ian Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. Involvement for more details.)

Still, an anniversary is an anniversary. In this case, it’s an anniversary of an event (the Fleming-Felton meetings) that helped lead to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Meanwhile, here’s a shameless plug. If you want to read more about the subject, this blog’s editor has an article in MI6 Confidential No. 37. For more information about the issue (which includes an article about 007 film production designer Peter Lamont), CLICK HERE. 

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.

Joseph Gantman: On the ground floor

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Joseph Gantman in the 1960s found himself on the ground floor of notable television shows.

His primary legacy was as the day-to-day producer for the first two seasons of Mission: Impossible.

Gantman came aboard after the pilot was produced. Series creator Bruce Geller supervised the show, but it was up to Gantman to get things going, including securing a steady stream of scripts that could be filmed. He would end up winning two Emmys for his efforts.

Those two seasons featured some of the show’s best stories, such as Operation: Rogosh (the IMF tricks an “unbreakable” Soviet Bloc operative into thinking it’s three years later so he’ll give up where he’s planted germ cultures that will poison the drinking water supply of Los Angeles).

Gantman was worn down by the time he left the series at the end of its second season. His successors, William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter, who wrote many of the best stories of the first two seasons, bolted after disagreements with Bruce Geller. That was an indication that Gantman’s work wouldn’t be easy to duplicate. M:I was tough on producers generally. Gantman’s tenure was almost a marathon by comparison.

Before Mission, Gantmen worked on the pilot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with the vague tile of “production assistant,” but his title card in the television version featured his credit in the end titles on the screen by itself. Presumably, that was an indication he was a key contributor of the pilot.

During the 1964-65 season, Gantman was associate producer for 16 of the 32 episodes of the first season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, when that Irwin Allen-produced shows emphasized espionage over monsters.

Later, during the 1968-69 season, he was producer for five episodes of the first season of Hawaii Five-O, including three of the first five telecast by CBS (excluding the pilot, which aired as a TV movie). Five-O’s initial campaign was rough (it was the first series actually filmed in Hawaii) and it chewed up producers.

Gantman isn’t remembered much today. U.N.C.L.E. is remembered, behind the camera, for the efforts of Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe. Voyage is seen as what launched Irwin Allen’s 1960s shows. M:I is recalled for Bruce Geller’s concept. The original Five-O is remembered for creator-executive Leonard Freeman, who guided the show for six of its 12 seasons before his death in early 1974.

Yet, Gantman was a key lieutenant, at one time or another (just one episode in U.N.C.L.E.’s case) on all of them. That’s why TV shows have title cards.