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.


Character actor William Schallert dies at 93

William Schallert

William Schallert

William Schallert, a character actor with a long career, mostly on television, died on Sunday at age 93, according to an OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

The Times’ obit leads off with how he played the father on The Patty Duke Show. But Schallert played in many genres and naturally had experience on spy television of the 1960s.

His roles included Frank Harper, one of the substitute partners for James West (Robert Conrad) in the fourth season of The Wild Wild West when Ross Martin was recovering from a 1968 heart attack. Harper’s appearance took place during the show’s only two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror. Harper, like Martin’s Artemus Gordon, was a master of disguise. Schallert had appeared earlier in the series in other parts.

Another spy-related role for the actor took place in Get Smart, which gets a mention in The Times’ obituary.

While the typical William Schallert character was focused and serious, he expressed particular affection for an atypical role: the wildly decrepit Admiral Hargrade, a recurring character on the spy spoof “Get Smart” (1967-70), who operated in a perpetual state of confusion. (“He reminded me of my grandmother when she got dotty,” Mr. Schallert said.)

Get Smart actually ran from 1965 to 1970. Schallert’s appearances on the show were from 1967 to 1970, according to the actor’s IMDB.com entry.

Other roles of note for Schallert included: a doctor in a 1967 Mission: Impossible episode; an oily lawyer defending a medical “quack” in a first-season, two-part episode of Hawaii Five-O (the same reason he played Frank Harper on The Wild Wild West); and a guest part in the Sam Rolfe-created 1970s series, The Delphi Bureau.

U.N.C.L.E.’s Mr. Fixit

George M. Lehr silhouette  (far right) incorporated into the title of Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. No. 6

George M. Lehr silhouette (lower, far right) incorporated into the title of Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. No. 6

One of an occasional series on unsung heroes of television.

In the end titles of many television series, there are credits that don’t really don’t provide a viewer what a crew member really does.

So it was with George M. Lehr on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

In the first season of Man, which ran from 1964 to 1968, Lehr had the title “assistant to producer.” In reality, he was a key member of the production team, headed by executive producer Norman Felton and producer-developer Sam Rolfe.

Lehr was, “for all intents and purposes, the third member of the Felton-Rolfe team,” Jon Heitland wrote in his 1987 book about U.N.C.L.E. “He undertook a myriad of duties on the show, including all postproduction work.”

That covers quite a bit of ground, from film editing to music scoring. That meant that Lehr touched a lot of bases with accomplished professionals.

U.N.C.L.E. was produced at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where John Dunning (1916-1991), who won an Oscar for Ben-Hur, was the supervising editor. Franklin Milton (1907-1985), another Ben-Hur Oscar winner, was the recording supervisor.

Lehr even appeared on-screen, in a fashion. Starting with the eighth episode, The Double Affair, the main titles began with the silhouette of an attacker inside U.N.C.L.E. headquarters who fires a gun at Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). This would last through the end of the first season. Lehr provided that silhouette.

During the second half of the show’s second season, Lehr got a promotion to associate producer (which meant a bigger credit in the end titles), a recognition of his contributions. For the 1966-67 season, he held the same title at The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (sharing it with Max Hodge).

After that series was canceled following its only season, he rejoined Man’s crew for its final campaign for the 1967-68 season, again with the title of associate producer. Lehr was around for the entire development of U.N.C.L.E.

“(H)e also helped to create the…”whip pan” by inserting blurred images between scenes,” Cynthia W. Walker wrote in Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The “whip pan” was used as a transition and a key part of the show’s look.

Lehr’s silhouette from U.N.C.L.E.’s first season has surfaced on the cover of the Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. mini-series published by DC Comics. The silhouette is altered slightly to make it appear that of an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

Meanwhile, you can see him in the video below, explaining the origin of the U.N.C.L.E. Special. It was part of an extra originally made for a 2007 DVD release of the show.

U.N.C.L.E.’s connection to The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

This week, Turner Classic Movies televised a series of spy films, including The Prize (1963). The movie, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had a number of connections to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some of this stemmed from how U.N.C.L.E. was also produced at MGM. In any case, here’s a partial list of U.N.C.L.E. ties to The Prize.

Crew: These names show up on just about every production either produced by MGM or made at MGM in the 1960s: George W. Davis (co-art director), Henry Grace (co-set decorator) and Franklin Milton (sound or recording supervisor). Another name that shows up in many MGM-related productions is William Tuttle, who headed MGM’s makeup department.

(Totally as an aside: Grace resembled Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, he played the Allied supreme commander in 1962’s The Longest Day.)

The Prize also includes a score by Jerry Goldsmith. At this point, Goldsmith was transitioning from a television composer to a movie composer. Despite that, Goldsmith scored the pilot episode for U.N.C.L.E. as well as two additional episodes.

Speculation: The Spy Commander has long wondered if Goldsmith, in his early 1960s work, was influenced by Bernard Herrman. Both Herrmann and Goldsmith did work at CBS during this period. In his score for The Prize, there are bits of Goldsmith’s score that evokes Herrmann (this also applies to Goldsmith’s score for 1964’s In Harm’s Way).

Cast: The Prize (which, essentially is a star vehicle for Paul Newman) includes a number of cast members who would later appear in U.N.C.L.E. Among them:

Leo G. Carroll: Played U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. In the Prize, he plays a small, but key, role as a Swedish count who helps administer the Nobel Prizes.

John Banner: Most famous for playing Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, the character actor also played one of a group of scientists trying to take over the world in The Neptune Affair in U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. In The Prize, he plays a newscaster during the movie’s title sequence.

Teru Shimada: In U.N.C.L.E., he plays the head of an Asian country who’s the target of an assassination plot in Season Two’s Part Two, Alexander the Greater Affair. In The Prize, he’s another newscaster in the title sequence. Shimada also played Mr. Osato in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Kevin McCarthy: He played the villain in the U.N.C.L.E. Season Two episode The Moonglow Affair (which was also the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). In The Prize, he plays a Nobel Prize winner.

Ben Wright: The character actor was in two U.N.C.L.E. episodes (The Deadly Games Affair and The Girls of Nazarone Affair). In The Prize, he plays a reporter who asks question of Andrew Craig (Paul Newman’s character) at a press conference.

Noel Drayton: Played a physician who conducts an autopsy on a seal in U.N.C.L.E.’s The Finny Foot Affair. In The Prize, he plays a policeman trying to verify what seems to be a wild story from Newman’s character.


Irving Wallace: The Prize is based on a novel by Wallace, who also had written some episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, which was co-created by Sam Rolfe, who developed U.N.C.L.E. Wallace’s nephew was Danny Biederman, a first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan who (with Robert Short) attempted to produce an U.N.C.L.E. movie in the late 1970s-early 1980s.


A few thoughts about the U.N.C.L.E. Blu Ray

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

The blog made an preliminary examination of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Blu Ray disc which went on sale today. Some random observations:

Some interesting content in the extras: For example, one of the extras shows how some of the stunts were performed. In an early sequence, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Solo (Henry Cavill) are in a car which Gaby appears to be driving. For much of the sequence, there was a stunt driver in a cage atop the car. There was also judicious use of “green screen” CGI.

Technology: In the original series, Sam Rolfe, who scripted the U.N.C.L.E. pilot, said he wanted the tech to be about 15 year ahead of what was available at the time. During the original show, the tech went beyond that, including vaporizers and mind-reading machines. Meanwhile, in one of the extras, co-scripter and co-producer Lionel Wigram said the idea in the movie was to keep the tech as close to the early 1960s as possible.

A bittersweet line: Also in the extras, Armie Hammer says he hopes the movie will lead to more U.N.C.L.E. film adventures. Given how the movie flopped, that’s not likely to happen.

Lens flares: Director Guy Ritchie appeared to adopt a visual signature of fellow director J.J. Abrams, particularly in the opening sequence in East Berlin and later when Solo is tortured by a former Nazi. But there’s even more of the visual technique through much of the movie.

Oops: At the 38:44 mark, you can see very faint shadow of a boom microphone on the door to Illya’s hotel room in Rome when Solo comes calling. To be honest, the Spy Commander missed this detail the five times he saw the movie in the theater. But it’s the kind of thing you can catch up with when you can pause and rewind.

“Have the chair warmed up”: This line was used twice, albeit in subtitles, and foreshadows a sequence when Solo is tortured by the former Nazi. Again, the kind of thing that’s easier to catch when you can pause and rewind.

Daniel Pemberton’s score: Still one of the best things about the movie. Director Ritchie didn’t want to mimic a John Barry James Bond score and it was one of the best decisions he made.

The Jerry Goldsmith U.N.C.L.E. theme: Ritchie really, really didn’t want it in the movie and Pemberton barely placed a few notes in it. In the end, it really wouldn’t have mattered to throw the original U.N.C.L.E. fans a bone and include it in the end titles.

It’s still one of the best entries in 2015’s “Year of the Spy.” Yes, it changed the back stories of Solo and Illya. Still, the movie got the most of its relatively modest $75 million production budget.


‘Mr. Warner’ and creator credits

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, for the most part, weren’t happy to see that Sam Rolfe — the major creator of the 1964-68 television series — didn’t get a credit with the movie that debuted this month.

Rolfe (1924-1993) created Illya Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly as well as the U.N.C.L.E. organization and format. The main element he didn’t create was Napoleon Solo, which had been hashed out by executive producer Norman Felton and 007 author Ian Fleming.

Felton (1913-2012) did receive an “executive consultant” credit in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The series didn’t carry a formal creator credit. Instead it was either, “Developed by Sam Rolfe” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe,” depending on the season of the show.

While Rolfe not getting a mention is understandably disappointing, Warner Bros., aka “Mr. Warner” on this blog has an interesting history.

In the early days of Warner Bros. television, the real-life Mr. Warner (Jack) had an aversion to bestowing a creator credit. Roy Huggins didn’t get a creator credit for either Maverick or 77 Sunset Strip. Charles Larson (the person who most likely deserved one) didn’t get a creator credit for The FBI, a co-production with Quinn Martin. On the other hand, When Maverick became a Warner Bros. movie in 1994, Huggins did get on-screen recognition.

Warner Bros. also controls DC Comics. The studio gives credit for movies based on DC characters where it has an obligation. Superman movies, for example, have a creator credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Warner and DC only agreed to that in the 1970s as the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve was being prepared and there was a big public relations campaign for Siegel and Schuster.

Warners also gives Bob Kane the creator credit for Batman, although there’s evidence that uncredited Bill Finger really did the heavy lifting. In 2014, cartoonist Ty Templeton drew what a Batman without Bill Finger would look like. Anyway, Warners/DC also credits Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) for Wonder Woman.

Other than that, though, no creator credits. The 2011 Green Lantern, for example, movie didn’t credit John Broome and Gil Kane. The current Flash television series doesn’t credit Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Put another way, Sam Rolfe — who wrote the U.N.C.L.E. pilot and produced the show’s first season — has plenty of company. Also that “developed by” credit probably gives the studio legal leeway in not including Rolfe in the movie’s credits.