55th 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. 

Jan. 15 marks the 55th 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. Spinner also had been associate producer on the first season of QM’s The Invader series. He hired Sutton Roley, who had worked as a director on The Invaders, as an U.N.C.L.E. director

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second season, 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. soundtracks 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 version 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 only 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). 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 storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.” (i.e. organized crime or the Mafia)

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.

Happy New Year 2023 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2023 for readers of The Spy Command.

The future of the James Bond film series is up in the air. (Who will be the next film Bond? When Bond 26 even have a script?)

Regardless, another Mission: Impossible movie is scheduled for 2023, with another in 2024. And there will be other spy entertainment along the way.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Year, everyone.

A look at some directors of the spy craze

In the 1960s, spies became a big thing and that provided a lot of work for directors, both in movies and television.

Today, in the 21st century, some of these directors aren’t remembered very much. Occasionally, a spy craze director would go to bigger things. Here is a look at some of them.

(John Brahm, right, with Burgess Meredith on the set of an episode of The Twilight Zone

John Brahm (1893-1982): The German-born Brahm had directing credits going back to the 1930s. He was mostly working in television by the 1950s and directed series across various genres. He directed 12 episodes of The Twilight Zone, including one of the best, Time Enough at Last, starring Burgess Meredith.

When the spy craze hit, producers needed directors who could work quickly while maintaining quality. Brahm ended up directing eight episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and six episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Both were made by Norman Felton’s Arena Productions. Brahm also directed 14 episodes of Arena’s Dr. Kildare series. Separately, Brahm helmed a number of episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Henry Levin (1909-1980): The New Jersey-born Levin’s career went from the 1940s to 1980. Like other journeymen directors, his movies covered various genres. One of his more prestigious films was 1959’s Journey to the Center of the Earth with Pat Boone and James Mason.

With the spy craze, Levin would be employed for three spy movies all made in short order: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (produced by Dino De Laurentiis) and Murderers’ Row and The Ambushers (both produced by Irving Allen, former partner to Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli). All three movies were released by Columbia, now part of Sony.

Richard Donner (1930-2021): Donner was a spy craze director who eventually became an A-list director in Hollywood.

Donner today is best remembered for Superman (1978), the first movie featuring Christopher Reeve as the title character, as well as the Lethal Weapon series of films.

But, in the 1960s, Donner was busy doing spy-related episodes of TV shows. He directed four early episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West and two episodes of spy parody Get Smart. Donner also directed an espionage-related episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, with Martin Landau and John van Dreelen.

Henry Cavill says he’s back as Superman

Henry Cavill as Superman in Batman v Superman

Henry Cavill, 39, says he is coming back as Superman after reports in 2018 he was being forced out of the role.

Here is an excerpt from an Oct. 24 story in Variety:

Henry Cavill posted to social media on Monday that he is “back as Superman” following his cameo in the post-credits scene of “Black Adam,” which opened on Friday to $140 million worldwide.

“I wanted to wait until the weekend was over before posting this because I wanted to give you all a chance to watch ‘Black Adam,’” Cavill said in a video posted to his Instagram feed. “But now that plenty of you have, I wanted to make it official: I am back as Superman.”

Cavill, once upon a time (circa 2005), was a contender to play James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale. He received a screen test before Daniel Craig was hired.

The actor has been favored by some Bond fans to succeed Craig. He played Napoleon Solo in a 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as well as playing a villain in a 2018 Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film.

Cavill probably is too old to be the new Bond. Also, Eon Productions (mostly) doesn’t like to cast actors associated with other franchises. Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan were the most obvious exceptions.

For a time, it seemed Cavill had lost the Superman gig — which included a 2013 solo Superman movie as well as 2016’s Batman vs. Superman and 2017’s Justice League.

Never say never, it would appear.

Happy 89th birthday, David McCallum

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 89th birthday.

He’s almost the last man standing from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn is gone. So is Norman Felton, the producer who met with Ian Fleming in 1962. So is Sam Rolfe, who took the Felton-Fleming ideas and put them into a script. Many of the actors are gone, including Leo G. Carroll.

Other contributors such as directors Richard Donner and Joseph Sargent as well as director of photography Fred Koenekamp have passed away in recent years.

There’s not a whole lot that needs saying. McCallum had a great career. He still has many fans who admire him. Happy birthday. We’ll leave it at that.

More 60th: What was happening in 1962?

Originally published in 2011 and 2012.

Jan. 15: NBC airs “La Strega” episode of Thriller, starring Ursula Andress, female lead of Dr. No, which will be the first James Bond film.

Jan 16: Production begins on Dr. No, modestly budgeted at about $1 million. Fees include $40,000 for director Terence Young and $80,000 each for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, not counting their share of profits. (Figures from research by film historian Adrian Turner). Star Sean Connery tells Playboy magazine in 1965 that he was paid $16,800 for Dr. No.

Inside Dr. No, a documentary made by John Cork for a DVD release of the movie, says about 10 percent of the film’s budget went to the Ken Adam-designed reactor room set, where the climactic fight between Bond and Dr. No takes place. (Date of production start from research by Craig Henderson’s For Your Eyes Only Web site.

Jan. 17: Jim Carrey is born.

Feb 3: U.S. begins embargo against Cuba.

Feb. 20: John Glenn becomes first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth.

March 2: Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points as his Philadelphia Warriors team defeats the New York Knicks 169-147 in a game played in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Chamberlain achieves the feat by scoring 36 baskets and, perhaps most amazingly, by hitting 28 of 32 free-throw attempts. (Chamberlain was a notoriously bad free-throw shooter.) The player averaged 50.4 points per game in the 1961-62 season.

April 16: The Spy Who Loved Me, Ian Fleming’s latest 007 novel, is published. The novel takes a radical departure from previous Bond novels. The story is told in the first person by a female character, Vivienne Michel, with Bond not appearing until two-thirds of the way through the story. Fleming, in his dealings with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, specifies only the title is to be used for any movie. Broccoli (after Saltzman departs the film series) does just that in the 10th film of the 007 series, which comes out in July 1977.

May (publication date, actually likely earlier): The Incredible Hulk, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, debuts in the first issue of his own comic book.

June 1: Nazi Adolph Eichmann was executed in Israel.

July 3: Future Mission: Impossible movie star Tom Cruise is born.

July 12: Rolling Stones debut in London.

August (publication date actual date probably earlier): Amazing Fantasy No. 15 published, debut of Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, with cover art by Jack Kirby and Ditko.

Aug. 5: Actress Marilyn Monroe dies.

Aug. 6: Michelle Yeoh, who will play Chinese secret agent Wai Lin in the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, is born.

Aug. 16: Future Get Smart movie star Steve Carell is born.

Aug. 16: Ringo Starr joins the Beatles.

Sept. 26: The Beverly Hillbillies debuts on CBS. In a later season, Jethro sees Goldfinger in a movie theater and decides that being a “Double-Naught” spy is his life’s calling.

Oct. 1: Federal marshals escort James Meredith, first African American student at the University of Missippi, as he registers at the school.

Oct. 1: Johnny Carson, a few weeks short of his 37th birthday, hosts his first installment of The Tonight Show. He will remain as host until May 1992. At one point during Carson’s run on the show, he and Sean Connery reference how Carson’s debut on Tonight and Connery’s debut as Bond occurred at around the same time.

Oct. 5: Dr. No has its world premiere in London. The film won’t be shown in the U.S. until the following year. The movie will be re-released in 1965 (as part of a double feature with From Russia With Love) and in 1966 (as part of a double feature with Goldfinger).

Oct. 14: A U.S. U-2 spy plane discovers missile sites in Cuba, beginning the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis will bring the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of World War III.

Oct. 22: President John F. Kennedy makes a televised address, publicly revealing the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Oct. 28: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announces the U.S.S.R. is removing its missiles from Cuba.

Oct. 29: Ian Fleming begins three days of meetings with television producer Norman Felton concerning a show that will eventually be known as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (source: Craig Henderson) Fleming’s main contribution of the meetings is that the hero should be named Napoleon Solo.

Nov. 7: Richard Nixon loses race for governor of California, tells reporters “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” He’ll be back.

Freddie Young and David Lean

Dec. 10: The David Lean-directed Lawrence of Arabia has its world premiere in London. The film’s crew includes director of photography Freddie Young and camera operator Ernest Day, who will work on future James Bond movies. Young will photograph 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Day would be a second unit director (with John Glen) on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

For a more comprehensive list of significant 1962 events, CLICK HERE.

The other Fleming 60th anniversary

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

Adapted from a 2015 post.

NEW INTRODUCTION: 2022, of course, marks the 60th anniversary of the James Bond film series. It also marks the 60th anniversary of when Ian Fleming became involved with what would become The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming spent three days talking to television producer Norman Felton (born in London but who emigrated to the U.S.). The James Bond author made contributions that had an impact on the final product.

ORIGINAL POST: A Bond collector friend let us look over his photocopies of various Ian Fleming correspondence. Much of it included the 007 author’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

First, there were photocopies of 11 Western Union telegraph blanks where Fleming in October 1962 provided ideas to U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. The first blank began with “springboards,” ideas that could be the basis for episodes.

One just reads, “Motor racing, Nurburgring.” Fleming had a similar idea for a possible James Bond television series in the 1950s. This notion was included in this year’s 007 continuation novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horwitz, which boasts of containing original Ian Fleming content.

On the fifth telegram blank, Fleming includes this idea about Napoleon Solo: ““Cooks own meals in rather coppery kitchen.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea saw the light of day in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie released in August. In an early scene in the film, Solo (Henry Cavill) is wearing a chef’s apron, having just prepared dinner for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) after getting her across the Berlin Wall.

Fleming also made some other observations about Solo and the proposed series.

Telegraph blank No. 8: “He must not be too ‘UN’” and not be “sanctimonious, self righteous. He must be HUMAN above all else –- but slightly super human.”

Telegraph blank No. 11: “In my mind, producing scripts & camera will *make* this series. The plots will be secondary.”

Ian Fleming notes, written on one of 11 telegram blanks, and given to Norman Felton

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sends a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wants a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.

On June 7, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a letter containing material devised by Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer commissioned to write the U.N.C.L.E. pilot.

“In the latter part of the material, which deals with the characterization of Napoleon Solo, you will discover that those elements which you set down during our New York visit have been retained,” Felton writes Fleming. “However, the concept for a base of operations consisting of a small office with more or less a couple of rooms has been changed to a more extensive setup.”

This refers to the U.N.C.L.E. organization that Rolfe has created in the months since the original Fleming-Felton meetings in New York.

“It will give us scope and variety whenever we need it, although as I have said, in many stories we may use very little of it,” Felton writes. “This is its virtue. Complex, but used sparingly.

“In my opinion almost all of our stories we will do little more than ‘touch base’ at a portion of the unusual headquarters in Manhattan, following which we will quickly move to other areas of the world.”

At the same time, Felton asks Fleming for additional input.

“I want the benefit of having your suggestions,” Felton writes Fleming. “Write them in the margin of the paper, on a telegraph blank or a paper towel and send them along. We are very excited, indeed, in terms of MR. SOLO.” (emphasis added)

However, Fleming — under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman — soon signs away his rights to U.N.CL.E. for 1 British pound.

On July 8, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a brief letter. It reads in part:

Your new book, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.

They tell me that there are some islands in the Pacific where one can get away from it all. They are slightly radioactive, but for anyone with the spirit of adventure, this should be no problem.

Fleming responds on July 16, 1963.

Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.

Your Pacific islands sound very enticing, it would certainly be nice to see some sun as ever since you charming Americans started your long range weather forecasting we have had nothing but rain. You might ask them to lay off.

With best regards and I do hope Solo gets off the pad in due course.

Hard reboots vs. continuations

In the coming years, the James Bond franchise will need to decide how to continue. The basic paths involve hard reboots (which Bond has done once) versus continuations.

What follows is a sampling of each.

Mission: Impossible (1988): A new television version of Mission: Impossible debuted in 1988. Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) came out of retirement after his protege was murdered.

Phelps took command of a new collection of agents. Some of the original operatives, played by Greg Morris and Lynda Day George, appeared in one-offs. The series ran for two years.

Mission: Impossible (1996 and beyond): When Mission: Impossible went to the big screen in the 1990s, there was a hard reboot. So hard that Phelps (now played by Jon Voight) was the villain, leading star-producer Tom Cruise to become the lead figure. That has continued into the 21st century.

Casino Royale (2006): Eon Productions opted to start over with Casino Royale (a very hard reboot) when Eon’s Barbara Broccoli pushed hard for Daniel Craig to become the new James Bond. That era has now been completed with 2021’s No Time to Die.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015): So much time had elapsed from the 1964-68 television series (and a 1983 made-for-TV movie), a movie would have to do a hard reboot. Early takes included an older Solo paired with a young Kuryakin but it ended up with two actors near the same age, like the original TV show.

Dr. No’s 60th-anniversary conclusion: Legacy

Adapted from a 2012 post.

In evaluating the legacy of Dr. No as it approaches its 60th anniversary, start with the obvious: There’s still a 007 film series to talk about.

James Bond isn’t the biggest entertainment property in the world the way it was in 1965. But its longevity is unique.

The time that has passed includes more than a decade of enforced hiatus (a troublesome 1975 financial split between Eon co-founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; a legal fight in the early 1990s between Broccoli and MGM; and MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy) disrupting production of the Bond movies.

Still, the Bond films soldier on. The 25th entry, No Time to Die, debuted in the fall of 2021.

The series turned actor Sean Connery into a major star. It made Roger Moore, known mostly as a television star, into a movie star. The same applies to Pierce Brosnan. It made Daniel Craig a star. Even George Lazenby (one movie) and Timothy Dalton (two) who had limited runs as 007 are identified with the series.

The films generated new fans of Ian Fleming’s hero to the point that the movie 007 long ago outsized the influence of his literary counterpart. Finally, the film 007 helped form an untold number of friendships among Bond fans who would have never met otherwise.

All of that began with a modestly budgeted film, without a big-name star, led by a director for hire, Terence Young, who’d be instrumental in developing the cinema version of Agent 007. Dr. No, filmed in Jamaica and at Pinewood Studios, made all that followed possible.

Fans may fuss and feud about which Bond they like best. This 007 film or that may be disparaged by some fans, praised by others. The series may get rebooted. Bond may get recast. The tone of the entries may vary greatly.

In the end, Bond continues. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t say that; The Avengers, the John Steed variety which debuted the year before Dr. No, can’t say that; Matt Helm can’t say that. Jason Bourne, which influenced recent 007 movies, hasn’t been heard from since a 2016 film.

Many of those responsible for Dr. No aren’t around to take the bows.

They include:

–Producers Broccoli and Saltzman

–Director Young

–Screenwriter Richard Maibaum

–Editor Peter Hunt

–Production designer Ken Adam

–United Artists studio executive Arthur Krim, who greenlighted the project

–David V. Picker, another key UA executive, who was a Bond booster

–Joseph Wiseman, who played the title charater, the first film Bond villain

–Jack Lord, the first, and some fans say still the best, screen Felix Leiter, who’d become a major television star on Hawaii Five-O

–Art director Syd Cain

–Composer John Barry who orchestrated Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme and who would later define 007 film music.

–Nikki van der Zyl, who dubbed Ursula Andress in Dr. No and would work on other Bond films.

–Finally, Sean Connery, who brought the film Bond to life, passed away in 2020 at the age of 90.

That’s too bad but that’s what happens with the passage of time. The final product, though remains. It’s all summed up with these words:

James Bond will return. (Even with the ending of No Time to Die.)

Happy New Year 2022 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2022 for readers of The Spy Command.

This year will see the 60th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise. It will be a natural occasion for reflection. That may lead to a lot of fan discussion. Perhaps we’ll find out who will succeed Daniel Craig as the cinematic Bond.

We’ll see.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve (even in a hunkered down, pandemic way).

Happy New Year, everyone.