John Stephenson, original Dr. Quest, dies

John Stephenson

John Stephenson

John Stephenson, a veteran character actor and the original voice of Dr. Benton Quest, has died at 91, according to BLOGGER MARK EVANIER, who frequently writes about television and comics.

Stephenson was part of a Jonny Quest cast that also included the voices of Tim Matheson, Danny Bravo and Mike Road. After the first several episodes, Don Messick took over as Dr. Quest’s voice but Stephenson continued to do a lot of voice work for Hanna-Barbera.

Stephenson also served as the announcer who informed the audience of the outcome of a case in the 1960s version of Dragnet. He also was a frustrated Thrush official in New York forced to take orders from Cesar Romero’s Victor Gervais in The Never-Never Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., one of the most popular installments of that spy series.

Robert Drasnin, spy TV composer, dies

Robert Drasnin (1927-2015)

Robert Drasnin (1927-2015)

Robert Drasnin, a composer whose work included episodes of 1960s spy series, died May 13 at 87, according to AN ANNOUNCEMENT BY DIONYSUS RECORDS.

Drasin scored eight episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. during the second and third seasons, with the music repeated in episodes without original scores. He also scored Mission: Impossible and The Wild Wild West. With the latter, Drasnin specifically composed music for the third episode, “The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth,” the first appearance of Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn). Drasnin’s short theme for the character would be in other episodes featuring the show’s arch villain.

Here’s an excerpt from the Dionysus Records obituary:

Bob is now mostly known for his two masterpiece exotica albums, Voodoo and Voodoo 2, but those are only two highlights in a long and multifaceted career as a player, composer, executive, and teacher.

He joined the Musicians Union at the age of 14 upon being hired to play in the Canteen Kids big band on Hoagy Carmichael’s radio show. He first made his way as a player through the forties, playing alto saxophone and clarinet with a great many big bands, including Les Brown, Freddie Slack, Tommy Dorsey, and others. He studied composition and conducting at UCLA, joined a bebop era Red Norvo Quintet (with whom he recorded), and evolved into a film/tv composer and also a very well regarded sideman (on clarinet and alto saxophone).

As a television composer, he was prolific. Twilight Zone, Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, Man From U.N.C.L.E. all boasted great Drasnin scores, and such giants as Johnny Mandel and Jerry Goldsmith considered him an equal. Rightfully.

In September 2014, fans in the Los Angeles area gathered for The Golden Anniversary Affair, celebrating U.N.C.L.E.’s 50th anniversary. A highlight was a band playing music from the series. Frank Abe, who attended, posted this video of the band playing a piece of Drasnin’s first U.N.C.L.E. score for The Foxes and Hounds Affair.

U.N.C.L.E. awakes: The Rip Van Winkle Affair

Bus for participants in U.N.C.L.E. movie press junket in Rome

Bus for participants in U.N.C.L.E. movie press junket in Rome

For one day, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was truly back after a slumber of more than 30 years. Rip Van Winkle only slept for 20 years.

May 9 was a press junket in Rome for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Images and comments flooded social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

There hasn’t been an official U.N.C.L.E. production since The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie aired on CBS in 1983. Principal photography for the Guy Ritchie-directed feature film took place in the late summer and fall of 2013.

There have been milestones since then, including test screenings in 2014 and release of a first trailer in February. Still, the Rome press junket represented the biggest push by Warner Bros. to begin to raise visibility for the film.

Warner Bros. is in an unusual situation for the “summer” movie season (which begins the first weekend of May). It has no “tent pole” movie, so AS NOTED IN THIS VARIETY STORY, it’s releasing more films than other studios for the summer, looking to make up in volume what it lacks in spectacle. Thus, U.N.C.L.E. has become part of the studio’s “flood the zone” strategy.

Anyway, that’s for studio executives. For U.N.C.L.E. fans — at least those who want new U.N.C.L.E. tales — May 9 marked a beginning (or reawakening).

The U.N.C.L.E. movie, by 2015 standards, is modest ($75 million production budget). It’s in the shadow of the James Bond franchise, whose new installment, SPECTRE, has a $300 million budget, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

On the very same day Warners had its coming out party, SPECTRE released its latest “clapperboard” shot, one of the ways the 007 franchise uses social media to promote its product. (If you want to see all the SPECTRE clapperboard shots in scene order, CLICK HERE.)

In the end, despite U.N.C.L.E.’s Ian Fleming connection (the 007 author helped name Napoleon Solo), the two are different animals. Bond is the big kid on the block. U.N.C.L.E. is trying to get established again after a long layoff.

The U.N.C.L.E.’s movie’s Napoleon Solo is played by Henry Cavill, passed over for the role of 007 in favor of Daniel Craig in 2005. Both movies filmed in Rome, but SPECTRE spent $60 million there, almost as much as U.N.C.L.E.’s entire budget.

May 9 was a big day for U.N.C.L.E. fans. It remains to be seen whether the U.N.C.L.E. movie so long in development will be worth the wait. For at least one day, many U.N.C.L.E. fans felt a surge of excitement that it might be.

U.N.C.L.E. press event in Rome includes screening

Twitter is providing some details about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. press event in Rome as participants post about what’s doing on.

For example, there was a screening of about 20 minutes of footage from the Guy Ritchie-directed film. Some of the Tweets:

Some of the press materials might become collectibles.

Meanwhile, Jim Chapman also used Instagram to post A SELFIE WITH A DOUBLE DECKER BUS WITH U.N.C.L.E. MOVIE POSTER ART all over it. That and other photos got put out via Twitter as well.

UPDATE (10:14 a.m.): One of the viewers did a Twitter-sized review of the movie footage shown. To view it, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (11:25 a.m.): The cast, including Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, in Rome.

U.N.C.L.E. movie to be promoted at Rome event, fan site says

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Cast members of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie will be participate in a media event in Rome this weekend, the HENRY CAVILL NEWS WEBSITE said.

Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Elizabeth Debicki will be part of the event, according to the fan website, which writes extensively about Cavill’s various projects.

Cavill and Hammer play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the characters portrayed by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the 1964-68 series. Debicki plays a new character who appears to be a femme fatale in the film that comes out in mid-August.

Here’s one of the items contained in the Henry Cavill News story. Alicia Malone, who is part of a website called Malone’s Movie Minute took to Twitter to tease the event.

Cavill and Hammer appeared at the recent CinemaCon event in Las Vegas, where upcoming movies are promoted to theater owners.

Rome was one of the main locations for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie, which was filmed in the late summer and fall of 2013. The movie, set in 1963, has an “origin” story, showing how American Solo and Soviet Kuryakin came to work together. It has a different time line than the show, where U.N.C.L.E. had been formed shortly after World War II.

TCM schedules To Trap a Spy for June 13

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

Turner Classics Movie has scheduled a prime time showing ON JUNE 13 at 10:15 p.m. New York time of To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot episode.

The production has an unusual history.

The U.N.C.L.E. pilot was filmed in color. During production in late 1963, there was an internal debate within the production team whether U.N.C.L.E. agent Solo’s first name should be Napoleon. (Academic Cynthia W. Walker has written about this subject IN HER BOOK ABOUT THE SERIES.)

In the actual pilot, originally titled Solo, Robert Vaughn’s character is only called Solo. In the pilot, as originally filmed, the end titles said, “Starring Robert Vaughn as Solo.”

According to a timeline researched and compiled by Craig Henderson, additional footage was filmed March 31 through April 2, 1964, to turn the pilot into a feature film. The footage includes Luciana Paluzzi playing a femme fatale named Angela. Her character is very similar to the Fiona Volpe character she’d play a year later in Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film.

In that footage, Solo introduces himself to Angela as “Napoleon Solo.” Evidently, by the spring of 1964, the internal debate about the agent’s name had been settled in favor of the moniker bestowed upon him by Ian Fleming, the creator of 007.

In the end, Solo becomes a series, but under the title The Man From U.N.C.L.E. To Trap a Spy initially is shown in international markets, but with U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, it is shown in the United States in 1966 as part of a double feature with The Spy With My Face, another movie based on an U.N.C.L.E. episode with additional footage.

U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, Norman Felton, was nothing if not thrifty. A tamer version of the Luciana Paluzzi footage shows up in a first-season episode that aired in the spring of 1965 called The Four-Steps Affair. It also includes some of the extra footage used in The Spy With My Face.

Another curiosity: in To Trap a Spy, the name of the villainous organization is changed from “Thrush” to “Wasp.” If you watch closely, you can see the actors saying “Thrush” with “Wasp” on the audio track. To Trap a Spy also includes the original U.N.C.L.E. boss, Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison. With the pilot, scenes were reshot with Leo G. Carroll playing Mr. Waverly, Solo’s new superior.

Regardless, To Trap a Spy is the first “official” U.N.C.L.E. movie. TCM has shown the film previously, but usually nowhere near prime-time.

Hammer says U.N.C.L.E.’s running time under 2 hours

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

Mild spoiler in the seventh paragraph.

Actor Armie Hammer says The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie has a running time under two hours.

Hammer and Henry Cavill TALKED TO COLLIDER.COM at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

“The movie is basically a two hour, or hour, 45-minute version of the trailer,” Hammer said in response to a question from Collider. The movie’s first trailer debuted in February. “The trailer is simply a representation of the movie.”

Both actors said they had seen the final cut of the movie, which will debut Aug. 14.

A running time of around two hours used to be standard for action films. In recent years, some have gone well past the two-hour mark.

This year, Furious Seven had a running time of 137 minutes while Avengers: Age of Ultron weighs in at 141 minutes. Other movies of note: Skyfall, the most recent James Bond film, had a running time of 143 minutes and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie, came in at 165 minutes.

On the other hand, the U.N.C.L.E. film didn’t have the shooting schedule or budget of such epics. Its principal photography was completed within three months in the late summer and fall of 2013. In contrast, Cavill spent most of his 2014 (with occasional breaks) filming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is due out in March 2016.

Also, in the interview, the actors described the filming of an action scene, where Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin had to go to the bottom of a very deep pool while Cavill’s Napoleon Solo had to go after him.

To view the Collider story, which includes a video of the 5:16 interview, CLICK HERE.

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