RE-POST: Robert Towne channels 007 for U.N.C.L.E.

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Screenwriter Robert Towne celebrated his 87th birthday on Nov. 23. The Oscar winner also participated in the 1960s spy craze. This is adapted from a 2013 post.

1963 saw From Russia With Love, the second James Bond movie. About a year after it came out, a future Oscar winning screenwriter would channel the film for an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Towne would go on to win an Oscar for his script for 1974’s Chinatown. A decade earlier, he was among the writers to pen first-season scripts for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show that had been pitched as “James Bond for television.”

Towne perhaps took that idea a bit literally. His sole U.N.C.L.E. credit, The Dove Affair, featured an extended sequence on a train going through the Balkans, a very similar setting to From Russia With Love.

U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) faces a complicated situation. His mission is to smuggle out a medal in the shape of a dove that has tiny engraved names of agents of Thrush, the villainous organization that opposes U.N.C.L.E. Satine (Richardo Montalban) is the top intelligence agent of a Balkan nation where Thrush is trying to seize control. Satine is a genuine patriot but he’s willing to kill Solo if it furthers his country’s interests.

Much of the episode’s second half evokes the mood of From Russia With Love. The TV show, though, isn’t as compelling when it comes to a short fight scene with Solo and Satine compared to a fight between James Bond (Sean Connery) and SPECTRE killer Red Grant (Robert Shaw). Part of it stems from the limitations of 1960s television in depicting violence. Some of it probably stems from tight TV production schedules.

Overall, though, the similarities are telling. With The Dove Affair, there is the additional complication of “the innocent” character, in this case, a school teacher (June Lockhart), who’s escorting a group of U.S. high school students around Europe.

Satine, as written by Towne, has one quirk — he’s afraid of children. Solo uses the presence of the high school students to his advantage. There is also some good dialogue.

SATINE (agitated, referring to the students): They find me interesting!

SOLO: And so you are. I wouldn’t deny that for a minute.

To read a more detailed review of The Dove Affair, CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 12.

When is a character’s appearance ‘official’?

On social media this week, there was a discussion of when an actor’s appearance as a character is official or not.

For example, in the 1990s, there was a License to Thrill ride at some U.S. theme parks. Bond fan Paul Scrabo made a video about it. The video was taken at a Virginia park. I went on the same ride at a park in Ohio near Cincinnati.

In any case, part of the ride included a video where Judi Dench played M and Desmond Llewelyn played Q. How official should this be treated?

There are other examples of where the Bond cinematic universe blurred with other media.

Roger Moore played James Bond in a 1964 British television show. Likely nobody took it seriously at the time. Sean Connery was in the midst of his 1960s run as Bond in movies made by Eon Productions. It’s more of a footnote.

However, Pierce Brosnan played Bond in a 1990s Visa commercial, with Desmond Llewelyn along for the ride as Q. This ran in the middle of Brosnan’s 007 films. MI6-HQ.com uploaded a copy to YouTube.

Nor is this sort of thing restricted just to James Bond. A few other examples:

–“Illya Kuryakin” in Hullabaloo, 1965: This half-hour weekly show featured a guest host introducing various musical acts. David McCallum was in character as Illya Kuryakin and was introduced as his fictional alter ego. Leo G. Carroll picked up some spare change doing some voice-over work as U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly.

David McCallum, Patricia Crowley and Robert Vaughn in a publicity still for Please Don’t the Daisies

–“Napoleon Solo” and “Illya Kuryakin” in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, 1966: Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are listed in the end titles as their U.N.C.L.E. characters and not their actual names. McCallum as Kuryakin is at the start of the episode, Vaughn as Solo is at the end. Children of a suburban family think their dad is a spy after he meets Kuryakin. Solo sets them straight in the conclusion.

–Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966: This comedy was Doris Day’s entry in the 1960s spy craze. Robert Vaughn as Solo makes a cameo during a party scene. Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. plays.

Ad for Here’s Lucy

–Mike Connors as Joe Mannix in Here’s Lucy, 1971: Mike Connors starred in the private eye drama Mannix (1967-1975). In the middle of that run, Connors played Mannix in an episode of the situation comedy Here’s Lucy starring Lucille Ball. Is it an “official” appearance? Both series ran on CBS.

–Mike Connors as Joe Mannix in Diagnosis Murder, 1997: Diagnosis Murder featured Dick Van Dyke as a crime-solving doctor. Joe Mannix shows up in an episode that’s a sequel to a 1973 Mannix installment. Guest stars from the earlier show (Pernell Roberts, Julie Adams and Beverly Garland) reprise their roles from 24 years later. Clips from the 1973 Mannix episode are used as flashbacks. That’s as official as you can get.

–Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter in Diagnosis Murder, 1997: Diagnosis Murder worked up an episode featuring actors from 1960s spy series as guest stars. Only one, Barbara Bain, actually reprised her 1960s part, Cinnamon Carter from the original Mission: Impossible series. Robert Culp, Patrick Macnee and Robert Vaughn played new characters for the story.

RE-POST: A sample of Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

This month marks the 59th anniversary of the meetings Ian Fleming had with television producer Norman Felton. Those meetings led to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran from 1964 to 1968. This is a re-post of a 2015 article.

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.”

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.

Happy 88th birthday, David McCallum

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

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 88th 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.

Earlier this year, Richard Donner, who directed the first U.N.C.L.E. episodes to prominently feature McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin character, also passed away.

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.

An MGM art department veteran goes before the camera

Veteran set decorator Henry Grace as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in The Longest Day

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

If you watch movies and TV shows either made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or filmed at the studio from the late 1950s through the 1960s, one name pops up frequently.

That would be set decorator Henry Grace (1907-1983). Set decorators take a set and add touches to customize them to a scene in a story.

Grace would receive more than 200 credits in films and TV shows. He received 13 Oscar nominations and won once, for Gigi (1958). His other film credits include North by Northwest, the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, How the West was Won, The Americanization of Emily and A Patch of Blue. Grace also received an Emmy nomination for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

During this era, many TV shows leased stages at MGM. As a result, Grace received credits on series such as The Twilight Zone, Combat! and My Favorite Martian.

What makes Grace different from other Hollywood art department veterans was he got a chance to go before the camera.

Specifically, Grace was judged to resemble Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander in World War II, who was responsible for the D-Day invasion. As a result, he got the role of Ike in 1962’s The Longest Day. It was a small, but important, role in a big, sprawling film.

On one occasion, one of the behind-the-camera guys got a moment in the sun.

Henry Grace, along with others (including title designer Saul Bass) gets a title card in North by Northwest

Participants discuss 1983 U.N.C.L.E. TV movie

Participants, including director Ray Austin and actor Anthony Zerbe, talked about the 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on a June 26 Zoom call that’s up on YouTube.

The TV movie brought back Robert Vaughn and David McCallum to again play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. George Lazenby had a small part as a James Bond-like character.

Among other things, Austin references how a scene where Zerbe’s villain escapes was filmed at a real prison. Zerbe grabbed onto a helicopter, which the actor says was for real. Zerbe also talked about working as a villain on the original Mission: Impossible series.

The video is below. It run for three hours.

1977: Sam Rolfe (sort of) revisits U.N.C.L.E.

Sam Rolfe dances with Jill Ireland in an early episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. while director Richard Donner hams it up.

Sam Rolfe was nothing if not persistent. In the 1970s, he re-worked his two greatest television triumphs. One, The Manhunter, took the concept of a bounty hunter, a la the western Have Gun-Will Travel, and set it during the Great Depression. It ran for one season.

With Engima, a pilot production, the writer-producer revisited the basic concept of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., was a mysterious organization with a secret headquarters. Enigma’s base of operations was further out, an island in the Caribbean.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., featured a dashing operative, in this case Andrew Icarus (Scott Hylands). He’s assisted by Mei San Gow (Soon-Tek Oh) and reports to Maurice Mockcastle (Guy Doleman). The supporting players were alumni of the James Bond film series (The Man With the Golden Gun and Thunderball respectively) and Doleman had been in other espionage productions.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., also had a thing for triangles. U.NC.L.E.’s security badges were triangle shaped. Enigma’s headquarters made triangles a major part of the interior design.

Around this same time, Rolfe had also scripted a proposed TV movie that would have been a straight U.N.C.L.E. revival that would have been titled The Malthusian Affair. That project was commissioned by producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, veteran writer-producers themselves but without U.N.C.L.E. experience. It was never produced.

With Enigma, Rolfe also wore the producer’s hat as well as writing. For director, he hired Michael O’Herlihy, who had been one of the leading directors of Hawaii Five-O but by this point had moved on. O’Herlihy also had directed one first-season episode of U.N.C.L.E. and would later direct The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, an episode of The A-Team with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

Rolfe’s Enigma had one other thing with U.N.C.L.E. Like U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo, Andrew Icarus recruits an “innocent” to help him accomplish his mission.

This curiosity has been posted to YouTube by the Museum of Classic Chicago Television. You can take a look for yourself. The video includes commercials.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse strikes again

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) teaser poster

Years ago, the blog discussed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse — a series of mostly unrelated events with one thing in common. Namely, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

There were genuine tragedies. Sam Rolfe, who developed the original show, died of a heart attack while trying to come up with a new made-for-cable-TV version in the 1990s. More of the “curse” involved promising new versions that would never see the light of day.

The “curse” has reared up its ugly head with the two stars of the 2015 movie, the most recent (and perhaps final) version of U.N.C.L.E.

The biggest impact is being felt by Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin in the 2015 movie.

To put it simply, Hammer’s career is in freefall. Here’s an excerpt of a Variety story via the Chicago Tribune.

The new year kicked off with what will likely be the most bizarre celebrity story of 2021: Armie Hammer — the genetically blessed movie star of “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Social Network” fame, and heir to the Hammer family oil fortune — began trending online for being a cannibal.

Hammer is not a cannibal.

What, what? It’s a long story. And it’s not really worth telling in detail here. The problem is Hammer has been dropped by his talent agency and his publicist because of isues with his personal life. Also, he hasn’t had many hits. So, suddenly, he’s seen as radioactive. He has dropped out of projects and his future is in doubt.

Also facing future questions is Henry Cavill, who played Napoleon Solo in the 2015 film.

In the early 2010s, Cavill was cast as Superman. His solo Superman film, Man of Steel, came out in 2013. It was supposed to be the first step in creating a film universe based on DC Comics characters, similar to the Marvel Cinematic University.

Unfortunately for Cavill, he only got the one solo movie. He appeared in Batman v Superman (2016) and Justice League (2017), but took a back seat to Ben Affleck’s Batman

At one point, had U.N.C.L.E. been a box office success, he could have been part of two film franchises. But U.N.C.L.E. was a disappointment and Warner Bros. clearly isn’t hurrying to bring out any new Cavill versions of Superman. His last hurrah may be a Zack Snyder-cut of Justice League due to come out on the HBO Max streaming service.

When Cavill began his Superman career, he was the young and up-and-comer. Now he’s pushing 40 (he’ll turn 38 in May) with an uncertain future.

Oh, well. At least, Cavill has the streaming show The Witcher streaming series to fall back on.

Happy New Year 2021 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2021 for readers of The Spy Command. There’s actually going to be a James Bond film in the new year, so there will be plenty to discuss.

Of course, regarding that latter point, we said that a year ago and it didn’t work out. Hopefully, it will go better this time around.

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.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.