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.

Happy 87th birthday, David McCallum

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

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 87th birthday.

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

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

Happy New Year 2020 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2020 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.

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

Sid Haig dies at 80

Sid Haig as the hood who had “a bruddah” in Diamonds Are Forever

Sid Haig, an actor who made it big in horror movies but also had his moments in spy-fi, died Sept. 21 at age 80, according to Yahoo Movies UK.

Haig starred in films such as House of 1000 Corpses,  The Devil’s Rejects and other films directed by Rob Zombie.

Before becoming a horror star, Haig was a busy character actor, including a lot of work on television. That included appearances in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible and Get Smart.

Haig also made an impression with a small role in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. He’s part of the “brain trust” (Felix Leiter’s words) of hoods waiting on Sean Connery’s Bond (posing as Peter Franks) to take the body of the real Franks to Slumber Inc.

On the way to the mortuary, there’s a brief exchange of dialogue where the leader of the group (Marc Lawrence asks, “The stiff, uh, deceased back there. Your brother, Mr. Franks?”

“Yes, it was,” Bond replies.

Haig’s character perks up. “I got a bruddah!”

“Small world,” Bond says.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 55th anniversary

Familiar third-season publicity still for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted and updated from a Sept. 22, 2014 post

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 55 years ago today with the telecast of The Vulcan Affair on NBC.

The series had false starts. First Ian Fleming was a participant, then after several months he wasn’t, bowing out to pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Then there was threatened legal action from Eon Productions stemming from the show’s original title, Solo.

In turn, the series got a new title and the legal problems went away. The makers of Goldfinger did make one change in their film. A gangster named Solo died the most spectacular death among hoodlums invited to Goldfginer’s Kentucky stud farm, a change from earlier drafts and from Fleming’s original novel. (Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger details the changes in the movie’s script.)

Rough Start

Nor did U.N.C.L.E. get off to an easy start. Airing on Tuesday nights, it was up against The Red Skeleton Show on CBS, which nearly led to cancellation before a mid-season switch to Monday nights.

But the audience discovered the series, eventually ensuring a renewal for a second season for 1965-66, which would be its highest-rated campaign.

Executive Producer Norman Felton (1913-2012) faced other challenges.

His developer-producer Sam Rolfe (1924-1993) departed after the first season and things weren’t quite the same, certainly not as consistent.

Various other producers — David Victor, Boris Ingster and Anthony Spinner among them — put their own stamp on the show with varying degrees of success. Major contributions were made by writers such as Alan Caillou (who arguably shaped the Illya Kuryakin character), Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields.

Time Takes Its Toll

Few of the creative personnel are still with us. In the five years since the show’s 50th anniversary, time has taken its toll. Frequent U.N.C.L.E. director Joseph Sargent died in December 2014, three months after the anniversary. Star Robert Vaughn died in 2016. Fred Koenekamp, who work as director of photography on U.N.C.L.E. got him movie jobs, passed away in 2017. Peter Allan Fields died earlier this year at 84.

Dean Hargrove

There are still survivors. David McCallum just celebrated his 86th birthday. Dean Hargrove, 81, in a long interview in March with the Writer’s Guild Foundation provided some insights into the show. He acknowledged it put him on the map, setting up a long and successful career as a TV writer-producer.

The franchise is in limbo. A 2015 movie based on the series wasn’t a financial success. There was talk of trying to get a sequel going but there’s no sign much is happening.

Hargrove, in the interview this year, said studio Warner Bros. may have simply waited too long to do a movie version.

All of that is a story for another day. For now, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.

Phyllis Newman dies at 86

Phyllis Newman in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Phyllis Newman, an actress whose long career included guest appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West, has died at 86, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Her son, Adam Green, a theater critic for Vogue, announced the death in a Twitter post.

Newman won a Tony for the play Subways Are For Sleeping in 1962, beating out Barbra Streisand for the award, THR said.

She was married to Adolph Green, a playwright, screenwriter and lyricist, from 1960 until his death in 2002.

Newman’s spy TV appearances in the 1960s were on the light side. She played an Arab woman who becomes smitten with David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin in the second-season episode The Arabian Affair. This occurs while U.N.C.L.E. is investigating efforts by the villainous organization Thrush to develop a “vaporizer” that can dissolve objects and people.

Newman also played an American Indian princess in one of the Dr. Loveless episodes of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Raven. In that episode, Loveless (Michael Dunn) shrinks James West (Robert Conrad) and Newman’s character to just a few inches tall.

Real people who existed in some fictional universes

Haphazard Stuff, who makes entertaining videos about James Bond and other entertainment subjects, came out with a video that caught my eye.

He discussed real people (Queen Elizabeth, Bob Hope, Anita Ekberg, among others) who have existed in our world as well as the fictional world of the cinematic James Bond.

That got me to thinking about real people who managed to co-exist in some of the blog’s other favorite fictional universes.

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68): This spy show had characters who were either based on, or parodies of, real-life people. But it takes a little looking to find real-life people.

The Cherry Blossom Affair, in the show’s second season, was set in Japan and it’s established that Japanese love baseball.

In Act IV, a Japanese official of Thrush is interrupted by an aide. Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) inquires whether something is wrong.

“It appears that Sandy Koufax has just pitched another no hitter!” the excited Thrush official says.

This, of course, would be Sandy Koufax, who pitched for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. This episode first aired Nov. 19, 1965. Koufax pitched his fourth, and final, no-hitter on Sept. 9, 1965, a perfect game (no base runners allowed).

Earlier in the episode, the story’s innocent Cricket Okasada (France Nuyen) is depicted as having a side job dubbing U.S. TV shows into Japanese. She’s shown working on an episode of Dr. Kildare.

Like U.N.C.L.E., it was produced by Norman Felton’s Arena Productions. This would suggest Dr. Kildare star Richard Chamberlain also co-exists in the fictional U.N.C.L.E. universe.

In The Thor Affair, a third-season entry, Solo and Illya Kuryakin enlist the assistance of a schoolteacher as the story’s “innocent.” In the episode’s final scene, the initials RFK and LBJ are seen on a chalkboard at the teacher’s school room.

Thus, it would seem Robert F. Kennedy (then a U.S. senator from New York) and then-President Lyndon B. Johnson also existed in this fictional universe. Robert Vaughn was a friend of RFK’s and supported his 1968 run for president.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI (1965-74):  J. Edgar Hoover, the long-time director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was instrumental in the series reaching TV screens. Hoover also was, sort of, a character on the show.

A number of episodes depicted FBI offices having photographs of Hoover.

Beyond that, the first-season episode The Defector Part I depicts Hoover as playing an off-screen role in the story.

The bureau is seeking the assistance of a cocky chess champion as part of an espionage case. The chess player comes out of Hoover’s office (we see the door with Hoover’s name and title). He acts similar to Moses having witnessed the burning bush and agrees to help out Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.).

In the second-season episode The Camel’s Nose, assistant director Arthur Ward tells a long-time friend about the story of the camel that first got his nose in the tent before eventually taking it over. “We almost lost the tent,” Ward says, referring to the bureau, but that Hoover got it back.

In real life, of course, Hoover’s record at the FBI was very controversial, including FBI wiretaps on civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. But the episode shows how Hoover was a presence on the show, even though he was never actually seen in person.

Hoover died in spring 1972, after production of the show’s seventh season. In the eighth season, the episode Edge of Desperation reflects the passing of the director.

Arthur Ward comes out of the Director’s office. The sign on the door now reads, “L. Patrick Gray, III, Acting Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Entrance.”

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O (1968-80): Some first-season episodes mention “Chief Dan.” Usually the context is Five-O is “working with” Chief Dan.

This is an apparent reference to Chief Dan Liu, who headed the Honolulu Police Department from Oct. 1, 1948 to June 30, 1969. Liu  had a cameo in the 1952 John Wayne film Big Jim McClain.

Eddie Sherman, a Honolulu newspaper columnist, appeared in a number of episodes, including one (Rest in Peace, Somebody) as himself.

McGarrett (Jack Lord) calls up Sherman. “Eddie Sherman, what’s your problem?” the newsman answers. Sherman agrees not to print a story about a mysterious message the lawman has received in his office.

In another episode, A Matter of Mutual Concern, McGarrett apprehends one crime boss who has just killed another. Just before his arrest, the surviving crime boss complains how his car’s speedometer goes to 120 mph, but he could never get the car to go faster than 90.

“Tell Ralph Nader!” McGarrett says. Evidently, the famed consumer advocate (and future presidential candidate) also co-exists in the Five-O Universe.