The Other Spies and their longevity that 007s can only envy

Never rile up fans of “The Other Spies.”

A Bond website, Dalton Was Best, got a lot of publicity for declaring that Daniel Craig is now the second-longest serving Bond. The methodology was starting with the time an actor was cast as Bond through the time his replacement was announced.

The Avengers Tv Show on Twitter, using those rules came up with some calculations of spy actors who have much more longevity than any Bond actor.

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Patrick Macnee is 37 years because he began in 1961 as Steed and wasn’t re-cast until Ralph Fiennes in the 1998 Avengers feature film. Peter Graves is 29 years because he debuted as Jim Phelps in 1967 and wasn’t replaced until Jon Voight in the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie. Tom Cruise is at 20 years and counting (21 this fall) because he was the star of the Mission: Impossible movie series that started with the 1996 film.

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Two more worth mentioning: Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. They were signed in 1963 (when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot was shot) and weren’t replaced as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin until 2013 when the U.N.C.L.E. film began production. That’s an even 50 years.

But Harry Palmer hasn’t been recast since Michael Caine’s debut in 1965. (He did three theatrical films in the 1960s and two made-for-television ones in the 1990s). By the recasting rule, Caine, in theory, is still on the clock, with his 52nd anniversary later this year.

I doubt these calculations will go viral the way the Daniel Craig one did. Still, you never know what you can stir up.

UPDATE (7:35 p.m. ET): Well, this post stirred up at least a little hornet’s nest.

The Avengers Tv Show received tweets asking about Jim West, Maxwell Smart, John Drake and The Prisoner. This was never intended to be a comprehensive ranking, more like poking fun at the original blog post (and reaction by the British media that made it go viral).

Separately, reader Matthew Bradford ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE notes another Len Deighton-based production featured a character that may have really been Palmer under a different name. Actually, the explanation is more detailed than that, but Matthew says you can make the case the Palmer role was re-cast, or at the very least the issue deserves an asterisk.

UPDATE II (7:45 p.m. ET): Earlier today a friend e-mailed and raised these questions about the early Bond actor longevity rankings that started all this.

“Do they count the fact of when these guys were NOT under contract?

“Connery after THUNDERBALL?

“Roger after SPY and each film thereafter?

“Dalton until 1994?

Pierce signed for DAYLIGHTS and then released?”

Changes made to home video of our favorite series

“I don’t understand these changes, Illya.”

Many of the blog’s favorite television series have made it to home video over the past decade — but not exactly as they appeared during their original run.

Some of this is a given. “Bumpers,” where we’re told the show will be back after a station break, and previews for coming episodes are usually clipped before going out for home video.

Still, sometimes changes are made for other reasons. Here’s a look at the differences between the shows as they appeared first run and what you get on home video.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68): When the series made its home video debut in 2007 some musical changes were made.

For example, some first-episodes use a different version of Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme. The Project Strigas Affair, the ninth episode aired, uses the version of the theme (arranged by Morton Stevens) utilized for most of the second half of the season.

There are similar substitutions in other first-season episodes, though why they were made isn’t apparent.

One plus, however, was the third-season set included one “bumper” (for The Abominable Showman Affair) in which veteran cartoon voice June Foray told the audience the show would return after station identification.

Another plus is how the first-season set included the original color version of the pilot, when the plan was to call the series Solo.

However, it doesn’t include another, black-and-white version of the plot which has a short presentation by star Robert Vaughn explaining the show and its format to network executive and potential advertisers. Bootleg versions of that have circulated among collectors for years.

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980): In the first season, James MacArthur’s title card read, “With James MacArthur as Danny.” Starting with the second season, it said, “With James MacArthur as Dan Williams.” However, in the home video versions of seasons two through four, the first-season title card remains.

The second-season set, meanwhile, doesn’t include the episode “Bored, She Hung Herself.” That episode aired only once and has never been repeated on CBS or shown in syndication. That ban has continued into the home video area.

The 11th season set has episodes that involve music clearance issues. The two-part story Number One With a Bullet involves the Kumu, the Hawaiian mob, trying to force its way into Hawaii’s disco business.

Both parts include disco hits of the late 1970s. In the home video version, the original hit songs are only heard in Part I while “generic” disco music is substituted for Part II.

Another episode, The Execution File, included a rendition of “If You Think I’m Sexy” performed by a Rod Stewart soundalike. But in the home video version, it gets cut in favor of generic disco music.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI logo from the main titles.

The FBI (1965-1974): For a number of seasons, lead sponsor Ford Motor Co. got its logo in the main titles. This was clipped when the show went into syndication.

As a result, most of the home video episodes also don’t include the Ford logo. However, there a few episodes in the season two, three and five sets that include the automaker’s familiar oval.

Another change occurs in the end titles, starting with the third-season set. During the 1967-68 season, Warner Bros. changed its logo from the familiar WB shield to a shield with a single W. In other seasons, Warners changed the logo a few times.

With the DVD release, all of those alternate Warners logos are gone, except for a couple of third-season episodes with the single W logo. Almost all of the alternative company logos were replaced with the old WB shield that the company went back to a number of years ago.

The biggest plus for the home video release is in the second half of the first season. It includes an episode never aired on ABC, The Hiding Place. According to Jonathan Etter’s book Quinn Martin, Producer, Ford didn’t want the episode aired for fear it would spur a boycott.

UPDATE: 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Originally posted May 18. Re-posting (with some tweaks and additions) today, Dec. 1, the date of the actual anniversary.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary today. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

As far as those two geeky incidents? I don’t really have regrets. Felton died in 2012 and Vaughn on Nov. 11 of this year. My interactions with them may have been awkward. But at least I did gain some insight because of them.

In particular, I remember Vaughn talking about the end of the series at one of the collectibles shows. He said he wasn’t crushed about the show being canceled.  “I just went on to the next thing I had to do.”

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

Fritz Weaver, dependable character actor, dies at 90

Fritz Weaver's title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver’s title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver, a versatile character in television and movies, has died at 90, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

The Times’ obituary led with how Weaver won he won a Tony award and that he played a German doctor slain by the Nazis in the 1978 mini-series Holocaust.

Weaver’s career extended from the 1950s into the 21st century. It included performances in a number of 1960s spy shows, including the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The Vulcan Affair, or its movie version, To Trap a Spy) and multiple episodes of Mission: Impossible. He also appeared in the pilot to Magnum: PI, which had a story line involving international intrigue.

The actor’s non-spy television appearances included two episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Weaver’s film appearances included 1964’s Fail Safe, as an Air Force officer who cracks under pressure, and Black Sunday, a 1977 John Frankenheimer-directed movie about terrorists who attempt an attack at the Super Bowl.

While Weaver never became a star, he found steady work on film and the stage. What follows is a clip of Weaver in a third-season episode of The FBI, where he played a member of a spy ring.

Robert Vaughn, an appreciation

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in a first-season main titles of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

For people of a certain age, it’s inconceivable that Robert Vaughn is gone, dead at 83.

That’s because it seems he’s always been there. His acting career lasted more than 60 years.

It began with small parts, to finding steady work (including a secondary lead in 1960’s The Magnificent Seven), to being a star in the 1960s with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and going back to being a steady performer.

His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 200 acting credits. He received one Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (1959’s The Young Philadelphians) and won an Emmy (the 1977 miniseries, Washington: Behind Closed Doors, essentially the story of the Nixon administration with the names chaned).

With U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn became a leading man, making the character name Napoleon Solo one of the big names of the 1960s spy boom.

The show flirted with cancellation early in its first season because it was up against a popular CBS variety show hosted by Red Skelton.

But with a time slot change and a surge in interest in spy entertainment thanks to 1964’s Goldfinger, U.N.C.L.E. became a hit. Episodes of the show were re-edited (with extra footage added) to create eight movies for the international market. At the peak of U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, the early movies were even released in the United States.

In some ways, though, Vaughn didn’t act like a star. Most series leads aren’t studying for a Ph.D during production. Vaughn did.

On some series, the lead actor guards his or her status. Yet, Vaughn didn’t seem to mind as David McCallum, as Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin, went from supporting player to joint star of the show. Maybe he figured McCallum’s increased workload would free him up for more study time.

For a time, it appeared as if Vaughn might go into politics. He was politically active protesting the Vietnam War. But a political career for Vaughn never happened.

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy, the first U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy, the first U.N.C.L.E. movie.

After U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn continued to be cast in movies and guest roles on television shows. Often, he played villainous politicians (Bullitt) or business moguls (Superman III). He was in two episodes of Columbo. In the second, Last Salute to the Commodore, writer Jackson Gillis and director Patrick McGoohan sprung a twist that played on audience expectation that Vaughn must be the killer.

The actor enjoyed a late-career renaissance, with the lead in the series Hustle, about a group of London con artists. The show ran 48 episodes from 2004 to 2012. He also had a regular part in the series Coronation Street.

Over a career as long as Vaughn’s, you take some jobs that puzzle your fans. At one point, the actor did commercials for various law firms. He also promoted the Helsinki Formula for hair restoration. That even became a joke in an episode of Seinfeld titled The Deal. As The New York Times noted in its obituary of Vaughn, the actor later said he made quite a bit of money from the television spots.

But that sort of thing is only a footnote. The primary story is the connection Vaughn made with the audience. People who discovered him on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. remained fans decades later.

As word of Vaughn’s death spread on the internet on Friday, there was shock followed by sadness followed by reflection.

He had always been there. It’s now just sinking in that he’s actually gone.

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.

U.N.C.L.E. and catching lightning in a bottle

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded how this month is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles meeting Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The gathering reflected how U.N.C.L.E., for a time in the 1960s, was a very big deal. 

It was the Fab Four who requested the meeting. They were fans of the show and wanted to see the actor.

Vaughn was busy simultaneously being the lead in a U.S. television series and studying for a Ph.D. But the meeting took place anyway.

U.N.C.L.E.’s history is very much one of ups and downs. It almost got canceled in its first season. It enjoyed its best ratings in its second season (1965-66).

In fact, James Bond films actually benefited from U.N.C.L.E. Two 007 television specials, The Incredible World of James Bond and Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond (made to promote Thunderball and You Only Live Twice), aired in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot on NBC.

But by January 1968, U.N.C.L.E. was canceled as its ratings plunged.

For the most part, U.N.C.L.E. was like catching lightning in a bottle — bright and powerful. For enthusiasts (including the Spy Commander, it should be noted), the light still shines bright. To the broader population, not so much. The same applies to other ’60s spy entertainment such as The Wild Wild West, I Spy and other shows.

In the 21st century, the “lightning in a bottle” shows still are fondly remembered by the original fan base. Trying to interest younger viewers remains a challenge. A year ago this month, a new movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t find an audience even as the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series was a hit.

So it goes. Nevertheless, those who were along for the ride originally still have their memories.