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. 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.

Happy 86th birthday, David McCallum

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

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 86th 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.

Carol Lynley dies at 77

Carol Lynley (1942-2019)

Carol Lynley, an actress who was busy in movies and TV shows in the 1960s and ’70s, has died at 77, according to Variety.

In films, she appeared in Harlow, Bunny Lake Is Missing and The Poseidon Adventure.

Lynley also made the rounds on U.S. television shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, The FBI, It Takes a Thief and Hawaii Five-O.

Her IMDB.COM entry lists more than 100 acting credits from 1956 to 2006.

Without whom, etc. (55th anniversary)

Headline for a 1964 obituary for Ian Fleming

Today, Aug. 12, is the 55th anniversary of the death of Ian Fleming.

Without Fleming (1908-1964), much of the 1960s spy craze wouldn’t happen.

Without Fleming, there’d be no James Bond series of novels.

Without Fleming, there’d be no James Bond series of movies.

Without Fleming, there’s be no Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series. The show came about because an inquiry was made whether Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book could be turned into a television series.

Without Fleming, there’d be no attempts to cash in on 007 films.

U.N.C.L.E. fanfic: Adventures of George and Quentin

1998 fanzine with the first, and only (thankfully), installment of The Adventures of George and Quentin

Director Quentin Tarantino is a fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In the 1990s, he talked about directing an U.N.C.L.E. film with himself as Illya Kuryakin and George Clooney as Napoleon Solo.

This week, I found out he’s apparently a (silent) member of an U.N.C.L.E. page on Facebook. That caused me to recall a one-time fanfiction series, The Adventures of George and Quentin.

Of course, I wrote it. So naturally I’d remember it.

It was a Mad magazine-like takeoff. It was written after 1997’s Batman and Robin, where Clooney got a lot of flak for his portrayal of Batman. Also, the takeoff imagined a Pulp Fiction version of Kuryakin.

All of this was filler for a fanzine with more conventional U.N.C.L.E. stories. The format was to rewrite, in script form, original U.N.C.L.E. scripts with the George and Quentin team.

Here’s one example:

THE ADVENTURES OF GEORGE AND QUENTIN IN THE DEADLY GAMES AFFAIR

INT. NIGHT. STAMP SHOP

STAMP EXERT (holds tweezers)
It is a desecration!

SOLO
Uh, is that bad?

STAMP EXPERT
Would you wipe the smile off the Mona Lisa?

ANGELIQUE (Uma Thurman)
Well, hotcakees, I guess we’re back to square one.
(pins flower on SOLO)

ANGELIQUE
Maybe I’ll see ya around.

ANGELIQUE leaves. In comes ILLYA who has been observing this scene from the window of the front door.

ILLYA
Why is that b**** so f****** happy? Who got killed?

SOLO
(bobs head, smiles)
Aw lay off, Illya. Everything is OK.

CUT to another angle where we see the flower has gotten ILLYA’s attention.

CUT to extreme close up of the flower. There is a deadly spider on it.

CUT BACK to the original shot. ILLYA swats the spider off the flower and then stomps on it.

CUT to close up of ILLYA’s foot stomping the spider. The camera lens is stained.

CUT back to the original shot.

ILLYA
G****** it. Napoleon! Can’t you keep your f****** fly zipped?

STAMP EXPERT
You mean that beautiful woman just tried to kill him?

ILLYA
Do you have s*** for brains? Of course she tried to f****** kill him!

SOLO
You know Shakespeare, my friend?

STAMP EXPERT
No.

SOLO
(smiles, bobs head)
Oh. Well never mind then.

There were four others of these, with George and Quentin versions of The Shark Affair, The Foxes and Hounds Affair, The Mad, MAD Tea Party Affair and The Project Strigas Affair.

Dean Hargrove talks about U.N.C.L.E.

Dean Hargrove

Writer-producer Dean Hargrove gave a March interview to the Writers Guild Foundation. A chunk of it concerned The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the 1964-68 series where he was one of the main writers.

Here are some of the U.N.C.L.E.-related comments made by Hargrove, 80, during the interview.

First-season producer Sam Rolfe: “Sam Rolfe…was a superior writer and a brilliant guy to devise formats for television shows. Sam was a tough cookie. Writers were going through this show like rabbits on the run. We sort of hit it off.”

Hargrove becomes staff writer in Season Two: Rolfe departed after the first season. Hargrove wrote two Season One scripts and was hired on for Season Two.

“I sort of had a handle on the show so it came easy to me… It was considered I had the Holy Grail. I was the one who knew the show. Nobody else really kind of understood it.

“People would turn to me and ask me should it be like this or like that. I’m saying, ‘Try that, I really don’t know.’ I just knew I had a facility for writing that show. And from a career standpoint, it’s like somebody turned on the lights.

“The show I thought was a bit of a hula hoop because it wasn’t based solidly on character, you know, it was based on style and other superficial things which were very entertaining. I loved the show and really loved working on it.”

David McCallum and Robert Vaughn in The Never-Never Affair, the first U.N.C.L.E. episode written by Dean Hargrove.

Executive Producer Norman Felton: “Norman was a very nice man and a character at the same time. He was always afraid of having to pay people money. This was one of his quirks. He didn’t like giving people raises.

“At one point, because he was getting more and more successful, he moved down into a little office…when he had a big office up in the Thalberg Building (at MGM). That way, he felt people would be less entitled to come down and ask him for raises.

“He drove an old Chevrolet. The studio asked if would he please let them give him a new car because it’s embarrassing a guy who’s producing all these shows is driving this old car.

Producer turnover on U.N.C.L.E.: Three different men filled the producer’s chair in Season Two. “I don’t think it helped the show. I don’t think any of the guys who came on really had a good handle on the show…I don’t think the producers had a good handle on the material….I thought one producer in particular didn’t understand the show at all.”

Hargrove declined to name that producer. During the second season, David Victor, Mort Abrams and Boris Ingster served as producers. Ingster returned for Season Three. He was replaced in Season Four by Anthony Spinner, who brought a more serious approach.

U.N.C.L.E.’s legacy: “I don’t think there’s a real legacy. I don’t think you can point to shows on television and say this is the spiritual grandchild of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

The U.N.C.L.E. portion of the interview starts after the 35:00 mark of this first part.

Part two begins with U.N.C.L.E. and that lasts about 20 minutes.

U.N.C.L.E. car to be part of ‘Dream Machines’ exhibit

Robert Vaughn with the U.N.C.L.E. car in a third-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Piranha U.N.C.L.E. car will be part of an exhibit titled Hollywood Dream Machines at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The car is owned by Robert Short, who has a variety of special and visual effects credits in film and television. He announced the news in a post on Facebook on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – Inner Circle page. That’s a fan page where he’s the administrator.

The car with gull-wing doors was a prototype built by AMT Corp. in Phoenix, according to an online history of the vehicle. It debuted during the 1966-67 season on both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

By this time, the Aston Martin DB5 that appeared in Goldfinger had inspired other “spy cars.” The AMT Piranha was supposed to have various weapons and defensive systems, but few episodes really showed them off.

The Hollywood Dream Machines exhibit opens during the first weekend of May.