Footnote to Fleming’s involvement with U.N.C.L.E.

Last week, an artifact of Ian Fleming’s involvement in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up on social media.

It was a copy of a November 1964 article in the Daily Mail with a headline of “FLEMING’S LAST CASE: The Man From UNCLE versus The Girl From THRUSH.”

An excerpt:

Mr. (Napoleon) Solo was the last creation of Ian Fleming before he died. You will see Napoleon Solo when a new TV series called The Man From UNCLE comes to Britain next year. Mr. Solo, I predict, will soon have a following. Not perhaps quite as large as Agent 007 but satisfying enough. I like him.

What’s interesting about the article is how earlier in 1964, attorneys for Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sent a cease and desist letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where the U.N.C.L.E series was produced).

That led to legal negotiations. The result was the TV series being retitled The Man From U.N.C.L.E. instead of Solo (also the name of one of the gangsters in Goldfinger), as originally planned. At one point, MGM issued a press release saying Ian Fleming had nothing to do with the TV show. The text of both the cease-and-desist letter and the MGM press release can be FOUND HERE.

The Daily Mail story contains an amusing gaffe. It identifies the “Girl From THRUSH” as actress Anne Francis. It was really actress Janine Gray (b. 1940). The Daily Mail also used a severely cropped image of Gray from her appearance in an U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Deadly Games Affair. Here’s the full image:

Arthur Weingarten, TV writer-producer, dies

Robert Vaughn and Leo G. Carroll in a moment from The Thrush Roulette Affair, written by Arthur Weingarten

Arthur Weingarten, a writer or producer on various U.S. television series in the 1960s into the 1990s, has died at 86.

His death was noted on the In Memoriam page of the Writers Guild of America West website.

Weingarten wrote for both The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, The Green Hornet, Honey West and The Name of the Game.

He also worked on different Quinn Martin shows, including Dan August (writer), The FBI (executive story consultant in the final season) and The Manhunter (producer).

On The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Weingarten penned The Carpathian Caper Affair. That episode was typical of the show’s campy style. Carpathian Caper included a giant toaster death trap.

Yet, on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Weingarten wrote The Thrush Roulette Affair which was in line with the darker tone of that series’ final season. The episode included a brainwashed Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) trying to kill fellow agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn).

The producer of Man’s final season was Anthony Spinner. He’d hire Weingarten to work on QM’s Dan August and The FBI.

Evolution of spy entertainment 1960s-present

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball (1965)

In the newest episode of James Bond & Friends, Dr. Lisa Funnell raises the question whether spy entertainment has evolved beyond James Bond.

You could make the argument that things have regressed since the 1960s spy craze.

In 1965 alone, you could go to a movie theater and see the likes of Thunderball (the fourth James Bond movie and definitely on the escapist end of the spectrum) as well as The Ipcress Files (produced by Harry Saltzman with Bond film crew members along for the ride) and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (based on a John le Carre novel).

That’s a lot of variety for a single year.

On British and American television, you could see series either affected by Bond (The Avengers and Danger Man) or started because of the spy craze (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, I Spy and Mission: Impossible).

Today? Well, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series was influenced by early Bond movies as well as U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers.

Le Carre novels continue to be adapted but they often appear on TV mini-series.

The 1960s was the decade of the spy craze. The 1970s was a barren time for spy TV. It has waxed and waned since then.

Richard Donner dies at 91

Richard Donner, left, making a cameo in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Richard Donner, a director who made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman, has died, Variety reported. He was 91.

Donner became an A-list movie director as a result. He directed four installments of the Lethal Weapon film series as well as The Goonies, and Conspiracy Theory.

Among the stepping stones to achieving that status was helming episodes of 1960s spy TV shows. He directed four episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Get Smart.

Donner’s U.N.C.L.E. work was all within the show’s first half-season. Two of his episodes, The Quadripartite Affair and The Giuoco Piano Affair, helped establish the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum.

The Quadripartite Affair was the third episode broadcast and the first with a significant amount of air time for the Kuryakin character. That and The Giuoco Piano Affair were filmed back-to-back. But the latter episode aired four weeks later, presented as a sequel.

Donner, along with other members of the production team, had cameos in a party scene. The director’s character was listed as “Inebriate” in the end titles and was used as comedy relief.

One of Donner’s episodes for The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring, was one of the best episodes involving Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) as the arch-foe of U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

Also among Donner’s credits was a 1966 episode of The FBI with an espionage theme titled The Spy Master.

Donner also directed a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, which had no fantasy or science fiction elements. It was a spy story, essentially a match of wits between two men (Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen).

The director also helmed one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where an aircraft passenger is the only person aboard who can see a gremlin on the wing of the plane.

After Superman, Donner’s services as a film director were in demand.

Donner was Sean Connery’s first choice to direct Never Say Never Again, the 1983 non-Eon Productions James Bond film. The director, however, had misgivings about the script, according to the book Some Kind of Hero. Irvin Kirschner ended up getting the job.

How the 1970s were tough on TV spies

Robert Conrad in a publicity still for A Man Called Sloane

After a boom for spy shows in the 1960s, things dried up in the 1970s. Nevertheless, there were various attempts to return to the espionage genre.

The Spy Command Feature Story Index, the blog’s sister site, has a new story, 1970s: Tough times for spy TV. It examines a combination of unmade projects, unsold pilots and short-lived series. It’s based on some recent posts in the blog.

Among the examples: An unmade TV movie for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and unsold pilots devised by the likes of Sam Rolfe (U.N.C.L.E.) and Brian Clemens (The Avengers).

1965: U.N.C.L.E.’s star appears on a rival network

Red Skelton with Robert Vaughn, 1965

By the fall of 1965, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a big hit. In December 1965, star Robert Vaughn appeared as the guest star on CBS’s Red Skelton Hour, the variety show that almost killed U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted in September 1964 on NBC opposite Skelton’s CBS show. The spy show suffered in the ratings. NBC considered canceling U.N.C.L.E. Instead it changed the show’s time slot to Monday nights. That gave the series the boost it needed, plus a lift from Goldfinger boosting interest in spy entertainment.

A little over a year later, the Skelton show had Robert Vaughn on as a guest star. During a two-part skit, there were one-liners (perhaps ad libbed) where Skelton said Vaughn was plugging his own show.

After the skit, Vaughn appeared with Skelton. The U.N.C.L.E. star had a communicator (not the one that was seen on the series) so Skelton could call his wife. (See above.) At one point, Vaughn says into the device: “Illya get off the line, willya?”

Vaughn’s appearance was a sign of how spy shows had arrived as a thing. The Red Skelton Museum has been posting full episodes of the Skelton show to YouTube. Below is the Vaughn episode.

Unmade U.N.C.L.E. story emerges on eBay

Dean Hargrove

An unmade 1967 story treatment for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has emerged on eBay, with an asking price of $575.

The title is The Stolen Time Affair. It was written by Dean Hargrove (b. 1938), who was one of the main writers on the series. It was among a number of stories in the pipeline when U.N.C.L.E. was canceled in the middle of its fourth season.

Until now, the main thing known about The Stolen Time Affair was a short description on a list of unmade stories that appeared in a publication called The U.N.C.L.E. Files in the 1980s. “A provocative Thrushwoman threatens the use of a device that will stop clocks within a 10-mile area. Major cities of the world will be subject to chaos unless a blackmail sum is paid and collected” by U.N.C.L.E.

The treatment being sold is 25 pages. The seller provides photos of sample pages. The treatment breaks down events by acts (teaser, Act I, etc.). There’s no dialogue. The names of executive producer Norman Felton and producer Anthony Spinner are on the title page and it has a production number of 8461.

According to the seller’s description, the main character (presumably the provocative Thrushwoman) is named Alexis Nadir.

You Only Live Twice’s mysterious credit redux

You Only Live Twice promotional art

Back in 2009, the blog wrote about writer Harold Jack Bloom, the first screenwriter hired for You Only Live Twice.

After all these years, Bloom remains a mysterious figure in the Bond film series. He was an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for The Naked Spur, a 1953 Western film starring James Stewart. But books about the James Bond films gloss that over.

For example, the book Some Kind of Hero mentions Bloom wrote an episode of a television series produced by Harry Saltzman. That book says Bloom “took over writing chores” while retaining elements of a treatment written by Sydney Boehm, himself an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

How did Bloom get involved with Bond? He had a successful career. The Naked Spur put him on the map but he ended up mostly writing for television. He wrote scripts for westerns, crime dramas and medical dramas. However, he didn’t write a lot of spy stories.

The main exception to that was the second episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Iowa-Scuba Affair. The show’s day-to-day producer was Sam Rolfe, who all but created U.N.C.L.E. and had been Bloom’s collaborator on The Naked Spur.

The written history of You Only Live Twice is pretty sketchy. Bloom accompanied key production members to Japan. Then, for whatever reason, he was gone. In came Roald Dahl, an accomplished writer but who had little experience writing TV and film scripts.

Dahl was a pretty colorful character. In the 1960s, a BBC special about the making of You Only Live Twice featured Dahl prominently. Harold Jack Bloom? He was yesterday’s news.

Strictly a guess, but it seems likely Bloom got the job on the basis of his U.N.C.L.E. script. In the 21st century, it’s unlikely that Eon Productions would admit that. Albert R. Broccoli took shots at U.N.C.L.E. in his autobiography.

When legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Now and forever, Harold Jack Bloom will be a forgotten figure in the Bond film world.

A modest proposal about U.N.C.L.E.’s future

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

The future of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., if it has one, needs to be different because of changes in the movie and television industry.

Traditional over-the-air networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) face increasing pressure and programs face tight windows to prove themselves or get canceled.

U.N.C.L.E.’s last try as a feature film in 2015 wasn’t a big hit. A sequel always was a long shot and with each passing year the odds get longer.

U.N.C.L.E.’s best chance at a revival may be as a series on streaming television. Marvel Studios is extending its universe of characters to series on Disney Plus. An initial effort, WandaVision, is getting a lot of attention, with outlets doing episode-by-episode recaps.

Corporate leaders such as those at Walt Disney Co. (Marvel’s parent company) and AT&T (parent company of Warner Bros.) are going all-in on streaming.

U.N.C.L.E. is a Warner Bros. property. So if U.N.C.L.E. went streaming it would be ticketed for AT&T’s HBO Max. In 2021, AT&T is using Warner Bros. films as a loss leader to drive traffic to HBO Max. The movies show up on the streaming service and theaters (those that are open) at the same time. The films stay on HBO Max for about a month.

Of course, where U.N.C.L.E. is concerned, things are never easy. If Warner Bros. is even interested, how do you cast about for a showrunner to oversee an HBO Max version of U.N.C.L.E.? Is there someone out there who can retain the core of U.N.C.L.E. while updating it for modern audiences?

U.N.C.L.E. had an overall optimistic center (agents of all nationalities, an American was paired with a Russian). The original series, though, in its fourth season showed that could be adapted to darker storylines.

Also, do you recast? Answer: Likely. The most recent movie was actually filmed in the fall of 2013. It’s hard to maintain momentum with actors audiences haven’t seen in the roles of Solo and Illya for years.

One of those actors, Armie Hammer, is fighting for his professional life because of controversy involving a sex scandal. Who knows if the other, Henry Cavill, is still interested. You get the impression he’s waiting around to see if he can be cast as James Bond in the future.

What’s more, if a showrunner was new to U.N.C.L.E. (a strong possibility if such a streaming show happened) that person would likely want to cast the leads. A fresh start makes sense.

The streaming route raises a lot of questions. But hoping for a sequel to the 2015-released film seems like a dead end. For U.N.C.L.E. to have a future, streaming may be the way to go.

Jack Turley, veteran TV writer, dies

A group of “test tube” killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode written by Jack Turley

Jack Turley, an American TV writer who was active for three decades, died last month at the age of 93, according to the Writers Guild website.

Turley wrote in various genres including westerns, crime dramas, and soap operas. He found work in spy television shows of the 1960s, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and Blue Light, the latter a short-lived World War II spy drama starring Robert Goulet.

Turley wrote three U.N.C.L.E. episodes. One of his best-remembered stories was The Test Tube Killer Affair in the show’s fourth season.

The villainous organization Thrush has raised young killers from childhood. One of them, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones) is the prize pupil of the bunch. As a demonstration project, Martin is on a mission to blow up a dam in Greece and destroy a nearby village.

Turley also was often employed by QM Productions. Among the series he wrote for were The Fugitive, 12 O’Clock High, The FBI, and Dan August.

The writer’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 54 credits.