U.N.C.L.E. script: A future Oscar winner takes a turn

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

In the earliest days of making The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, one writer would go on to bigger things.

His name? Robert Towne, who’d win an Oscar for writing 1974’s Chinatown. The Dove Affair would be his only contribution to U.N.C.L.E.

A script he submitted dated August 1964, has some interesting differences with the episode that would air on NBC on Dec. 15, 1964.

As with the episode, the story begins after the death of the head of an Eastern European nation, Milo Jans and the leader’s body is laying in state. “His name ‘MILO JANS 1884-1964’ and the phrase ‘PRINCE AMONG BARBARIANS, AND BARBARIAN AMONG PRINCES’ is inlaid on the brick wall directly behind the tomb.”

An American teacher, Miss Taub, and her students are present. She tells her students about Jans’ historical importance.

A mysterious man prepares an explosive. Miss Taub continues her briefing for the students. An explosive goes off. The man breaks into the tomb and takes a medal on the body of Jans.

The man (still not identified) has hidden the medal and meets up on a bridge with Satine, an intelligent operative for Jans’ country. Eventually, Satine double-crosses the man, sending him to the water below.

Then, the secret police of the country come up to Satine. They ask what happened to the man. Satine says he would have preferred the man be apprehended alive.

We cut to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. The man turns out to be a now-dead U.N.C.L.E. agent. There is video of the dead U.N.C.L.E. agent with Jans while he was alive. Alexander Waverly now ponders what to do next. Waverly *now turns* to Napoleon Solo, the Number One of Section Two (operations and enforcement).


Now why? Why would one of our best Section III people risk an international incident by defiling a national teasure?


Why in fact did Jans ask us there at all?

At this point, Waverly assigns Solo to the affair. The briefing includes some details about Satine. Since 1949, he has been first deputy chief of KREB, the country’s intelligence agency. Until 1962, it wasn’t known whether Satine was one man or several. It was discovered he was only one person because he imports special drugs for stomach trouble.

In the final episodes, things were simplified. Solo takes the medal from the body of Jans, is almost killed by Satine but comes back.

Ricardo Montalban was cast as Satine, and the stomach drugs bit remained. June Lockhart played Miss Taub and she was one of the best “innocents” in the story. Miss Taub and her students end up helping Solo get out of fix toward the end of the story.

Happy 115th birthday to Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

May 28, 1908 (or 28-May-1908) marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming.

Fleming, of course, was the creator of James Bond. He was also the co-creator (with Norman Felton) of the character of Napoleon Solo, the lead character of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The latter gets less attention because Fleming sold off his interest for 1 British pound in 1963.

Regardless, without Fleming, the 1960s spy craze would never would had happened.

One can debate whether there were better versions of the spy craze (in particular John Le Carre’s stories).

Yet Fleming (and Fleming-inspired properties) lifted all boats in the ’60s. Without Fleming, things would have been much different.

60th anniversary of the end of Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

The spring and summer of 1963 was a decisive period for Ian Fleming’s involvement — and in the end non-involvement — in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming and producer Norman Felton had met just months earlier, Oct. 29-31, 1962. The two had co-created Napoleon Solo. Felton turned over that material to writer-producer Sam Rolfe to do the heavy lifting. Rolfe revamped the previous ideas into a series proposal. It was titled Ian Fleming’s Solo. Rolfe was not happy about that. It was mostly (actually, almost entirely) his work.

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sent 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 wanted 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.

However, Fleming was under pressure from Bond film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to exit U.N.C.L.E. Fleming would sell off his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound.

In early July 1963, Felton sent Fleming a letter: “May I thank you for meeting with me when I was in England recently. It was deeply appreciated in view of all of the pressures on you at that time. I am hoping, incidentally, that your move to the country has worked out satisfactorily.

“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.”

Fleming sent a reply to Felton 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.”

About continuity in James Bond continuation novels

To listen to an audio version of this post, CLICK HERE.

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but apparently, it does….continuation in the 007 continuation novels DOESN’T EXIST.

Let’s take a look.

Colonel Sun (1968, by Kingley Amis, writing as Robert Markham): This novel by an Ian Fleming admirer, seeks to be tied closely to Fleming’s originals.

The Fleming heirs (at least then) wanted to keep the Bond novels going. The Robert Markham pen name was intended for future Bond literary stories.

But this initial effort didn’t get beyond Colonel Sun. Anne Fleming, the author’s widow, wasn’t that interested.

Licensed Renewed-Cold: John Gardner was commissioned by Fleming’s heirs to restart the Bond literary series. His novels were published starting in 1981 through the mid-1990s. The books were “timeshifted” from Fleming’s originals with references to the creator’s works. Gardner’s books included novelizations for the Licence to Kill and Goldeneye films made by Eon Productions.

Zero Minus Ten-The Man With the Red Tatoo: Raymond Benson, who penned the James Bond Bedside Companion, was hired to take over from Gardner. In addition to the novels cited here, Benson wrote short stories that first appeared in Playboy and TV Guide. Like Gardner, Benson’s stories were timeshifted. Benson also did novelizations based on Eon movies.

Sebastian Faulks (2008): Years after Benson’s exit, the Fleming heirs hired celebrated author Faulks to do a Bond novel for the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth. Supposedly, Faulks was “writing as Ian Fleming.”

Jeffery Deaver (2011): The American author was hired by the Fleming heirs to write Carte Blanche. It was intended as the start of a new timeshifted series. But nothing happened after publication.

William Boyd (2013): The Fleming estate hired another established novelist to do a period piece, set in 1969. Amusingly, the title came from a TV project Ian Fleming was involved with that would be retitled The Man From U.N.C.L.E. None of the publicity mentioned this. Perhaps the heirs didn’t appreciate that Fleming sold his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound.

Anthony Horowitz (2015-2022): The Fleming estate hired Horowitz for what would be a trilogy set in the Ian Feming timeline. The first book, Trigger Mortis takes place after the events of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel. Forever and a Day takes place before Casino Royale. Horwitz’s final Bond effort, With a Mind to a Kill, occurs after The Man with the Golden Gun novel.

Since then, Kim Sherwood and Charlie Higson have done timeshifted novels. There is no way to tie all of this to a continuity.

If any fan thinks they’re being clever pointing out discrepancies, forget it. It’s like pointing out time differences in comic books and comic strips. It’s fiction. Ian Fleming himself changed Bond’s timeline while doing his novels and short stories. The likes of Superman, Batman, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Spider-Man, etc., etc. don’t hold up to a firm timeline.

It’s fiction. That’s how it works.

Citadel tries a new twist on the independent spy agency

Amazon Prime is out with a streaming series representing another try at the concept of the independent spy agency, one not tied to any one country.

Citadel’s first two episodes debuted April 28, with additional episodes scheduled to be released weekly. What follows isn’t a full-fledged review but rather impressions about the premiere episodes.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. helped popularize the concept in the 1960s, featuring a multi-national agency. Thus, U.N.C.L.E. paired an American agent (Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo) and a Russian (David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin).

In the 21st century, Kingman: The Secret Service was about an independent organization. It was darker and more cynical than U.N.C.L.E. and other 1960s spy entertainment it drew from.

Citadel definitely is closer to the Kingsman model. One of the promos for the streaming show says no one is all good. That’s certainly demonstrated when one Citadel operative is interrogating three prisoners.

Citadel has an impressive body count in the first two episodes and it begins right from the start of episode 1. There are, by now, the standard frantic fight scenes, fatal gunshots and fancy camera angles. At times, it resembles a Marvel movie. That’s not surprising because Marvel alumni Joe and Anthony Russo are among the many credited executive producers.

The concept is Citadel was almost totally destroyed by its nemesis organization Manticore. While no one is all good, Manticore is more bad and is responsible for various calamities around the globe.

Two ace Citadel operatives, Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) survived but have amnesia and don’t recall their past lives. Another survivor is Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), a Citadel tech whiz who never lost his memory.

The question is whether the audience will get into the characters. My initial impression was there was a lot of checking of boxes. Variety, in an April 28 review, referred to the series as “a business plan in search of a creative concept.”

Citadel has another four episodes. We’ll see whether the characters make more of an impression.

U.N.C.L.E.’s end: A footnote

On Twitter, @Stingray_travel posted an old trade advertisement from MGM Television pitching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for syndication to local television stations.

The show was canceled by NBC midway during the 1967-68 season. “How can a network series like the Man From U.N.C.L.E. become available for local station programming in mid season?” the ad reads.

MGM suggested national ratings underestimated the show’s appeal in metro areas. The ad presents a chart MGM said showed U.N.C.L.E. was in first or second place in 15 of 22 markets in October 1967.

“So someone goofed on the national scene,” the ad reads. “So now you can make it big on the local scene with U.N.C.L.E. — still the original, still the swingest show of its kind.”

As it turned out, U.N.C.L.E. was not a huge hit in syndication. Certainly not like the original Star Trek, where that science fiction show took on a whole new life in syndication and won over new fans.

An interesting part of the ad is its tagline. “128 hours of high-spying adventure. Call your MGM Television man and say U.N.C.L.E.”

U.N.C.L.E. actually generated 134 hours — 105 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and 29 for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Not all episodes were being made available. One third-season Man episode, scripted by Harlan Ellison, generated a lawsuit, causing the episode to be withheld from syndication distribution for years.

Some episodes that were re-edited into movies may also have been withheld at this point. Eventually, all TV episodes and all movie versions would become available. In some cases, there are major continuity differences. In The Four-Steps Affair, Australian U.N.C.L.E. agent Kitt Kittridge (Donald Harron) survives, but he is killed by a Napoleon Solo impostor in The Spy With My Face film.

Amazon to come out with a spy show

Richard Madden

Amazon, through its ownership of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has ties to the James Bond film franchise. But Eon Productions controls output of the films and isn’t in a hurry to make Bond 26. What’s a huge company to do?

The answer: Come out with a new streaming spy show, one that evokes The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Kingsman and features an actor who’s been mentioned as a potential film Bond.

The result is Citadel, described by Vanity Fair as “an action spy show that was the first-ever global TV series, with a main show and then local offshoots around the world.”

Citadel is described by Vanity Fair as “a spy organization that has no allegiance to any country.”

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. featured a multi-national organization, a sort-of United Nations spy organization. The Kingsman movies feature an independent intelligence organization, inspired by U.N.C.L.E.

One of the stars of Citadel is Richard Madden, 36, whose name gets mentioned as a potential future Bond actor. Also involved with the project are brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who made the biggest hits for Marvel Studios. In 2022, the Russos made The Gray Man, a spy movie for Netflix.

Madden plays an agent named Mason Kane, according to Vanity Fair. His partner was Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). Citadel, the organization they worked for, has fallen to a villainous organization called Manticore (which sounds similar to Thrush, the villainous organization in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). Their memories are gone.

In any case, Citadel’s first two episodes are scheduled to debut on Amazon Prime on April 28.

To view the Vanity Fair article about Citadel, CLICK HERE.

Real life catches up to (some) futuristic tropes

Dick Tracy started out with a two-way wrist radio (1946), then upgraded to a two-way wrist TV (1964) and upgraded yet again to a two-way wrist computer (1986).

One of the appeals of the 1960s spy craze was how it embraced gadgets.

In From Russia With Love (1963), James Bond could be buzzed out in the field to call back to headquarters. In Goldfinger, the original version of the Aston Martin DB5 was equipped with a GPS device (a term not coined at the time). The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had communication devices of apparently unlimited range.

The spy craze was predated by the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip by Chester Gould (1900-85). The detective got his two-way wrist radio in 1946, courtesy of industrialist Diet Smith. Smith upgraded the device to a two-way wrist TV in 1964 and a two-way wrist computer in 1986.

But has real life caught up to all this?

The Screen Rant website has come out with an article saying Bond 26 will struggle to utilize gadgets.

Although the gadgets used by James Bond have always been a vital part of the franchise’s appeal, it seems unlikely that Bond 26 will be able to bring back this 007 trope.

We’ll see about that.

The 1960s spy craze had some gadgets yet to be invented. For example, episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included “McGuffins” such as a limitless energy supply developed to repel invaders from outer space (The Double Affair), a serum that accelerates the healing of the human body (The Girls of Nazarone Affair), a mind-reading machine (The Foxes and Hounds Affair) and a device that can reverse the aging process (The Bridge of Lions Affair).

And, of course, we have yet to see anything like the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s spacecraft with magnetic power.

Wait, what? Really?

Henry Cavill

Supposedly, a sequel to the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is in development, according to a website called Giant Freakin Robot. (Giant Freakin Robot?)

Cavill, who turns 40 in June, has departed various film franchises. He was once Superman but is no longer. He was once the star of the streaming series The Witcher but is no longer.

U.N.C.L.E. didn’t catch on when it was released in August 2015. Normally, that would be it.

Yet, this is an excerpt from the latest article:

 Through our trusted and proven sources, we can report that The Man from U.N.C.L.E 2 is being developed with Henry Cavill returning in the main role. Guy Ritchie is also returning to write and direct the sequel, though we are sure Armie Hammer will not be in it.

Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin in the 2015 movie, has endured, shall we say, various controversies that have stalled his acting career.

For now, color the blog skeptical. Maybe something will happen. Then again, it may be another chapter in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Henry Cavill: The U.N.C.L.E. footnote

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (as devised by the late Paul Baack)

There has been plenty of coverage how Henry Cavill is being retired as Superman. Some James Bond fans still hold out (the fading) hope the 39-year-old Cavill could still be cast as James Bond. But that may be a long shot at this point.

Meanwhile, this week, the Collider website published an article that The Man From U.N.C.LE. was “the Henry Cavill franchise that should have been.”

Background: Cavill was a late casting as Napoleon Solo for the U.N.C.L.E. movie (filmed in the fall of 2013, but not released until August 2015).

Until Cavill came aboard, the filmmakers envisioned an older Solo paired with a younger Illya Kuryakin. Armie Hammer was cast as Illya first. Eventually, Guy Ritchie took over the project and his first choice was Brad Pitt as an older Solo. For a time, Tom Cruise was in the picture, but he went back to Paramount’s Mission: Impossible franchise.

When Cavill was cast as Solo, the concept of the original series was re-established: Two leads of about the same age.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie was not a financial success. It divided fans of the original 1964-68 television series. Some loved it. Others despised it, saying it was U.N.C.L.E. in name only.

Regardless, there is a “what could have been” vibe associated with all this. We’ll likely never know what could have been.