McCallum: 2015 Illya was ‘ridiculous’

David McCallum, the original Illya Kuryakin, in a 1965 publicity still.

David McCallum, the original Illya Kuryakin, has said the 2015 version of the character was “ridiculous.”

Excerpts from an interview with McCallum about his career were posted this month on YouTube. One excerpt centered on McCallum’s reaction to the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

“It’s the Cold War, it’s the Berlin Wall,” McCallum said. “I thought the character of Illya was ridiculous. But he (actor Armie Hammer) did a nice job.”

The 2015 version of Illya, McCallum added, “was uptight, and crazy, and strangling people.”

In 2015, McCallum had a different view in an interview that was telecast on Fox News.

The movie “in no way encroaches into what we did back in the ’60s and at the same time uses a lot of the elements that Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe created within the old Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” McCallum said at that time.

“I think it’s a wonderful success,” McCallum told Fox News in 2015. “My favorite line in the whole movie, the new movie, is the last one delivered by Hugh Grant because clearly it’s going to lead to at least another Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. I don’t think there’s any question of that.”

The 2015 U.N.C.L.E. movie did not lead to any sequels.

Here’s the excerpt of the interview where McCallum, who turns 89 in September, talked about the 2015 movie:

Alan Caillou: Colorful writer-actor

Alan Caillou, right, with Albert Paulsen in The Terbuf Affair, an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that he also wrote.

Another in a series of unsung figures of television.

Alan Caillou (born Alan Samuel Lyle-Smythe in England in 1914) worked in front of and behind the camera.

He appeared on television shows as a character actor sporting a distinctive mustache. Behind the camera, he spun colorful tales as a writer. At times, he acted in stories he had written.

In the 1930s, he served as a member of the Palestine Police. During World War II, he served in the Intelligence Corps. It was during this time he adopted Caillou as an alias. According to his Wikipedia entry, he was captured in North Africa and imprisoned in Italy.

After the war, Lyle-Smythe returned for a time to the Palestine Police and then various posts in Africa. He later moved to Canada.

Lyle-Smythe eventually moved to California, where he was frequently employed in various television productions. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 80 credits as an actor and 28 as a writer.

One of the shows where Lyle-Smythe had a major impact was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He wrote five first-season episodes and appeared in one. The character of Illya Kuryakin had been created by Sam Rolfe. But Lyle-Smythe’s scripts expanded the mystique of the character. He wrote the first U.N.C.L.E. story, The Bow-Wow Affair, where the primary attention was on Kuryakin.

Lyle-Smythe was back at the start of U.N.C.L.E.’s second season. But there was a new production team and Lyle-Smythe departed after writing two scripts (and making another appearance). He would also appear in two episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., strictly as an actor.

Lyle-Smythe died in 2006 in Arizona at the age of 91.

Nehemiah Persoff, veteran character actor, dies

Nehemiah Persoff in Mission: Impossible

Nehemiah Persoff, a character actor who excelled at playing villains, has died at 102, according to Deadline: Hollywood and other outlets.

Persoff, over a career lasting from the late 1940s to almost 2000, played:

–A Blofeld-like villain in the 1961 John Wayne Western The Comancheros;

–A secondary Thrush villain out to kill his former mentor Mandor (Jack Lord) in The Master’s Touch Affair in the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.;

–Three episodes of The Wild Wild West, including the show’s 1965 pilot;

–Two episodes of I Spy, three episodes of Mission: Impossible, an episode of It Takes a Thief, and seven episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

Persoff could play heavies in comedies as well as dramas.

For example, Persoff played gangster Little Bonaparte in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. The mobster was hearing impaired, wearing hearing aids. Little Bonaparte has fellow gangster Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his men gunned down at a party, with the killer coming out of a large cake.

A lawman played by Pat O’Brien enters asking what happened.

“There was something in that cake that didn’t agree with them,” Little Bonaparte replies.

The actor was versatile and didn’t only portray villains.

In a 1975 episode of Columbo, he played a nightclub owner who is blackmailing a former Nazi (Jack Cassidy). Persoff’s character is killed by Cassidy’s magician character during the middle of his act.

In the final episode of Gunsmoke, he played an immigrant father who pressures his eldest son (Robert Urich) to fight him as a rite of passage.

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.