Fred Koenekamp, director of photography, dies

Fred Koenekamp

Fred J. Koenekamp, an Oscar winning director of photography, has died, according to an announcement on Facebook by cinematographer Roy H. Wagner. He was 94.

Koenekamp received an Oscar for his work on 1974’s The Towering Inferno. He was also nominated for photographing Patton and Islands in the Stream.

He graduated to feature films after his work on television. That included 90 of 105 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Koenekamp was twice nominated for an Emmy for his U.N.C.L.E. photography.

Koenekamp was the son of cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp (1891-1992). The elder Koenekamp began his career at the Mack Sennett Keystone Studio early in the 20th century, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fred Koenekamp got his start at RKO as a film loader, according to a biography on the Turner Classic Movies website. He worked his way up to camera operator on movies such as 1955’s Kismet and 1957’s Raintree County.

By 1963, he became director of photography, working on the MGM television series The Lieutenant. The show was created and produced by Gene Roddenberry, with Norman Felton as executive producer.

Fred Koenekamp title card from a fourth-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Lieutenant only lasted the 1963-64. Felton hired Koenekamp for his new series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The series pilot had been photographed by Joseph Biroc. Koenekamp and Biroc would both work on The Towering Inferno and shared the Oscar for that movie.

Koenekamp would remain on U.N.C.L.E. until part way through the show’s fourth, and final, season. However, Koenekamp would have one final U.N.C.L.E. credit when he photographed the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Koenekamp also subbed as director of photography for two episodes of the Mission: Impossible television series.

The cinematographer’s career extended into the 1990s, according to the IMDB.COM ENTRY. He was among the U.N.C.L.E. crew members who appeared at The Golden Anniversary Affair, a 2014 event in Los Angeles celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary.

UPDATE (6:30 p.m.): Variety has posted a short obituary that states Koenekamp died on May 31. A memorial service has been scheduled for June 17, Variety said.

Advertisements

Robert Vaughn dies at 83

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

Robert Vaughn, star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, died today at 83, according to an obituary at Deadline: Hollywood.

The actor died after battle with acute leukemia, according to the entertainment news website.

Vaughn had plenty of roles over a long career, including The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Bullitt (1968). He remained active in recent years, including a U.K. stage production of 12 Angry Men.

Still, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which ran from September 1964 to January 1968 on NBC, made Vaughn a star. He played Napoleon Solo, a character created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming. Solo was an enforcement agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, an international agency. U.N.C.L.E., which was developed fully by writer-producer Sam Rolfe, was a post-Cold War series airing in the midst of the Cold War.

Vaughn’s Solo had similarities to Fleming’s James Bond. Both were womanizers and sophisticated in the ways of the world. But Solo worked with a Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). In the Bond film series, the notion wouldn’t occur until 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Solo also had more of a moral code than Bond. Part of the format called for Solo to interact with “innocents,” ordinary people either recruited to help U.N.C.L.E. or who stumbled into the action. As a result, Solo had to look out for the innocents, which made his character different than 007.

In the final episode of the series, Vaughn had one of his best scenes as he confronted the conspirators of a plot to take over the world. That was a familiar plot of escapist 1960s spy entertainment. Yet, in that scene, Vaughn played it entirely seriously, giving the proceedings a gravitas they might ordinarily lack.

Years after the series, Vaughn had a lengthy interview with the Archive of American television. Here’s a clip where he discussed U.N.C.L.E.

In real life, Vaughn was an intellectual. He studied for his Ph.D while U.N.C.L.E. was in production. Vaughn, an opponent of the Vietnam war, debated the subject with William F. Buckley on the latter’s Firing Line series. Buckley introduced Vaughn as “a professional actor.” However, Vaughn was thoroughly prepared and the debate (on Buckley’s home turf) was judged a draw.

Post-U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn tended to play villains, such as the politician he portrayed in Bullitt. He did get to reprise the Solo role in the 1983 television movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. He indicated he’d be willing to play a cameo role in the 2015 film version directed by Guy Ritchie. But he was never approached.

Vaughn died 11 days short of what would have been his 84th birthday.

We’ll have a more detailed “appreciation” post tomorrow.

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.

Patrick Macnee, an appreciation

Patrick Macnee's image in an end titles to an episode of The Avengers

Patrick Macnee’s image in a titles sequence of an episode of The Avengers

Patrick Macnee had a career that last decades. His acting credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY begin in 1938 and run through 2003.

During that span, he didn’t get the role that defined his career — John Steed on The Avengers — until he was 39.

Even then, it took a while for The Avengers to become a worldwide phenomenon. Macnee’s Steed was the one consistent element in a show that changed cast members often.

It’s easy to see why. John Steed didn’t just know the right wines. He knew which end of the vineyard where the grapes had been grown. Steed could handle himself but — as the epitome of the English gentleman — he could adeptly out think his foes as well as out fight them.

It was all outrageous, of course. Steed and his various colleagues encountered robots, mad scientists, Soviet agents and all sorts of dangers. All were dispatched with a sense of style and elegance.

After that show ran its course, he seemed to transition effortlessly to an in-demand character actor. The captain of a cruise ship on Columbo. An alien menace on Battlestar Galactica. Dr. Watson in the made-for-TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York.

All done with style, seemingly without effort. It seemed like he’d go on forever. He couldn’t, of course. He died today at 93.

Anytime it seems like a performance was effortless, chances are it wasn’t. To keep getting acting gigs is tough. However, watching Macnee it’s understandable why casting directors would keep turning to him.

Even with lesser material, he established a presence. For example, the 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had an uneven script. Yet Macnee shined as new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh. When performing great material — such an Avengers script by Brian Clemens or Philip Levene — Macnee made it even more special.

Part of it was his distinctive voice. In the 1990s, when documentaries were made about James Bond movies for home video releases, he was a natural to narrate them. (He didn’t narrate Inside A View to a Kill, presumably because he was in the cast of the 1985 007 movie.)

On social media today, fans all over the world expressed sadness. That’s very understandable. Macnee was so good, for so long, it was easy to take him for granted. Nobody is doing so today.

Patrick Macnee dies at 93, BBC says

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Macnee, debonair actor best known for playing John Steed on The Avengers, died today at 93, according to the BBC, WHICH CITED MACNEE’S SON RUPERT.

There was also a statement ON THE ACTOR’S WEBSITE that said Macnee “died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California…with his family at his bedside.”

Macnee enjoyed a long career, playing dozens of characters. Still, The Avengers and his character of John Steed, with his bowler and umbrella, became Macnee’s career trademark. The show first went into production in 1961. Its greatest popularity came when he was paired with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

The actor saw two of his co-stars — Honor Blackman and Rigg — leave the series to take the lead female role in James Bond movies (Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Another Majesty’s actress, Joanna Lumley, was Macnee’s co-star in a 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Macnee finally got his turn at a Bond movie, A View to a Kill, in 1985, playing an ally of Bond (Roger Moore) who is killed by henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones). Macnee, years earlier, had played Dr. Watson to Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in a made-for-television movie. Macnee also made a properly dignified chief of U.N.C.L.E. in 1983’s The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

UPDATE: For the second time this month (Christopher Lee’s death was the other), Roger Moore bids adieu to a colleague:

Henry Cavill’s Ian Fleming milestone

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie began filming in London on Sept. 6, and a photo of Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo surfaced, including AT THE HENRY CAVILL NEWS SITE. Cavill, and what appears to be co-star Armie Hammer, have their backs to the cameras but the image spread on the Internet, nevertheless.

As a result, Cavill has now reached an Ian Fleming milestone — portraying two Ian Fleming-related characters, Solo and James Bond.

The latter occurred in 2005 when Cavill, then 22, DID A SCREEN TEST AS BOND for Casino Royale director Martin Campbell.

That’s a performance with an asterisk — screen tests aren’t intended for the public. But a lot was riding for Cavill with his test. If Cavill was going to show what he had as 007, the screen test was his last chance to demonstrate it. Producer Barbara Broccoli had favored Daniel Craig but Cavill was one of the finalists. Craig got the job, which he still holds eight years later.

Now, Cavill has filmed his first scenes as Solo, the character that Ian Fleming co-created with television producer Norman Felton. In a way, Solo is (figuratively) a distant relative of Bond’s.

This is mostly happenstance. Actors haven’t had the opportunity for both roles and there hasn’t been an U.N.C.L.E. production since 1983’s The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie. Still, it’s a milestone of a sort for Cavill.

Meanwhile, some Cavill fans haven’t given up on the actor succeeding Craig as 007. CLICK HERE for a Facebook page.

MI6 Confidential examines Octopussy’s 30th anniversary

miconfidential21

MI6 Confidential, for its 21st issue, takes a look at Octopussy on its 30th anniversary.

Included in the issue is a forward by Roger Moore; an examination of how the screenplay evolved; interviews with director John Glen and cast members Maud Adams, who played the title character, Kristina Wayborn and Kabir Bedi; and a story about the television movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E., which featured a cameo by ex-007 George Lazenby as “JB,” and debuted on U.S. television two months before Octopussy arrived in theaters.

The magazine costs seven British pounds, $11 or 8.50 Euros. For more information about the issue and ordering information, CLICK HERE

EARLIER POSTS:
OCTOPUSSY’S 30TH: BATTLE OF THE BONDS ROUND 1

RETURN OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.’S 30TH ANNIVERSARY