"People say that Star Trek predicted
the cell phone with their communicators these U.N.C.L.E. guys had
Kirk beat with phones in their pens!"
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an American
television series that was broadcast on NBC from September 22nd,
1964, to January 15th, 1968. It follows the exploits of two secret
agents, played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who work for a
fictitious secret international espionage and law-enforcement agency
co-creator Sam Rolfe wanted to leave the meaning of U.N.C.L.E.
ambiguous so it could be viewed as either referring to "Uncle
Sam" or the United Nations. Concerns by the MGM Legal department
about possible New York law violations for using the abbreviation
"U.N." for commercial purposes resulted in the producers
clarifying that U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym. After trying several
possible combinations for U.N.C.L.E., Rolfe settled on "United
Network Command for Law and Enforcement." Still. the United
Nations objected to the name U.N.C.L.E. on the grounds that people
might connect the real international organization with the fictional
one. In fact, many people did, even applying for jobs with the U.N.
in the hope of becoming international spies. To quiet the legal
eagles, Felton came up with the tag line used at the end of the
credits of each episode: "We wish to thank the United Network
Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose assistance this
program would not have been possible." True... sort of. Not all
viewers got the joke.
Norman Felton was a successful TV producer
in the early '60s. His company, Arena Productions, was flying high
with the success of Dr. Kildare, and he was looking for new projects
to undertake. Prime-time TV was crammed with Westerns, doctor shows,
and police shows. He thought the timing was right for a completely
different kind of show, featuring stories of espionage and
the fall of 1962 he approached Ian Fleming (right), author of the
James Bond series, with a concept for a new television series based
loosely on Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. After some prodding
by Felton, Fleming came up with an outline for a series about a spy
with certain similarities to his creation James Bond. He made a
number of suggestions, including the name of the spy, Napoleon Solo.
He suggested that Solo's boss would have a secretary, similar to Miss
Moneypenny in the Bond series, and that her name be April Dancer.
Felton also brought in Sam Rolfe, whose television credits as
creator, producer, and writer included Have Gun Will Travel,
Playhouse 90, and The Eleventh Hour.
One aspect of North by Northwest that
Felton particularly liked was that an innocent character (Cary Grant)
was mistaken for a spy and swept into a web of intrigue, murder, and
deceit. As he and Rolfe developed the idea for the television series,
they decided that the involvement of an innocent character would be
an integral part of each episode, giving the television audience
someone they could identify with. Through all the changes in
U.N.C.L.E. in the course of its four- year run, that one element
remained a constant factor, from a suburban housewife in the first
episode, "The Vulcan Affair," to the various people
kidnapped in the final episode, "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair."
aspect of U.N.C.L.E. that was instilled from the beginning was that
the hero be an "average" person, not a tall, muscular
figure like the heroes of so many Westerns. Indeed, all three actors
selected to star in the show were under six feet tall, and none of
them would have been mistaken for a bodybuilder. Although the show
had the usual number of fight scenes for television in the '60s, the
underlying theme was that the heroes won out through their smarts
rather than their ability to beat up everybody else in the room.
"Average" persons nonetheless, Felton wanted a "Cary
Grant type" to play Solo, dark, handsome, and debonair. He
picked Robert Vaughn, who had been in Arena's canceled series The Lieutenant.
Rolfe came up with the idea to have a
Russian agent in the organization to give it a truly international
flavor. To have an American and a Russian working together at the
height of the Cold War was a daring concept. David McCallum, a
British actor who had come to America to film The Greatest Story Ever
Told, was selected to play Illya Kuryakin, but only had a brief role
in the pilot.
Kuluva (far left) was selected to play the head of U.N.C.L.E., known
only as Mr. Allison. Although his role did not survive past the pilot
episode, Kuluva appeared in other roles later in the series. Leo G.
Carroll would take the role of Mr. Waverley in the series, having
also played the head of a top-secret organization in film North by
Northwest, a role that led directly to Carroll being cast as Mr. Waverly.
The pilot was filmed in color from late
November to early December 1963 with locations at a Lever Brothers
soap factory in California, the show was originally titled Ian
Fleming's Solo and later just Solo. President Kennedy was
assassinated during the filming, and work on it was halted during the
period of national mourning.
In February 1964 a law firm representing
James Bond movie producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli sent
a cease-and-desist letter demanding an immediate end to the use of
Flemings name in connection with the planned Solo series, and
an end to all use of the name and character "Solo",
"Napoleon Solo" and "Mr. Solo". At that time
filming was underway for the Bond movie Goldfinger, where Martin
Benson was playing a supporting character named "Mr. Solo".
The claim was the name "Solo" had already been sold to them
by Fleming, and Fleming could not use it again. Fleming signed an
affidavit that nothing in the Solo pilot infringed on any of his Bond
characters, but had to withdraw from the series. The threat of
continued legal action resulted in a settlement where the character
name of Napoleon Solo could be kept, but the title of the show had to
change. April Dancer was reincarnated years later as the girl from U.N.C.L.E.
NBC Executive in New York was not completely happy with the pilot
script. Felton received a call saying they wanted to replace one of
the secondary players, but the executive could not remember the name.
Felton at this point was fighting all the time with the Network. The
executive stated he wanted to drop someone but could not remember
this name saying "K...K..." and Felton replied Kuluva? and
the excutive replied "'That's it.'" Felton did not argue
much to the executives' surprise as he wanted to replace Kuluva
anyway. Felton told the executives that he wanted to replace Kuluva
with Leo G. Carroll. The executives thought Leo G. Carroll was a
little too old for the part. Felton was puzzled but it only became
clear later on. The executive called again and asked who was the guy
replaced by Leo G. Carroll? Felton responded "Will Kuluva"
and the executive responded that he actually meant David McCallum
(Kuryakin). He wanted to get rid of the Russian and thought Leo G.
Carroll was too old to be Solo's sidekick. Felton responded that the
contracts had already been signed, it was too late. Felton told the
executive if he had known they were talking about Kuryakin he would
have fought for him because he felt he was important. Several years
later Felton bumped into the executive and said it was the best
mistake he had ever made.
color sequences with Luciana Paluzzi were shot in April 1964 and
added to the pilot in order for MGM to release it outside the United
States as a feature film titled To Trap a Spy. It premiered in Hong
Kong in November 1964. The extra scenes were further reedited (to
tone down the overt sexuality) and later used in the regular series
of the episode "The Four-Steps Affair".
Beyond the extra scenes for the feature
film, and the revised scenes shot and edits made for the television
episode, there are other differences among the three versions of the
story. Before the show went into full production there was concern
from the MGM legal department that the name of THRUSH for the pilot's
international criminal organization sounded too much like SMERSH, the
international spy killing organization in Fleming's Bond series. The
studio instead suggested names such as Raven, Shark, Squid, Vulture,
Tarantula, Snipe, Sphinx, Dooom, and Maggot (the latter used in some
early first draft scripts). Although no formal legal action took
place, the organization's name was redubbed as "WASP" in
the feature version To Trap a Spy.
original pilot itself was not modified and kept THRUSH (presumably
as it was not intended to be released to the public in that version).
Felton and Rolfe pushed for the reinstatement of THRUSH. It turned
out that WASP could not be continued to be used as British television
series Stingray was based around an organisation called WASP - The
World Aquanaut Security Patrol. By May 1964 the issue had been
cleared up, and THRUSH was retained for the television episode edit
of the pilot. Despite this, the name WASP was used in the feature
film when released in Japan in late 1964 and left as WASP in the U.S.
release in 1966. Another change among the three versions of the pilot
story was the cover name for the character of Elaine May Donaldson.
In the original pilot it was Elaine Van Nessen; in the television
version as well as the feature version it was redubbed to Elaine Van
Every. Illya Kuryakin's badge number is 17 in the pilot rather than
his typical number 2 during the run of the series. And one more
difference was Solo's hair style, which after new footage was added
changed back and forth from a slicked back style to the less severe
style he wore throughout the series. When Leo G. Carroll joined the
cast as Mr. Waverley and some scenes were re-shot in pilot episode
that was re-edited to fit a one hour time slot, converted to black
and white, and shown on television as "The Vulcan Affair".
Felton hoped to get the go-ahead from NBC to do the series in color.
The network, however, insisted on black-and-white in order to save
money, an unfortunate error in judgment. The show went to color in
the second season and thereafter. Most fans of the series today agree
the first-season episodes were the best of all, but because they are
in black-and-white, they have been less attractive to syndicators.
Rolfe called the pilot his favorite
episode of the series, hardly surprising in light of all the work he
put into it. The plot involves an industrialist named Andrew Vulcan
who is negotiating to build a plant in an emerging African nation.
U.N.C.L.E. believes Vulcan has ties to a criminal organization known
as WASP and that he will attempt to assassinate the premier of the
African nation when he visits Vulcan's plant. Solo (known only as Mr.
Solo, not Napoleon, in the pilot) is sent to recruit Vulcan's college
girlfriend to get close to him. The girlfriend, now a suburban
housewife and mother, is transformed into a glamorous wealthy widow,
and she and Solo go to Washington to track down Vulcan.
headquarters in New York City was most frequently entered by a
secret entrance in Del Floria's Tailor Shop. Another entrance was
through The Masque Club. Mr. Waverly had his own secret entrance.
Unlike the competing TV series I Spy however, the shows were
overwhelmingly shot on the MGM back lot. The same building with an
imposing exterior staircase was used for episodes set throughout the
Mediterranean and Latin America, and the same dirt road lined with
eucalyptus trees on the back lot in Culver City stood in for
virtually every continent of the globe. The episodes followed a
naming convention where each title was in the form of "The
(insert name) Affair", such as "The Vulcan Affair",
"The Mad, Mad, Tea Party Affair", and "The Waverly
Ring Affair". The only exception was "Alexander the Greater
Affair," parts 1 & 2. The first season episode "The
Green Opal Affair" establishes that U.N.C.L.E. itself uses the
term "Affair" to refer to its different missions.
Rolfe endeavored to make the
implausibility of it all seem not only feasible but entertaining. In
the series, frogmen emerge from wells in Iowa, shootouts occur
between U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH agents in a crowded Manhattan movie
theater, and top-secret organizations are hidden behind innocuous
The series also began to dabble in science
fictional plots, beginning with "The Double Affair" in
which a THRUSH agent, made to look like Solo through plastic surgery,
infiltrates a secret U.N.C.L.E. facility where an immensely powerful
weapon called "Project Earthsave" is stored; according to
the dialogue, the weapon was developed to protect against a potential
alien threat to Earth. The Spy with My Face was the theatrical film
version of this episode.
In its first season The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. competed against The Red Skelton Show on CBS and Walter
Brennan's short-lived The Tycoon on ABC. During this time producer
Norman Felton told Alan Caillou and several of the series writers to
make the show more tongue in cheek.
to color in it's second season, U.N.C.L.E. continued to enjoy huge
popularity. Succeeding Rolfe, who left the show at the conclusion of
the first season, new showrunner David Victor read articles that
called the show a spoof and that is what it became. Over the next
three seasons, five different show runners would supervise the
U.N.C.L.E. franchise, and each one took the show in a direction that
differed considerably from that of the first season. Furthermore,
U.N.C.L.E. had spawned a swarm of imitators. In 1964, it was the only
American spy show on U.S. TV; by 1966, there were nearly a dozen. In
an attempt to emulate the success of ABC's mid-season hit, Batman,
which had proven hugely popular on its debut in early 1966,
U.N.C.L.E. moved swiftly towards self-parody and slapstick.
This campiness was most in evidence during
the third season, when the producers made a conscious decision to
increase the level of humor, though season two had moved in this
direction in episodes such as "The Yukon Affair" and
"The Indian Affairs Affair". With episodes like "The
My Friend the Gorilla Affair" (a low point in the series which
featured a scene in which Solo is shown dancing with a gorilla) the
show tested the loyalties of its fans. This new direction plus a
change of time slots resulted in a severe ratings drop, and nearly
resulted in the show's cancellation. It was renewed for a fourth
season and an attempt was made to go back to serious storytelling,
but the ratings never recovered and U.N.C.L.E. was cancelled midway
through the season.
At the peak of its popularity, during the
spring of its second season, the series earned audience shares as
high as 55. This meant that in 1966, over half the television sets
that were turned on Friday nights at 10 p.m. were tuned into The Man
From U.N.C.L.E. TV Guide dubbed it "the mystic cult of
millions". In a memo to programming vice president, Mort Werner,
the NBC research department reported that viewers were watching
U.N.C.L.E. "... not just because they dislike other programs
that are on ...[but] because they are fans, fanatics... They talk
about the program with other fans and go beyond that: they
proselytize, they want to convert non-viewers!".
The theme music, written by Jerry
Goldsmith, changed slightly each season. Goldsmith provided only
three original scores and was succeeded by Morton Stevens, who
composed four scores for the series. After Stevens, Walter Scharf did
six scores, and Lalo Schifrin did two. Gerald Fried was composer from
season two through the beginning of season four. The final composers
were Robert Drasnin (who also scored episodes of Mission: Impossible,
as did Schifrin, Scharf, and Fried), Nelson Riddle, and Richard
Shores. The music reflected the show's changing
seasonsGoldsmith, Stevens, and Scharf composed dramatic scores
in the first season using brass, unusual time signatures and martial
rhythms, Gerald Fried and Robert Drasnin opted for a lighter approach
in the second, employing harpsichords and bongos and by the third
season, the music, like the show, had become more camp, exemplified
by an R&B organ and saxophone version of the theme. The fourth
season's attempt at seriousness was duly echoed by Richard Shores'
Man from U.N.C.L.E. car was built by Gene Winfield in the AMT
Corporation's "Speed & Custom Division" shop in
Phoenix, Arizona. Winfield had previously built many of the Ford and
Chrysler prototypes of new car designs, cars for TV, and for private
customers from around the country. He was hired by the AMT model
company in 1962 as a customizing consultant, and in 1964 he was asked
to open a new AMT shop in Phoenix to build working, full-size
versions of cars to be featured as AMT models. The original
U.N.C.L.E. car was to be based on a Dodge Charger, but the network
had second thoughts about giving them too much free advertising. They
decided a completely new car needed to be used and Winfield, was
hired to build a car for the U.N.C.L.E. series.
Winfield proposed a limited production car
AMT was promoting, the "Piranha." NBC liked the idea, plus
they loved the fact that the car could be provided at no cost because
AMT would pay for its construction in exchange for the rights to
produce and sell the model kit of the car. Actual construction cost
of the car was between $30 - 40,000 to build, but AMT considered it a
bargin since the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." show was very
popular at the time.
The frame of the Piranha was made of
fiberglass with a steel cage housing the front and rear suspension.
It had a wheelbase of 88" and was 156" long and only
41-1/2" tall. Power came from a rear-mounted Corvair engine. The
body panels were made of Cycolac, a thermo-plastic, and featured
gullwing doors. The vehicle had many mock features, including flame
throwers, machine guns, rocket lauchers, laser beams, a radar screen,
parachute, and various hidden interior devices. It even had operating
marine propellers, but the car was not amphibious.
though the Piranha was futuristic in design, it had everyday
problems like other specialty cars. Actors Robert Vaughn (Napoleon
Solo) and David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin) complained about climbing
in and out and the lack of headroom, so bubble-type windows were
added. Girl from U.N.C.L.E. star Stephanie Powers (April Dancer) had
her problems too. Getting in and out in a skirt was tricky. There was
also no air-conditioning in the car so the actors could only work for
short durations inside due to the heat. Because of these problems,
the car appeared in only a few episodes.
Winfield is also responsible for other
familiar TV vehicles including both the shuttlecraft and Klingon
battlecruiser from "Star Trek," cars for "T.H.E.
Cat", "The Hero", and a custom called the
"Reactor" that appeared on "Bewitched",
"Batman", and an episode of "Star Trek." Films
that featured his work include Woody Allen's "Sleeper",
"The Last Starfighter", and "Blade Runner."
Almost as popular as the stars were the
various items of high tech (for the early-to-mid-60s milieu of the
show) spy equipment used by the U.N.C.L.E. agents in their various
missions; the most iconic of which became their communications
devices and their pistols, the "U.N.C.L.E. special,", which
by the addition of a barrel extension, stock, telescope, and extended
magazine could be converted into a cool looking carbine. The gun is
the inspiration behind the design of the original Transformers
Megatron toy and was so popular it actually got its own fan mail, up
to 400 pieces per week (many addressed to "The Gun") at the
height of U.N.C.L.E.'s popularity.
the first season, the U.N.C.L.E. communicator was disguised as a
cigarette case. It was necessary for long distance communication to
use this case, but they needed to connect it by wires into some sort
of telephone line. Half way through the second season, the cigarette
case communicator was replaced with the famous pen communicator. It
was much easier than having to hook it up to anywhere. The agent only
needed to pull the cap off the pen, give the barrel a bit of a twist,
and then a small antenna would come up. Illya Kuryakin was always
seen to speak into the tiny microphone. "Open Channel D"
became the show's most famous line. Other devices they used were a
tracking box, homing device, two way radio, firing canes, bow arrows
and a ring for communication. Producer Norman Felton was ever mindful
about U.N.C.L.E.'s younger audience and using the cigarette case
communicator might be promoting smoking to the kids watching.
Man From U.N.C.L.E. series has often been described as television's
answer to James Bond. Since Bond had his own distinctive weapon,
first, a .25 Beretta, later a Walther PPK, it was inevitable that
Napoleon Solo would have one, too. However, unlike the Bond guns,
both of which existed in real life, the U.N.C.L.E. Special was a
fiction, a clever construction that combined the physical appearance
of an actual weapon with the capabilities of an imaginary one.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot was shot
using generic spy-type guns, like Lugers and various .45 automatic
pistols. However, discussions about providing Napoleon Solo with a
specialized, distinctive gun began soon after. Stanley Weston, who
handled the toy licensing rights for another MGM property produced by
Felton, Dr. Kildare, was now hired to do the same for The Man From
U.N.C.L.E. Despite Disney's aggressive marketing of its properties
since the 1930's, the toy licensing business at mid-century was still
in an embryonic stage. Weston, who was also involved in developing
the toy phenomenon, G.I. Joe, had particularly good instincts. After
viewing the Solo pilot in February, 1964, Weston wrote a letter to
Felton expressing excitement over the show's merchandising potential.
A self-proclaimed admirer of Ian Fleming's James Bond, Weston made a
list of 35 suggestions for emblem designs and spy gadgets that could
be exploited for marketing purposes.
Felton and Rolfe had also been giving thought to an U.N.C.L.E. gun.
"I wanted one gun capable of shooting single shots or rapid-fire
automatic shots," Rolfe observed in a TV Guide interview,
"with sound or silently. I also wanted sleep inducing darts,
explosive bullets and just bullets, and a gun that could convert to a
long-range rifle". In addition, the gun would have to be
concealed from time to time, either on an agents person or broken
down and hidden in an attache case.
Of course, an actual gun with all these
capabilities simply did not exist. It had to be built and, to give
the illusion of reality, it was decided to use an existing gun as the
foundation. Since Weston had by now involved with Ideal Toy
Corporation, the problem was turned over to independent toy inventor,
Reuben Klamer, and his staff at Toylab studios. The Toylab designers
developed a "breakaway" gun based on the 1934 7.65 German
Mauser pistol. By adding various attachments, including a shoulder
stock, a longer, screw-on barrel, a silencer, scope, and extended
magazine clip, the Mauser handgun could be converted to look like a
spidery, futuristic state-of-the-art weapon.
By the time the U.N.C.L.E. gun was ready
in early June of 1964, the Solo pilot had been sold to NBC. With the
name changed to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the series was already under
production. The gun that arrived on the set was not greeted favorably
by the production crew. Not only did it photograph poorly the small
Mauser pistol seemed overwhelmed by the attachments but it jammed
constantly and wouldn't shoot. Prop masters Bob Murdock and Arnold
Goode borrowed several Walther P-38 automatics from the Combat
television series set, which was filming nearby, and found this gun
more to their liking.
During the next month, the U.N.C.L.E. prop
crew developed a second U.N.C.L.E. Special, closely modeled on the
original Mauser version, but now based on a P-38. For dramatic
effect, the gun was modified to fire full auto like a machine gun.
Although the attachments looked impressive, they were nonfunctional.
Indeed, the screw threads on the extended barrel made it impossible
for the gun to shoot anything but blanks. Also for cosmetic purposes,
a magazine clip was created by taping two eight-shot clips together
with duct tape.
The two versions of the U.N.C.L.E. Special
were similar enough in appearance that even when the episodes were
aired out of order of their production it was difficult to tell that
one had replaced the other. Eventually, the crew created six
U.N.C.L.E. Specials at a cost of approximately $1,500 per gun, but
only two had a full array of attachments. In recognition of their
work creating unusual props, Murdock, Goode, and their assistant,
Bill Graham, were nominated for a special Emmy in 1966. A few months
earlier, they were also visited on the set by investigators from the
Treasury Department, who subsequently fined MGM $2,000 for
manufacturing automatic weapons without a license.
Toylab continued to develop a plastic toy
version for Ideal, dubbed "The Napoleon Solo Gun," that
actually looked more like a standard .45 automatic than either the
Mauser model or the Walther P-38. Selling for $4.99, the Napoleon
Solo Gun Set (the pistol complete with attachments, badge and I.D.
card) had an advance sale of $600,000 and was expected to sell over 2
million sets even before it was on the market. When David McCallum's
popularity as Illya Kuryakin skyrocketed, the Napoleon Solo gun was
followed by an Illya Kuryakin Gun Set. The Kuryakin gun was also
designed by Toylab but was never actually seen on the series. Later,
there was also a toy version of the villain's gun, the Thrush rifle,
and several other U.N.C.L.E. gun sets, including one carried in an
attaché case. To protect its investment, Ideal Toys nagged the
producers to use the U.N.C.L.E. Special, preferably fully assembled,
Over the course of its three and a half
season run on network television, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. occupied
five different time periods and was helmed by five different
producers. As a result, the series lurched wildly, from straight
adventure, to high adventure with humor, to broad comedy with satiric
overtones, to near camp, and finally back to serious adventure. These
fluctuations in style and mood were echoed by the constantly changing
role the U.N.C.L.E. Special played within the narrative.
Before, during, and a bit past the show's
first season, the customized gun occupied a conspicuous place of
honor in the U.N.C.L.E. universe. Even before the show went on the
air, it was featured prominently in publicity photographs, often
fully assembled. In the introductory prologue that opened the first
few episodes, the gun is assembled by Illya Kuryakin. Later, in the
famous shattered glass opening, it appears in Solo's hand. When the
two stars traveled on promotional tours to boost the show's early
sluggish ratings, the U.N.C.L.E. Special, disassembled and stashed in
publicist Chuck Painter's suitcase, went with them.
Despite the involvement of the Ideal Toy
Corporation, the gun's visibility was not merely a savvy effort at
merchandising. Indeed, Ideal did not begin to market the plastic
replicas until well into the show's second season, and a factory fire
kept many units of the toy versions from reaching store shelves until
after Christmas 1965. Rather, the creators of The Man From
U.N.C.L.E., Sam Rolfe, in particular, saw the U.N.C.L.E. Special as
an instantly recognizable symbol that would sum up the concept for
the entire series.
concern over U.N.C.L.E.'s youthful audience extented to the
U.N.C.L.E. special. "We don't kill anyone any more with the
U.N.C.L.E. gun," Felton explained to TV Guide. "We just put
them to sleep. And afterwards they're better off. They're nicer to
their wives and kids after being hit with one of Mr. Solo's darts.
The Thrush gun, of course, kills." A few episodes in the first
season did occasionally include the use of sleep darts. Of course, in
reality, the guns didn't actually shoot such darts. The substitution
of darts for bullets was signaled by a "thup" that was
heard on impact, a sound inserted during post-production.
At the time of the filming of one such
episode, Felton even sent a memo to then-producer Sam Rolfe
requesting a scene in which Waverly would declare that U.N.C.L.E.
would now be using sleep darts exclusively. "Now that we are
moving into a new [earlier] time period," Felton wrote, "we
should reinforce it so that young and old among the viewers know that
we abhor killing, and in our Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, use sleep
darts, which are not fatal but have the temporary effect of putting
the victim to sleep"
such scene was ever filmed and the use of the sleep darts actually
decreased during the ensuing seasons. Nevertheless, nearly every
article that appeared on the gun, from those in specialized magazines
to those in the popular press, inaccurately reported that gun was
used mainly by the agents to shoot sleep darts. The impression
created, that U.N.C.L.E. agents generally put their opponents to
sleep rather than kill them, persists in accounts of the series to
"Let?s not have our agents shoot
unless they have to do so because they are directly attacked,"
Felton wrote in a memo to prospective Girl From U.N.C.L.E. producer,
Douglas Benton, in 1966. Discussing a script that was never filmed,
he adds, "You could solve it by Streich [the villain] suddenly
pulling a weapon out which forces Solo to shoot. You see, we are,
sporting, at U.N.C.L.E. When Streich dies, Solo should feel sad about
it... he feels he handled the job badly".
was always a concern with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. both for the
producers and for the NBC network. During the first season, when
episodes averaged only one to three fatalities and few were
deliberately or directly caused by the agents themselves, Felton felt
justified in protesting against the network's concern. After Producer
Sam Rolfe left the show, to be replaced by David Victor, Mort
Abrahams and Boris Ingster, the body count began to rise. For
example, in "The King of Diamonds Affair", a dozen
characters die, including an entire group of eight villains
dispatched by a cannon in the climax.
Ironically, as deaths increased,
appearances by the U.N.C.L.E. Special decreased. Bombs, exotic
devices, and "evil" guns like the Thrush rifle were used by
both good guys and bad to dispatch each other. By the beginning of
the third season, while bodies continued to pile up, the U.N.C.L.E.
Special itself practically disappeared from view.
Network concerns and the success of the
campy "Batman" series on rival ABC prompted The Man From
U.N.C.L.E. to take yet another stylistic turn. In 1967, during the
second half of the third season, gun battles and serious
confrontations were replaced by "happy violence", long,
elaborately choreographed brawls and silly, Keystone Cops-like car
chases. The body count dropped to zero but in this atmosphere, the
U.N.C.L.E. Special still had no useful place. Whether it was used to
shoot bullets or sleep darts, either way, the U.N.C.L.E. Special
would have ended any brawl or chase before it began.
this background, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., was conceived and
developed. Discussions about creating a spin-off series featuring a
woman agent began in the spring of 1965. Until that time, no American
hour-long action/adventure series had ever starred a woman, and
Felton, himself, was dubious that it would work for U.N.C.L.E. "I
was personally interested in developing a television series
featuring women," he recalled years later, "But I did not
believe at the time, that a series with a woman in physical combat,
which we often had in U.N.C.L.E., would be acceptable or logical."
Felton had reason to be nervous. The NBC
Broadcast Standards Department was particularly vigilant in reviewing
action scenes involving female characters. For example, a department
review of "The Take Me To Your Leader Affair" a 1966
episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., advised "caution on the blow
which momentarily fells Coco (guest star Nancy Sinatra) since violent
treatment of women is a sensitive area".
In the end, economics won out. Even if The
Girl From U.N.C.L.E. ran only a season (as indeed, it did), it would
be enough to fill out U.N.C.L.E.'s future syndication package. A
pilot, "The Moonglow Affair" was shot at the end of
November, 1965 and aired as an episode of Man the following February.
It starred Mary Ann Mobley as a very young April Dancer, fresh out of
training school, teamed with a middle-aged agent named Mark Slate,
played by Norman Fell. NBC was pleased with the 45 share the episode
earned, but not with the cast. When The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
premiered in Fall, 1966, Stefanie Powers starred as a more
accomplished, athletic, April Dancer, teamed with Noel Harrison as a
younger, and British, Mark Slate.
As with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Stanley
Weston was once more hired to coordinate the merchandising effort.
Even before the pilot aired, Erwin Benkoe, Director of Product
Development for Ideal, suggested a line of "girl spy items"
including a cosmetic bottle with a hidden radio, a mascara box with a
secret camera, and a "pistol-handed derringer" made in
"very feminine colors inlaid with a couple of rhinestones."
Benkoe also discussed a compact that was actually a gun, but noted it
would not fire caps since "we do not believe that this will suit
But The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. did not last
long enough for any girlish spy toys to even make it to store
shelves. With the exception of a doll and a Halloween costume, most
of the line of tie-in toys was eventually scrapped.
Corgi Toys launched the "Thrush
Buster" (below) to cash in on the success of The Man From
U.N.C.L.E., but no such vehicle ever appeared on the show. Corgi
recycled their Oldsmobile Super 88 casting and added some new
features: twin searchlights, U.N.C.L.E. hood decal, bullet holes in
the windscreen, and a roof periscope which, when depressed, makes the
Solo and Kuryakin figures lean out of the windows to fire their guns,
accompanied by a highly realistic 'click' to represent gunfire. Later
on it would be repainted pink and sold as The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
Felton predicted, trouble began almost immediately. Two weeks after
the first episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. aired, Felton sent a
note to Girl's producer, Douglas Benton, pointing out that "some
New York reviewers commented adversely in terms of violence. He
requested that Benton review all episodes to "make sure we don't
have any offensive actions." Benton agreed and promised that
"we'll watch it".
Since The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. aired on
Tuesdays at 7:30 and was aimed at younger audiences, the solution was
to substitute humor for action. Jeopardy in the stories was almost
always cartoonish, even surreal. For example, in "The Petit Prix
Affair," a car chase is staged with go-carts. In "The
Carpathian Caper," April and Mark are almost cooked to death in
a giant toaster.
Although the U.N.C.L.E. Special appeared
in Dancer's purse in the pilot and was subsequently featured in
publicity shots with Powers and Harrison (left), the customized gun
was largely absent from the series. Slate used it once fully
assembled. Dancer never used it, even in pistol form, at all. Her
regular weapon was communicator/gun that looked like a transistor
radio and only shot sleep darts.
In the fourth and last season of The Man
From U.N.C.L.E., the U.N.C.L.E. Special made a comeback of sorts. It
appeared more often and was shown, fully assembled, in three episodes.
order to bolster Man's plummeting ratings, Felton had hired a very
young producer, Anthony Spinner, to oversee the series. Spinner was
supposed to restore the balance of action and humor and return the
series to the more serious tone of the first season. By all accounts,
he overshot his goal. Now, it was Felton who wrote constant memos to
Spinner cautioning against the use of violence.
"Let's watch out that we don't let
our agents be shown as cold-blooded." In another, he suggested
the introduction of an "electric stunner" to the agent's
arsenal, a device that would give an assailant a mild shock and thus
cut short any hand-to-hand combat.
Although Spinner felt that motivated
violence was necessary to keep the series dramatic and believable, he
tried to comply. The use of sleep darts occurred occasionally, brawls
were kept short, and body counts seesawed. For example, in "The
J for Judas Affair," there were nine deaths. In "The Maze
Affair," no one died at all.
By the end of the year, the question of
violence was academic. In January 1968, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was
canceled and replaced by Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. In the early
1970's, all six U.N.C.L.E. Specials, along with other series props,
were sold at the widely publicized MGM auction. Five are currently
owned by fans.
The next appearance of the U.N.C.L.E.
Special came in 1983, in the TV movie, The Return of The Man From
U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. Special effects designer
and U.N.C.L.E. fan, Robert Short, was hired to create a new, updated
Special. With a limited budget and only two weeks to complete the
work, Short managed to design only one gun based on a Heckler and
Koch P-7. This Special was more modern and compact, but with the
added attachments, the silhouette was similar to the original. The
gun was carried by Robert Vaughn as an older Solo during the action
climax, but received no particular introduction or emphasis. Indeed,
in a scene in which U.N.C.L.E.'s current female armorer outfits Solo
and Kuryakin for their mission, Solo asks, "What happened to the
special U.N.C.L.E. guns we used to carry?" The young woman
replies, "They're in the special U.N.C.L.E. wing of the Smithsonian."
The gun, like the series, has not been
entirely forgotten and is in much demand as a collectible today. The
Ideal Napoleon Solo Gun Set, which originally sold for $4.99, (wish I
still had mine) is worth $600 in the original box. One of the actual
P-38 Specials from the series was recently offered for sale. The
asking price was $15,000. Replcas of the U.N.C.L.E. Special as well a
other props from the show (as pictured below) are also available.
In addition to the U.N.C.L.E. Special toy
gun and othey "spy" weapons, licensed merchandise included
a Man from U.N.C.L.E. digest sized story magazine, board games,
Gilbert action figures, Aurora plastic model kits (below) and lunch boxes.
The Louis Marx "Target Gun Set",
was dart gun shooting game released in the form of a quasi-playset,
is built around the setting of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York
City. Art on the cardboard stand displays both the U.N.C.L.E. and
THRUSH logos, and a half-dozen soft plastic figures per
"side" were provided, including Solo, Kuyrakin and Waverly.
These were marked on the base with the character names and the MGM
copyright statement "MGM MCMLXVI" (figures not based on
specific characters sport only the Marx copyright and date). The game
measures 57" long by 18" tall; the figures, at 6",
represent one of the few attempts Marx made at supplementing its
6" figure line. The U.N.C.L.E. figures are cast in blue, but for
a single (unnamed) figure in tan; THRUSH agents are cast in gray.
Marx was also responsible for an arcade game, licensed under The Man
Man From U.N.C.L.E. rated so highly in America and the UK that MGM
and the producers decided to film extra footage (often more adult to
evoke Bond films) for two of the first season episodes and release
them to theaters after they had aired on TV. The episodes with the
extra footage that made it to theaters were the original pilot,
"The Vulcan Affair," retitled To Trap a Spy and also from
the first season, "The Double Affair" retitled as The Spy
with My Face. Both had added sex and violence, new sub-plots and
guest stars not in the original TV episodes. They were released in
early 1966 as an U.N.C.L.E. double-feature program first run in
neighborhood theaters, bypassing the customary downtown movie palaces
which were still thriving in the mid-1960s and where new movies
usually played for weeks and even months before coming to outlying screens.
A selling point to seeing these films on
the big screen back then was that they were being shown in color, at
a time when most people had only black and white TVs (and indeed the
two first-season episodes that were expanded to feature length, while
filmed in color, were only broadcast in black and white). The words
IN COLOR featured prominently on the trailers, TV spots, and posters
for the film releases. The episodes used to make U.N.C.L.E. films
were not included in the packages of television episodes screened
outside the United States.
Subsequent two-part episodes, beginning
with the second season premiere, "Alexander The Greater
Affair," retitled One Spy Too Many for its theatrical release,
were developed into one complete feature film with only occasional
extra sexy and violent footage added to them, sometimes as just
inserts. In the case of One Spy Too Many, a subplot featuring Yvonne
Craig as an U.N.C.L.E. operative carrying on a flirtatious
relationship with Solo was also added to the film; Craig does not
appear in the television episodes.
The later films were not released in
America, only overseas, but the first few did well in American
theaters and remain one of the rare examples of a television show
released in paid theatrical engagements. With the exception of the
two-part episode "The Five Daughters Affair," shown as part
of Granada Plus's run of the series, the episodes which became movies
have never aired on British television.
The films in the series: To Trap a Spy
(1964), The Spy with My Face (1965), One Spy Too Many (1966), One of
Our Spies is Missing (1966), The Spy in the Green Hat (1966), The
Karate Killers (1967), The Helicopter Spies (1968) and How to Steal
the World (1968).
In 1966 two U.N.C.L.E. films were released as a double-feature in response to a similar move by United Artists doing the same thing with their earlier James Bond films.
the entire series here!
Several comic strips based on the series
were published. In the US, there was a Gold Key Comics comic book
series (one based on the show), which ran for twenty-two issues.
Entertainment Publishing released an eleven issue series of one- and two-part
stories from January 1987 to September 1988 that updated U.N.C.L.E.
to the Eighties, while largely ignoring the reunion TV-movie. A
two-part comics story, "The Birds of Prey Affair," was put
out by Millennium Publications in 1993, which showcased the return of
a smaller, much more streamlined version of THRUSH, controlled by Dr.
Egret, who had melded with the Ultimate Computer. The script was
written by Mark Ellis and Terry Collins with artwork by Nick Choles,
and transplanted the characters into the present day.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. strips were originated for the British market in
the 1960s (some Gold Key material was also reprinted), the most
notable for Lady Penelope comic (above), which launched in January
1966. This was replaced by a Girl from U.N.C.L.E. strip in January
1967. Man from U.N.C.L.E. also featured in the short-lived title Solo
(published between February and September 1967) and some text stories
appeared in TV Tornado. Two dozen novels were based upon Man from
U.N.C.L.E. and published between 1965 and 1968. Unhampered by
television censors, the novels were generally grittier and more
violent than the televised episodes. The series sold in the millions,
and was the largest TV-novel tie-in franchise until surpassed by Dark
Shadows and Star Trek. In the novel The Rainbow Affair by David
McDaniel. The agents consult every classic fictional spy and
detective in England to find the world's best bank robber before
THRUSH can recruit or kill him. Unnamed cameos in the novel include
The Saint, Miss Marple, John Steed, Emma Peel, Willie Garvin, Tommy
Hambledon, Neddie Seagoon, Father Brown, a retired Sherlock Holmes,
and Dr. Fu Manchu.
Whitman Books published three hardcover
novels aimed at young readers: The Affair of the Gunrunners' Gold and
The Affair of the Gentle Saboteur by Brandon Keith, and The Calcutta
Affair by George S. Elrick. A children's storybook was written by
Walter B. Gibson entitled The Coin of El Diablo Affair.
The digest-sized "Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Magazine" featured original novellas continuing the adventures
of Solo and Kuryakin. Published under the house name "Robert
Hart Davis," they were written by such authors as John Jakes,
Dennis Lynds, and Bill Pronzini. 24 issues, which also offered
original crime and spy fiction short stories and novelettes, and
occasional reprints under the title "Department of Lost
Stories," ran monthly from February 1966 till January 1968.
Three science-fiction novels appear to be
rewrites of "orphaned" U.N.C.L.E novel outlines or
manuscripts: Genius Unlimited by John Rackham (a pseudonym of
Phillifent), The Arsenal Out of Time by McDaniel, and Agent Of
T.E.R.R.A. #1: The Flying Saucer Gambit by Jack Jardine (writing as
reunion telefilm, The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E subtitled The
Fifteen Years Later Affair, was broadcast on CBS in America on April
5th, 1983, with Vaughn and McCallum reprising their roles, and
Patrick Macnee replacing Leo G. Carroll as the head of U.N.C.L.E. A
framed picture of Carroll appeared on his desk. The movie included a
tribute to Ian Fleming via a cameo appearance by an unidentified
secret agent with the initials "J.B." The part was played
by one-time James Bond George Lazenby who was shown driving Bond's
trademark vehicle, an Aston Martin DB5. One character, identifying
him, says that it is "just like On Her Majesty's Secret
Service", which was Lazenby's only Bond film.
The movie, written by Michael Sloan and
directed by Ray Austin, briefly filled in the missing years. THRUSH
has been put out of business, and the remaining leader was in prison.
(His escape begins the story.) Illya, who quit U.N.C.L.E. after a
mission went sour and an innocent woman was killed, now designs
women's clothing at Vanya's in New York. Napoleon was pushed out of
U.N.C.L.E., and now is employed selling computers. He still carries
his U.N.C.L.E. pen radio for sentimental reasons and this is how the
organization is able to contact him after so many years.
Solo and Kuryakin are recalled to
recapture the escapee and defeat THRUSH once and for all, but the
movie misfired on a key point: instead of reuniting the agents on the
mission and showcasing their witty interaction, the agents were
separated and paired with younger agents. Like most similar reunion
films, this production was considered a trial balloon for a possible
to the show in popular culture began during its original broadcast
when it was parodied in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show,
fittingly titled "The Man from My Uncle", References in
other television shows have continued over the years, including a
2011 episode of Mad Men, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".
It has also been referenced in other television shows including Get
Smart, Angry Beavers, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and Laugh-In. An
episode of Tom & Jerry from the Chuck Jones era entitled "The
Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R." paid homage to the show, with Jerry as
a secret agent tasked with the mission of retrieving a sizeable stash
of cheese from the villainous Tom Thrush (portrayed by Tom).
1986 David McCallum reunited with then The A-Team series regular
Robert Vaughn in an episode of the show entitled "The Say
U.N.C.L.E. Affair" in an homage to The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,
complete with "chapter titles", the word "affair"
in the title, the phrase "Open Channel D", and similar
It was also referenced in Glad commercials
in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which starred the "Man from
GLAD", a trench coat wearing agent who flew around in his
combination boat helicopter demonstrating Glad products to suburban
housewives and saving the day.
Musical examples include Elvis Costello's
1980 album Get Happy!!, and an Argentinian Funk duo who took the name
Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas honoring the fictitious spy. Alma
Cogan paid a similar tribute to the Russian agent in her single
"Love Ya Illya," released in 1966 under the pseudonym
"Angela and the Fans". In the 1980s, Cleaners From Venus
penned "Ilya Kuryakin Looked at Me"; the song was later
covered by The Jennifers. The English 2 Tone band The Specials made
an instrumental song called "Napoleon Solo". It was also
the name of a Danish 2 Tone band. The British trip-hop group
U.N.K.L.E. derive their name from the show.
Comic's creator Stan Lee stated in the introduction notes of
"Son of Origins" that the Marvel Universe spy agency
S.H.I.E.L.D. was inspired by the Man From U.N.C.L.E. television program.
"The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E."
was a Man From U.N.C.L.E. parody in 1960s Archie Comics. The comic
portrayed Archie and the gang as a group of high-tech spies, as part
of world-defence organization P.O.P. (an acronym for Protect our
Planet). Their chief enemy was a counter-group known as C.R.U.S.H. (a
spoof on T.H.R.U.S.H., but whose acronym was never explained).
Although Reggie, Veronica and Moose were initially cast as C.R.U.S.H.
agents, they later became members of P.O.P. All the characters also
had undefined acronyms for names (A.R.C.H.I.E., B.E.T.T.Y., etc.).
The TV show My Favorite Martian also used
CRUSH as the name of the evil spy organization, spoofing THRUSH in
In the season two episode "006 3/4" Tim finds a distress
note from Agent 006 of Top Secret, who is being tracked by CRUSH. Top
Secret asks Tim to assist Agent 004, to save 006. In the season three
episode "Butterball" Uncle Martin must rescue Tim who is
kidnapped by Butterball.
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the
Promenade directory lists "Del Floria's Tailor Shop" as a location.
Since 2003 McCallum has starred in the CBS
television series NCIS as Dr Donald "Ducky" Mallard, the
Medical Examiner (right) and one of the key characters. In an inside
joke, NCIS agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs is asked, "What did Ducky
look like when he was younger?" Gibbs responds, "Illya Kuryakin".
The video game Team Fortress 2 has an
achievement referencing the show, named "The Man From P.U.N.C.T.U.R.E."