The country was ripe for a juicy spy drama in the politically charged mid-60s and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. fit the bill to a T.
Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were two agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement who fought the forces of evil worldwide, usually the malevolent people called in an organization called THRUSH.
The pair was charming, funny and always had a new gadget or weapon to fend off their enemies.
For almost 4 seasons, viewers tuned in to witness daredevil antics and amazing stunts, all executed in the name of protecting worldwide truth and justice.
A Class Act
Robert Vaughn (Solo) pursued his Ph.D. during the 4-year course of shooting The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. He was frequently granted permission to exit sets and rehearsals early to attend night classes at the University of Southern California and completed his Ph.D. in Communications. Smart move since the show was canceled and a good lesson for all of us: stay in school!
Pros Vs. Wannabes
The stunts on the show were usually done by David McCallum (Kuryakin) and Robert Vaughn as well as by professional stuntmen. Then, the directors and producers watched the tapes and chose the best version. McCallum wasn’t crazy about heights and Vaughan was a bit leery of water so they didn’t compete for those stunts.
Ian Fleming, the inimitable author of all the famous James Bond novels that spawned so many action movies of the same names, was purportedly one of the story consultants when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was being developed. The name Solo was borrowed, seemingly with Fleming’s sanction, from the novel Goldfinger.
Too Much Boom!
Instead of sticking with their tried and true format, producers tried to modernize the show in season three by adding campy comedy to the scripts in the style of popular TV shows of the era likeGet Smart (1965) and Batman (1966). The strategy failed and viewers shunned the show. Attempts to revive it with more serious-minded plots failed and it was canceled the next year.
Despite the numerous (and often hysterical) guesses about what the letters in U.N.C.L.E. stood for, the acronym’s actual meaning was disappointingly boring. It stood for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.” However, the access to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters was very spy-movie appropriate as the agency entrance went through a tailor shop called Del Floria’s.
Specifics Are Important
After network executives viewed the show’s pilot, the producers were instructed to “get rid of the foreign guy,” obviously in a pre-political correctness era. But they fired the wrong guy. The producers replaced Will Kuluva as the head of U.N.C.L.E with Leo G. Carroll. The execs actually wanted David McCallum’s Russian agent character cut from the cast.
Once fans discovered how mundane and boring the words behind U.N.C.L.E. were, they were determined to decipher the intriguing name of U.N.C.L.E.’s archenemy THRUSH. Although the denotation of the acronym THRUSH was never fully revealed in the series, a meaning was created for one of the U.N.C.L.E. novels published while the show was still running: Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.
Many episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were two-parters. Every two-part episode was re-edited with additional footage into a series of theatrical films first released in Europe and later broadcast on American TV. In each case, additional footage was shot. The films in this series included the following: 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 (1967); The Karate Killers (1967); The Helicopter Spies (1968) and How to Steal the World (1968).
Napoleon Solo was originally written as a Canadian character instead of Russian. While Ian Fleming was instrumental in the creation of the series, EON Productions, which possessed the full rights to Fleming’s novel Goldfinger, threatened legal action over the use of the name Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Toning It Down
In the initial version of the pilot episode, which was never aired and was shot in color, the Head of U.N.C.L.E. was a character named Mr. Allison, played by Will Kuluva. But when the program aired, it was filmed entirely in black and white and Leo G. Carroll was head guy Mr. Waverly instead of Mr. Allison.
Affairs To Remember
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was not only unique in its plots, each and every episode was titled “The (insert episode title) Affair,” the one exception being a show called “Alexander the Greater Affair.” Additionally, each act of the shows had its own title, most often lifted from a line of dialog from the upcoming segment.
After The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ended, a reunion movie followed. McCallum and Vaughn were asked how the series impacted their careers. McCallum claimed he was often typecast and offered similar roles of the good guy fighting evil. Vaughn maintained the exact opposite was true for him: he was never cast as anything but the evil antagonist when he left The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
But What about Kuryakin?
As the story goes, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was initially written with the working title of Solo but in 1964, the year it was scheduled to premiere, the blockbuster movie Goldfinger was released near the same time with an evil scoundrel named Solo in the cast. But a one character title would’ve completely overlooked the presence “and importance” of Kuryakin to the show.
Last Ditch Efforts
In the middle of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 4-year run, the show’s producers toyed with the idea of merging The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with The Girl From U.N.C.L.E to create a two-hour format show simply called The U.N.C.L.E. Show and hopefully double the viewing audience. The concept never materialized and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. had a shorter run than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., with one short year from 1966 to 1967.
The name Illya Kuryakin comes from a Broadway play written and directed by Jules Dassin called Illya Darling. The play was Dassin’s musical adaptation of his earlier hit film Never on Sunday. The Kuryakin character is Russian and it was ironic that Dassin was blacklisted for years as a suspected Communist during the McCarthy era.
According to the book Son of Origins, penned by world famous Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee, his character Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, was inspired by The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The comic ended up inspiring the inclusion of the character and agency in the Marvel movies, which brought about the Agents of SHIELD television series, almost 50 years after The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered.
Disarming Match Up
As the good and evil battles ensued week after week on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the enemy forces, even those not associated with THRUSH, all showed up to fight with MP 40 submachine guns. For some unexplained reason, the U.N.C.L.E. team often only had pistols to fight with in Season 1.
There were many ’60s stars who owe their stardom, at least in part, to appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The list of TV stars who honed their acting skills on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. includes Jack Lord, Ricardo Montalban, Sonny and Cher, William Shatner AND Leonard Nimoy (in the same episode!), James Doohan, Werner Klemperer, June Lockhart and Robert Culp.
Although it was indicated that the headquarters for U.N.C.L.E. had 5 major offices, the head office most often depicted was “somewhere in the East Forties” of New York City. The only foreign office on the show was located in Berlin in the episode called “The Summit-Five Affair” aired in season four.
The Future, Mirrored
As we inch closer to the reality of driverless cars used throughout the country, interesting that the concept was part of a The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode called “The 4 Steps Affair” featured a driver less car operated via a remote control van. And this was 18 years before Kitt was introduced on Knight Rider.