As this week’s forthcoming film, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, is poised to open nationwide, let’s take a look back at the original TV Series that aired 50 years ago and inspired the latest feature film adaptation directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.
It was by far the coolest thing on network television at the time. Co-conceived by Ian Fleming and originally titled Ian Fleming’s Solo just as Bond mania was taking off like wildfire.
The secret-agent television series was broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1964, to January 15, 1968 and ran for 105 episodes. The original show followed secret agents, played by a suave Robert Vaughn as the dashing, dark-haired, well-dressed womanizing American secret agent Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as his mysterious partner, Russian Illya Kuryakin, who worked for a secret international counter espionage and law-enforcement agency called U.N.C.L.E. Additional regular cast members included Leo G. Carroll as their boss, Alexander Waverly, the British head of the organization and Barbara Moore who joined the cast as Lisa Rogers in the fourth season.
The two men from U.N.C.L.E. (an acronym for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) would fight the villains of T.H.R.U.S.H. (the international criminal organization whose aim was to conquer the world,) trade quips with one another and, last but not least, charm the ladies.
When “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” premiered on Sept. 22, 1964, it was still early in the phenomenon of secret-agent mania exemplified by the Bond movies. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” made it’s appearance after the James Bond films “Dr. No” (1962) and “From Russian With Love” (1963), and right before 1964’s “Goldfinger” had its U.S. release. It also precedes Dean Martin’s Matt Helm and James Coburn’s Derek Flint spy-caper movies as well as the parody series “Get Smart.”
It was 1964, and according to the LA Times, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” hit at the right time. Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York notes that “The same excitement seeing the Beatles live on television which happened a few months before, I think the same thing happened when ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ debuted in fall 1964. There was something cool about it. It created an emotional resonance for TV. It became the most popular show on campus in 1964, ’65 and ’66 – the first two seasons. It was a cultural phenomenon.”
Director and Co-writer Guy Ritchie’s 60’s cool and sophisticated stylish re-boot of the original “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” opens in theaters August 14, 2015 and stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Groth, Christian Berkel, Luca Calvani, Misha Kuznetsov, Jared Harris andHugh Grant.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Trivia per IMDB:
Robert Vaughn worked on his Ph.D. during the course of the series and often was allowed to leave the set early so that he could attend night classes.
The stunts were usually done by actors David McCallum and Robert Vaughn as well as by stuntmen, and the best version was used. McCallum wasn’t too keen on heights and Vaughan wasn’t too keen on water – so they tried to avoid those stunts.
Ian Fleming was reportedly one of the consultants when this series was being planned. The name Solo was borrowed, apparently with his blessing, from the novel Goldfinger.
The show’s third season saw a change of style that resulted in the amount of comedy being increased in response to the “camp” craze made popular by Batman (1966) and Get Smart (1965). As a result, UNCLE’s ratings plummeted and the series never recovered.
When they were filming a reunion movie, both lead actors were asked how the success of this show affected their careers. David McCallum said that he was often typecast and found it difficult to play other types of roles, Robert Vaughn said in his case the opposite was true, he played nothing but villains after the series ended.
The show was originally to have been called “Solo”, but in the year it was due to come out the movie Goldfinger (1964) was released with a villain called “Solo.”