The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1964, to January 15, 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 called U.N.C.L.E.
Originally co-creator Sam Rolfe wanted to leave the meaning of UNCLE ambiguous so it could be viewed as either referring to "Uncle Sam" or the United Nations. Possible legal action from the UN in using the name of the United Nations without their permission forced the producers to have UNCLE composed of letters standing for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Each episode of the television show had an "acknowledgement" credit to the U.N.C.L.E. on the end titles.
The series consisted of 105 episodes screened between 1964 and 1968 produced by Arena Productions using the studio facilities of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The first season was broadcast in black-and-white.
When approached by the other co-creator, Norman Felton, James Bond creator Ian Fleming contributed to the show's creation. The book The James Bond Films reveals that Fleming's TV concept had two characters: Napoleon Solo and April Dancer (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.). ("Mr. Solo" was originally the name of a crime boss in Fleming's Goldfinger.) Robert Towne, Sherman Yellen and Harlan Ellison wrote scripts for the series, which was originally to have been titled Solo.
Solo was originally slated to be the "solo" star of the series, the only "Man." But a small scene by a Russian agent named Illya Kuryakin caught fire with the fans, and the two were permanently paired.
The series centered on a two-man troubleshooting team working for U.N.C.L.E.: American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Leo G. Carroll played Alexander Waverly, the British head of the organization (Number One of Section One). Lisa Rogers (Barbara Moore) joined the cast as a female regular in the fourth season.
The series, though fictional, achieved such a high status as to have artifacts (props, costumes and documents, and a video clip) from the show included in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library's exhibit on spies and counterspies. Similar exhibits can be found in the museums of the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies and organizations involved with intelligence gathering.
U.N.C.L.E.'s archenemy was a vast organization known as THRUSH (originally named WASP in the series pilot movie). The original series never explained what the acronym THRUSH stood for, but in several of the U.N.C.L.E. novels written by David McDaniel, it was expanded as the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity, and described by him as having been founded by Col. Sebastian Moran after the death of Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Final Problem." Later, an alternate—and more plausible—explanation was offered, with THRUSH rising out of the fall of Nazism and founded by high-ranking Nazi officials—including Martin Bormann--who fled to Argentina when defeat was seen as inevitable, taking with them enormous financial wealth, including gold and precious works of art.
THRUSH's aim was to conquer the world. Napoleon Solo said, in "The Green Opal Affair," "THRUSH believes in the two-party system: the masters and the slaves,", adding in another episode ("The Vulcan Affair") that THRUSH will "kill people the way people kill flies: a careless flick of the wrist--reflex action." So dangerous was the threat from THRUSH that governments, even those most ideologically opposed such as the United States and the USSR, cooperated in the formation and operation of U.N.C.L.E. Similarly, if Solo and Kuryakin held opposing political views, the writers allowed little to show in their interactions. Though executive producer Norman Felton and Ian Fleming had developed the character of Napoleon Solo, it was producer Sam Rolfe who created the organization of U.N.C.L.E. Unlike the nationalistic organizations of the CIA and James Bond's MI.6, U.N.C.L.E. was a worldwide organization composed of agents from all corners of the globe. The character of Illya Kuryakin was created by Rolfe as a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent.
The creators of the series decided that the involvement of an innocent character would be part of each episode, giving the audience someone with whom it could identify. Through all the changes in series in the course of four seasons, this element remained a factor—from a suburban housewife in the pilot, "The Vulcan Affair" (film version: "To Trap a Spy"), to the various people kidnapped in the final episode, "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair."Apart from Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly, very few characters appeared on the show with any regularity. As a result, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. featured a large number of high-profile guest performers during its three and a half year run.
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared together in a 1964 episode, "The Project Strigas Affair," a full two years before Star Trek aired for the first time. Shatner played a heroic civilian recruited for an U.N.C.L.E. mission, and Nimoy played a rival of the villain's henchman. The villain is played by Werner Klemperer. James Doohan appeared in multiple episodes, each time as a different character. Barbara Feldon played an U.N.C.L.E. translator eager for field work in "The Never-Never Affair," one year before becoming one of the stars of the very different spy series Get Smart. Robert Culp played the villain in 1964's "The Shark Affair."
Solo and Kuryakin, trained in martial arts, also had a range of useful spy equipment, including handheld satellite communicators to keep in contact with UNCLE headquarters. A catchphrase often heard was "Open Channel D" when agents used their pocket radios; these were originally disguised as cigarette packs, later as a cigarette case, and in following seasons, as pens. One of the original pen communicators now resides in the museum of the Central Intelligence Agency.
One prop, often referred to as "The Gun," drew so much attention that it actually spurred considerable fan mail, often so addressed. Internally designated the "U.N.C.L.E. Special," it featured a modular semi-automatic weapon, originally based on the Mauser Model 1934 Pocket Pistol, but it was unreliable, jamming constantly, and considered so small that it was dwarfed by the carbine accessories. It was soon replaced by the larger and more reliable Walther P38 pistol. The basic pistol could still be converted into a longer-range carbine by attaching a long barrel, extendable shoulder stock, Bushnell telescopic sight, and extended magazine. In its carbine mode, the pistol could fire on full automatic. This capability brought authorities to the set early on to investigate reports that the studio was manufacturing machine guns illegally. They threatened to confiscate the prop guns. It took a tour of the prop room to convince them that these were actually "dummy" pistols incapable of firing live ammunition. Filmed in color during 22–24 November 1963 with sequences filmed at a Lever Brothers factory in California, the show was originally titled Ian Fleming's Solo and later Solo before legal action required the show to be renamed. Fearing further legal action because the name of THRUSH sounded like SMERSH, the episode had the organization redubbed WASP. The role of the head of UNCLE was Mr. Allison played by Will Kuluva rather than Mr. Waverley played by Leo. G. Carroll. David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin only had a brief role. The episode was titled The Vulcan Affair with Leo G. Carroll reshooting Will Kuluva's scenes and THRUSH replacing WASP when the episode aired on American television.
Additional sequences with Luciana Paluzzi deemed too sexy for television were shot in 1964 and added to the pilot to be released outside the United States by MGM as a second feature titled To Trap a Spy.
With the popularity of the show and the spy craze, To Trap a Spy and the second UNCLE feature The Spy with My Face were released in the USA as an MGM double feature in early 1966.
The show's first season was in black and white. Rolfe created a kind of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland world, where mundane everyday life would intermittently intersect with the looking-glass fantasy of international espionage which lay just beyond.
The U.N.C.L.E. universe was one where the weekly "innocent" would get caught up in a series of fantastic adventures, in a battle of good and evil. In its idealistic depiction of an international organization that transcended borders and agents of all nationalities working together, Rolfe's U.N.C.L.E. anticipated Gene Roddenberry's interstellar United Federation of Planets in "Star Trek" two seasons later.
Rolfe also blended deadly suspense with a light touch, reminiscent of Hitchcock. In fact, U.N.C.L.E. owes just as much to Alfred Hitchcock as it does to Ian Fleming, the touchstone being North by Northwest, where an innocent man is mistaken for an agent of a top-secret organization, one of whose top members is played by Leo G. Carroll. This role led directly to Carroll being cast as Mr. Waverly in the show.
U.N.C.L.E. 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 ***** Affair", such as "The Vulcan Affair," "The Mad, Mad, Tea Party Affair," and "The Waverly Ring Affair." The only exceptions being, "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 brownstone facades.
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.
Switching to color, U.N.C.L.E. continued to enjoy huge popularity, but succeeding Rolfe, who left the show at the conclusion of the first season, David Victor, the new producer, read articles that called the show a spoof and that is what it became.
This campiness was most in evidence during the third season, when the producers made a conscious decision to increase the level of humor, with episodes like "The My Friend the Gorilla Affair" (which featured a scene in which Solo is shown dancing with a gorilla) the show tested the loyalties of its followers and this new direction 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.
Robert Francis Vaughn, (born November 22, 1932) was born in New York City to performer parents: Marcella Frances (née Gaudel), a stage actress, and Gerald Walter Vaughn, a radio actor. He was raised in an Irish Catholic family, living with his grandparents in Minneapolis, Minnesota while his mother traveled. He attended North High School and later enrolled in the University of Minnesota as a journalism major. Vaughn earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California, in 1970 and in 1972, he published his dissertation as the book Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting. Vaughn made his television debut on the November 21, 1955 "Black Friday" episode of the American TV series Medic, the first of more than two hundred episodic roles by mid-2000. His first film appearance was as an uncredited extra in The Ten Commandments (1956), playing a golden calf idolater and also visible in a scene in a chariot behind that of Yul Brynner. Vaughn's first notable appearance was in The Young Philadelphians (1959) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture. Next he appeared as gunman Lee in The Magnificent Seven (1960), a role he essentially reprised 20 years later in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), both films being adaptations of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese samurai epic, Seven Samurai. Vaughn played a different role, Judge Oren Travis, on the 1998-2000 syndicated TV series The Magnificent Seven. Vaughn is a long-time member of the Democratic Party. His family was also Democratic and was involved in politics in Minneapolis, Minnesota and early in his career, he was described as a "liberal Democrat". He was the chair of the California Democratic State Central Committee speakers bureau and actively campaigned for candidates in the 1960s. Vaughn was active in the Vietnam War-era peace group, Another Mother For Peace, and, with Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner, was a founder of Dissenting Democrats. Early in the 1964 presidential election, they supported the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, mentioned for the vice presidency. The choice was prophetic, as McCarthy was not selected for the second position but did seek the presidency in 1968. Vaughn was also reported to have political ambitions of his own, but in a 1973 interview, he denied having had any political aspirations. In his memoir, A Fortunate Life, Vaughn recalls watching his good friend Jack Nicholson stumble his way through a scene of Bus Stop in a mid-1950s acting class without the "confidence" to carry it off. "Nicholson declared, 'Vaughnie, I'm going to give myself two more years in this business. Then I'm going to look for another way to make a living.' 'Hang in there, Jack,' Vaughn told him. 'You're too young to quit.'" Vaughn married actress Linda Staab in 1974. They appeared together in a 1973 episode of The Protectors, called "It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island", in which Staab guested as a ditzy American whose dog was stolen. Vaughn's character Harry Rule stepped in to find the dog. They have adopted two children, Cassidy (b. 1976) and Caitlin (b. 1981). They reside in Ridgefield, Connecticut. They also have a Labrador Retriever mix named Sam, which was adopted after the death of their previous dog, a Bichon Frisé named Peaches. David Keith McCallum, Jr. (born 19 September 1933) was born in Glasgow, the second of two sons of Dorothy Dorman, a cellist, and orchestral leader (principal first violinist) David McCallum, Sr. When he was ten, his family moved to London. McCallum won a scholarship to University College School, a boys' independent school in Hampstead, London, followed by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (also in London). McCallum became Assistant Stage Manager of the Glyndebourne Opera Company in 1951. In the 1960s, McCallum recorded four albums for Capitol Records with producer David Axelrod: Music. The best known of his pieces today is "The Edge," which was sampled by Dr. Dre as the intro and riff to the track "The Next Episode." He was married to actress Jill Ireland from 1957 to 1967. They had three sons: Paul, Jason. He has been married to Katherine Carpenter since 1967. They have a son, Peter, and a daughter, Sophie. David and Katherine McCallum are active with charitable organizations that support the United States Marine Corps: Katherine's father was a Marine who served in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and her brother lost his life in the Vietnam War. David and Katherine McCallum live in New York. Leo Gratten Carroll (25 October 1892 – 16 October 1972) was an English-born actor His Roman Catholic parents named him after the reigning pope Leo XIII. In 1897, his family is directly related to the American Carroll’s, the only Irish-American and Catholic signers of the Declaration of Independence and, for a brief time, the richest family in the US. In 1972, Carroll died in Hollywood of pneumonia and cancer, nine days before his 80th birthday. He was interred in the Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.