June 4

Spies go to Hollywood – The Man from UNCLE

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Spies go to Hollywood – The Man from UNCLE

Say UNCLE

Hollywood loves spies and espionage! In my last post, I shared an interesting piece from the 1970’s, Three Days of the Condor. There are many great movie spies. But likewise there have been a number of great TV shows that seek to capture the gray shadows of espionage. One that I grew up with, was a great show from the sixties, The Man From UNCLE. From its opening each week, it promised a high stakes adventure with stereotypical cool men, hot women and a world up for grabs plot in exotic locations.

HIGH STAKES ADVENTURE WITH STEREOTYPICAL COOL MEN, HOT WOMEN AND A WORLD UP FOR GRABS PLOT IN EXOTIC LOCATIONS.

UNCLE was an acronym, United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. It was a multinational crime fighting agency, remarkably sponsored by the U.S. and the USSR as well as Britain, the Netherlands, Greece, Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia. UNCLE’S primary opponent was THRUSH. The acronym, defined in the Man From Uncle books, but curiously never on the show, was revealed to mean Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. In other words, people who don’t like other people.

There were many agents at UNCLE, but the show revolved around a two man team, comprised of American, Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn and a Russian, Illya Kuryakin, played by British actor, David McCallum, he of the NCIS gang. Every week, the duo would battle THRUSH in various locations around the world. A recurring theme each week was the appearance of a regular citizen who needed UNCLE’S help against THRUSH.

Big Hollywood guest stars

A spy show with semi-existential outcomes every week, it gyrated from serious to more camp back to more serious in tone. But as a kid, this was often the best way to get a dose of spy adventure. The Man From UNCLE also enjoyed an extraordinary galaxy of guest stars. Barbara Feldon of Get Smart, Robert Culp of I Spy, Ricardo Montalban, Joan Crawford, Janet Leigh, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Sony and Cher, Joan Collins, Leslie Nielsen, Angela Lansbury, Rip Torn, Nancy Sinatra, Telly Savalas and so many other stars of the day made guest stops. Even William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in the same episode a full two years before Star Trek.

BUT AS A KID, THIS WAS OFTEN THE WAY TO GET A DOSE OF SPY ADVENTURE.

World class soundtrack

Additionally, the musical score for the show was not the usual background noise, but movie worthy orchestra compositions from the likes of Lalo Schifrin (of Mission Impossible fame), Emmy Award winner Morton Stevens (of Hawaii Five-O renown), Emmy Award winner Gerald Fried (Roots) and multi-nominated, Academy Award winner Jerry Goldsmith. You can find some of this on iTunes or Amazon. Take a listen.

After spying

Ultimately, TMFU ran four seasons, capturing a Golden Globe Award for best TV show. Robert Vaughn went on to a long career in film and TV, winning a Primetime Emmy Award in 1978 for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, Washington: Behind Closed Doors. After UNCLE, David McCallum appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, none with the success of TMFU until he landed the role of a lifetime, Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the hit show NCIS.

In 2015, a movie version of TMFU was released, starring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. While it did okay at the box office, it left reviewers lukewarm.

UNCLE captured the zeitgeist of the Cold War in the 1960’s. You can find the Cold War front in center in my new novel Deep Plant. We’ll revisit entertainment espionage again soon. Meanwhile, let me know who your favorite celluloid agents have been.

A spy show with semi-existential outcomes every week, it gyrated from serious to more camp back to more serious in tone. But as a kid, this was often the best way to get a dose of spy adventure. The Man From UNCLE also enjoyed an extraordinary galaxy of guest stars. Barbara Feldon of Get Smart, Robert Culp of I Spy, Ricardo Montalban, Joan Crawford, Janet Leigh, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Sony and Cher, Joan Collins, Leslie Nielsen, Angela Lansbury, Rip Torn, Nancy Sinatra, Telly Savalas and so many other stars of the day made guest stops. Even William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in the same episode a full two years before Star Trek.

"But as a kid, this was often the best way to get a dose of spy adventure."

World class soundtrack

Additionally, the musical score for the show was not the usual background noise, but movie worthy orchestra compositions from the likes of Lalo Schifrin (of Mission Impossible fame), Emmy Award winner Morton Stevens (of Hawaii Five-O renown), Emmy Award winner Gerald Fried (Roots) and multi-nominated, Academy Award winner Jerry Goldsmith. You can find some of this on iTunes or Amazon. Take a listen.

After spying

Ultimately, TMFU ran four seasons, capturing a Golden Globe Award for best TV show. Robert Vaughn went on to a long career in film and TV, winning a Primetime Emmy Award in 1978 for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, Washington: Behind Closed Doors. After UNCLE, David McCallum appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, none with the success of TMFU until he landed the role of a lifetime, Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the hit show NCIS.

In 2015, a movie version of TMFU was released, starring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. While it did okay at the box office, it left reviewers lukewarm.

UNCLE captured the zeitgeist of the Cold War in the 1960’s. You can find the Cold War front in center in my new novel Deep Plant. We’ll revisit entertainment espionage again soon. Meanwhile, let me know who your favorite celluloid agents have been.

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About the Author

Storyteller... weaving a tapestry of imagination through the lens of our collective humanity. What does this mean? Everyone is on the road of life with different experiences or narratives. Each of us has a story. What's yours?

Jack Bethel

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