Hard as it is to believe, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered 50 years ago today. Impressively, it remains alive and well in the minds of all the Baby Boomer fans who grew up with the series- and a new generation will be introduced to U.N.C.L.E. through the forthcoming feature film. We must recognize the genius of producer Norman Felton who, with Sam Rolfe, developed the concept (along with some brief suggestions from Ian Fleming.) We extend our congratulations to our old friends Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who have both been major supporters of Cinema Retro since it debuted ten years ago. Happily, both guys are doing great career-wise and never seem to stop working. We also recognize all those actors, directors, writers and crew members whose talents made the show so iconic. A special, heartfelt nod to the legendary Leo G. Carroll, whose contribution to the series is inestimable.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the premiere
of the iconic 1960s spy series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., producers Robert
Short and Jon Heitland are organizing The Golden Anniversary Affair, an
exclusive invitational event in Los Angeles, scheduled for Friday September 26th and
Saturday September 27th.
This once in a lifetime event will represent an
opportunity for a maximum of 100 fans to gather and share their memories and
their love of this classic series.
The festivities begin on Friday September 26th, when
the lucky 100 take a special walking tour of the Sony studio lot with an
emphasis on sites where the show was filmed, including Stage 10, where
U.N.C.L.E. headquarters stood. On Saturday September 27th, the main event will
take place at The DoubleTree by Hilton on the Westside where several rooms will
be devoted to panel discussions about the making of the original show and the
upcoming Warner Bros feature film, a display of original props (the U.N.C.L.E.
weapons, wardrobe and special car created for the series) and an U.N.C.L.E.
cast and crew discussion about the making of the show leading up to a soiree
Saturday night. Although the event will end Saturday evening, on Sunday
there will be an opportunity for attendees to visit outlying filming sites on
“It is not
uncommon to hear fans, many of whom are leaders in their chosen professions,
remark that this show changed their lives,” says Short, an Academy
Award-winning visual effects artist.
Says Heitland, the author of The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. Book, the Behind the Scenes Story of a Television Classic, “We feel
it will be the definitive event marking the 50th anniversary of this
Classic 60’s series.”
So far, the producers have lined up a number of VIP
guests, including associate producer George Lehr, director Joe Sargent, and
director of photography Fred Koenenkamp, composers Gerald Fried, Robert Drasnin
and “Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” regular Randall Kirby who have confirmed their
interest in attending. A list that continues to grow every day. The producers
hope that The Golden Anniversary Affair will be a West Coast reunion of sorts
for all who made the show such a success.
Our old pal Robert Vaughn is a smash in London. Vaughn is starring in the West End production of Twelve Angry Men (with Tom Conti now co-starring). The play's boxoffice results have been such a smash that the run has been extended through June. Meanwhile, in this 50th year of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn still attracts fans who line up outside the Garrick Theatre to get his autograph. Let's hope the show makes it to Broadway. Click here to visit Soloholics, the official Robert Vaughn web site, run by Tammy Hayes.
Long before David McCallum became one of the most popular cast members on the long-running hit series NCIS, he made teenage girls swoon as Illya Kuryakin, the mysterious blonde Russian-born agent on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. McCallum teen mania probably peaked in 1966 when the stores were flooded with action figures, posters and lunchboxes featuring his likeness and that of his co-star and fellow teen Robert Vaughn. We thought we had seen it all when it came to U.N.C.L.E. fandom but then we became aware of a 1966 45 RPM titled "Love Ya, Illya" by Angela and the Fans that was released as a 45 RPM record. If you're a McCallum fan, it doesn't get any groovier than this!
Both season 1 and season 2 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are now available for streaming through the Warner Archives instant viewing program. Best, you can take advantage of a free trial. Click here for more.
Noel Harrison as agent Mark Slate in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
Noel Harrison, who rode the wave of "British Invasion" music to U.S. shores in the 1960s, has died at age 79. The son of legendary actor Rex Harrison, Noel took a different path than his famed father. At the height of his career, he dropped out of show business to do construction work because he disdained living the life of a celebrity. He was also a championship skier at one time. At his peak, Harrison's well-received folk songs won him loyal followers and some of the songs charted as hits. His biggest splash came when he recorded "The Windmills of Your Mind", the classic title song for the 1968 film "The Thomas Crown Affair" starring Steve McQueen. The song won an Oscar and is still "covered" by artists today. In terms of acting, Harrison only dabbled in the field. He had minor roles in 1960s films like "Agent 8 3/4", "The Best of Enemies" and "Where the Spies Are". He became a heart throb for teenagers during his co-starring role opposite Stefanie Powers in "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." He also guest starred on numerous prominent TV series. Harrison resumed his career as a folk singer and found his audience was still enthused about his work. He cut an acclaimed album in 2002. Upon hearing of his death, Stefanie Powers issued this statement:"My darling friend Noel Harrison passed last night. Let us all light a candle to speed him on his way - he deserves to fly with the angels." For more click hereClick here to visit the Noel Harrison web site.
If you were a boy growing up in the mid-1960s, chances are you had the Man From U.N.C.L.E Thrushbuster Corgi car. Not only did it come in cool packaging that included a display stand with photos of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, but you also got a plastic ring with their photos on it. The ring would "flicker" and alternate the image of each actor. The well-made car was also pretty groovy- you pressed a button on top and Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin would alternately shoot out of the side windows. (The add says there were sound effects for the gun shots but we don't recall this being the case). Most of the cars were painted blue but there were a small number of them available in white paint. These can now command hundreds of dollars on the collector's circuit. Here is an original ad for the car from the Moonbase Central web site.
Robert Vaughn will return to the stage in a high profile London production of Twelve Angry Men, commencing in November. The show will have a try out run in Birmingham before replacing the long-running Rock of Ages show in the West End of London. The classic drama by Reginald Rose has been a staple of international stage dramas since it debuted in the 1950s. The 1957 feature film version was the first movie directed by Sidney Lumet. For Robert Vaughn, the show represents a return to England where he only recently completed filming his long-running hit TV series Hustle. The former Man From U.N.C.L.E. star lived in England during the 1970s but now makes his home in Connecticut. For more click here
Warner Brothers has released a plot synopsis and more casting choices for the long-planned Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film set to go into production in England shortly. Apparently, the script will have the characters of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin presented, not as friends, but as adversaries who are reluctantly teamed to help prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Guy Ritchie will direct. For more click here
A long-standing award to STARZ Entertainment pertaining to rights to the Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series has been reduced on appeal. The case by STARZ against Lindsay Dunlap, who claimed to have obtained rights to the series from its creator Norman Felton, resulted in STARZ incurring costs for a planned video release of the show. That fell apart when Warner Brothers presented evidence that they owned video rights to the series. STARZ then sued Dunlap for damages and was awarded almost $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages. A judge has reduced that figure by half, eliminating the punitive damages but letting stand the compensatory damages of $1.5 million and asserting that Dunlap's claim of ownership of the series did not take into consideration Warner Brothers' rights. Warners ultimately released the entire series on DVD, as well as the spinoff The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and eight feature length films derived from the show. For more click here
There have been so many false starts in the attempt to bring The Man From U.N.C.L.E to the big screen, we've given up trying to summarize them all. Suffice it to say that fans believe there is a curse on any such attempt. The latest development won't do anything to dispel those beliefs. Tom Cruise, long rumored to be starring in the role of Napoleon Solo originated on the TV series by Robert Vaughn, has formally bowed out. Ironically, he's bypassed the U.N.C.L.E. project in order to do yet another installment of the Mission: Impossible series. So Cruise has dropped one film inspired by a classic 1960s spy franchise in favor of another. Still, Warner Brothers remains keen on making U.N.C.L.E. a new franchise and Guy Ritchie is still attached as director. Arnie Hammer is also still with the film, presumably to play the role of Illya Kuryakin that was originally played by David McCallum. However, at this rate, we can assume the curse will strike again. Maybe the only way U.N.C.L.E. will ever make it to the big screen is in the form of the two part feature films that were derived from the TV show in the 1960s. For more click here
Actor Robert Vaughn discusses his long career and his new film, The Magnificent Eleven, a UK-sports based movie loosely based on the classic Western The Magnificent Seven in which Vaughn co-starred with other stars-to-be. He humorously relates his greatest career satisfactions and disappointment (he won't get to play Hitler) and talks about his most embarrassing scene as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Click here to read
Since 1979, there have been rumors of a Man From U.N.C.L.E. big screen feature film. The near-miss opportunities date back so long that the TV classic's stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum were originally going to reprise their roles of super spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. For various reasons, each planned film project fell apart including a recent one in which George Clooney was to star. Now Guy Ritchie is the director of choice and Deadline reports that Tom Cruise is the latest major actor in talks to bring the film to reality. Fans are skeptical that the project will ever see the light of day and it is virtually certain it will be a hi-tech, modern day, SFX-packed spectacle that will have little in common with the TV series aside from its title. Click here for more
For decades the classic 1960s TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has come close to being revived on the big screen. The closest that came to reality, however, were the low-budget features cobbled together from two-part episodes of the series and released theatrically. Since the late 1970s when series stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum were being wooed to star in a big screen version for MGM to the very recent past when director Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney planned to collaborate on an U.N.C.L.E. feature, fans have been repeatedly disappointed when these projects inevitably fall apart. There was a 1983 CBS TV reunion movie, Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. that starred Vaughn and McCallum but the merits of which are still debated in fan circles. In the case of the Soderbergh project, Clooney backed out of the film, citing back injuries, and Soderbergh griped that he couldn't get adequate funding for the retro-based spy flick. Rumors now have it that director Guy Ritchie may be attached to yet another U.N.C.L.E. film, but if history is any guide, fans should not get too enthused about this coming to reality, either. In fact, the web site HMSS Weblog makes the argument that maybe the show is best left in the past since most modern filmmakers don't seem to have a handle on those elements that made it so special. Click here to read
Here's a real gem from MGM showing the beauties of Italy as a guise for promoting their upcoming slate of films. You can see rare footage of Man From U.N.C.L.E. stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum meeting up in Venice during the shooting of their separate feature films The Venetian Affair and Three Bites of the Apple. The promotional short even features footage of them together on a gondola. (Vaughn was supposed to make a cameo appearance inthe McCallum film, but it never came about.) Kudos to the Warner Archive for finally releasing The Venetian Affair (click here for our review) and we hope they get around to Three Bites of the Apple which is an amusing comedy featuring McCallum in especially fine form as a tour guide taking around a zany group of tourists. The great supporting cast includes Sylva Koscina, Tammy Grimes and Harvey Korman.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. legend Robert Vaughn has approved the Soloholics web site run by Tammy Hayes as his official fan site. Soloholics provides the latest news on the non-stoppable Vaughn's latest appearances, films, stage productions, etc along with a host of rare and vintage photos from his career. Click here to view
Malaysian writer Daniel Chan was obviously weaned on the spy craze of the 1960s. In his piece for The Malay Mail, he looks back on the connections between James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - and manages to also include the character of Felix Leiter. It's nice to see such appreciation in the international press for these old time spy favorites. Click here to read
We love the cheesy but fun 1966 Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film One Spy Too Many, cobbled together from the two-part episodes of The Alexander the Greater Affair with Rip Torn as a villain of Bondian standards. The film featured some extra sexy scenes shot exclusively for the feature film. These feature Yvonne Craig and Donna Michele and feature prominently in the original trailer.
It's worth a trip in the Cinema Retro Time Machine to travel back to 1965 to see how Time magazine portrayed Robert Vaughn, then 32 years old, as TV's answer to Horatio Alger in the starring role of Napoleon Solo, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
On the January 11 1966 episode of NBC sitcom Please Don't Eat the Daisies (inspired by the Doris Day/David Niven feature film), the kids suspect their father is a secret agent. This is reaffirmed when he has a chance encounter with Man From U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum, in an early example of cross-promotion of two popular TV shows. The surprise ending has dad calling in someone to convince his boys that he is not a spy. To the surprise of no one, that person turns out to be McCallum's fellow U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn, seen here in a publicity photo. The show had the desired effect at the time, with kids enthusiastically talking about the cameos the next day. The only question we have is: where are those sweatshirts today? They would be worth a fortune on eBay!
Producer Norman Felton has passed away at age 99. Born in London, Felton emigrated to America as a teenager and became a successful TV producer. By the mid-1950s, he was directing episodes of such high profile series as Robert Montgomery Presents and The Alocoa Hour. In the early 1960s, he produced the smash hit Dr. Kildare TV series, a spin-off of a successful 1940s film franchise. The show made Richard Chamberlain a star. Another series, The Lieutenant, was not successful but one of the stars, Robert Vaughn, impressed Felton. In 1964, Vaughn co-starred with David McCallum in the Bond-inspired TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The show ran until 1968 and became an international phenomenon, spawning 8 feature films derived from two-part episodes. Felton also produced the less successful Girl From U.N.C.L.E. spin-off starring Stefanie Powers and Noel Harrison. Felton remained active in the TV industry through the 1970s before retiring. The U.N.C.L.E. phenomenon lives on, with director Guy Ritchie developing a big screen update. For more click here
McQueen and Vaughn between takes on The Magnificent Seven.
Vaughn plays a rich American visiting Coronation Street in the legendary British TV series.
Robert Vaughn is acting royalty in England, as evidenced by his nine years on Hustle and his appearances on the legendary Coronation Street. In a wide-ranging interview, he discusses this new venture as well as his friendship with Steve McQueen and his enthusiasm to do a cameo in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film- if it ever gets off the ground!
Robert Vaughn at the Players Club for a Cinema Retro tribute in 2009. The former Man From U.N.C.L.E's career has been red hot in the UK, where he just wrapped the 9th season of Hustle. He's also shooting a new feature film and will join the cast of Coronation Street. (Photo: Tom Stroud.)
In a fun and revealing Q&A with The Independent, Robert Vaughn opens up about his childhood, his personal likes and dislikes and his regrets in life. Click here to read
Here's a rarity from a Western Auto stores catalog for the 1966 Christmas holiday season: an abundance of those great toys tied in with the spy movie rage of the era. In addition to the generic non-licensed stuff, check out the ad for the Man From U.N.C.L.E. rifle and the James Bond shooting camera. If you had these in mint, boxed condition today, you could buy your own hollowed-out volcano from which you could plot to rule the world!
McCallum and Vaughn jokingly grapple over possession of the Golden Globe awarded to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 1966. Despite both stars' assurances to the contrary, rumors of a "feud" between them have persisted for decades.
By Lee Pfeiffer
During the heyday of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. the press had a field day reporting that the show's stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum were locked in a bitter feud. In fact, both men got along famously. They rarely socialized, however, because Vaughn was one of Hollywood's swinging bachelors and McCallum had a wife and kids. At the end of a long day's work, Vaughn would take in the night life, while McCallum spent time with his family. Yet, the rumors still persist. The National Enquirer is spinning McCallum's reluctance to use his long-running hit show NCIS as a platform to reunite with Vaughn as evidence of bitter feelings toward his former co-star. Apparently, many NCIS viewers have been pushing to have Vaughn guest-star in an episode and McCallum's reluctance to agree to the reunion is reigniting old rumors about a feud.
Reached by Cinema Retro for comment, McCallum confirmed that he has always tried to keep the U.N.C.L.E. series separate from his other endeavors but it has nothing to do with his personal affection for Vaughn. He said that Vaughn fully understands his feelings and knows that any hint of a slight in his direction is a "total fabrication". In fact, McCallum did reunite with Vaughn for the 1983 TV movie Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. His respect for Vaughn also led him to co-star with him in a 1980s episode of The A Team, in which both actors were cast as Cold War adversaries.
A couple of years ago, I hosted a dinner for Vaughn at the Players club in New York, where we are both members. I invited McCallum to attend, but it seemed more like a Mission:Impossible scenario than anything related to U.N.C.L.E. McCallum said he was filming at the time and he doubted he would be able to show up. Vaughn said he probably wouldn't attend anyway because McCallum tends to loathe black tie events. Lo and behold, however, McCallum did adjust his schedule and showed up as a surprise guest, much to the delight of everyone. Vaughn was very moved -especially when David addressed the crowd and expressed his great respect for his former co-star in a wonderful and moving speech. So if there is a "feud", this is a pretty strange way of carrying it out. For more click here
(For Cinema Retro's coverage of the Vaughn dinner click here)
U.N.C.L.E. fans may have to settle for their DVD collections- it looks like the feature film won't happen.
We may have been the first media outlet to refer to the Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse years ago when we began writing about all the aborted attempts to transfer the classic TV series to the big screen. We certainly weren't the last to use that term, as indicated by the many web sites now commenting on yet the latest bad news relating to director Steven Soderbergh's long-planned U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Not only did George Clooney drop out of playing Napoleon Solo, but Bradley Cooper declined to replace him. Now Soderbergh appears to have dropped out of the project himself, citing budget decreases that would make it impossible for him to film a retro-based major film. For more click here
Two of our spies are missing: the roles of actors to play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin have yet to be cast.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film curse continues. Since the late 1970s, efforts to turn the classic 1960s TV series starring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum and Leo G. Carroll have been thwarted at the last minute by a variety of factors. George Clooney was to play the Vaughn role of Napoleon Solo in a big screen production directed by Steven Soderbergh. Clooney dropped out because of old injuries that might have precluded him from performing certain stunts. Then Bradley Cooper seemed to be ready to take up the mantle until word came that he, too, has dropped out. At this point it looks like they may have to go back and hire Vaughn and McCallum for the project! No word on who is next in line for consideration but with filming due to start soon, Soderbergh is running out of time. For more click here
News reports in the trade press indicate that actor Bradley Cooper has been offered the role of Napoleon Solo in director Steven Soderbergh's forthcoming big screen version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The role of the suave spy was immortalized by Robert Vaughn in the legendary 1960s TV series. No word on whether Cooper will accept. George Clooney was to play the role originally in the feature film but backed out because he feared some old injuries might prevent him from performing the required stunts.
Clooney's injuries while filming Syriana have led to his departure from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature.
The mystery regarding George Clooney's recent departure from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film has finally been explained. Clooney was enthused about playing the role of super spy Napoleon Solo, but injuries sustained on the 2005 film Syriana have never properly healed. Thus, Clooney became concerned he would not be able to perform the action stunts required in the movie. The filming is scheduled to start in February with Steven Soderbergh directing. No replacement for Clooney has been announced. For more click here
The U.N.C.L.E. feature film curse strikes again! George Clooney has quit director Steven Soderbergh's forthcoming big screen version of the classic TV series. Clooney has not specified his reasons for dropping out of the role of Napoleon Solo, which was immortalized by Robert Vaughn in the original show. Efforts to bring an U.N.C.L.E. feature film to the screen extend back to the 1970s and each successive attempt has been aborted for various reasons. The only project to come to fruition was the 1983 TV movie Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that reunited Vaughn and co-star David McCallum. (Click here for DVD review) In the 1960s, MGM produced eight feature films derived from two-part episodes of the TV series. For more click here
More good news for Man From U.N.C.L.E. fans: the eight feature films based on two-part episodes from the TV series have been released in one DVD set through the Warner Archive. Cinema Retro has been urging Warner Home Video VP George Feltenstein to release these for years. He promised to do so and has kept his word, much to the delight of fans. Cinema Retro writer Craig Henderson covered each of the eight films in issues #9- 16. Previously, Warners had released only one feature film- One Spy Too Many - as a bonus item on their boxed set of TV episodes. The films were made on a shoe-string and some featured a few special scenes shot specifically to spice up the sex angle. They proved to be enormously successful at the time, in some cases shattering boxoffice house records in the UK. The films included in the set are To Trap a Spy, The Spy With My Face, One Spy Too Many, One of Our Spies is Missing, The Karate Killers, The Spy in the Green Hat, How to Steal the World and The Helicopter Spies. Robert Vaughn, David McCallum and Leo G. Carroll star along with a plethora of big name guest stars. To order click here
The Warner Archive has released every episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. on two DVDs. The show ran only one season beginning in September 1967. It starred Stefanie Powers as April Dancer, Noel Harrison as Mark Slate and Leo G. Carroll, carrying over his role of Alexander Waverly from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn guest-starred in what many consider to be the best episode of the series, the bizarre Mother Muffin Affair starring Boris Karloff in drag. To order click here
Oscar-winning director Steven Soderberg says that he will retire after he makes his next two films. They are Liberace, starring Michael Douglas (who seems to be recovering very well from cancer) and the long-awaited big screen version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. , which reportedly be a retro-based action film set in the 1960s. Soderbergh confirms that George Clooney will star, presumably in the role of Napoleon Solo that was immortalized by Robert Vaughn. Click here for more
The U.N.C.L.E. film project may no longer be "up in the air" with George Clooney now in talks to star as Napoleon Solo.
As reported previously, director Steven Soderbergh is trying to break the curse that has thwarted every attempt to bring The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to the big screen. The project is heating up with the BBC reporting that George Clooney, Soderbergh's frequent collaborator, is in talks to star as Napoleon Solo, the role made famous by Robert Vaughn. Even better is the news that Soderbergh intends to keep the setting during the Cold War period of the 1960s. For more click here
Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh is the latest person said to be negotiating for the rights to bring a feature length film of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to be the big screen. Soderbergh isn't the first person to try to adapt the classic show which starred Robert Vaughn, David McCallum and Leo G. Carroll. There have been starts and stops dating back to the 1970s. There was a 1983 reunion film done for CBS TV, Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but all efforts since then to revive the show have failed. Complicating matters in recent years was a legal battle between an independent producer who claimed to have the vjdeo and merchandising rights to the series and Warner Home Video, which prevailed in the case and released the entire four seasons of the show on DVD. Scriptwriter Scott Z. Burns is said to be negotiating to be the screenwriter on the project, though it's unclear whether he is working in conjunction with Soderbergh. For more click here
A childhood memory: for Christmas, 1965, my parents bought me this Man From U.N.C.L.E. gun. I was ten years old. My brother got mad at me and cracked the gun over my head. I wish he hadn't because today it commands a very high price on Ebay!- William Burge
Retro Responds: Seems like every boy who grew up in the spy rage era had both this rifle and the James Bond attache case. Both were released for the holiday season in '65. The photo you sent indicates this is some creampuff item-- I imagine it sells for enough money to finance a small nation for a year. (Hey, remember those nifty U.N.C.L.E. I.D cards that came with many toys from the show?) Incidentally, David McCallum told me recently that both he and Robert Vaughn never knew until many years after the show left the air that they were entitled to royalties on every toy sold. They never collected a dime on all the merchandise sales. - Lee Pfeiffer
Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. have been promised that a feature film is in the works since Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office. After decades of false leads and studio wariness about the project, it appears as though there is some action in the bullpen. Click here to read
Writer Craig Henderson, who contributed the extensive 8 issue Cinema Retro coverage of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature films has completed his amazing, in-depth time-line tracing the history of the show. The fact-filled and fascinating achievement is on Craig's site For Your Eyes Only, along with a wealth of other great spy movie lore. Click here to view
The Best of Enemies: U.N.C.L.E. adversaries Joe Sirola and David McCallum (Photo copyright Cinema Retro)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Actor Joe Sirola's annual parties to celebrate the blooming of his roses in his Manhattan penthouse garden have become something of a legend in New York social circles. The tradition continued last week but, for once, the weather didn't co-operate, as a monsoon-like rain poured over Gotham from morning into the evening hours. Thus, throngs of party attendees crammed into Joe's apartment in what seemed to be a recreation of the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera. As harried servers tried valiantly to carry trays of drinks and appetizers through the masses, a familiar face emerged from the elevator that opens directly into the apartment: David McCallum. Although David's aversion to crowded party scenes is well known, he and Joe Sirola's friendship dates back to the 1960s when they squared off occasionally as adversaries on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Since the late 1970s, there have been plans to revive The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a big screen feature. The closest those plans got to fruition was a reunion movie made for CBS TV in 1983 that starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Now, progress is being made once again with an acclaimed screenwriter formally attached to the project. Click here to read
Vaughn with Steve McQueen in the blockbuster 1968 hit Bullitt, for which he scored a BAFTA nomination. Vaughn concedes he felt the movie was ill-defined and would not work on the big screen.
In a recent interview with the British press, Robert Vaughn discusses how he felt both The Magnificent Seven and Bullitt were destined to be bombs on the big screen. The star of the hit UK TV series Hustle also reflects on many other aspects of his long career. Click here to read. (Click here to read coverage of Cinema Retro's recent dinner tribute to Robert Vaughn at The Players in New York City)
Now in its seventh season, NCIS has run twice as long as The Man From U.N.C.L.E and has developed a new generation of fans for David McCallum.
In a recent interview with the Herald Sun of Australia, David McCallum reflects on the surrealistic achievement of being back in a top ten show- 41 years after The Man From U.N.C.L.E. went off the air. McCallum plays the quirky forensics expert "Ducky" Mallard on the hit CBS series NCIS, which is routinely #1 in the American ratings. McCallum finds that almost a half century after people greeted him with shouts of "Illya!", they are now yelling "Ducky!" in his direction. Click here to read
The evening's surprise guest star David McCallum joins Robert Vaughn in acceding to Cinema Retro editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer's humorous demand that they sign his grade school Man From U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox. (Photo copyright: Tom Stroud)
By Lee Pfeiffer
Last evening, The Players club at Gramercy Park in New York City, in conjunction with Cinema Retro magazine, hosted a gala tribute dinner for member Robert Vaughn. The club dates back to 1888, when it was founded by actor Edwin Booth along with such luminaries as Mark Twain and General Sherman. The rich heritage continued with last evening's event. As Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro and a member of The Players, I had long wanted to hold an event in honor of Vaughn's career. Club Executive Director John Martello and I began planning the evening months ago, working around Vaughn's schedule for filming his hit TV series Hustle in England. The catalyst was the recent publication of Vaughn's acclaimed autobiography A Fortunate Life. Vaughn chose November 22 because of the date's significance in his life: it was his 77th birthday, the anniversary of the assassination of his political idol John F. Kennedy and also the date production began on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 46 years ago.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect was the remarkable compilation of video clips assembled by John Martello and his editor. Rare videos from the Cinema Retro archive were contributed, but there were still key clips that seemed be impossible to find: Vaughn playing young Teddy Roosevelt in an obscure Western TV episode called Law of the Plainsman, his performance as Harry S. Truman in the 1974 TV special The Man From Independence and his Emmy-winning role as the political hatchet man in the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. With Vaughn's personal assistance, clips were obtained from fans, TV networks and museums. The resulting 25 minute compilation gave ample evidence of Vaughn's diverse talents.
McCallum at recent party with former U.N.C.L.E. guest star Joe Sirola in New York. (Photo: Lee Pfeiffer)
Having just turned 76, David McCallum is arguably at the height of his career. His NCIS series has now run twice as long as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which made him a teenage idol in the 1960s. McCallum reflects on those years, including the day a simple walk in Central Park initiated a fanatical scene among his fans, resulting in his having to be rescued by police horse! Click here to read
Cinema Retro writer Craig Henderson reminds us that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered 45 years ago tonight- a fact sure to send baby boomers into the depths of depression as they cry in futility, "It couldn't have been that long ago!" Indeed, it was. The show debuted to mediocre reviews and dismal ratings, but as young people caught on to how hip it was, word spread quickly and the show became a major hit, running for four seasons. It would have run longer, but NBC foolishly chose to keep moving its night and time slot, putting it against powerhouse favorites on other networks. Still, the show has had a remarkable legacy considering it has not been widely seen in re-runs in recent years. A tip of the green hat (inside joke for fans of the show) to Craig Henderson for his remarkable issue-by-issue coverage of the feature films derived from two-part episodes of the series that have appeared in Cinema Retro. We also congratulate our friends Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who have both contributed greatly to our magazine.
McCallum at a recent party held at the New York penthouse of actor Joe Sirola, who guest-starred on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Photo: Lee Pfeiffer/Cinema Retro)
Scotland on Sunday caught up with David McCallum on a recent trip to London and got him to reflect candidly on his early days in Scotland, socializing with fellow future super spy Sean Connery , Man From U.N.C.L.E. mania and filming The Great Escape with Steve McQueen. McCallum also dwells on how astonishing it is that, at age 75, he is back on the top of the TV pack through his hit series NCIS.
The best of enemies: Joe Sirola and David McCallum in The Napoleon's Tomb Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Regular readers of Cinema Retro magazine know about actor Joe Sirola's remarkable career through his periodic columns for our publication. In addition to appearing in hundreds of movies, plays and TV series, Joe is also the toast of the town in New York City, due to his exclusive annual party to celebrate the blooming of his rose garden in his penthouse garden just off Central Park. Joe's been throwing these parties for decades, and in doing some research on an article, I came across a New York Daily News society column from 1967 that touted the party as the social event of the month! The tradition is in good form, as evidenced by Joe's latest soiree, which took place last week.As usual, the weather was superb, as guests socialized under a canopy and drank the seemingly endless supply of fine champagne. One of the delights of Joe's parties is the eclectic crowd, consisting of old friends, notable names from show business and prominent society types. I bumped into 95 year old legendary comedian Prof. Irwin Corey, who was throwing out one-liners at the speed of sound, all the while attired in his familiar hand-decorated baseball cap that denounces the Bush administration for being behind the World Trade Center attack. Proving that conspiracy advocates are bi-partisan, I gleaned from the Professor that he apparently thinks President Obama was also in on the fix. As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows.
Musician Jon Weber (left) is assisting actor/director Stuart Margolin with his first foray into the world of musical theater. (Photo copyright: Lee Pfeiffer)
I also chatted with actor/director Stuart Margolin, who shared some funny memories of working with directors Michael Winner on the original Death Wish and Brian G. Hutton on the Clint Eastwood flick Kelly's Heroes. (I smell a future interview here.) Stuart is working like gangbusters, not only flying to Canada to film a CBS TV movie called The Bridge but also going in a totally new direction by preparing his first musical production.
Joe Sirola reunited with his old TV nemesis, David McCallum. (Photo copyright: Lee Pfeiffer)
At one point, there was a bit of commotion and I saw a crowd gathering around a new arrival. It was David McCallum, making a surprise appearance. Even among New York sophisticates, he can still cause a stir and several middle-aged women swooned like teenagers, which made the shy McCallum seem a bit awkward. David's aversion to the party scene is well-known, but he couldn't resist Joe Sirola's invitation. I hadn't seen David for a couple of years and it appears as though he's found the secret to eternal youth. He introduced me to his lovely wife Katherine and we chatted about his hit CBS show NCIS, which has just been renewed for a seventh season. David pointed out the series has now run twice as long as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Speaking of which, David and Joe first met when Joe appeared as a guest star in several episodes of the series. I couldn't help but to ask the two U.N.C.L.E. alumni to pose for a reunion photo.
Just another night on the town in New York - and reminder why it still remains my favorite city.
(For Joe Sirola's memories of Hang 'Em High, see Cinema Retro issue #6. For David McCallum's extensive series of interviews, see Cinema Retro issues 8-12)
Paramount Home Video has released a DVD edition of the 1983 TV movie Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprising their legendary roles that they had last performed in 1968 when the original show was canceled after a four-season run. The release is most welcome, though it's bare bones treatment virtually cries out for some bonus extras. Paramount apparently didn't want to capitalize on the recent Warner Home Video mega set of the TV series by having Vaughn and McCallum contribute to this edition. However, they could have easily have obtained the services of the one of the many U.N.C.L.E. scholars to discuss the TV movie on a commentary track. Nonetheless, the film is as interesting as it is controversial. Casual fans of the show always enjoyed the reunion broadcast, but hardcore U.N.C.L.E. fans always viewed as second-rate and a missed opportunity (sort of the Never Say Never Again of the U.N.C.L.E. franchise.) I count myself among the few die hard aficionados of the series who genuinely likes Return -though it is not without flaws.
By April of 1983, when the reunion movie was broadcast on CBS, U.N.C.L.E. fans were quite impatient to see the end result. For years, there had been rumors of a reunion movie and at one point MGM had virtually committed to a big screen feature starring Vaughn and McCallum before a new regime at the studio got cold feet. The on-again, off-again nature of the project kept evolving and was complicated by McCallum's ambivalence about recreating a character that had made him a teenage idol in the 1960s - a mantle he neither wanted nor wore very comfortably. Ultimately, TV producer Michael Sloan obtained the rights to the sequel and managed to get McCallum on board. The movie was intended as a pilot for a revival of the series that, sadly, never materialized despite the fact the film got decent ratings. The best aspect, of course, is seeing Vaughn and McCallum together again, both looking remarkably unchanged over the ensuing fifteen years. The agents are called back into action, despite the fact they have long been retired from U.N.C.L.E. McCallum's Illya Kuryakin is now a noted fashion designer and Vaughn's Napoleon Solo is in the computer industry. (An unintended joke because Vaughn still refused to use a personal computer in real life).The evil THRUSH organization is now posing a nuclear threat and only Solo and Illya are deemed qualified to stop it. They reunite by literally bumping into each other during a fight with the bad guys in the Russian Tea Room!
PHOTOS COPYRIGHT MARK MAWSTON/CINEMA RETRO. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Cinema Retro London photographer Mark Mawston dropped by the Cinema Store in London earlier this week to cover Robert Vaughn's signing session for his autobiography A Fortunate Life. Fans lined up outside the store and patiently waited as they were escorted one-by-one to the signing table. Vaughn is in London to shoot the new season of his smash hit TV series Hustle. The book is a mesmerizing page-turner of his early years in show business through his success on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.and his political activism in the late 1960s.