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Saturday, April 17, 2021

My, my what a spy: ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

This story from 2008 is updated and posted following the death of Robert Vaughn.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is clearly a product of its time. But what a time.

The spy melodrama and occasional spoof tried to be the James Bond of the small screen and very often succeeded. Running for four seasons, the series certainly wavered in quality (particularly in the third season), but the show had a cultural impact far beyond its mere 105-episode run of 1964-1968. Who can forget the pen communicator (“Open Channel D,” anyone?), the U.N.C.L.E. special that converted from a pistol to a rifle, the Thrush rifle with the night-vision scope, the beautiful women or the dazzling array of guest stars (Vincent Price, Elsa Lanchester or a young Rip Torn)?

The TV show was so successful that some of its programs were re-edited into feature-films, often beating the Bond entries of the time, particularly in overseas markets. The program also had a variety of merchandising spin-offs, from toys and games to a series of novels by respected science-fiction and hard-boiled fiction writers such as Harry Whittington and David McDaniel and its own magazine and comic book.

The series has some enduring advantages: Robert Vaughn, starring as Napoleon Solo, is a solid actor, equally adept at serious drama or light comedy. Co-star David McCallum has both acting and Karate chops to spare. Both are still working in high-profile projects; Vaughn in the BBC-produced Hustle, which airs in the U.S. on the AMC network, and McCallum in CBS’s N.C.I.S., playing Dr. “Ducky” Mallard, a medical examiner. Former Alfred Hitchcock stock player Leo G. Carroll, as their boss, Mr. Waverly, could steal a scene with a raised bushy eyebrow. Several top-flight writers and directors, such as Dean Hargrove and Richard Donner, would go on to even bigger careers after the series shut down. Because of various disputes over rights to the series, it has been only rarely seen and had limited availability on VHS, so fans are more than ready to see the men from U.N.C.L.E. battle Thrush once again.

The complete series is now available by mail order only from Time-Life. www.timelife.com

Since this story was publiched in 2008, several other U.N.C.L.E. DVDs have been released:

www.amazon.com/Man-U-N-C-L-Complete/dp/B00005JM5Z

And a well-received film version of the series hit the big screen:

www.fortworthbusiness.com/news/arts_and_culture/review-u-n-c-l-e-is-high-style-low/article_13b15084-4071-11e5-869f-bbe57e7dd34c.html

Robert Vaughn dies: www.fortworthbusiness.com/news/arts_and_culture/robert-vaughn-suave-man-from-u-n-c-l-e/article_0079e12a-a84e-11e6-897a-0f510d94ad97.html

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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