Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Man From UNCLE 51st Birthday

On September 22, 1964 an unknown spy organization made its unheralded debut on network television. The Man From UNCLE was green-lighted as a series after NBC executives saw the pilot film and thought that they could ride the coat-tails of the then-uber popular James Bond spy trend.

Little did they know that The Man From UNCLE would not only ride those coat-tails, they would expand on them. The series ended up lasting four years, spawning a spin-off series, and creating a merchandise bonanza with toys, books, and games that lasted for years.

The international spy organization United Network Command for Law and Enforcement would end up being one of the biggest hits of the mid-Sixties, making super-stars out of featured players Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. And because MGM studios combined various episodes into theatrical releases that were shown abroad, the UNCLE mania was world-wide.

My wife often goes to antique malls, and I usually get roped into accompanying her. So while she is looking for classic ceramics and glassware, I look for classic pop culture items. This is how I have accumulated a vast collection of The Man From UNCLE novels that I have not read. I keep thinking that eventually I will start in on them, but so far, nothing. And yet, I keep buying them. Now I only need two or three to finish the whole collection! I also have a copy of the Big Little Book from 1967, and that I have read! I have a review coming up on that story, The Calcutta Affair, soon.

The series itself was created by Norman Felton but developed by Sam Rolfe. Originally they had been in discussion with James Bond creator Ian Fleming, who provided the name of the character. In fact, in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), "Napoleon Solo" is the name of the gangster that Goldfinger has killed and compacted at a junkyard. Originally The Man From UNCLE was to be called Napoleon Solo, but United Artists, owner of the James Bond franchise, balked at that name being used. They also insisted that Ian Fleming's name not be used in anyway in connection to the project. When Fleming died in the August 1964, the point became moot.

The series' quality veered wildly over the course of its four seasons, with the first season being mostly very dry and serious drama, the second season being a bit more loose, the third being crazy over the top fantasy, and the fourth season being something of a mix. This is mostly blamed on the phenomenal popularity of the comedy-adventure series Batman, which made its debut during UNCLE's second season.

My favorite season is the second, except for the theme song. Each year the theme song changed, and in the second year it was more light and breezy, with the flutes taking the main melody. I preferred the jazzier first season theme.

Happy Birthday, The Man From UNCLE! 
Here are the four different theme songs from each of the four seasons. 
Tell me in the comments which song you like best, and why! 

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