OPEN CHANNEL D…ON ASSIGNMENT WITH U.N.C.L.E. by agent Tony Piazza
OPEN CHANNEL D…ON ASSIGNMENT WITH THE MEN FROM U.N.C.L.E* by agent Tony Piazza As most kids in the ’60s I got caught up in the spy craze, and one of my television favorites was “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” This sudden surge back then in the popularity of espionage sagas was feeding off the JAMES BOND frenzy; a phenomenon that was triggered when it was discovered that J.F.K. had Ian Fleming’s novel, “From Russia with Love” on a White House bookshelf. The U.N.C.L.E. show was actually created by Fleming, at least the concept and some of the character names…like Solo, and April Dancer. During the early ’60s he met with one of the show’s future producers and co-creator, Norman Felton in New York and handed him a cocktail napkin with all the details! So…Fleming! I was fortunate enough to see my U.N.C.L.E. agent favorites in the flesh. ROBERT VAUGHN (Napoleon Solo) worked on “Bullitt”. I spent a great deal of time on that set, but unlike STEVE McQUEEN who was very approachable, Vaughn was very private. He came out, did his lines, and retired back to his dressing room. When he did stay on the set he was always surrounded by production types. I did observe him at a distance, but I’ll admit it was disappointing. Mr. Vaughn was very private, and spent only as much time as necessary on the set and then he was gone. However my visits with SteveMcQueen and our friendly, down to earth conversations made up more than enough for it! DAVID McCALLUM, on the other hand, was a different story. He was the second half of the U.N.C.L.E. team. A Russian named Illya Kuryakin. He was also in real life the heart throb of many young female fans, the same who fainted at the antics of “The Beatles.” He had a “Beatle cut”, so I suspect it may have been calculated. I got to work with him in 1976 on the Quinn Martin detective show, “Bert D’Angelo, Superstar.” I found him to be serious, and extremely professional; a consummate actor, who enjoyed his profession. I also found him to be human and compassionate for reasons I will mention in a moment. In addition to my duties as stand-in to the main star, BOB PINE in this case, I was also assigned to McCallum as well. We usually crossed over…especially when scenes did not include our designated primary actor. I remember one Saturday afternoon in front of the University of San Francisco campus (our location). We were both sitting in a picture car…a van…during one of the set ups and I got to talk to him personally for some time. He mainly discussed acting, and even gave me some tips! It was a great experience. He seemed really intent in giving advice and being helpful to a fellow actor…kudos for that! And if you were to judge by his successes…he would be the man to listen to. Now, earlier I mentioned his compassion. An “extra” told me a story that she was listening to another “extra” speaking of a family member that was ill. It was at a restaurant location where McCallum’s character was sitting at an adjacent table. When she happened to glance over towards him during the course of this woman’s story, it was evident to her that he had overheard the conversation… she could read the compassion on his face! Just as a side note; during the ’60s era I was also on location with the “I Spy” television show, starring BILL COSBY and ROBERT CULP. But, I’ll leave that as another story for another day. I now close my fountain pen communicator with the immortal words… CHANNEL D….OUT!
Author’s final note: A couple years before getting caught up in the Bond craze I was introduced to the slick ’60s world of espionage through “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” As most kids you picked the agent you most wanted to be on the show and mine was Napoleon Solo…little did I know that I would fulfill my fantasy by getting an assignment with Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum)! Proof that dreams really can come true. I also had the fortune to meet and work with that “Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”, STEPHANIE POWERS, and three other U.N.C.L.E. alumni, NORMAN FELL (Moonglow Affair), FRITZ WEAVER (Vulcan Affair), and had lunch with PATRICIA CROWLEY (Vulcan Affair).
There has been talk that a “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” film is in the works. And even though the original show at times got a bit campy, I hope the screenwriter(s) will take a more serious approach with the movie (but, keep in some of the fun!)…and please set it in the ’60s. * United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
In response to my fondness of the spy genre- although, “fondness” is too gentle a word, perhaps “fanatic” would better describe my state back in the 1960s, I decided to make my stand-alone novel a spy adventure. My book, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” introduces Matt Ryan, a new hero fighting for America’s freedom in war torn Hawaii, 1944. Not a spy, in the Bond or Solo sense, but a former Army Air Corp pilot turned adventurer, who through a series of events discovers a Nazi plot which could change the course of World War Two. I’ve included all the intrigue, exotic locales, excitement, tongue-in-cheek fun, and lovely ladies found that one would expect to find in the Bond, or U.N.C.L.E. stories, but do so with a fresh, and original approach. If you want to relive the sensational, action-packed escape you were thrilled with in reading those spy novels in the 60s, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” is for you. Why not get that Adrenaline flowing! It is available on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble websites- or wherever fine books are sold.
Tony Piazza (Courtesy of Charlotte Alexander)
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was published next in early 2012, and in November of 2013 his second Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels was released.” In July of 2015 his latest Logan mystery, “Murder Is Such Sweet Revenge” was made available for purchase, and has since been an instant bestseller. All are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Tony Piazza is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and SLO NightWriters.
The novels that started it all. The first and second novel in the Tom Logan mystery series have become audio books- read by actor James Romick, and is available on Audible, Amazon, and I-tunes.
The NEW Tom Logan mystery, “Murder is Such Sweet Revenge” is available in print, e-book, AND SOON, audio book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.
My earlier bestselling novels, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” and “Anything Short of Murder” now joins “A Murder Amongst Angels” and “Murder is Such Sweet Revenge” on Amazon’s Kindle at a new, low price of $2.99. Now you can have hours of adventure, thrills, mystery, and romance for the price of a cup of coffee- and just as stimulating! Look for it on Amazon. Print versions have also been reduced.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels .
Find them all on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available for $2.99 on Kindle.
Another show I really really liked (though I saw it in reruns as a kid).
McCallum did a show called The Invisible Man which I seem to remember liking. I wonder if it would hold up if I saw it now.
I have a copy of Vaughn’s book on black listing and I started reading it. Thought it was very interesting, but didn’t get around to finishing. I’ve been wanting to go back and finish it cause I did like it. He seemed a bit reserved in interviews and such. I wonder if either of them were prepared for that quick blast of Beatle-like success they got from that show. It had to be pretty amazing and yet pretty dizzying.
Hi Laura, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I remember the McCallum show, Invisible Man, and although I’ve read the book on the making of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., I missed reading Vaughn’s autobiography. I don’t think either were ready for the Beatle-like success from the show, although McCallum’s hair-cut was not by chance- I believe the producers thought that would work in their favor. Once it took off, both actors did a lot of globe-trotting for PR.
James Ostmann says
If Cary Grant had agreed to play James Bond, as Cubby Broccoli had hoped, I would suggest Bond mania would never have happened. (Grant refused to do any sequels). Sir Sean nailed it, and then the flood gates opened, with spy films, spy tv shows like The Man From Uncle.
I agree, James. Sean has, and will always be Bond to me. Regardless of what fans are saying about Daniel Craig, Connery defined the character, and came the closest to what Fleming had in mind…although not at first…Hoagy Carmichael was how he described him in the books…blue eyes, comma of black hair over the brow, etc. Later, in YOLT, did he include a Scottish heritage in a bow to Connery’s film persona. Thanks again for commenting.
Dear Tony, Just a heads up to let you know about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle Facebook group. Lots about U.N.C.L.E. on a daily basis.
Appreciate the heads up, Robert. I’ll look into it.
M. M. Gornell says
I loved The Man From Uncle and David McCallum was (still is on NCIS) one of my favorites! As an aside, just started A Murder Amongst Angels and loving it (bought a used Kindle to replace my old one)…think I should go read now…(smile)
Great post, love hearing all the star and backstage info.
Madeline…thank you…thank you…thank you. You brought a smile to my lips!
cookie curci says
I didn’t realize you have met so many different stars and worked on so many different films. I was also a huge fan of MAN FROM UNCLE… because i had a crush on David McCallum.. I remember he had 3 lovely little children and a lovely blonde wife who later married charles Brownson…complete opposite of David. at least in looks.
I always enjoy reading your remembrances.
It’s amazing to me, Cookie, when I look back and realize all the different celebrities that touched my life. I was a big fan of the show as well…belonged to the U.N.C.L.E fan club…had an U.N.C.L.E toy gun. You can imagine what a thrill it was to see Vaughn in person (although, as I mentioned he was not as accessible as the others). Even a greater thrill working one on one with David McCallum (real professional) and visiting with the lovely Stephanie Powers. Wonderful memories…so happy to share them, and appreciate that you’re enjoying them.