Friday, October 26, 2007

Goin’ Solo

During my recent absence from this page (the result of external pressures, including my own fiction writing), I couldn’t help but notice a post foretelling the release next month of a complete set of the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) on DVD.

I am a veteran Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan and have a few snippets of information worth sharing. First, you may wonder about the genesis of Robert Vaughn’s character, spy Napoleon Solo, the creation of which has often been credited to producer and writer Norman Felton. The character was actually developed by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. During one of Fleming’s trips from Europe to New York City, Felton pursued him to write for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but Fleming’s health at the time was not so good, and he tried to decline the opportunity. However, Felton refused to take “no” for an answer. He headed off to London to try and persuade Fleming to reconsider his involvement. Finally, if only to shake off the persistent American producer, Fleming worked up a TV concept that included the characters of Napoleon Solo (there was also a crime boss named “Mr. Solo” in Fleming’s Goldfinger) and April Dancer (later to be portrayed by Stefanie Powers in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.). One of Felton’s possible titles for that espionage series was Solo, which came from his talks with Fleming.

I read recently that Felton’s collected papers have been archived at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, and included among them is a letter from Fleming to Felton that confirms the former’s involvement with The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Linked to word of U.N.C.L.E.’s DVD release on November 27 is another bit of news, having to do with series star Vaughn. Apparently, BBC Radio is staging a play entitled--of all things--Solo Behind the Curtain, which features him in a Cold War-era drama based on events from his own life. During the summer of 1968, Vaughn was busy filming a movie in Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Union invaded Prague. BBC Radio 4 is dramatizing Vaughn’s experience, and casting him as his younger self.

As Wales’ Western Mail newspaper explains:
In 1968, during the brief flowering of freedom known as the Prague Spring, Vaughn found himself in Czechoslovakia for the filming of the Second World War feature The Bridge at Remagen.

But filming ground to a halt when more than 5,000 Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia and Vaughn and the rest of the film’s cast and crew found themselves trapped.

Vaughn vividly remembers the tanks, with their red stars painted on the side, and the guns, manned by young Russian soldiers, which were trained on their hotel. As Americans and enemy aliens they had to find a way to escape, and quickly.
You can listen to Solo Behind the Iron Curtain, written by Tracy Spottiswoode, on Monday, November 5, on BBC Radio 4 at 2:15 p.m. Or look for it on the BBC Radio 4 Web site, where it will be archived. In addition to Robert Vaughn, the production features Robert Glenister as George Segal, John Guerassio as Ben Gazzara, Richard Laing as Bradford Dillman, and Garrick Hagon as David Wolper.

READ MORE:Robert Vaughn: The TV Squad Interview,” by Bob Sassone (TV Squad).

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