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U.N.C.L.E. article

The Gun as Star and the "U.N.C.L.E. Special"

C. W. Walker

The Fourth Star

If you are over 35 years old, you probably remember the television series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. If you are younger, most likely, you’ve never even heard of the show. Judged too violent for wider syndication in the 1970’s (Heitland, 1987; Lewis and Stempel, 1993; Dominick, Sherman and Copeland, 1993), the series languished in the MGM Library vaults for years. A reunion telefilm, The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, aired on CBS in 1983. Afterward, the series surfaced briefly for short runs on The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and a few Public Broadcasting stations in the Midwest. In 1992, Turner Entertainment, which had acquired the MGM Library, released 44 of the 105 episodes on videocassette. Today, the series can be seen only sporadically on the TNT cable network.

For a few years in the mid-1960s however, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was one of the hottest shows on television, particularly for teens and college students. From September, 1964, to January, 1968, viewers followed the adventures of a pair of secret agents: a suave American named Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) teamed with an enigmatic Russian named Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). The two worked for a mythical top-secret, technologically advanced, multi-national security organization called The United Network Command for Law Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.). Each week, U.N.C.L.E.'s craggy spymaster, Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), would send his agents out to do battle against various international criminals and meglomaniacs bent on world domination. During the course of each mission, Solo and Kuryakin would meet an "innocent," an average person such as a homemaker, a film student, or a schoolteacher on vacation, who was inevitably caught up in the action. Both the naive innocents and the exotic, larger-than-life, villains were portrayed by famous guest stars.

At the peak of its popularity, during the spring of its second season, the series earned audience shares as high as 55 (MGM Research Department, personal communication, January, 1968). This meant that in 1966, over half the television sets that were turned on Friday nights at 10 p.m. were tuned into The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV Guide dubbed it "the mystic cult of millions" ("Mystic Cult," 1966). In a memo to programming vice president, Mort Werner, the NBC research department reported that viewers were watching U.N.C.L.E. "... not just because they dislike other programs that are on ...[but] because they are fans, fanatics... They talk about the program with other fans and go beyond that: they proselytize, they want to convert non-viewers!" (J. Burns, personal communication, February 5, 1965).

Fan letters poured in at the rate of 10,000 per week (Heitland, 1987). And of that number, at least 500 were addressed, not to the principal actors or to the guest stars, but to the U.N.C.L.E. Special (or simply "The Gun"), the unique weapon designed to be carried by the U.N.C.L.E. characters (Cymrot, 1965; "What a Weapon," 1965). Gimmicks were an important element of U.N.C.L.E., and the series employed a number of distinctive, pseudo-futuristic props, including a pen communicator and later, a car with gull-wing doors. But only one of them became, as Heitland (1987) describes it, "the fourth star of the show" (p. 154).

An Ideal Weapon

According to Ang (1985), suppressing the constructed nature of a text creates the illusion that the text faithfully reflects an actually existing world. This "realistic illusion" is necessary, says Ang, in order to foster audience involvement.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. created its own realistic illusion and played it to the hilt, freely mixing elements of fantasy and reality. Sometimes, the illusion was accidental, a by-product of the production process. For instance, Executive Producer Norman Felton appended a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer to the end of every episode, thanking the fictional United Network Command for Law and Enforcement for its assistance in making the series. The purpose was to avoid any misidentification of the name, U.N.C.L.E., with the United Nations, but the disclaimer actually had just the opposite result. The U.N.’s newsletter, Secretariat, reported that tourists, believing the mythical organization to be real, often asked to visit the U.N.’s basement in order to take a peek at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters ( Robinson, 1966)

Most times, however, the effort to coax audiences into suspending their belief (if just a bit) was deliberate. The conception, development, and utilization of the U.N.C.L.E. Special serve as an illustrative example.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series has often been described as television’s answer to James Bond (Bennett & Woolacott, 1987; Javna, 1985; Castleman & Podrazik, 1989; Brooks & Marsh, 1995). Since Bond had his own distinctive weapon — first, a .25 Beretta, later a Walther PPK — it was inevitable that Napoleon Solo would have one, too. However, unlike the Bond guns, both of which existed in real life, the U.N.C.L.E. Special was a fiction, a clever construction that combined the physical appearance of an actual weapon with the capabilities of an imaginary one.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot (called Solo at the time) was shot in late November, 1963 using generic spy-type guns, like Lugers and various .45 automatic pistols. However, discussions about providing Napoleon Solo with a specialized, distinctive gun began soon after. Stanley Weston, who’d handled the toy licensing rights for another MGM property produced by Felton, Dr. Kildare, was now hired to do the same for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Despite Disney’s aggressive marketing of its properties since the 1930’s, the toy licensing business at mid-century was still in an embryonic stage (Miller, 1998). Weston, who was also involved in developing the toy phenomenon, G.I. Joe, had particularly good instincts. After viewing the Solo pilot in February, 1964, Weston wrote a letter to Felton expressing excitement over the show’s merchandising potential. A self-proclaimed admirer of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Weston made a list of 35 suggestions for emblem designs and spy gadgets that could be exploited for marketing purposes. Among them was the proposal for a distinctive gun à la Bond that should feature a silencer. "Also, from our viewpoint," Weston added, "it would be great if Solo uses a machine gun from time to time" (Weston, personal communication, February 19, 1964).

Felton and Sam Rolfe, the series’ developer and first season producer, had also been giving thought to an U.N.C.L.E. gun. "I wanted one gun capable of shooting single shots or rapid-fire automatic shots," Rolfe observed in a TV Guide interview, "with sound or silently. I also wanted sleep inducing darts, explosive bullets and just bullets, and a gun that could convert to a long-range rifle" ("What a Weapon," 1965). In addition, the gun would have to be concealed from time to time, either on an agents’ person or broken down and hidden in an attache case (Cymrot, 1965). Of course, an actual gun with all these capabilities simply did not exist. It had to be built and, to give the illusion of reality, it was decided to use an existing gun as the foundation (Heitland, 1987)

Since Weston had by now involved with Ideal Toy Corporation, the problem was turned over to independent toy inventor, Reuben Klamer, and his staff at Toylab studios. The Toylab designers developed a "breakaway"gun based on the 1934 7.65 German Mauser pistol. By adding various attachments, including a shoulder stock, a longer, screw-on barrel, a silencer, scope, and extended magazine clip, the Mauser handgun could be converted to look like a spidery, futuristic state-of-the-art weapon (Polizzi, Schaefer and Richardson, 1992).

By the time the U.N.C.L.E. gun was ready in early June of 1964, the Solo pilot had been sold to NBC. With the name changed to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the series was already under production. The gun that arrived on the set was not greeted favorably by the production crew. Not only did it photograph poorly— the small Mauser pistol seemed overwhelmed by the attachments — but it jammed constantly and wouldn’t shoot (Heitland, 1987). Prop masters Bob Murdock and Arnold Goode borrowed several Walther P-38 automatics from the Combat television series set, which was filming nearby, and found this gun more to their liking.

During the next month, the U.N.C.L.E. prop crew developed a second U.N.C.L.E. Special, closely modeled on the original Mauser version, but now based on a P-38. For dramatic effect, the gun was modified to fire full auto like a machine gun. Although the attachments looked impressive, they were nonfunctional. Indeed, the screw threads on the extended barrel made it impossible for the gun to shoot anything but blanks (Heitland, 1987). Also for cosmetic purposes, a magazine clip was created by taping two eight-shot clips together with duct tape.

The two versions of the U.N.C.L.E. Special were similar enough in appearance that even when the episodes were aired out of order of their production it was difficult to tell that one had replaced the other. Eventually, the crew created six U.N.C.L.E. Specials at a cost of approximately $1,500 per gun, but only two had a full array of attachments (Heitland, 1987). In recognition of their work creating unusual props, Murdock, Goode, and their assistant, Bill Graham, were nominated for a special Emmy in 1966. A few months earlier, they were also visited on the set by investigators from the Treasury Department, who subsequently fined MGM $2,000 for manufacturing automatic weapons without a license (Heitland, 1987).

Toylab continued to develop a plastic toy version for Ideal, dubbed "The Napoleon Solo Gun," that actually looked more like a standard .45 automatic than either the Mauser model or the Walther P-38. Selling for $4.99, the Napoleon Solo Gun Set (the pistol complete with attachments, badge and I.D. card) had an advance sale of $600,000 and was expected to sell over 2 million sets even before it was on the market (Paquette & Howley, 1990). When David McCallum’s popularity as Illya Kuryakin skyrocketed, the Napoleon Solo gun was followed by an Illya Kuryakin Gun Set. The Kuryakin gun was also designed by Toylab but was never actually seen on the series. Later, there was also a toy version of the villain’s gun, the Thrush rifle, and several other U.N.C.L.E. gun sets, including one carried in an attaché case.

To protect its investment, Ideal nagged the producers to use the U.N.C.L.E. Special — preferably fully assembled — whenever possible. In a 1965 letter to William Reese, Ideal’s Director of Sale Promotion , U.N.C.L.E.’s Associate Producer George Lehr diplomatically explained that "We do make every effort to include the gun where logically and physically possible," but that it was "impractical" many times to use the gun fully assembled. Lehr provided Reese with a list of scheduled gun appearances (both assembled and unassembled) and promised to keep Ideal abreast of developments (Lehr, personal communication, November 3, 1965).

Good Guys Don’t Kill

Over the course of its three and a half season run on network television, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. occupied five different time periods and was helmed by five different producers. As a result, the series lurched wildly, from straight adventure, to high adventure with humor, to broad comedy with satiric overtones, to near camp, and finally back to serious adventure (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Information for Writers [extended version], circa 1967, p. 28). These fluctuations in style and mood were echoed by the constantly changing role the U.N.C.L.E. Special played within the narrative.

Before, during, and a bit past the show’s first season, the customized gun occupied a conspicuous place of honor in the U.N.C.L.E. universe. Even before the show went on the air, it was featured prominently in publicity photographs, often fully assembled. In the introductory prologue that opened the first few episodes, the gun is assembled by Illya Kuryakin. Later, in the famous shattered glass opening, it appears in Solo’s hand. When the two stars traveled on promotional tours to boost the show’s early sluggish ratings, the U.N.C.L.E. Special, disassembled and stashed in publicist Chuck Painter’s suitcase, went with them (Heitland, 1987).

Despite the involvement of the Ideal Toy Corporation, the gun’s visibility was not merely a savvy effort at merchandising. Indeed, Ideal did not begin to market the plastic replicas until well into the show’s second season, and a factory fire kept many units of the toy versions from reaching store shelves until after Christmas 1965 (Polizzi, et.al.,1992). Rather, the creators of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — Sam Rolfe, in particular — saw the U.N.C.L.E. Special as an instantly recognizable symbol that would sum up the concept for the entire series.

It is ironic, really, that the Walther P-38 ended up, rather accidentally, as the foundation for U.N.C.L.E.’s distinctive weapon of choice. Three years before U.N.C.L.E., Rolfe wrote a television pilot in which the adventurer hero was a literal reincarnation of King Arthur (Rolfe, 1961). In the script, which was never produced, Rolfe armed his protagonist with a Walther P-38 which he described as "...a wicked little memento of German ingenuity...which [gives] devastating and compact fire power to a single man" (p. 3). Mike Wetherell, an U.N.C.L.E. fan who now works within the motion picture industry, confirms that the P-38, is a "dark character’s gun," not one usually used by movie good guys (Wetherell, personal communication May 8, 1998). Observed gun expert, Jerry Ahern, "...the P-38, only after the Luger and the Broomhandle Mauser, is as exotic and menacing looking a pistol as they come" (Ahern, 1989, p. 85).

Clearly, Rolfe, who also created the popular TV series, Have Gun Will Travel, was fascinated by the concept of a latter-day knight errant. Solo and Kuryakin were not really spies, but world policemen, roaming the globe as international peacekeepers. Unlike Bond, they did not represent a particular country or political interest, but were supposed to protect and defend all nations, regardless of size or political system. The U.N.C.L.E. Special was meant to be a modern Excalibur, a deadly weapon employed in the service of Good. Like the agents who wielded it, the Special was slim, sleek, and sophisticated, but also extremely powerful and highly versatile. Assembled, it supposedly could pick off a target, long-range, like a rifle, or switched to full-auto, mow an enemy down with devastating rapid-fire power. Or, it could simply put someone to sleep with a tranquilizer dart.

This latter capability was apparently the contribution of Executive Producer Norman Felton. It may have been conceived in cynical anticipation of doing battle with the network over the show’s potentially violent content. More likely, however, judging by the various interoffice memos, it was the result of Felton’s genuine concern over U.N.C.L.E.’s youthful audience.

"We don’t kill anyone any more with the U.N.C.L.E. gun," Felton explained to TV Guide. "We just put them to sleep. And afterwards they’re better off. They’re nicer to their wives and kids after being hit with one of Mr. Solo’s darts. The Thrush gun, of course, kills."

This was clearly wishful thinking on Felton’s part. A few episodes in the first season did occasionally include the use of sleep darts. Of course, in reality, the guns didn’t actually shoot such darts. The substitution of darts for bullets was signaled by a "thup" that was heard on impact, a sound inserted during post-production.

At the time of the filming of one such episode, Felton even sent a memo to then-producer Sam Rolfe requesting a scene in which Waverly would declare that U.N.C.L.E. would now be using sleep darts exclusively. "Now that we are moving into a new [earlier] time period," Felton wrote, "we should reinforce it so that young and old among the viewers know that we abhor killing, and in our Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, use sleep darts, which are not fatal but have the temporary effect of putting the victim to sleep" (Felton, personal communication, December 4, 1964).

No such scene was ever filmed and the use of the sleep darts actually decreased during the ensuing seasons. Nevertheless, nearly every article that appeared on the gun, from those in specialized magazines (see, for example, Bacon, 1965) to those in the popular press, inaccurately reported that gun was used mainly by the agents to shoot sleep darts. The impression created, that U.N.C.L.E. agents generally put their opponents to sleep rather than kill them, persists in accounts of the series to this day (for example, see Anderson, 1994).

Good Girls Don’t Shoot


"Let’s not have our agents shoot unless they have to do so because they are directly attacked," Felton wrote in a memo to prospective Girl From U.N.C.L.E. producer, Douglas Benton, in 1966. Discussing a script that was never filmed, he adds, "You could solve it by Streich [the villain] suddenly pulling a weapon out which forces Solo to shoot. You see, we are ‘sporting’ at U.N.C.L.E. When Streich dies, Solo should feel sad about it... he feels he handled the job badly" (Felton, personal communication, March 17, 1966).

Violence was always a concern with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. both for the producers and for the NBC network. During the first season, when episodes averaged only one to three fatalities and few were deliberately or directly caused by the agents themselves, Felton felt justified in protesting against the network’s concern. "In the hundreds of letters which pour in," he pointed out to executive Robert Wood then at NBC, "we have yet to receive one criticizing us in terms of ‘brutality’ or ‘shocking action.’ Indeed, the mail all reflects favorably on the ‘land of unreality’ and the derring-do" (Felton, personal correspondence, December 29, 1964). However, after Producer Sam Rolfe left the show, to be replaced by David Victor, Mort Abrahams and Boris Ingster, the body count began to rise. For example, in "The King of Diamonds Affair", an episode filmed in January, 1966, and aired that March, a dozen characters die, including an entire group of eight villains dispatched by a cannon in the climax.

Ironically, as deaths increased, appearances by the U.N.C.L.E. Special decreased. Bombs, exotic devices, and "evil" guns like the Thrush rifle were used by both good guys and bad to dispatch each other. By the beginning of the third season, while bodies continued to pile up, the U.N.C.L.E. Special itself practically disappeared from view.

Network concerns and the success of the campy "Batman" series on rival ABC prompted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to take yet another stylistic turn. In 1967, during the second half of the third season, gun battles and serious confrontations were replaced by "happy violence" (Gerbner, 1994) —long, elaborately choreographed brawls and silly, Keystone Cops-like car chases. The body count dropped to zero but in this atmosphere, the U.N.C.L.E. Special still had no useful place. Whether it was used to shoot bullets or sleep darts, either way, the U.N.C.L.E. Special would have ended any brawl or chase before it began.

Against this background, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Man’s so-called "sister" show, was conceived and developed. Discussions about creating a spin-off series featuring a woman agent began in the spring of 1965. Until that time, no American hour-long action/adventure series had ever starred a woman, and Felton, himself, was dubious that it would work for U.N.C.L.E. "I was personally interested in developing a television series featuring women," he recalled years later, "But I did not believe at the time, that a series with a woman in physical combat, which we often had in U.N.C.L.E., would be acceptable or logical. (N. Felton, personal communication, October 2, 1982).

Felton had reason to be nervous. The NBC Broadcast Standards Department was particularly vigilant in reviewing action scenes involving female characters. For example, a department review of "The Take Me To Your Leader Affair" a 1966 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. , advised "caution on the blow which momentarily fells Coco [guest star Nancy Sinatra] since violent treatment of women is a sensitive area" (J. Messerschmidt, NBC Broadcast Standards script report, personal communication, October 12, 1966).

In the end, economics won out. Even if The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. ran only a season (as indeed, it did), it would be enough to fill out U.N.C.L.E.’s future syndication package ( N. Felton, personal correspondence, October 2, 1982). A pilot, "The Moonglow Affair" was shot at the end of November, 1965 and aired as an episode of Man the following February. It starred Mary Ann Mobley as a very young April Dancer, fresh out of training school, teamed with a middle-aged agent named Mark Slate, played by Norman Fell. NBC was pleased with the 45 share the episode earned, but not with the cast. When The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. premiered in Fall, 1966, Stefanie Powers starred as a more accomplished, athletic, April Dancer, teamed with Noel Harrison as a younger — and British — Mark Slate.

As with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Stanley Weston was once more hired to coordinate the merchandising effort. Even before the pilot aired, Erwin Benkoe, Director of Product Development for Ideal, suggested a line of "girl spy items" including a cosmetic bottle with a hidden radio, a mascara box with a secret camera, and a "pistol-handed derringer" made in "very feminine colors inlaid with a couple of rhinestones." Benkoe also discussed a compact that was actually a gun, but noted it would not fire caps since "we do not believe that this will suit little girls." (E. Benkoe, personal communication, October 25, 1965).

But The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. did not last long enough for any girlish spy toys to even make it to store shelves. With the exception of a doll and a Halloween costume, most of the line of tie-in toys was eventually scrapped (Polizzi, et.al.1992; Paquette and Howley, 1990).

As Felton predicted, trouble began almost immediately. Two weeks after the first episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. aired, Felton sent a note to Girl’s producer, Douglas Benton, pointing out that "some New York reviewers commented adversely in terms of violence, or as one put it, ‘sadism’ " (N. Felton, personal communication, September 28, 1966). He requested that Benton review all episodes to "make sure we don’t have any offensive actions." Benton agreed and promised that "we’ll watch it" (Benton, personal communication, no date).

Since The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. aired on Tuesdays at 7:30 and was aimed at younger audiences, the solution was to substitute humor for action. Jeopardy in the stories was almost always cartoonish, even surreal. For example, in "The Petit Prix Affair," a car chase is staged with go-carts. In "The Carpathian Caper," April and Mark are almost cooked to death in a giant toaster.

Although the U.N.C.L.E. Special appeared in Dancer’s purse in the pilot and was subsequently featured in publicity shots with Powers and Harrison, the customized gun was largely absent from the series. Slate used it once fully assembled. Dancer never used it, even in pistol form, at all. Her regular weapon was communicator/gun that looked like a transistor radio and only shot sleep darts.

George Lehr, who served as associate producer for both U.N.C.L.E. shows, says that neither of the two stars was comfortable handling the U.N.C.L.E. Special. "It was a large, bulky gun and Noel’s hands were even smaller than Stefanie’s," remembers Lehr. "And both of them were anti-violence. We said, ‘wait a minute: you’re in the wrong show.’ You can’t just use your sense of humor to protect yourself in the face of threat. So we came to some compromises" (G.Lehr, April 13, 1998).

Competing with Dakatari on CBS, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.’s share of the audience averaged in the mid-20’s and never rose above 30 (MGM Research Department, personal communication, 1967). It was canceled after one season.

From Symbol to Icon

In the fourth and last season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the U.N.C.L.E. Special made a comeback of sorts. It appeared more often and was shown, fully assembled, in three episodes.

In order to bolster Man’s plummeting ratings, Felton had hired a very young producer, Anthony Spinner, to oversee the series. Spinner was supposed to restore the balance of action and humor and return the series to the more serious tone of the first season. By all accounts, he overshot his goal. Now, it was Felton who wrote constant memos to Spinner cautioning against the use of violence.

"Let’s watch out that we don’t let our agents be shown as cold-blooded," Felton warned in one memo (N. Felton, personal communication, July 7, 1967.) In another, he suggested the introduction of an "electric stunner" to the agent’s arsenal, a device that would give an assailant a mild shock and thus cut short any hand-to-hand combat (N. Felton, personal communication, August 23, 1967).

Although Spinner felt that motivated violence was necessary to keep the series dramatic and believable, he tried to comply (Spinner, personal communication, August 16, 1967). The use of sleep darts occurred occasionally, brawls were kept short, and body counts seesawed. For example, in "The J for Judas Affair," there were nine deaths. In "The Maze Affair," no one died at all.

By the end of the year, the question of violence was academic. In January 1968, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was canceled and replaced by Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. In the early 1970’s, all six U.N.C.L.E. Specials, along with other series props, were sold at the widely publicized MGM auction. Five are currently owned by fans.

The next appearance of the U.N.C.L.E. Special came in 1983, in the TV movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. Special effects designer and U.N.C.L.E. fan, Robert Short, was hired to create a new, updated Special. With a limited budget and only two weeks to complete the work, Short managed to design only one gun based on a Heckler and Koch P-7. This Special was more modern and compact, but with the added attachments, the silhouette was similar to the original (Rickell, 1983). The gun was carried by Robert Vaughn as an older Solo during the action climax, but received no particular introduction or emphasis. Indeed, in a scene in which U.N.C.L.E.’s current female armorer outfits Solo and Kuryakin for their mission, Solo asks, "What happened to the special U.N.C.L.E. guns we used to carry?" The young woman replies, "They’re in the special U.N.C.L.E. wing of the Smithsonian."

Actually, the gun, like the series, has not been entirely forgotten. Gun enthusiasts continue to build replicas (Ahern, 1989). Fans of the baby boomer generation, both male and female, fondly remember playing U.N.C.L.E. in their backyards, brandishing their plastic pistols.

"Once the Ideal Special came out, I was a changed boy," one fan recalled. "After that I always carried the Special completely assembled when we played spies, which was just about every day"(J. McMahon, personal communication, April 10, 1998.) Another fan remembers wearing her U.N.C.L.E. gun to a Girl Scout camp out (A. Haropulos, personal communication, April 8, 1998). And yet another went trick or treating in a trench coat and carrying an U.N.C.L.E. gun (P. Ellis, personal communication, April 7, 1998.)

Most maintain that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was no more violent than the westerns that aired at the time. And many would agree with this fan’s assessment: " U.N.C.L.E. was a security blanket. Life was the scare stuff: Air raid drills, hiding under our desks, waiting for the bombs to drop. The men from U.N.C.L.E. gave us a fantasy of hope — they told us that the Russians were not our enemies —and the illusion that someone was out there and able to make a difference" (L. White, personal communication, April 23, 1998).

Arriving as it did, between President John F. Kennedy’s "New Frontier" and the turbulent years of protest, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series attempted to reconcile a number of contradictory, cross-cultural currents (Worland, 1994). It featured a Russian spy but virtually ignored the Cold War. Its sister series offered a woman as an action/adventure hero, then refused to allow her to act unladylike.

The U.N.C.L.E. formula mixed reality with fantasy; the mundane with the exotic; political intrigue with campy humor; adult appeal with comic book excitement, knowing irony with an almost Utopian optimism. The U.N.C.L.E. Special, which was an actual licensed weapon, an expensive special effect, and a prototype invented by a toy designer, remains a perfect metaphor for the internal contradictions of the series, and an icon of the era as well.

Perhaps that’s why it is in such demand as a collectible today. The Ideal Napoleon Solo Gun Set, which originally sold for $4.99, is worth $600 in the original box. One of the actual P-38 Specials from the series is also currently for sale. The asking price is $15,000.




A shorter, somewhat different version of this article appeared in: The Gun as Star and the "U.N.C.L.E. Special." In M. Pomerance & J. Sakeris (Eds.), Bang Bang, Shoot Shoot! Essays on Guns and Popular Culture. NY: Simon and Shuster, 1999.




Thank you to Robert McGowan and the Special Collections and Manuscripts staff of the University of Iowa Library, Iowa City ; Carol Bowers, assistant archivist at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming Library, Laramie; to George Lehr; and to Jon Heitland, Mike Wetherell, Sue Cole, Craig Henderson, James McMahon, William Koenig, Marc Douglas, Steve L’Italien, David Munsey, Patti Ellis, Linda White, Alexandra Haraopulos, and the rest of the U.N.C.L.E. fan community for assistance in preparing this article.





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