The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. celebrates its 50th anniversary today. A spin-off of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the spy series ran 29 episodes on NBC during the 1966-1967 season. You can find my article about the series here.
Stefanie Powers starred as April Dancer, the titular girl from U.N.C.L.E. Noel Harrison played Mark Slate, her British partner. Leo G. Carroll pulled double duty appearing as U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly on both The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
The debut episode aired on Tuesday, September 13th, 1966 and involved April and Mark tracking down the antidote to a nasty new THRUSH drug that causes people to move in slow motion. The only problem? The antidote has been hidden on fleas living on a dog. From the start, viewers knew they were in for silly rather than serious.
Despite having owned the entire series on DVD for several years, I’ve only watched about half the episodes. It’s not a bad show. I don’t dislike it. I’m actually a big fan–although perhaps more of the concept than the actual series. The episodes seem fairly repetitive. I suppose I can only watch April impersonate someone or get captured and need rescuing so many times. I’m not familiar enough with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to know whether it too was very formulaic. I imagine it was but without all the damsel in distress stereotype, unless Ilya regularly needed Napoleon Solo to rescue him.
Fashion But No Action
I wasn’t around in 1966, so I can only view The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. through a more modern perspective in which it features the same sort of general sexism seen in most network TV during the 1960s. It’s been years since I’ve watched any episodes but I don’t recall April using her gun much (if at all). Was she ever allowed to punch anyone? She probably kick a few THRUSH goons the same way Batgirl was able to kick villains on Batman.
Was the show a failure because viewers felt it was sexist? Too campy? Not campy enough? I’ve read how fans of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. despise it because it coincided with the “campy” season of that show. I’m not sure whether The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. is truly to blame if The Man from U.N.C.L.E. producers and/or NBC wanted to go after the Batman audience.
The pilot episode to the series aired in February 1966 as an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. It featured a different cast. Mary Ann Mobley played April Dancer. Norman Fell’s Mark Slate was much older and less British. I’ve never seen it but supposedly it featured a slightly more serious and self-sufficient April Dancer.
Collectibles, Collectibles, Collectibles
For a show that only lasted one season, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. produced a surprising amount of memorabilia and collectibles. There were novels, comic books, toys, a soundtrack album, and a short-lived digest magazine.
Only two of the tie-in novels were published in the United States. I reviewed the first (The Birds of a Feather Affair) back in October 2009. I also reviewed the first issue of the digest magazine in August 2013. I’ve yet to purchase any of the tie-in comics but still hope to one day.
If you’ve read any of the comics, are they more like the novels, which featured serious plots, or as silly as the TV show? Also, if you watched The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. during its original NBC run, please share your reactions and any thoughts you have about why the show failed. I’m particularly interested in hearing how girls and women responded to the show. Were girls eager to dress up as April Dancer? Were women disgusted at how she was portrayed?
Hit the comments with your memories of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.