The Man from U.N.C.L.E. character
, Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo
Napoleon Solo is a fictional character from the 1960s TV spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The series was remarkable for pairing the American Solo, played by Robert Vaughn, and the Russian Illya Kuryakin as two spies who work together for an international espionage organisation at the height of the Cold War.
The character was created by Ian Fleming as a small screen version of James Bond. Solo possesses a charm, sophistication, efficiency, and weakness for beautiful women comparable to Bond's. But Solo is considerably less intense and also less brutal than the English spy, and he possesses a laid-back ease that recalls the young Cary Grant. The show's original concept had Solo as a Canadian; but he is consistently American in the show.
Solo is Number One in Section Two (Operations and Enforcement) at U.N.C.L.E. (During the show's black & white first season, the number on his official badge was the Roman numeral 'II,' signifying that he was the head of Section Two. But when the show went to color the following season, Vaughn picked up the new colored badge with "11" on it, and the mistake was never corrected.) It was originally intended that Solo would be the primary focus of the series, however the unexpected popularity of the Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum, saw McCallum elevated to co-star status. Most of the episodes devote equal screen time to Kuryakin and Solo, and much of the success of the program was based on the chemistry between McCallum and Vaughn.
The two characters are, in many ways, polar opposites. Solo is urbane, self-assured, sociable, charming, and laid-back. Kuryakin, on the other hand, is reserved, intellectual, and intense. Although we know almost as little about his background as we do about that of his Russian partner, Solo comes across as the more accessible and straightforward of the two men.
He dressed well and had a taste for expensive suits and ties. His hairstyle and his clothing did not change in the first three seasons but in the fourth and final year, Vaughn (like McCallum) grew his hair much longer and wore modish clothing, such as double-breasted suits, in order to reflect evolving 1960s fashions that the show itself had influenced.
In "The Secret Sceptre Affair", it is stated that Solo served in the Korean War. Nothing much is known about his immediate family, although it appears one of his grandfathers was an admiral, the other was an ambassador ("The Green Opal Affair"). He is college-educated. Like his partner Kuryakin, he has a wide knowledge of English poetry. Unlike his partner, he lacks a broad knowledge of science and technology. He is skilled in martial arts; he can fly a plane and a helicopter.
Like Bond, Solo is a serial womanizer. In the first season's press guide, Solo's democratic view of women is described in words quoted verbatim (about animals, it turns out) from George Orwell's 1947 allegorical novel about the Bolshevik Revolution, Animal Farm: "Solo believes that all women are created equal, only some are more equal than others." We rarely see him treat a woman with anything other than respect and affection on screen; however, he is involved with countless women and does not sustain a single long-term relationship throughout the four years of the show. Although it is never mentioned in the series, one of the original suggestions for Solo's background had him marrying young and losing his wife in a car accident after only one year of marriage. The only ex-girlfriend of Solo's who is given any extended screen time is Clara in "The Terbuf Affair", in which it is hinted that Solo may be nursing a broken heart as a result of the end of that relationship. In "The Deadly Games Affair", it is revealed that he has a long standing on-off relationship with the THRUSH femme fatale, Angelique. He also seems familiar with other THRUSH female operatives like Serena in "The Double Affair" and Narcissus in "The Project Deephole Affair", as well as various U.N.C.L.E. female agents like Wanda (played by actresses Leigh Chapman and Sharyn Hillyer). He sometimes takes an interest in other people's romantic affairs and plays matchmaker on more than one occasion. In "The Deep Six Affair", he objects to Mr. Waverly's trying to call off the wedding of another U.N.C.L.E. agent.
His charm and social skills are his most potent weapons, allowing him to manipulate almost every situation to his own advantage. He is keenly aware of his abilities in this area. When in "The Candidate's Wife Affair" Kuryakin sees him romancing a woman and asks in exasperation "Don't you ever turn it off?" Solo responds, tongue in cheek, "When you've got it, you've got it; I've got it." But there is a certain idealism at the heart of his character. In "The Giuoco Piano Affair", a THRUSH operative offers this summary of Solo's character --
"For a man like you, if there's the smallest doubt in your mind, no matter how insignificant the cause, you have to make the ultimate sacrifice. Your respect for what you think is right is your weakness."
Solo is also an indefatigable optimist that rarely, if ever, countenances the idea that he might not succeed in everything he attempts. He also has a cool head. Unlike his Russian associate, he rarely exhibits anger or loses his temper.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was cancelled mid-way through its fourth season in 1968. Vaughn reprised the role of Solo for a TV movie "The Return of the Man from UNCLE: The Fifteen Years Later Affair", in 1983.
The character has enjoyed a rich afterlife in fandom, particularly in fan fiction. In the 1988 comic Shattered Visage, made as a sequel to the spy show The Prisoner, Solo and Kuryakin both make cameos at the funeral of a spy, along with John Steed and Emma Peel.
The Danish SKA band Napoleon Solo and Spanish indie-pop band Napoleon Solo are named after him, while El Paso post-hardcore band At the Drive-In have a song named "Napoleon Solo" on their album In/Casino/Out.
Henry Cavill will be portraying Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a feature film adaptation of the TV series of the same name, having replaced Tom Cruise after Cruise decline the part in order to work on the fifth Mission: Impossible film.