Stanley Ralph Ross (1935-2000), a veteran television writer, worked on the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He wrote for many shows, including Batman (where he was a very frequent contributor) and Columbo. He’s also went before the cameras, including a small role as a beatnik in The Pop Art Affair.
In 1999, Ross contacted the Webmaster to pass along a compliment. He particularly approved how I noticed he used the same joke on UNCLE and Batman. For more details CLICK HERE to read a May 2012 post on The HMSS Weblog.
Ross then agreed to do the following interview by e-mail. Ross passed away in March 2000 of cancer. After the Ross interview, there is a Q and A with actress Yvonne Craig. All text © 1997-2014 by William J. Koenig.
Question: During the third season of UNCLE, the producers went for a more lighthearted approach, reportedly spurred by the success of Batman on ABC. Were you recruited to write for UNCLE specifically because you were a writer on Batman?
Ross: Actually, I approached them. I had an office at FOX in (Batman producer William) Dozier’s building and then someone else wanted it fo a month so I drove to MGM, found an empty office, called the operator, told her I was occupying that office and settled in. UNCLE was in that building, so I walked downstairs and pitched a story with my sometime partner Don Richman (he was more interested in sports and wound up as the Seattle Supersonics GM before coming back to L.A. and becoming an adman before his untimely death.)
Question: Besides your two writing credits you also had a role (“beatnik” is how your role was listed) in The Pop Art Affair. I understand you also did an uncredit rewrite on that script. How did all that come about?
Ross: I woudn’t do the re-write unless I had a part on the film because I knew all I would get was the fee and no residuals for the writing. That script was re-written overnight at the MGM office on a typewriter that was so old the letters were worn off the most used keys and since I am not a touch typist (not then anyhow) it was arduous. But I had the script ready at 7 that morning and they started shooting. Because of the speed at which I wrote, Doug Benton recalled that and when he went to work at COLOMBO he called me in to do a fast script, Turned out to be ANY PORT IN A STORM which won 5 Emmys and was originally designed for Victor Buono but Donald Pleasence got the part.
Question:What was it like for you a pretty tall fellow, working with a somewhat shorter David McCallum?
Ross: David asked me to stand on a box. I am already 6-6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having beaten me up.
Question: Besides your UNCLE role, you also had a small role on Batman (Ballpoint Baxter, I think)? Did you do this sort of thing on a regular basis?
Ross: I have been a regular on FALCON CREST, SUPERIOR COURT and have acted in numerous films and TV shows. Check the IMDB for some of my credits. I was on a BANACEK I also wrote.
Question: Boris Ingster was the producer during the season you wrote for UNCLE. What was he like to work for? Was he the one pushing for more humor in scripts?
Ross: Boris was a mad Russian. Smoking one cig after another, lots of yelling. Yes, he wanted more humor but he had to hold me down because I made it too funny in places. I actually did more than one re-write but I would have to look at the episode guide to remember the others I worked on. When Don Richman went to Seattle, I came in alone and Ingster said to me. “Nice to have you back. Which one are you, Richman or Ross?” And that was the last time I collaborated with anyone on TV.
Question: How did UNCLE compare, writing wise, to other television shows you worked on? Besides UNCLE, and the aforementioned Batman, I know you also developed the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman.
Ross: UNCLE was fun. Boris was a character, story editor Irv Perlberg was a good guy, the set was enjoyable except for the fact that Sherman Marks directed one of my episodes after screwing up a Batman episode of mine the week before. In that period, I was writing BATMAN, UNCLE and THE MONKEES all at the same time with offices eventually at all three studios.
Question: Some television shows have a fairly relaxed feel to them, while others are pretty tense. What was the UNCLE set like?
Ross: Vaughn was slightly uptight, very serious. I knew him from before when he took a class at USC where I was a guest lecturer. He was appearing on THE LIEUTENANT at the time. I now teach in the Film School at USC.
Question: Some fans feel that during the third season of UNCLE, the show lost its way by having too much humor. Was there ever any discussion about this among the production staff or is it a case of 20/20 hindsight?
Ross: Never spoke of it. Most of us liked the humor far better than the serious shows.
Question: Finally, a question not directly related to UNCLE, but I once read you were good friends with the late Victor Buono, who appeared on UNCLE and virtually every other ’60s adventure television show. Did he enjoy playing all those flambuoyant villains, or did he ever get tired of it?
Ross: Victor and I were pals because we were nearly the same size. He was about 6-4, I am 6-6 and used to weigh 300, Victor was closer to 400. I wrote a COLOMBO for him and then an NBC movie called GOLD OF THE AMAZON WOMEN and in both cases Donald Pleasence got the role. Victor died very young, the result of rich food. He could make me laugh by saying hello. I wrote a few of his KING TUT episodes and he was truly a witty and with a great sense of humor and a hell of a poet as witnessed by his album “Heavy.”
Q and A with Yvonne Craig
Yvonne Craig is best known for playing Batgirl/Barbara Gordon during the third season of the Adam West Batman series. But she also appeared a bit in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — as a guest star in The Brain-Killer Affair, one of the series’ best offerings, and in the movie versions of The Alexander the Greater Affair and The Bridge of Lions Affair.
Ms. Craig, in a 1997 interview conducted via e-mail, said she was working on an autobiography and doesn’t want to give away too much that might be in the book. Here’s what she was willing to talk about.
Question: You did guest shots on a lot of 1960s adventure shows. Is there anything about Man From UNCLE that was distinctive? That made it different from the other shows?
Yvonne Craig: Distinctive to me was the fact that I was priviledged to work with Elsa Lanchester. She and Charles Laughton were royalty of the English Theater.
Question: Your first MFU appearance was in one of the first episodes filmed (The Brain-Killer Affair). Was it fun to do? What was the mood on the set?
YC: I remember back that doing this episode was fun, but it was so long ago I don’t have a clue as to what the mood on the set was.
Question: Do you remember anything in particular about working with Robert Vaughn or David McCallum ?
YC: Bobby Vaughn and I had to dance and I don’t ballroom dance — didn’t then and still don’t. He gallantly said “it was like moving heavy furniture.” I have a wonderful story about David McCallum that is in my book.
Question: Your other MFU appearances consisted of additional scenes used to turn two-part TV episodes into theatrical movies (One Spy Too Many and One of Our Spies is Missing). How long would her sequences take to film? Did she working with the principal actors (Vaughn and McCallum) very much or did she simply do her lines by herself and not see the other actors much?
YC: I had no idea they were turning those episodes into a movie. I was called in to do a bridge scene and can’t remember whether it was with the principal actors or not. I have never seen the finished product.