Wild and Crazy Spy Gadgets, Props and Artifacts from TV and the Movies

By Danny Biederman

Chronicle Books (2004). 157 pages. $19.95

Reviewed by Larry Charet

Danny Biederman’s spy memorabilia collection would be fascinating just as a catalog but there is far more than that here.

For about 40 years, Biederman has been quietly gathering the most extensive group of spy movie and TV artifacts anywhere—so many items that the CIA actually contacted him about displaying his stuff. This book is a result of that exhibit.

Each chapter tackles an individual movie or TV series. His favorite is obviously The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Biederman’s uncle, novelist Irving Wallace, took him to the set when he was a child). Just about everything imaginable from the series has wound up in Biederman’s spy archives: From Ian Fleming’s copy of the original series prospectus (with handwritten notes!), to each version of the U.N.C.L.E. communicator, Thrush and U.N.C.L.E. guns and even the coat hook from Del Floria’s tailor shop entrance to U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters. All of these items are shown with photos or diagrams to illustrate their history.

Along with the photos are anecdotes about how many of the items were uncovered and acquired by Biederman. He had to rescue the original U.N.C.L.E. cigarette case transmitter and a Wild Wild West Egyptian door from a garbage dump and Hollywood bulldozers.

The series depicted here include everything espionage from James Bond to recent offerings Alias and Austin Powers. Imagine owning iconic spy treasures such as John Steed’s bowler hat, Kelly Robinson’s tennis racket, a Mission: Impossible self-destruct tape or Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. They’re all here!

About the only negative I can give this book is its weird cover design that emphasizes some of the gadgets but not the users. Unless there was some concern over using famous faces, where was Napoleon Solo, James Bond or Derek Flint on the cover to help sell the book?

Still, if you are any kind of spy or 1960s nostalgia buff, you’ll go absolutely Z.O.W.I.E. over this book.

Larry Charet was the owner of Larry’s Book and Comic Shop in Chicago for more than 30 years. He now operates the scifispy magazines store on eBay.