1974: The FBI’s ‘backdoor pilot’?

Mary Frann

Mary Frann

As The FBI concluded its ninth, and final, season, it appears QM Productions attempted a “backdoor pilot,” where an episode is intended to be the start of a new series.

The episode in question was the next-to-last new episode aired for the 1973-74 season, Confessions Of a Madman. Star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and sidekick Shelly Novack are joined by a woman FBI agent played by Mary Frann, who years later would be Bob Newhart’s co-star on his Newhart series.

Background: The FBI didn’t include women agents until the ninth season, which was the second season made after the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Until the last season, women were depicted as FBI employees, occasionally venturing into the field to assist agents. But there weren’t actual women agents until the final season.

In the episode, three women students at an unnamed college at a Maryland college have been brutally attacked. Two have been killed but the most recent victim survived. Frann’s character was a student at the same college and, more importantly, was a member of the same sorority as the three earlier victims.

During much the episode, Frann has as much screen time as either Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Shelly Novack. At the very least, the episode is a major departure for the series. Three suspects emerge. This being 1970s television, care is made to ensure the least obvious of the three candidates (Elliot Street, Daniel J. Travanti and Robert Pine) is the killer.

The episode was directed by Philip Abbott, who played Erskine’s boss, Assistant Director Arthur Ward, throughout the series. Abbott also played a mentally disturbed killer in a 1964 episode of Kraft Suspense Theater, Once Upon a Savage Night, that was directed by Robert Altman. Just speculation, but perhaps Abbott drew upon that earlier television show while directing The FBI episode.

Happy 87th birthday, Sir Roger Moore

Oct. 14 is the 87th birthday of Roger Moore, who played James Bond in seven movies produced by Eon Productions from 1973 through 1985. Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

This year was the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, one of the actor’s biggest box office successes. It’s not that popular among dedicated Bond fans who feel it’s too light and takes too many liberties. But the movie has its supporters. The Bond series hasn’t attempted a spectacle since — and it did generate some interesting poster art.

goozee_teaser

U.N.C.L.E. music future and past

Composer Daniel Pemberton took to Twitter to say the recording of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie score was wrapping up on Oct. 12.

Not many details beyond that, but Pemberton has been Tweeting pictures from the recording session. The Tweets included a short video of the orchestra warming up. In response to one of Pemberton’s Tweets, musician Grant Olding responded, “it’s quite a messy theme.”

Perhaps it’s a reference to Jerry Goldsmith’s original theme for the 1964-68 television series. We’ll see. The movie won’t be released until August 2015.

Meanwhile, a highlight of last month’s Golden Anniversary Affair that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original show was a live performance of U.N.C.L.E. music.

Some highlights were uploaded to YouTube by Arthur Greenwald, who was there:

Casino Royale (1954), a reappraisal

Barry Nelson in 1954's Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

If there’s a red-headed stepchild in the world of James Bond, the 1954 CBS production of Casino Royale would be it.

The television Bond is mostly ignored. When it does come up in fan conversation, it’s the subject of derision.

An American as James Bond? Outrageous — although Eon Productions, which makes James Bond movies, seriously considered the notion twice, for Diamonds Are Forever (John Gavin was signed before Sean Connery was enticed back) and again for Octopussy (James Brolin was screen tested before Roger Moore was enticed back).

And he’s called Jimmy Bond! Outrageous — although Bond never calls himself Jimmy, other characters do. The only time he refers to his own name, he is making a telephone call and says, “This is James Bond.” Actor Barry Nelson also is clearly billed as playing James Bond in the end titles.

The television production, part of CBS’s Climax! anthology series and airing live on Oct. 21, 1954, is more like a televised play. While Ian Fleming’s first novel was short, it still covered too much ground to be covered in a 60-minute time slot. Excluding commercials and titles, only about 50 minutes was available to tell the story.

Antony Ellis and Charles Bennett, who adapted the novel for television, certainly took plenty of liberties with the source material.

Two Fleming characters, Vesper Lynd and French agent Rene Mathis, are merged into one character, Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian), a woman from Bond’s past who is working for French intelligence. Meanwhile, Bond is changed from being a British agent to an American one. Felix Leiter is changed to a British agent and his name is now Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate).

Presumably, the idea of an American Bond stemmed from how this was airing on U.S. television. At this point, Fleming and Bond weren’t huge names among the American public.

Anyway, to get things going, Act I opens with Bond being shot at outside a casino. It’s not terribly convincing, mostly because of the limited resources of the production, which was broadcast live. Bond ducks behind a column and the audience can see squibs going off to simulate gun fire.

Shortly thereafter, Bond makes contact with Leiter, who explains to Bond (and the audience) how the agent’s mission to bankrupt Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) in a high stakes game of baccarat. No M, no briefing from M.

At one point, Leiter says Bond’s nickname is “card sense Jimmy Bond,” while Valerie calls Bond “Jimmy.” However, she also calls him “James Bond” when introducing the agent to Le Chiffre ahead of the big baccarat game.

Peter Lorre is the first actor to play a Bond villain referring to the agent constantly as “Mr. Bond,” something that would be repeated throughout the Eon films.

There are some bits from Fleming’s novel, particularly during Bond’s card game with Le Chiffre. Even here, Ellis and Bennett do some tinkering. After Bond is cleaned out, he gets additional funds not from Leiter, as in the novel, but from Valerie. What’s more, Bond’s torture is considerable milder than the novel or 2006 feature film. The ending from Fleming’s novel isn’t used and things end happily.

This version of Casino Royale’s main value is that of a time capsule, a reminder of when television was mostly done live. Lorre is suitably villainous. If you find him fun to watch on movies and other television shows, nothing here will change your mind.

Barry Nelson’s Bond won’t make anyone forget the screen 007s. Still, Nelson was a pro who had a long career. He does the best he can with the material and production limitations. He even gets to deliver the occasional witticism. (“Are you the fellow who was shot?” Leiter asks. Bond replies, “No I was the fellow who was missed.”)

UPDATE: Casino Royale was the third broadcast of the Climax! series. The first was an adaptation of The Long Goodbye, with Dick Powell reprising the role of Philip Marlowe. So in two of the first three broadcasts, Climax! tackled novels by Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming.

IFP announces new licensing deal for 007 comics

Cover for Marvel's 1981 comic adaptation of For Your Eyes Only

Cover for Marvel’s 1981 comic adaptation of For Your Eyes Only

Ian Fleming Publications said Oct. 7 it reached a licensing deal with Dynamite Entertainment for a new series of James Bond comics.

Here’s an excerpt from the IFP statement:

We are very proud to announce our new partnership with Dynamite Entertainment, a leading publisher of English language comic books and graphic novels, who have worldwide rights to produce comic books, digital comics and graphic novels starring James Bond. 007 will re-live the exploits that have thrilled and captivated fans for over half a century in fresh visual adaptations of Fleming’s classic Bond stories, the first of which will be launched in 2015. Moreover, Dynamite plans to create a series of brand new adventures unveiling the defining – and largely undocumented – early years of Bond’s career. These new stories will draw inspiration from the Fleming canon to explore Bond’s ‘origins’: his raw early years before he gambled with his life in the first novel, Casino Royale.

Bond has an uneven history of comic book adaptations.

DC Comics, now owned by Time Warner’s Warner Bros. unit, did an adaptation of Dr. No, the first 007 film, in 1963. Years later, Marvel Comics (now owned by Walt Disney Co.) adapted 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and 1983’s Octopussy. Before the DC and Marvel efforts, there were U.K. comic strip adaptations of Ian Fleming novels and short stories. Those comic strips have been reprinted previously.

Based on the IFP statement, the newest deal doesn’t involve Eon Productions, which has produced the 23-film James Bond movie series. For Bond fans, 2015 shapes up as the time for a new movie (the yet-untitled Bond 23), a new a new James Bond continuation novel and the new comic books/graphic novels.

Geoffrey Holder, Live And Let Die villain, dies at 84

Geoffrey Holder in Live And Let Die's final scene

Geoffrey Holder in Live And Let Die’s final scene

Geoffrey Holder, whose long career as an actor and dancer included an appearance as a James Bond villain, has died at 84, according to AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Holder played Baron Samedi, a secondary foe for Bond in 1973’s Live And Let Die. At times, Holder’s Samedi drew attention from Roger Moore’s Bond (the actor’s first outing in the role) and Yaphet Kotto as the film’s primary villain, Dr. Kananga.

The movie, loosely based on Ian Fleming’s second 007 novel, is the only film in the Eon Production series include a supernatural element. Solitaire (Jane Seymour) has the ability to see into the future until she loses her virginity to Bond. As Steven Jay Rubin wrote in The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, Baron Samedi “may or not be a supernatural being.”

With his imposing laugh, sinister manner and often outlandish costumes, Holder’s Baron Samedi certainly stands out in the film.

Late in the movie, it would seem Baron Samedi is merely a man taking advantage of the fear generated by voodoo. Bond punches Samedi into a casket full of deadly snakes. He cries out in agony as he seems to expire.

Yet, at the very conclusion of the movie, Baron Samedi is sitting on the front of the train Bond and Solitaire are taking to New York. His long laugh is the last thing the audience hears before the end titles version of the Paul and Linda McCartney title song.

As James Chapman wrote in 2000’s Licence to Thrill:

Inexplicable in narrative terms, this is the only explicitly supernatural moment in the Bond series which elsewhere, for all its implausibility, is insistent on rationality.

Besides acting in the film, Holder also worked behind the camera as Live And Let Die’s choreographer, arranging dances that were supposed to be part of voodoo ceremonies.

The Times described Holder thusly:

Geoffrey Holder, the dancer, choreographer, actor, composer, designer and painter who used his manifold talents to infuse the arts with the flavor of his native West Indies and to put a singular stamp on the American cultural scene, not least with his outsize personality, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84.

(snip)
Few cultural figures of the last half of the 20th century were as multifaceted as Mr. Holder, and few had a public presence as unmistakable as his, with his gleaming pate atop a 6-foot-6 frame, full-bodied laugh and bassoon of a voice laced with the lilting cadences of the Caribbean.

The obituary describes Holder’s career in detail, including a 1975 Tony Award, how he gained fame in the 1970s and ’80s for 7-Up and other highlights.

Here’s a sample of an oral history interview with Holder about his life and career:

Happy birthday, Dick Tracy

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

On Oct. 4, 1931, the Dick Tracy comic strip debuted in the Detroit Mirror newspaper.

The newspaper no longer exists. Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, died almost 30 years ago. But while the strip isn’t widely distributed it’s still around, with Joe Stanton and Mike Curtis carrying on the tradition.

This blog has written before about how Tracy shares elements of James Bond and Batman, especially colorful villains and dabbling in science fiction. Gould devised villains such as Flattop, Pruneface and Mumbles. His successors have come up with their own villains in that tradition and (where they could) brought back Gould favorites who hadn’t been definitively killed off.
chester gould strip

Tracy, like Bond and Batman, has his own eras. The most offbeat, starting in 1962, was when Gould introduced the space coupe (a magnetic-powered craft that could travel into space) and a race of people on the Moon. Gould was 62 when that era began, an indication he wasn’t afraid of trying new things. Eventually, that was dialed back and a more down-to-earth approach took hold.

Sound familiar, Bond fans?

Anyway, here’s Chester Gould in a 1965 appearance on the game show To Tell The Truth in the midst of the space coupe/Moon people era. Gould, at this point, was still more than a decade away from retirement. He died in 1985.

Happy birthday, Tracy.

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