Unlikely ’60s spies, or Ward Cleaver, secret agent

Spy stories were big on television in the 1960s, thanks to James Bond. Even non-espionage shows incorporated spy-oriented stories. But there were a few where the actors cast come across as a bit unlikely. A few examples:

Hugh Beaumont, Mannix: In the second-season episode, “To The Swiftest, Death,” private eye Joe Mannix has taken up amateur auto racing. While he’s near the back of the pack, another participant appears to have run off the track and been consumed in a fiery crash. Mannix is hired to investigate but he’s getting heat from U.S. authorities, including Frank Abbott (Hugh Beaumont), who may be with a U.S. intelligence agency. This episode aired in 1968, five years after Leave It To Beaver went off the air but for some viewers, it’s hard to get the image of Ward Cleaver out of their heads.

William Windom, The FBI: Windom plays the title character in the second-season episode “The Assassin.” Windom’s character, Anton Christopher, is the most feared assassin in the employ of the Soviet Bloc. We see him make a hit in the pre-credits sequence, but his face isn’t shown. Later, Christopher meets a contact (Tom Skerritt), who is taken aback by how ordinary the assassin appears. Christopher makes a remark to the effect that successful operatives don’t look glamorous like in the movies. No specific character is mentioned, but presumably this is a Bond reference. Windom is quite good and comes across as both ruthless and weary.

Russell Johnson, The FBI: the former Professor on Gilligan’s Island appears as a Soviet agent in the fourth-season episode “Caesar’s Wife.” He even gets to beat the crap out of Harrison Ford in one scene. Johnson’s character has been operating in the U.S. for years and has befriended a retired diplomat (Michael Rennie), whose knowledge would be most useful to the U.S.S.R.

Larry Blyden, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the second-season episode “The Waverly Ring Affair,” Blyden plays George Dennell, an U.N.C.L.E. employee who gets drafted by the crafty Alexander Waverly to help smoke out a traitor in the organization. Blyden usually (but not exclusively) was normally cast in comedic roles and he uses some of that here. Dennell is the episode’s “innocent.” Part of the show’s format involved an innocent character getting swept up in the adventures of agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Some fans don’t care for the innocent characters (they’d rather see more of Solo and Kuryakin). Blyden’s Dennell, though, is one of the better innocent characters in the series.

Leslie Nielsen, Hawaii Five-O: The show’s pilot has Hawaii lawman Steve McGarrett trying to find the killer of an old friend who also happened to be an agent of U.S. “Intelligence.” Presumably, this means the CIA, but that’s not specified. The Big Kahuna has two suspects as possible traitors: Miller (Andrew Duggan), a veteran agent passed over for promotion, and Brent (Leslie Nielsen), the Honolulu station chief. The audience knows there’s a traitor because of the pre-credits sequence where *somebody* is working with villain Wo Fat. But the audience doesn’t see the traitor’s face, though we’re shown he smokes a pipe. And wouldn’t you know it, both Trend and Miller smoke pipes. Nielsen, who spent much of his career doing dramatic parts, is actually fine. But given all his over-the-top comedic roles, people who see the pilot episode for the first time are probably taken aback.

Wally Cox, Mission: Impossible: Cox appears in the series pilot as Terry Targo, a safecracker who is supposed to play an important part in the scheme cooked up by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill). When we see the “apartment scene” (where the audience is given hints about the plan, but not all the information), Cox’s Targo comes across as savvy. The IMF is playing a penny ante poker game and Targo catches Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) cheating. The plan calls for Targo to be inside a large case into a safe where two unclear weapons are stored. A major complication occurs later when Targo’s hands are broken. One can’t help but wonder if the creators of the George Clooney version of Ocean’s Eleven saw the episode. In any event, Cox makes an interesting (if one-time) addition to the IMF.

One Response

  1. […] Mannix dabbled occasionally in espionage, including a second-season episode where there was a spy played by Hugh Beaumont. […]

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