Jackson Gillis dies, long-time TV writer who dabbled in spy adventures

Jackson Gillis, a television writer from the 1950s to the 1990s, died Aug. 19, just two days shy of his 94th birthday. His many, many credits included episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Wild, Wild West and Mission: Impossible.

Those weren’t his most significant credits. Those would probably be the George Reeves Adventures of Superman show and Columbo. But after reading the Bruce Weber-written obituary in The New York Times, we felt it should be noted here.

You can watch one Gillis-scripted episode of I Spy by CLICKING HERE. Below, is a clip from The Galtea Affair, from the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., originally written as a typical Napoleon Solo-Illya Kuryakin adventure but Girl’s Mark Slate subbed for Solo for most of the episode:

Gillis’s final TV credit was a 1994 remake of one of his Adventures of Superman scripts where the Man of Steel gets amnesia after stopping a giant asteroid from hitting earth. Here’s a clip from another Gillis-scripted Superman story, a scene that got deleted when the show went into syndication:

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NPR on “Project X”

Jeffrey Deaver in London

Today’s update of the National Public Radio website has a little nugget of a piece of the upcoming “Project X” James Bond novel by Jeffrey Deaver.

(As an immediate side note, the article asks the question

The more we read about this summer’s so-so blockbusters and outright bombs, the more we think … wouldn’t it be nice to have a James Bond movie right about now?

Just imagine how a Bond movie would absolutely rule this summer’s mediocre box office!)

We’re not sure there’s anything in it that’s really stop-the-presses new for fans of the literary 007, but Glenn McDonald’s article Where’s James Bond When You Need Him? On Next Summer’s Bookshelves serves nicely to keep interest up.

(It also gives us the opportunity to say that the next issue of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant will be featuring a much more in-depth interview with the new James Bond author!) Watch this space…

BBC says MI5 suspected 007 screenwriter of being a Communist agent

Wolf Mankowitz has only one official 007 screenwriting credit but his influence extends beyond that. Anyway, the writer was monitored by the U.K.’s MI5, which suspected Mankowitz of being a Commnist agent, the BBC reported this week, citing newly released government records.

You can read the full story BY CLICKING HERE. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Born in London’s East End, Mr Mankowitz attended the University of Cambridge where he joined the university’s Socialist Society and met his wife Ann, a Communist Party member.

MI5 first became interested in Mr Mankowitz in 1944, when the couple were living in Newcastle.

Mankowitz is one of the credited screewriters of producer Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. But a few years earlier, he introduced Harry Saltzman, who held an option on Ian Fleming’s 007 novels that was running out, with Albert R. Broccoli. That fateful meeting resulted in the 1961 formation of Eon Productions, the company that produces the official Bond film series.

Mankowitz worked on the new company’s first project, Dr. No, along with Richard Maibaum but, according to the documentary Inside Dr. No, pulled out, fearing the project would be a disaster.

Also, according to film historian Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger, Mankowitz sold Saltzman an idea that was incorporated in to that 1964 film. Turner quotes Mankowitz as saying he came up with the idea of having a Mafia chief put into the trunk of a car that would be run a car crushing machine. The price: 500 British pounds.

Also, here’s a shoutout to Jeremy Duns, author of the spy novel Free Country, from whom we learned of the BBC story on Mankowitz.

11 U.N.C.L.E. facts for fans of Mad Men

Thanks to a clip shown on the most recent episode, fans of AMC’s Mad Men series have either discovered or re-discovered The Man From U.N.C.L.E. So here are 11 U.N.C.L.E. facts for fans of the show. Why 11? Check out reason No. 1:

1. Napoleon Solo, the title character of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wore badge 11 while at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Fellow agent Illya Kuryakin’s badge number was 2 and Alexander Waverly, Number One of Section One, apparently first among equals of U.N.C.L.E.’s five regional headquarters, wore the No. 1 badge.

2. Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was involved with U.N.C.L.E. for a short time. He contributed the character names Napoleon Solo and April Dancer. Under pressure from 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, he bailed out of the project and signed away any rights for one British pound.

3. U.N.C.L.E. has no “created by” credit but Sam Rolfe received a “developed by” credit. He wrote the pilot script and produced the first season of Man (including The Hong Kong Shilling Affiar, the episode shown on the Aug. 22 episode of Mad Men).

4. While Rolfe created Illya Kuryakin, Number Two of Section Two (Operations and Enforcement, where Solo was Number One of Section Two), the character was refined, and perhaps even defined, by writer Alan Caillou (1914-2006), who wrote seven Man episodes including the first with significant Illya time (The Quadripartite Affair), the first Illya-centric episode (The Bow-Wow Affair) and two episodes where he also appeared as an actor (The Terbuf Affair and The Tigers Are Coming Affair) He bailed out during the second season, a loss for the series.

5. Man was threatened with cancellation in its first season. It initially aired on NBC Tuesday nights and couldn’t overcome Red Skelton’s variety show on CBS. Midway through the first season, it got moved to Monday nights (which incuded the episode seen on Mad Men) and ratings improved. It also helped that Goldfinger, which had its U.S. premier in the U.S. in December 1964, boosted the market for spy-related entertainment.

6. NBC was keen for a spinoff featuring an U.N.C.L.E. woman agent even if Man stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum were hostile to it. Thus, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. was born, running just one season, 1966-67.

7. Man’s best season for ratings was its second campaign, the 1965-66 season, when it aired at 10 p.m. Fridays on NBC>

8. NBC twice pre-empted Man to show specials (The Incredible World of James Bond and Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond) promoting the James Bond movies Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. That’s ironic, because Broccoli and Saltzman had previously sued to try to prevent Man from ever going on the air, claiming that the dashing Napoleon Solo would be mistaken for the gangster Mr. Solo, who got killed by Oddjob in the film version of Goldfinger.

9. The papers of Man executive producer Norman Felton (b. 1913) and veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) are both stored at the University of Iowa.

10. Man, a little more than three years after its debut, was canceled, with its last episode appearing in January 1968. The very next week, on Jan. 22, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in debuted featuring Leo G. Carroll, in character as U.N.C.L.E. boss Mr. Waverly.

11. There have been various attempts at an U.N.C.L.E. revival: a 1977 project featuring a Sam Rolfe script that was never filmed; an early 1980s project intended as a feature film in which Bond production designer Ken Adam was interested in doing the sets; and a 2005 (or so) project where the producer involved was found by a jury of being guilty of fraud.

The only revival project to actually be produced, to date, was a 1983 television movie called The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, which aired on CBS but didn’t result in a new series. The cast included George Lazenby, the one-time 007, as “JB,” a British spy who comes to the aid of Napoleon Solo in Las Vegas.

To look at various other ties between U.N.C.L.E. and 007, just CLICK HERE, in which you’ll see a photograph of a famous actor who just celebrated his 80th birthday and another Scotsman who was seen on the Mad Men episode.

To see many, many stills from The Hong Shilling Affair episode shonw on Mad Men, you can CLICK HERE.

Happy 80th birthday, Sean Connery

As we type this, it’s Aug. 25 in Scotland, the land of Sean Connery’s birth. So here’s happy 80th birthday, Sir Sean, the first film James Bond.

Connery, of course, helped make 007 a phenomenon. There was that simple, yet powerful, introduction:

There were a number of memorable moments:

Of course, there were some critics:

But seriously, Terence Young, the first 007 film director, once said the three reasons the Bond films succeeded were, “Sean Connery, Sean Connery and Sean Connery.”

That may overlook Young’s own contributions (coaching diamond in the rough Connery about clothing and the right foods), Ken Adam’s sets (his sets make the modestly budgeted Dr. No look expensive) and John Barry’s music. But it was Connery that drew movie goers to theaters to see the film adapations of Ian Fleming’s novels. Fleming himself, initially not liking the casting, grew to appreciate Connery.

Connery had a fabulous film career that extended far beyond James Bond. Still, 007 remains the role that defines that career. And it’s Connery that first made Bond a film hero. Whether it be in action:

Or wooing the opposite sex:

WSJ profiles Ian Fleming Foundation’s Doug Redenius

The Wall Street Journal, in its Personal Journal section, ran a profile of Doug Redenius, the Ian Fleming Foundation vice president who supervises that group’s efforts to acquire and revamp vehicles that have appeared in James Bond movies.

The story by Mark Yost has this passage:

The 54-year old has been a postal worker for more than 30 years and married to the same woman for almost as long. But through luck and determination this humble, middle-class Bond enthusiast from Illinois, who has been a fan of the films and of Agent 007 since the age of 8, has managed to amass the largest collection of James Bond cars in the world. You could call him Q’s archivist.

Unfortunately, for much of the year, this impressive 33-item collection is sitting in a barn in a cornfield here, about 10 miles from St. Ann, Ill., where Mr. Redenius grew up. But he is hoping to change that. He has partnered with the city of Momence, one of many dying river towns in the Midwest. Together, Mr. Redenius and Momence are hoping to raise enough money to build the Museum of Bond Vehicles and Espionage. At the bare minimum, they’ll renovate an abandoned used-car dealership, hoping to draw about 20,000 visitors a year. If they can find a rich benefactor, they’d like to build a $1.5 million, 14,000-square-foot exhibit space, designed by the hip Chicago architecture firm Gensler.

You can read all of Yost’s story BY CLICKING HERE. That link also includes a slideshow of some of the vehicles stored at Momence, Illinois. If you’re looking for a copy of the print edition, the story is in the D section (page D5 of the edition we saw).

Also, from the HMSS archives, you read about Redenius’ personal collection (which is separate from the foundation vehicles) BY CLICKING HERE.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. meets Mad Men

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the 1964-68 spy series, had a one-evening revival — as a 1960s cultural reference on the acclaimed cable-television series Mad Men. Here’s how Vanity Fair’s James Walcott described the reference:

What was even more harshly cruel about the Sally’s shaming was that she was only responding naturally to the sight and plight of The Man of U.N.C.L.E.’s Illya Kuryakin. All the little girls loved Illya Kuryakin with his blonde bangs and black turtlenecks, and the older girls too. That’s how it was then–for a season or two, in adolescent hearts across America, Illya was the Fifth Beatle.]

To read all of Walcott’s post on Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men blog, just JUST CLICK HERE.

The U.N.C.L.E. scene is from the first-season episode The Hong Kong Shilling Affair, in which agent Kuryakin is tied up along with Glenn Corbett as the episode’s “innocent.” There might have been a shot of Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo also, but it’s hard to tell; by that point, Mad Men’s camera is away from the television set. For more details and a review of the U.N.C.L.E. episode, just CLICK RIGHT HERE.

An U.N.C.L.E. friend pointed out the Walcott blog. We’re going to watch the entire Mad Men episode now.