Dina Merrill dies at 93

Dina Merrill, center, with Jeffrey Hunter and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a publicity still for the debut of The FBI.

Dina Merrill, an “actress and heiress to two fortunes,” has died at 93, according to an obituary posted by The New York Times.

Merrill was the daughter of Wall Street stockbroker E.F. Hutton and “cereal heiress” Marjorie Merriweather Post died Monday, according to The Times.

Her acting credits included the first episode of The FBI, where she played Jean Davis, a woman being stalked by a psychopath played by Jeffrey Hunter; The Controllers, a two-part Mission: Impossible story, where she played a woman operative in the show’s fourth season; an academic manipulated by Wo Fat in the 1976 Hawaii Five-O episode Nine Dragons; and Calamity Jan, the girlfriend of cowboy villain Shame (Cliff Robertson, her then-husband) during the final season of Batman.
An excerpt from the obituary:

 

As a child, born into the American aristocracy of money and high society, Ms. Merrill wished she could take the bus “like the other kids,” she said, instead of being driven to school by the family chauffeur. After she became a successful actress, she told Quest magazine, “It’s fascinating to lead someone else’s life for a while.”

Merrill also appeared on game shows, such as To Tell The Truth. Here is an example.

A sign Mendes (hopefully) won’t direct Bond 25

Sam Mendes

Director Sam Mendes is in talks to direct a live-action version of Pinocchio, the Deadline: Hollywood website reported.

An excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Sam Mendes is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action Pinocchio. The move would push forward yet another live-action reboot of the old tried and true animated classic for the studio.

Walt Disney Co. relies on its Marvel Studios and Lucastfilm Ltd. units much of its movie output. Outside of those brands, Disney has been investing in live-action versions of its classic cartoons.

Mendes has directed the last two Bond films, Skyfall and SPECTRE. This blog has argued that having Mendes back for a third 007 effort would not be a good idea.

That’s because, in the blog’s view, another examination of Bond’s past would be akin to a proctology exam.

Anyway, we’ll see.

 

Joss Whedon takes over post-production for Justice League

Justice League movie logo

Joss Whedon, who directed two Avengers movies for Marvel Studios, is overseeing Justice League during post-production, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

That’s because director Zack Snyder and his wife, producer Deborah Snyder are taking time off to “deal with the sudden death of his daughter.”

The Snyders, according to THR, are focusing on “the healing of their family.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Stepping in to shepherd the movie through post and the shooting of some additional scenes will be Joss Whedon, the Avengers filmmaker and creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With Whedon’s help, the movie is still on track for its Nov. 17 release date.

Snyder’s daughter, Autumn Snyder, died by suicide in March at age 20. Her death has been kept private, with only a small inner circle aware of what happened, even as the movie was put on a two-week break for the Snyders to deal with the immediate effects of the tragedy.

Justice League is a follow-up to last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League is the main super hero group of DC Comics. The league made its debut in 1959 (and was a successor to the 1940s Justice Society of America).

“The demands of this job are pretty intense,” Snyder told THR. “It is all consuming. And in the last two months I’ve come to the realization …I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me.”

According to the entertainment news website, “Snyder, after screening a rough cut of Justice League for fellow filmmakers and friends, wanted to add additional scenes, so he brought Whedon on board to write them.

“But as he prepared to shoot the scenes in England, Snyder realized it was not the time to leave home.”

Rich Buckler, comic book artist, dies at 68

Rich Buckler

Rich Buckler, part of the second-generation of Marvel Comics artists, has died, according to an announcement by Marvel on Twitter. He was 68.

In the 1970s, writers and artists who had been fans a decade earlier, were brought on by Marvel. Buckler was among them, as well as artists such as George Perez and writers such as Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber.

Buckler, during the 1970s. was the artist on the Fantastic Four, the title that began the Marvel revival in 1961. Buckler also created a cyborg character, Deathlok, as well as doing work for DC Comics, according to the Bleeding Cool website.

Cover to Fantastic Four (vol. 1, No. 142), drawn by Rich Buckler

In the 1970s, Marvel was in transition. Stan Lee moved to an executive position. Jack Kirby, who created or co-created much of the Marvel Comics Universe, was away. Roy Thomas, initially Stan’s successor as editor-in-chef, would soon give up the post.

During this time, younger talent took on many of Marvel’s main titles.

Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, provides many more details in his book. Suffice to say, former fans were now actually coming up with the new stories that would sustain Marvel.

Buckler (born in 1949 in Detroit) was among those newcomers who made a mark. The Fantastic Four was among Marvel’s flagship titles, and in 1974 (13 years after the FF’s debut) Buckler was its artist.

His run on the FF lasted about two years. Still, it was a sign that Marvel — and comics in general — were now in the hands of a new generation.

Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.

Chris Cornell dies at 52

Chris Cornell

UPDATE III (6:50 p.m.): The Wayne County (Michigan) Medical Examiner said Chris Cornell died from “suicide by hanging” even though a full autopsy report hasn’t been completed according to The Detroit News.

ORIGINAL POST (4:30 a.m.): Chris Cornell, the rock musician who co-wrote and performed Casino Royale’s title song, died Wednesday night at age 52, The Associated Press reported.

The news service quoted a Cornell representative, Brian Bumbery, as saying the musician’s death was “sudden and unexpected.” No cause of death was known early Thursday. Cornell, who had been on tour, died in Detroit, the AP said.

Cornell was the lead singer for Soundgarden and “helped architect the 90’s grunge rock movement,” AP said in its report. He was also lead performer and songwriter for Audioslave.

In 2006, Cornell became the first title song performer for the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films.

Cornell also co-wrote Casino’s title song, “You Know My Name,” with David Arnold, who also scored the movie.

With Casino, Eon Productions opted for a “reboot,” or starting the series over. The Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles were different that previous entries. Graphic elements for the titles included playing card images as well as silhouettes of violent fights as well as images of Craig, who was making his 007 debut.

UPDATE (4:45 a.m.): David Arnold commented on Twitter:

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UPDATE II (9:30 a.m.): Many tributes have been written about Chris Cornell in the hours after his death became public. Here are tweets by the official James Bond Twitter account and actor Jeffrey Wright, who played Felix Leiter in Casino Royale.

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NYT features a crossword puzzle with 007 clues

Crossword puzzle in The New York Times with 007 clues.

Reader Gary J. Firuta passed along word (and an image) of a May 15 New York Times crossword puzzle with various James Bond-themed clues.

They were:

–Instead of 7 down, it’s 007 down. The clue: “What the answers to the italicized clues share, in two ways.”

–17 across: 1962-67, 1971. (No credit for Never Say Never Again, it would appear.)

–27 across: 1987-89.

–35 across (with 39 across): 1973-85.

–48 across: 1995-2002.

–63 across: 2006-

You can actually play the crossword puzzle for yourself online. However, you have to subscribe to the crossword puzzle even if you already have a Times digital subscription.

Broken record: MGM has nothing to say about Bond 25

MGM had more to say about Steve Harvey’s Funderdome than it did about Bond 25

Yes, it does sound like a broken record. But once again, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, had nothing to say about Bond 25.

The company released its first-quarter financial results on May 16. MGM commented about completing the rest of the Epix premium channel it didn’t own. It talked about various TV projects, including Steve Havey’s Funderdome, a reality television series for MGM. And updates about various movie remakes, including Tomb Raider and Death Wish.

But no mention about Bond 25, part of the film series which once upon a time was MGM’s major financial asset.

Instead, CEO Gary Barber said the mini-studio has an “increasingly diversified base of earnings” because of the Epix deal.

“This is an exciting time for MGM,” Barber said at the conclusion of an investor call.

Last month, The New York Times said MGM was entertaining offers from five studios to release Bond 25. Barber neither addressed the story nor received any questions about Bond 25 or any related 007 topics.

Bruce Geller: M:I’s renaissance man

Bruce Geller “cameo” as an IMF operative not selected for a mission by Briggs (Steven Hill).

A sixth Mission: Impossible film is in production. There’s plenty of publicity concerning star-producer Tom Cruise, actor Henry Cavill (who has joined the cast of this installment) and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.

What you won’t find much is mention without whom none of it would be impossible, M:I creator Bruce Geller.

Geller died almost four decades ago in a crash of a twin-engine aircraft. It was a sudden end for someone who had brought two popular series to the air (M:I and Mannix) that ran a combined 15 years on CBS. He was a renaissance man capable of writing, producing, directing and song writing.

Geller, according to The New York Times account of his death, graduated from Yale in 1952, majoring in psychology, sociology and economics. His father, Abraham Geller, was a judge. However, Geller didn’t pursue a law career. (He did end up portraying his father in a 1975 TV movie, Fear on Trial.)

Instead, Geller became a writer of various television series, including Westerns such as Have Gun-Will Travel, The Westerner and The Rifleman. Along the way, he also wrote the lyrics and book for some plays.

By the mid-1960s, Geller was also a producer at Desilu. His brainchild was M:I, whose pilot involved the theft of atomic bombs from a Caribbean dictator unfriendly to the United States.

The pilot was budget at $440,346 with a 13-day shooting schedule, according to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. It came in at $575,744, with 19 days of filming. While series episodes would be more modestly budgeted, it was a preview that M:I was not going to be an easy show to make.

CBS picked up M:I for the 1966-67 season. A year later, the network did the same for Mannix, featuring Mike Connors as a private investigator.

Geller didn’t create the character. Richard Levinson and William Link pitched the concept of a rugged, no-nonsense Joe Mannix coping with the corporate culture of investigative company Intertect.

Geller threw out a Levinson-Link story and wrote his own pilot script. Levinson and Link would be credited as creating the series, with Geller getting a “developed by” credit.

Mannix would be the last Desilu series. During its first season. Lucille Ball sold the company and it would become part of Paramount.

Eventually, that meant trouble for Geller. Paramount wanted to control costs and it eventually barred Geller from the studio lot. He’d continue to be credited as executive producer of both M:I and Mannix but without real input.

The producer moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he made a police drama, Bronk, that only lasted one season on CBS (1975-76). Geller also produced and directed a movie with James Coburn about pickpockets, 1973’s Harry In Your Pocket.

Today, Geller is almost a footnote when it comes to the M:I film series, which began in 1996. He does get a credit (“Based on the Television Series Created by Bruce Geller”). But the films are more of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, including spectacular stunts Cruise does himself.

There’s no way to know what Geller’s reaction would be. And, because he was only 47 when he died, there’s no way to know what Geller may have accomplished had it not been for the 1978 plane crash.

Regardless, Geller crammed a lot of living into his 47 years. At the end of the video below, you can see him collect his Emmy for the Mission: Impossible pilot script.

Sadanoyama, who had small Twice role, dies at 79

Sadanoyama as Bond’s sumo contact in You Only Live Twice.

Sadanoyama, whose real name was Shinmatsu Ichikawa and played James Bond’s sumo contact in You Only Live Twice, died last month at 79, according to an obituary in The Japan Times.

The cause of death was pneumonia, according to the obituary. He had previously suffered a stroke, the newspaper said.

You Only Live Twice was a fantasy, involving a volanco headquarters for SPECTRE and a rocket ship that captured other spacecraft.

However, an early sequence in the film establishes a modicum of reality as Bond (Sean Connery) walks the streets of Tokyo in the early stages of his mission.

Sadanoyama provides Bond with his tickets to watch a sumo match. There, the British agent meets up with Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), a Japanese operative who gives him instructions for the next stage of the mission.

For Western audiences in 1967, particularly those who hadn’t ventured to the island nation, the sequence helped establish what the “new” Japan was like. It’s like a little oasis, a chance for the audience to catch its breath before the spectacle that would later unfold.

According to the documentary Inside You Only Live Twice, the sumo match that Bond and Aki watch was real because sumo wrestlers don’t fake anything.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the obituary about Sadanoyama:

A native of Nagasaki Prefecture, he began his sumo career in 1956. After making it to the top makuuchi division five years later, he claimed the crown in his third tournament as a rank-and-file grappler and won a total of six championships.

After retiring as a wrestler, Sadanoyama succeeded the Dewanoumi name and took over the Dewanoumi stable. He served as chief of the JSA for three terms from 1992 to 1998.

Thanks to reader Steve Oxenrider for the heads up and the link