Henry Sharp, an appreciation

Henry Sharp’s title card for The Night of the Golden Cobra on The Wild Wild West

For people of a certain age, the 1960s were a special time for spy entertainment (aka spy-fi). You had plenty of options and many of them were available to television.

Writer Henry Sharp (1912-2019) was one of those who made that era possible.

Sharp’s parents emigrated to the United States in the 1900s, according a detailed biography at the website Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists. He was an artist and his work later appeared in “pulp” magazines, featuring adventure stories. Sharp ended up writing stories as well. Sharp also drew stories for comic books.

According to that biography, things took a turn.

By 1954 his brother, Philip Sharp, had become a successful writer on The Sid Caesar Show. Philip Sharp went on to write teleplays for The Phil Silvers Show in 1956. In 1958 Philip Sharp was writing The Real McCoy’s, and invited his brother to become a co-writer on that TV show. The two brothers again teamed up on scripts for The Gale Storm Show (1958), The Ann Southern Show (1959), and The Donna Reed Show (1959-1961).

In the 1960s, spy-fi became popular because of the James Bond novels and early 007 films. Ian Flemings more escapist works (Dr. No and Goldfinger) had pulp sensibilities. The early Bond movies adeptly balanced drama and humor.

Those trends would make Henry Sharp ideal to work on spy-fi television shows.

Sharp co-wrote a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Neptune Affair. The writer found his stride with The Wild Wild West.

That 1965-69 series mixed spies with cowboys. It employed what’s now known as “steam punk” (taking present technology and figuring out how it would have been done in the 19th century).

Sharp wrote 10 episodes of The Wild Wild West. For almost three seasons, he was the story consultant who met with writers and made revisions to scripts to keep the tone of the series consistent.

Scripts for The Wild Wild West credited to Sharp brilliantly balanced adventure plots with humor. One of his scripts made the Philosopher’s Stone (!) the McGuffin. Sharp’s credited scripts included one featuring Dr. Loveless (the series’ arch-villain) and one featuring Count Manzeppi (an attempt to create a second arch-villain).

Sharp was a major contributor to making the show work. In 1979 and 1980, CBS produced TV movies based on The Wild Wild West with original stars Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. But without Sharp, things weren’t quite the same.

A 1999 movie version, with Will Smith and Kevin Kline also lacked the feel of the original show. In many ways, The Wild Wild West was like catching lightning in a bottle. Henry Sharp was one of those who accomplished that.

One Response

  1. […] the brains of scientists who are still alive, albeit disembodied. That episode was scripted by Henry Sharp, one of the show’s leading writers who earlier in his career had written for pulp […]

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