Jack Davis, extraordinary artist, dies at 91

Jack Davis promotional art for Get Smart

Jack Davis promotional art for Get Smart

Jack Davis, a talented artist known for his work on Mad magazine and various commercial artwork, died Wednesday at the age of 91, the University of Georgia said in an announcement.

The university released the news because Davis, a Georgia native, often did caricatures of the school’s bulldog mascot.

Besides Mad, Davis frequently got work commercial art jobs promoting movies and television shows. Perhaps his most famous was the movie poster for 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with caricatures of Spencer Tracy and the film’s mammoth cast.  Davis then parodied his own work for the cover of It’s a World, World, World, World Mad, a paperback collection of Mad reprinted features.

With the popularity of spy shows in the 1960s, Davis did illustrations promoting The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart and I Spy. The artist also illustrated an U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox.

Davis also drew an intricate illustration promoting NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup. To appreciate it better, click on the image below.

Jack Davis' epic illustration promoting NBC's 1965-66 television lineup

Jack Davis’ epic illustration promoting NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup

 

 

U.N.C.L.E. now on Heroes & Icons channel

Heroes & Icons logo

Heroes & Icons logo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is now being shown by the Heroes & Icons channel in the overnight hours.

The 1964-68 spy adventure is being televised at 4 a.m. New York time weeknights and 3 a.m. Sundays, according to the channel’s website. H&I currently is television episodes from the first season.

H&I is similiar to MeTV. Both televise programs from the 1950s to the 1980s. H&I tends to show more one-hour programs while MeTV shows more situation comedies.

U.N.C.L.E. still is on MeTV, but only on the weekend overnight schedule. MeTV began showing U.N.C.L.E. in the fall of 2014 as part of a block of programming it called “The Spies who Love ME.” MeTV ended that block of shows in August 2015.

Jason Bourne gets a mix of raves and pans from critics

Jason Bourne poster

Jason Bourne poster

Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is back after nine years and he’s getting mixed marks — more positive than negative — from critics.

This year’s major spy movie currently has a 68 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes, or more than two raves for every pan.

Put another way, it’s comparable to 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (67 percent) and SPECTRE (65 percent), the most recent 007 film.

What follows is a non-spoiler sampling of reviews that have come in so far.

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Mostly, the project marks a return to what worked about the franchise — namely, Damon — suggesting the relief of watching Sean Connery step back into Bond’s shoes after producers tried to replace him with a suave male model in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Meanwhile, audiences are expected to forget both “The Bourne Legacy,” 2012’s disappointing attempt to carry on the name by casting Jeremy Renner in a superficially similar capacity, and “Green Zone,” the gritty (and virtually unseen) Iraq War thriller in which Damon and Greengrass tried to get serious. Now, the real Bourne has resurfaced, and both director and star are committed to making the most of it.”

SCOTT MENDSELSON, FORBES.COM: “You’ve seen this movie before. You saw it in 2004 when it was calledThe Bourne Supremacy, and you saw it in 2007 when it was called The Bourne Ultimatum. As is now apparently custom for Paul Greengrass-directed Bourne sequels, the filmmaker steals wholesale from his previous movies to the point where it feels not like a formula but a glorified remake.”

KATIE WALSH, TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE: “It’s a breath of fresh air to see Damon back in this role, one that draws on his innate strengths. His All-American star persona allows us to understand that though Bourne is a lone ranger who doesn’t hesitate to use violence, we innately trust his moral compass. That’s because we know Bourne, but also because of the patriotic, good guy qualities that Damon effortlessly expresses.”

BILGE EBIRI, THE VILLAGE VOICE: “A  more appropriate title for Jason Bourne might be Walking: The Motion Picture. …(I)t’s about people walking. Walking down corridors, through hotels, through streets, through backrooms. Always briskly, always with apparent purpose, often with phones or earpieces or tracking devices so they can talk to someone else who is also walking and who is usually telling them where yet another person might be walking. Occasionally they break into a run or get in a car and plow through traffic. But mostly, they just walk. Is the CIA now owned by Fitbit?”

TODD MCCARTHY: THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “Jason Bourne is an engrossing reimmersion in the violent and mysterious world of Matt Damon’s shadowy secret op. With director Paul Greengrass compulsively cutting the almost incessant action to the absolute bone in his trademark fashion and some solid new characters stirred in, Universal’s franchise refresher should have no problem being re-embraced by longtime series fans.”

Gene L. Coon: More than just Star Trek

Poster for The Killers, a pre-Star Trek credit for Gene L. Coon

Poster for The Killers (1964), a pre-Star Trek credit for Gene L. Coon

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

For the purposes of this post, we’re stretching the definition of “unsung.” Gene L. Coon was a major figure for the original Star Trek series (where he was producer for part of the first and second seasons) and he’s mostly remembered for that.

However, the writer-producer performed work in other genres. That included 1960s spy shows, serving as a producer for some episodes of The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief. He also wrote episodes of war dramas and westerns.

Coon also did the script for the 1964 version of The Killers, with a cast headed by Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan. The crew included composer John Williams.

The Killers was intended by Universal to be a made-for-television movie. What producer-director Don Siegel delivered was deemed to be too violent for the small screen. So The Killers got a theatrical release instead.

Coon had a reputation as a hard worker. He had an admirer in director Ralph Senensky. Here’s what Senensky said about Coon in a reply to a post about an episode of The Wild Wild West titled The Night of the Druid’s Blood:

I think Gene Coon is one of the unsung heroes of television. Both on this series and later on STAR TREK his work (and he was a rewriting machine) set a standard that elevated both series to levels that were seldom reached after his departure.

Coon produced only six episodes of The Wild Wild West near the end of that show’s first season (1965-66). The following television season, he joined Star Trek as producer, working under creator-executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Coon’s main task was to secure and produce a steady stream of scripts.

Coon’s major contributions included the Klingons and co-writing Space Seed, the episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban’s Khan character. Khan would be brought back twice (once with Montalban and once with Benedict Cumberbatch) as villains in Star Trek movies.

Put another way, Coon’s contributions had an impact on Trek productions long after he first made them.

The writer-producer continued into Trek’s second season but departed. He ended up at Universal’s television operation. However, he did some moonlighting, writing some Trek scripts under the pen name Lee Cronin.

One of them, Spock’s Brain, in which Spock’s brain is taken from him, still generates groans from Trek fans decades later. Well, everyone has an off day and the writing conditions (doing it on the side while working full-time at Universal) weren’t ideal.

Gene L. Coon died of cancer on July 8, 1973, just 49 years old. His final writing credit was for an episode of The Streets of San Francisco titled Death and the Favored Few. That show aired in March 1974.

Garry Marshall dies; wrote an I Spy episode

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Garry Marshall, a veteran writer-producer on television series as well as a movie director, has died at 81, according to AN OBITUARY PUBLISHED BY VARIETY.

On television, his credits included developing The Odd Couple as a TV series and creating Happy Days. His movie credits including directing 1990’s Pretty Woman.

For the purposes of this blog, we just wanted to note that Marshall, with his then-partner Jerry Belson, wrote a quirkly I Spy episode titled No Exchange on Damaged Merchandise.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks as U.S. agent Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) writes up a report to his superiors, seeking reimbursements for expenses from an assignment.

His partner Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) wants Kelly to forget it. But Robinson is so annoyed with the bureaucracy, he’s determined to get the reimbursement.

The viewer doesn’t get the entire story until Robinson is about to complete the report. Along the way, Scott was almost killed. Meanwhile, the duo was forced to improvise a prisoner exchange with a corpse.

 

Why the Bond vs. Bourne debate is silly

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Matt Damon is promoting his latest Jason Bourne movie, creatively titled Jason Bourne. Among other things, Damon has said Bourne would beat James Bond in a fight.

In turn, some Bond fans have been offended. Here are some reasons they shouldn’t be.

Bond and Bourne are fictional characters. Therefore, Bourne can’t beat Bond or vice versa.

Are you ready to get into other countless debates? You might as well participate in debates such as would Jim Phelps beat Joe Mannix in a fight? Or would Jim Phelps beat Dan Briggs in a fight? Or would James West beat Matt Dillon in a fight? Or who would win in a fight between Bambi and Godzilla? Or who would win in a fight between Superman or Batman? Oh wait….the latter question generated a $250 million movie…..

All you’re doing is helping Matt Damon promote his movie. Damon is trying to generate publicity for Jason Bourne. If you’re a 007 fan annoyed with this and posting on social media about it, you’re just helping him. He’s getting paid for his trouble while you aren’t.

 

William W. Spencer: ‘Artist who painted with light’

Stephen Brooks and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as photographed by William W. Spencer in The FBI.

Stephen Brooks and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as photographed by William W. Spencer in The FBI.

Another in a series of unsung figures of television.

With films, the director of photography often is celebrated as an artist and a critical contributor.

On television? Not so much. Even today, with TV’s prestige at an all-time high (where television is hailed as more adult than motion pictures), directors of photography don’t get the attention of their movie counterparts.

However, people who worked with television directors of photography are fully aware of how much they bring to the table. That’s certainly the case with William W. Spencer, a two-time Emmy winner who was also nominated a third.

“Billy Spencer was an artist who painted with light,” director Ralph Senensky wrote on his website about The FBI episode titled The Assassin.

Similar comments were expressed by those in front of the camera. “He knew what he wanted all the time, how he wanted to set it up, how it would be dramatically correct,” actress Lynda Day George told author Jonathan Etter for the book Quinn Martin, Producer.

In the first episode of The FBI, Jeffrey Hunter played Francis Jerome, a psychotic killer with sexual identity issues. Jerome kills women by strangling them with their own long hair.

In Act III, Jerome visits the dreary home of his domineering grandmother (Estelle Winwood). After bending to her will, yet again, Jerome freaks out as he looks at the portrait of the long-haired Blue Boy.

In a close up, Spencer’s lights emphasize Jerome’s eyes. In the 21st century, that’s an old-fashioned technique, but effective in telling the story.

Born in 1921, Spencer worked camera-related jobs at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as the studio was beginning to decline from its glory days. He graduated to director of photography (one of two) for the 1958 movie Andy Hardy Comes Home.

MGM shifted Spencer to television with a series based on The Thin Man. He would work in television for the bulk of his career.

That meant working faster than even modestly budgeted movies.

“You were constantly adapting, constantly sacrificing and letting things go,” Spencer told Etter for the Quinn Martin book.

When filming at a borrowed house on location, “We frequently shot in very cramped quarters,” Spencer said. “The lamps were often so close to the actors, they almost got burned.”

Spencer worked on various series, including The Richard Boone Show, an anthology show with the same actors appearing every week. From there, he was recruited to QM Productions and assigned to photograph 12 O’Clock High, the World War II drama.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a first-season episode of The FBI

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as photographed by William W. Spencer in a first-season episode of The FBI

The director of photography picked up his first Emmy for that series. QM then shifted Spencer to The FBI, the production company’s first color series.

“Now he was filming in color and his photography was magnificent, because he lit it the same way he lit black and white, with cross lighting,” Ralph Senensky wrote about The Assassin episode of The FBI..

In a separate post about the 12 O’Clock High episode The Trap, the director wrote that Spencer hated color. “When color became the dominant mode of transmission on television, Billy watched on his color television set, but he watched in black and white with the color turned off.”

Spencer mostly worked at QM for more than a decade. He occasionally scored movie jobs, including 1967’s Countdown and QM’s only feature film, 1971’s The Mephisto Waltz.

After QM ceased operations, Spencer remained active into the 1980s. He won a second Emmy for the Fame television series.

Spencer died in 2007, at the age of 85.

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