‘Jane Bond’ shows interest in women spies

Salt poster

Salt poster

This week’s buzz about whether actress Gillian Anderson should play a female version of James Bond caused a lot of fans to complain about click bait and political correctness.

But the media attention concerning “Jane Bond” may show something else — continuing interest in women spies.

There have been attempts at a woman spy movie series. Eon Productions, maker of the 007 films, tried to develop a spinoff movie featuring Halle Berry’s Jinx character from Die Another Day. But in the end, no movie occurred.

In 2010, Angelina Jolie starred in Salt, which had worldwide box office of $293.5 million. The film had an ending that left things open for a sequel but none has taken place. Sony Pictures is developing a television series version, Screen Daily said in February.

In 2015, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included Alicia Vikander as a British spy, Gaby Teller, who wasn’t a character in the original 1964-68 television series.

Thus, Solo and Illya became Solo, Illya and Gaby. Vikander got good reviews, but the movie limped home with worldwide box office of $109.9 million, pretty much killing any chance of a sequel.

On the other hand, Jennifer Garner’s Alias television series ran more than 100 episodes from 2001-2006.

In the 007 films, women spies have been a major part of the proceedings for decades.

Bond has allied himself with women agents from the Soviet Union (The Spy Who Loved Me), United States (Moonraker), China (Tomorrow Never Dies) the U.S. again (Die Another Day) and Bolivia (Quantum of Solace) . 2012’s Skyfall provided a new take on Moneypenny, in which the Naomie Harris version is initially an MI6 agent.

In these risk-adverse days, studios may want to check out properties such as the comic strip Modesty Blaise, the subject of a 1966 movie.

Anyway, we were reminded by reader Stuart Basinger that back when the film rights to Casino Royale were first acquired (years before Eon Productions was formed), producer-director Gregory Ratoff wanted to change James Bond into a woman. Ratoff wanted to cast Susan Hayward in the role. Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. worked on the project and described it in a 2012 article in Variety.

What prompted this post was a comment from a reader, @CinemaOnFire on Twitter. So, as a shoutout, we present that tweet:

UPDATE (May 25): Alyssa Rosenberg, a pop culture blogger for The Washington Post, has weighed in with an essay titled “No, a woman shouldn’t play James Bond.”  Here’s an excerpt:

If our goal is for Hollywood to create action-oriented jobs for women that will be available for decades to come, then we need franchises that are built around women. We need roles like Bond’s, or Jack Ryan’s, or Captain Kirk’s that are designed to be occupied by a rotating series of women. Borrowing Bond’s tux might be a fun fantasy. But real power means a role we don’t have to give back to the men.

Did Jim Steranko tease a new SHIELD project?

Answer: Hard to say. But we engaged the talented writer-artist during his weekly question and answer session on Twitter.

For those unfamiliar, Steranko wrote and drew Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD for Marvel from 1966 to 1968 and it created quite a stir. Here’s how the Sunday exchange went:

If something is in the pipeline, we eagerly await to see the results.

(Almost) 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded the other day that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide will mark its 20th anniversary this year. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

A book about 007’s inspiration

Cover for Into The Lion's Mouth

Cover for Into The Lion’s Mouth

Author Larry Loftis has come out with a book, Into The Lion’s Mouth, about real-life World War II spy Dusko Popov, who was said to be an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

The blog had a chance to ask some questions of Loftis by e-mail. The exchange follows.

What interested you in the subject in the first place to do a book?

I was working on an espionage novel four years ago and I started researching “greatest spy ever.”  Dusko Popov’s name kept … ahem … popping up.  The more I read, the more intrigued I became. The man’s real life was more entertaining and thrilling than what I was making up. After reading my manuscript, my editor (Tom Colgan, famously Tom Clancy’s editor) remarked, “It’s a good thing this is nonfiction. This story is too incredible to be a novel.”

Over the years, different people have been argued to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. What makes you sure your guy is the one?

The short answer is … read my book! :)  To fully explain, I’d need to include all 400 pages here. What I can say is that most people confuse two entirely different questions, namely: 1) Who was the model (or who were the models) for James Bond?; and 2) Who was the inspiration for James Bond.  Both questions can be answered with certitude. As to the model(s) from whom Fleming borrowed characteristics for Bond…there were numerous individuals. Fleming repeatedly stated this.

However, as to the man who inspired 007, there is only one name—Dusko Popov. He is the man we see in Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale. Everything about James Bond (MI6 agent, playboy, handsome, charming, intelligent, daring, crack shot, etc.) matches Popov … and Popov only. And the famous casino scene? That came from what Fleming saw in Casino Estoril (Lisbon) when he shadowed Popov (MI6 agent “TRICYCLE”) in August 1941. For a short explanation, see my website (LarryLoftis.com or RealJamesBond.com).

Fleming, of course, couldn’t reveal a word about this. To do so would have landed him in prison for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act.

Not a word was published about what MI5 or MI6 (working in tandem with Fleming’s Naval Intelligence department) had done during the war until MI5’s Double-Cross Committee chairman, J. C. Masterman, published his report in 1972, long after Fleming had died. Masterman only referred to agents by code names but MI5 nevertheless objected to the release (which was eventually published by Yale University Press).

Following Masterman’s book, others began to reveal tidbits of Popov’s activities through fictitious code names—BICYCLE, TALLYRAND, and IVAN (Popov’s German code name).

My book details exactly where, when, and how Popov and Fleming met, and what Fleming knew of him.  Suffice it to say that people in Estoril (especially at the Palacio Hotel) know that Popov was Fleming’s inspiration and, as you’ll see in my book, so does the Fleming family.

Since I knew that people would ask this very question, I have included in my book a chart which gives the men most often suggested as either the model or inspiration for James Bond, and how they compare to the Bond we see in Casino Royale. Only one man matches all categories—Dusko Popov.

After you began researching, what was the biggest surprise you encountered?

Just the sheer amount of data to process. There are thousands of pages on Popov in the U.K. National Archives, and an equal amount in the U.S. FBI files. And if you want to be thorough, you have to read primary sources about everyone involved: Fleming’s files in the National Archives, Admiral Godfrey’s memoirs at the Churchill Archives, FDR’s files in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, memoirs of key Germans, memoirs of MI5, MI6, and Naval Intelligence officers, and biographies of Popov, Fleming, Menzies (“C”), Godfrey, Hoover, Stephenson (BSC), and Donovan (OSS and later, CIA).

Then we have the secret police files and embassy information from Lisbon, the WWII information about Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Brazil … and on it goes.

What differences are there between your subject and Fleming’s literary Bond?

Most importantly, women. As Fleming told a BBC reporter, Bond typically romances just one girl per book.  Popov had two or three girls per city—London, Lisbon, Madrid, New York, Sun Valley. The MI5 archive files include numerous love letters written to him that were intercepted by British Intelligence. MI5 also asked the army if they had a female who could provide Popov “companionship” while keeping an eye on him.

He seduced enemy spies. He received letters from girls he couldn’t remember. In short, Popov’s irresistible charm, animal magnetism—whatever you want to call it—was well known throughout all British Intelligence (MI5, MI5, Naval Intelligence).  Without question, Fleming was well-aware of the incorrigible playboy who was Britain’s best spy.

Second, as impressive as Bond is, Popov excelled him in every way.  Bond speaks three languages in Casino Royale; Popov spoke five. Bond is highly intelligent; Popov had a doctorate in law; Bond is a crack shot; Popov won two snap shooting contests. Later, in Dr. No, we see that Bond’s cover is as an import/export businessman. Popov not only had that cover in WWII, he had to use it, and did. MI5 files reveal that Popov consummated a $14 million (in 1940s dollars!) shipping deal, for example, and numerous other transactions involving tons of turpentine, pewter, and other commodities. After the war he structured a $15 million bond deal between South Africa and Switzerland.

After your research, did your ideas about Ian Fleming change? If so, how?

Only slightly. As you’ll see in my book, Fleming himself couldn’t have been the model for Bond since he was never an agent and, as BSC’s William Stephenson said, Ian wasn’t a “man of action.”  Fleming was actually tested by Stephenson for his potential as an operative and failed. But while Ian lacked operative skills and disposition, he had administrative and planning skills in spades. Fleming’s boss, Naval Intelligence Director Adm. John Godfrey, was so impressed with Ian’s work that the admiral said that he, Godfrey, should have been Ian’s assistant and not the other way around.

After your research, did your evaluation of Fleming’s original stories change? If so, how?

Since I was only concerned with the inspiration and creation of James Bond, I only studied Casino Royale. I don’t want to spoil the reading of my book or Casino Royale for those who haven’t yet read it, but let me say that if you know 1941 Estoril—the Palacio and Parque hotels, the Cascais cliffs, and the casino—you will see that Casino Royale is a thinly-veiled re-creation of Casino Estoril.

A recurring theme, in both fiction and real life, is whether human intelligence is still important. What are your feelings on the subject after doing this book?

Unquestionably, yes. Case in point … During WWII, the Allies had two star double agents—GARBO (Juan Pujol) and TRICYCLE (Popov). Both were highly valued by the Germans and both were instrumental in deceiving Nazi intelligence about D-Day. Popov was the more valuable of the two because he was the only agent who actually met with—and was grilled by—seasoned Abwehr, SD, and Gestapo interrogators. It’s one thing to receive radio reports, or to intercept an enemy’s message and decode it; both sides did that. It’s quite another to interrogate for seven or eight hours someone who claims to have eye witness details. That’s what Popov did, often when the Germans almost knew for certain that he was doubling.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Four things excited me about Popov’s story, and why I wrote the book: 1) the James Bond connection; 2) the fact that this man is probably the greatest spy ever; 3) the fact that the story is very much a thriller  (suggested by reviewers to have a Vince Flynn pace); and 4) Popov warned the FBI on Aug. 18, 1941 that the Japanese would be attacking Pearl Harbor (Hoover told no one).

As an aside, Popov made appearances on television shows in 1970s promoting his own book, playing up how he was Bond’s inspiration. One such appearance took place in an installment of the syndicated version of To Tell The Truth.

 

Thrilling Cities, the series?

Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities book

Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book

Actor Michael Weatherly’s production company is trying to turn Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into a television, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The story is mostly about Weatherly’s impending departure from the popular NCIS television series and Thrilling Cities only gets a passing reference.

“In the meantime, however, Weatherly said he’s busier than ever with his production company, Solar Drive Productions, which is working on turning the book Thrilling Cities, from James Bond author Ian Fleming, into a possible series,” the story by THR’s Kate Stanhope reads.

Thrilling Cities was a non-fiction book by Fleming. It was based on a series of stories he did for The Sunday Times about important cities around the world.

“Fleming saw it all with a thriller writer’s eye. From Hong Kong to Honolulu, New York to Naples, he left the bright main streets for the back alleys, abandoning tourist sites in favour of underground haunts, and mingling with celebrities, gangsters and geishas,” according to a summary on the Ian Fleming Publications website.

Fleming’s short story 007 in New York was included in the U.S. edition of Thrilling Cities. The author had a harsh opinion about New York City and the short story was a bonus for American readers.

In 1962, there was an attempt to turn Thrilling Cities into a television series. The result, ended up being The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

Craig Henderson’s 1962 page for his U.N.C.L.E. Timeline website notes that producer Norman Felton was asked to read galleys of the upcoming Fleming book concerning whether it could be made into a TV show.

At a meeting, “Felton rejects the possibility of developing a TV series from Thrilling Cities — but he’s inspired to ad lib an idea about a mysterious man who travels the world on sensitive secret missions,” according to Henderson’s website.

That was the genesis of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Fleming himself was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until mid-1963 before withdrawing under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Also of note, one of Weatherly’s co-stars on NCIS is David McCallum, who played Illya Kuryakin on U.N.C.L.E. Irony abounds.

 

In praise of the 2-part (or more) episode

In the 21st century, many television series are serialized, featuring a story line, or arc, that lasts an entire season. However, there was a time when a story that lasted two (or more) episodes was special, something to savored.

For viewers of the era, such multi-part episodes could be special. Because it wasn’t the norm, such story lines drew attention to themselves. What follows is a sampling.

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the first-season of the 1964-68 series, extra footage was shot so two episodes could be re-edited into feature films for the international market. Starting with the second season, the show produced two-part episodes that could be more easily be turned into movies.

Six such two-part episodes were made, two each for seasons two through four. One of the best was Alexander the Greater Affair at the start of Season Two. Industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn) was a fan of Alexander the Great and sought to control the world like his namesake. The movie version was titled One Spy Too Many. The television version, though, didn’t make the show’s syndication package and wasn’t seen again until 2000.

Mission: Impossible: The 1966-73 series included a number of two-part episodes. A second-season two parter was re-edited into a movie for international audiences called Mission: Impossible Versus the Mob.

M:I’s biggest multi-part adventure was a three-parter called The Falcon, which aired during the show’s fourth season. Arguably, The Falcon (written by Paul Playdon), was the series most intricately plotted story.

Hawaii Five-O: Another series with multiple two-part stories, some of which (FOB Honolulu, The Ninety-Second War) included Steve McGarrett opposing his arch enemy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). That includes the series’ pilot, which was re-edited into a two-part story at the end of the show’s first season.

What’s more, Wo Fat stories in the eighth and ninth season kicked off the season and were presented as two-hour episodes. The latter, Nine Dragons, featured extensive location shooting in Hong Kong.

Five-O’s fifth season also had a three-part episode where McGarrett took down the Vishons, a Hawaiian crime family. In the third part, McGarrett has been framed and doesn’t appear to have much chance to beat the rap. For one of its reruns on CBS, the story was re-edited into a two-and-a-half-hour presentation aired on a single night.

Also, a 1979 two-hour episode, The Year of the Horse, featured one-time 007 George Lazenby with “special guest star” billing, though he was a secondary villain. That installment included extensive on-location shooting in Singapore.

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

The FBI: The longest-running series from producer Quinn Martin had four two-part stories. The Defector, the show’s first-season two-parter, was an impressive espionage-themed effort.

The show’s two parter for the second season was The Executioners, which was edited into a movie for international audiences titled Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI.

The series’ final two-parter, The Mastermind in the seventh season, featured three actors (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat and Scott Marlowe), who were a kind of all-star collection of QM villains.

Mannix: The private eye drama featured a first-season story where Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the boss of Mannix’s detective agency, appears to freak out for no reason. Part I included a massive fight between Wickersham and Mannix (Mike Connors).

The series wouldn’t do another two-part episode until its seventh and eight seasons, when Mannix (Mike Connors) ran his own private eye agency. Both stories took Mannix out of the United States. The final two parter also included composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

The Wild Wild West: The 1965-69 series combined spies and cowboys. It only had one two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror, but it was a doozy. It features Raven, a group trying to take over the world, which has demonstrated its power by programming officials into performing various destructive acts.

When the story (written by Ken Pettus) was filmed, co-star Ross Martin was recovering from a heart attack. So character actor William Schallert (1922-2016) played a substitute agent to work with Robert Conrad’s James West.

77 Sunset Strip: The show’s final season (1963-64) began with a *five*-part episode, simply titled “5.” Jack Webb, who had taken command of Warner Bros. television unit, ordered up a major revamp of the private eye series.

Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was retained, and his Stuart Bailey character was transformed into a lone wolf detective. “5” plunged Bailey into international intrigue, with an all-star cast of guest stars.

 

Character actor William Schallert dies at 93

William Schallert

William Schallert

William Schallert, a character actor with a long career, mostly on television, died on Sunday at age 93, according to an OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

The Times’ obit leads off with how he played the father on The Patty Duke Show. But Schallert played in many genres and naturally had experience on spy television of the 1960s.

His roles included Frank Harper, one of the substitute partners for James West (Robert Conrad) in the fourth season of The Wild Wild West when Ross Martin was recovering from a 1968 heart attack. Harper’s appearance took place during the show’s only two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror. Harper, like Martin’s Artemus Gordon, was a master of disguise. Schallert had appeared earlier in the series in other parts.

Another spy-related role for the actor took place in Get Smart, which gets a mention in The Times’ obituary.

While the typical William Schallert character was focused and serious, he expressed particular affection for an atypical role: the wildly decrepit Admiral Hargrade, a recurring character on the spy spoof “Get Smart” (1967-70), who operated in a perpetual state of confusion. (“He reminded me of my grandmother when she got dotty,” Mr. Schallert said.)

Get Smart actually ran from 1965 to 1970. Schallert’s appearances on the show were from 1967 to 1970, according to the actor’s IMDB.com entry.

Other roles of note for Schallert included: a doctor in a 1967 Mission: Impossible episode; an oily lawyer defending a medical “quack” in a first-season, two-part episode of Hawaii Five-O (the same reason he played Frank Harper on The Wild Wild West); and a guest part in the Sam Rolfe-created 1970s series, The Delphi Bureau.

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