Richard Irving: Key part of Universal’s TV Factory

Richard Irving’s title card for a Gene Barry episode of The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Richard Irving was a major figure in the establishment of Universal’s television factory.

Irving, a one-time actor, helped get TV movies at Universal off the ground.

He directed two TV movie pilots for Columbo (Prescription: Murder in 1968 and Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971). He also produced and directed 1968’s Istanbul Express (a sort-of TV movie equivalent of From Russia With Love) and the TV movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.

As a producer, he oversaw Universal TV shows such as Laredo, a western, and The Name of the Game.

With the latter, he produced the Gene Barry episodes of the first season. For the rest of the series, he assumed the title of executive producer, supervising the different producers for the episodes starring Barry, Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.

Dean Hargrove, Irving’s associate producer for the first season of The Name of the Game, took over as producer of the Gene Barry episodes from the second season onward.

Irving was promoted to being a Universal television executive, which lasted until 1979.

Steven Bochco, working at Universal in the early 1970s, said in an interview for Archive of American Television, that it was Irving who got him involved in Columbo.

“I got a call from Dick Irving,” Bochco remembered. “‘Dick, it’s a mystery show. I don’t know anything about mystery writing. It’s a mystery to me.'”

According to Bochco, Irving said, “‘Do it. It’ll be great.'”

It was. Bochco wrote Murder by the Book, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the first series episode for Columbo. It also was the first installment of the NBC Mystery Movie aired by the network. Bochco went on the script a number of Columbo episodes on his way to being an important writer-producer on U.S. television.

The Los Angeles Times, in its 1990 obituary for Irving, put his contributions into perspective.

In an era when motion picture studios refused to release their old films to television, not wanting to contribute to declining theater attendance, Irving and such pioneers as William Link, Richard Levinson, Norman Lloyd and a handful of others filled the small screen with dramas, mysteries and comedies.

Irving died at the age of 73.

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Thrilling Cities audio book available

Cover to a 2009 edition of Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book

An audio book version of Ian Fleming’s 1963 book Thrilling Cities is now available, Ian Fleming Publications said Sept. 12.

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.

The audio book is narrated by actor Barnaby Edwards.

It is available at Amazon U.K. and the website of W.F. Howes Ltd. 

Thrilling Cities, indirectly, also begat the creation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran from September 1964 to January 1968.

Producer Norman Felton was approached whether the book could be made into a television show. Felton had access to gallies. He decided it couldn’t but made a pitch for an adventure show. Ian Fleming was involved in the project from October 1962 until mid-1963.

M:I-Fallout director fields fan questions

A clapperboard from Mission: Impossible-Fallut

Christopher McQuarrie, the writer-director of Mission: Impossible-Fallout, has spent the past few days answering questions from fans on Twitter.

The movie, due out on in late July, was a difficult production, including star-producer breaking an ankle.

Still, McQuarrie often takes to social media do discuss current projects. Some of his answers are jokes (at least they appear to be jokes).

Here’s a look at some of questions with McQuarrie’s answers.

Did Tom Cruise have to use a stunt double after breaking his ankle during a stunt?

McQuarrie: “No. There is not a single shot in Fallout where Tom uses a double.

Does he do his own OTS shots?

McQuarrie: “And inserts. If you see Ethan’s foot in a brake pedal, it’s Tom.”

Who is your favorite super hero?

McQuarrie: “El Kabong.”

Will you and Tom record another audio commentary for the Blu Ray release of MI6?

McQuarrie: “Count on it.”

Wayne Fitzgerald, title designer for movies and TV

Wayne Fitzgerald’s title card (along with others, including Bruce Lee) for The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm movie with Dean Martin.

When it comes to titles, names such as Saul Bass, Maurice Binder and Robert Brownjohn get a lot of attention. However, there’s another prolific designer who had an extensive impact on movies and U.S. television: Wayne Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, 88, went to work at Pacific Title in 1951, according to his bio at the Art of the Title website.

Pacific Title did title work for Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox. But no one at Pacific received on-screen credit. As a result, Fitzgerald’s name doesn’t appear on such films as The Music Man and My Fair Lady, according to the website.

Fitzgerald went independent in 1967. His work appeared in such films as The Green Berets; The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm film with Dean Martin; Chinatown; and McQ,

The designer also got a lot of television work. He was hired often by Universal’s “television factory.” As a result, the Universal shows he worked on had titles with a bit of visual flair.

Start of the main title of The NBC Mystery Movie

For example, he designed the main title to The NBC Mystery Movie (later The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie), where a man with a flashlight walks with stills of the different components (Columbo, McClous, McMillan & Wife and others) being shown while accompanied by a Henry Mancini theme.

As the title ended, announcer Hank Simms (also the go-to announcer for shows made by QM Productions) would then tell viewers which Mystery Movie segment was being shown tonight.

That title is rarely seen today. The Mystery Movie’s different entries are syndicated separately as TV movies. As a result, they usually don’t include Fitzgerald’s main title.

The designer’s other Universal credits included  It Takes a Thief, The Bold Ones, Switch and Night Gallery.

In all, Fitzgerald’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 400 credits, extending into the early 21st century.

Joseph Campanella dies at 93

Joseph Campanella in a first-season episode of Mannix

Joseph Campanella, whose acting career lasted more than a half-century, died today at 93, according to Variety.

Campanella was a familiar face on U.S. television television, splitting his time between playing villains and sympathetic characters.

His credits included co-starring in the first season of Mannix as Lew Wickersham, the head of Intertect, the large agency where hero Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) worked.

Wickersham prided himself on devising a set of rules he said were designed to get the most of his employees. “Not me,” Mannix replied in a scene in the show’s pilot.

Throughout the first season, there was a tension between Mannix and his boss. That angle was dropped starting with the second season when Mannix went off on his own.

Campanella was nominated for an Emmy for playing Wickersham. He also returned in a sixth-season episode playing a different role.

Wickersham was based on entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA, the parent company at the time of Universal.

According to commentary tracks on the first-season Mannix DVD set, Wasserman approved of Campanella’s performance. After Campanella departed Mannix, he was hired by Universal to play an attorney in The Lawyers segment of The Bold Ones.

Later in his career, Campanella was a voice in a 1990s Spider-Man cartoon. The actor was also the younger brother of character actor Frank Campanella (1919-2006).

1960s adventure footnote: My Friend Tony

Main title to My Friend Tony

One of the most successful television producers of the 1960s was Sheldon Leonard (1907-1997). Leonard produced many situation comedies, but also dabbled in dramas such as I Spy (1965-68).

My Friend Tony (1969) was one of Leonard’s least successful efforts, which ran a mere 16 episodes on NBC.

The series star was James Whitmore (1921-2009), an Emmy winning actor who was also twice nominated for an Oscar.  The title character was played by Enzo Cerusico (1937-1991). Whitmore’s character first encountered Cerusico’s Tony during World War II in Italy.

These days, there’s not a lot of information available about the show. One promo that aired during NBC’s broadcast of the 1969 Super Bowl had this description: “A vial of deadly germs imperils an entire city on My Friend Tony tonight.”

The series creators included Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who had written the 1949 film White Heat. By 1969, the duo had become writer-producers handling the day-to-day supervision of Mannix, which aired on CBS.

Leonard summoned Earle Hagen to come up with a theme. The musician, by this point, had worked for Leonard for years on sitcoms such as The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hagen also had composed the theme for I Spy.

A video with the main and end titles to an episode of My Friend Tony has been on YouTube for a while. The cast included veteran character actor Richard Anderson as well as future sitcom star Penny Marshall.

Paul Williams on The Wild Wild West Revisited

Paul Williams as Miguelito Loveless Jr. in The Wild Wild West Revisited

Paul Williams took to Twitter to briefly discuss The Wild Wild West Revisited, the 1979 TV movie.

The singer-songwriter was prompted by a tweet from Silver Age TV about the anniversary of the TV movie’s debut showing.

Williams responded:

“Great fun. James Cagney visited the set. One of those moments you never forget.”

In the TV movie, Miguelito Jr. has developed atomic bombs and clones in 1885. He now wants revenge on retired Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

He holds West and Gordon responsible for the death of his father five years earlier. Michael Dunn played Miguelito Sr. in original 1965-69 series.

Williams and Martin had worked together earlier that television season on an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Years earlier, Williams reportedly cast as Mr. Wint in Diamonds Are Forever before Bruce Glover got the role.

Williams, 77, referring to a still from the TV movie added: “That’s me at 187 pounds. 130 today. Lucky to be alive. So grateful!”

You can view the tweet below.

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