Evolution of spy entertainment 1960s-present

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball (1965)

In the newest episode of James Bond & Friends, Dr. Lisa Funnell raises the question whether spy entertainment has evolved beyond James Bond.

You could make the argument that things have regressed since the 1960s spy craze.

In 1965 alone, you could go to a movie theater and see the likes of Thunderball (the fourth James Bond movie and definitely on the escapist end of the spectrum) as well as The Ipcress Files (produced by Harry Saltzman with Bond film crew members along for the ride) and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (based on a John le Carre novel).

That’s a lot of variety for a single year.

On British and American television, you could see series either affected by Bond (The Avengers and Danger Man) or started because of the spy craze (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, I Spy and Mission: Impossible).

Today? Well, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series was influenced by early Bond movies as well as U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers.

Le Carre novels continue to be adapted but they often appear on TV mini-series.

The 1960s was the decade of the spy craze. The 1970s was a barren time for spy TV. It has waxed and waned since then.

Competing spy franchises make the rounds at the British GP

Tom Cruise

Representatives of the Mission: Impossible and James Bond film franchises made the rounds at today’s British Grand Prix.

M:I’s star-producer Tom Cruise, 59, was present to root on eventual winner Lewis Hamilton. The F-1 telecast periodically cut to the Mercedes team where Cruise could be seen wearing a mask. The Express and the The Sun (among others) had accounts of Cruise’s day.

Also present was actress Naomie Harris, 44, who plays Moneypenny in the Bond films and acts as unofficial ambassador for the Bond films. The official 007 Twitter feed of Eon Productions took note.

Tarantino takes a shot (?) at Jack Lord

Soundtrack cover for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino is out with a novelization of his 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As a result, the writer-director has even more room to make comments about 1960s entertainment.

So far, I’m only a chapter into it and noticed a less-than-flattering reference to Jack Lord, the first screen Felix Leiter and the star of the original Hawaii Five-O (1968-80).

In Chapter One (“Call Me Marvin”), actor Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie) chats with agent Marvin Schwarz.

“Stewart Granger was the single biggest prick I ever worked with,” Dalton says. “And I’ve worked with Jack Lord!”

What brought this on? Lord (1920-98) had a reputation for (depending on your perspective) being a perfectionist or….more than that.

A 1983 Starlog interview with Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum revealed that Lord was wanted back to reprise the Leiter role for Goldfinger. Except, Lord wanted a big raise and better billing. Cec Linder got the job instead.

Also, there was this passage from a 1971 TV Guide article (text is available on Mike Quigley’s Hawaii Five-O page) that had quotes from Ben Wood, entertainment editor for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

“My phone rang. It was the show’s press agent. He said that ‘management’ was ‘very upset’ over the piece. I had called Zulu and Kam Fong stars. They are not stars, I was told. Not even Jimmy MacArthur. They are all ‘featured players.’ There is only one star of Five-O, and that is Jack Lord. When I reported this conversation in print, a couple of CBS vice presidents (Perry Lafferty and Paul King) got into the act. ‘Management’ had said no such thing. They demanded a retraction, making it look as if I was guilty of inaccurate reporting. That was when we began to refer to ‘Jimmy MacArthur, Co-Star’.”

The original Five-O ended its run more than 40 year ago. But, occasionally, there are still references to Lord. In November 2020, the official George Lazenby Twitter feed suggested that the one-film Bond may have had an interesting experience.

Also in Chapter One, Rick Dalton also compliments director Paul Wendkos to Schwarz. Wendkos’ many credits include the 1968 Hawaii Five-O TV movie pilot.

Matthew Vaughn heads to the spy well — again

Teaser poster for Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Director Matthew Vaughn has had spies on his mind since at least 2004. And he’s going to that well once more with a new project titled Argylle.

Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter about Vaughn’s newest project:

Based on the soon to be launched spy novel Argylle, from author Ellie Conway, the film — being produced by Vaughn’s Marv banner — follows the world’s greatest spy Argylle as he is caught up in a globe-trotting adventure. It’s expected to be the first of at least three films in the franchise and is set in America, London and multiple locations across the world.

The large cast is to include Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell, Dallas Bryce Howard, Bryan Cranston, Samuel L. Jackson and others.

Vaughn’s interest in spy entertainment goes back more than 15 years. In 2004, Vaughn was reported to be in talks to direct a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That didn’t happen and an U.N.C.L.E. movie didn’t come out until 2015, with Henry Cavill in the cast.

Vaughn, in the meantime, directed 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which included Michael Fassbender engaging in some James Bond-style tropes as the future Magneto.

But the director’s big spy genre activity has been the Kingsman series — Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kingsman: The Golden Circle and a prequel, The King’s Man. The latter has been on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cast members of Kingsman: The Secret Service said in 2014 the movie had elements of early Bond films, U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers.

Concerning Vaughn’s new project, The Hollywood Reporter quotes Vaughn as saying, “This is going to reinvent the spy genre.”

That’s quite a boast, particularly the rummaging around Vaughn already has done in the spy genre. We’ll see.

Richard Donner dies at 91

Richard Donner, left, making a cameo in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Richard Donner, a director who made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman, has died, Variety reported. He was 91.

Donner became an A-list movie director as a result. He directed four installments of the Lethal Weapon film series as well as The Goonies, and Conspiracy Theory.

Among the stepping stones to achieving that status was helming episodes of 1960s spy TV shows. He directed four episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Get Smart.

Donner’s U.N.C.L.E. work was all within the show’s first half-season. Two of his episodes, The Quadripartite Affair and The Giuoco Piano Affair, helped establish the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum.

The Quadripartite Affair was the third episode broadcast and the first with a significant amount of air time for the Kuryakin character. That and The Giuoco Piano Affair were filmed back-to-back. But the latter episode aired four weeks later, presented as a sequel.

Donner, along with other members of the production team, had cameos in a party scene. The director’s character was listed as “Inebriate” in the end titles and was used as comedy relief.

One of Donner’s episodes for The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring, was one of the best episodes involving Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) as the arch-foe of U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

Also among Donner’s credits was a 1966 episode of The FBI with an espionage theme titled The Spy Master.

Donner also directed a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, which had no fantasy or science fiction elements. It was a spy story, essentially a match of wits between two men (Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen).

The director also helmed one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where an aircraft passenger is the only person aboard who can see a gremlin on the wing of the plane.

After Superman, Donner’s services as a film director were in demand.

Donner was Sean Connery’s first choice to direct Never Say Never Again, the 1983 non-Eon Productions James Bond film. The director, however, had misgivings about the script, according to the book Some Kind of Hero. Irvin Kirschner ended up getting the job.

Happy Independence Day 2021

Our annual post.

Jim Steranko’s cover to Strange Tales 167

Today, July 4, is Independence Day in the United States.

For this blog, there’s no better image to celebrate the holiday than this Jim Steranko cover from Strange Tales No. 167, published in January 1968. The issue was the climax to a months-long saga that Steranko wrote and drew featuring the intrepid Nick Fury and the forces of SHIELD.

For more background, CLICK HERE for a 2000 article that originally appeared on the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. Happy July Fourth to everyone.

Participants discuss 1983 U.N.C.L.E. TV movie

Participants, including director Ray Austin and actor Anthony Zerbe, talked about the 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on a June 26 Zoom call that’s up on YouTube.

The TV movie brought back Robert Vaughn and David McCallum to again play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. George Lazenby had a small part as a James Bond-like character.

Among other things, Austin references how a scene where Zerbe’s villain escapes was filmed at a real prison. Zerbe grabbed onto a helicopter, which the actor says was for real. Zerbe also talked about working as a villain on the original Mission: Impossible series.

The video is below. It run for three hours.

Douglas Cramer, controversial M:I figure, dies

Dougas S. Cramere title card on a third-season episode of Mission: Impossible.

Douglas S. Cramer, a successful TV executive and producer, has died at 89, according to The Wrap. His credits include the likes of the likes of The Love Boat, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series and Vega$. But he was also a controversial figure with the original Mission: Impossible television series.

Background: Mission: Impossible originated with writer-producer Bruce Geller who had landed at Desilu. During M:I’s second season, Lucille Ball sold Desilu to the parent company of Paramount. Suddenly, Desilu became Paramount Television.

In M:I’s third season, Geller was now dealing with Douglas S. Cramer, who more cost-conscious that previous management.

Among many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer is seen as a villain. It was under his tenure that Martin Landau and Barbara Bain departed the show. Landau had never signed a long-term series deal and negotiated his salary a season as a time.

It was during the Cramer regime at Paramount that Landau’s bargaining power ran out. Bain, his wife at the time, went with him out the door.

The 1991 book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White included interviews with Cramer.

“Bruce had a wonderful concept of the show, put it together beautifully, but paid no attention to budget,” Cramer told the author. “Secondly, he traditionally wrote bigger shows than we could afford to do….Bruce was a madman about scripts and there would be layer after layer of writers working on them.”

There were other Mission: Impossible conflicts. Bruce Geller, as executive producer, clashed with writer-producers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter during the third season. The Woodfield-Balter team, who had authored many of the best episodes, left.

Still, the big conflict was the one with Geller and Cramer. The latter described his perspective to author White.

“Bruce and his refusal to pay any attention to budget had permeated all the people that worked for him,” Cramer said. In the book, Cramer referred to Geller as a “mad dictator.”

For many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer was in the wrong and Geller was proven correct in the end. M:I ran seven seasons, the longest run of the 1960s spy craze and spawned a successful series of Tom Cruise movies.

Regardless, Cramer’s story is a reminder that making a television series it never easy. It’s always a balance of art and commerce.

Robert Hogan, character actor, dies

Robert Hogan

Robert Hogan, a character actor whose career extended decades, has died at 87. While never a star, he kept busy as an actor.

Hogan was a friend of Albert S. Ruddy, a co-creator of Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71). The lead character of Col. Robert Hogan (Bob Crane) was named after Robert Hogan. The real-life Hogan appeared in an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.

Robert Hogan also was a member of the “QM Players” of actors frequently cast in shows produced by Quinn Martin. He appeared on such QM series as The FBI, Barnaby Jones, The Manhunter, Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco, 12 O’Clock High and The Fugitive.

The actor appeared in many shows beyond that. Hogan’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 150 acting credits.

In 2019’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Hogan got a shoutout of sorts. The movie included a sequence based on an episode of The FBI. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is watching himself on The FBI (it was Burt Reynolds in the original). As Dalton watches, he comments, “That’s Bobby Hogan, a good guy.”

How the 1970s were tough on TV spies

Robert Conrad in a publicity still for A Man Called Sloane

After a boom for spy shows in the 1960s, things dried up in the 1970s. Nevertheless, there were various attempts to return to the espionage genre.

The Spy Command Feature Story Index, the blog’s sister site, has a new story, 1970s: Tough times for spy TV. It examines a combination of unmade projects, unsold pilots and short-lived series. It’s based on some recent posts in the blog.

Among the examples: An unmade TV movie for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and unsold pilots devised by the likes of Sam Rolfe (U.N.C.L.E.) and Brian Clemens (The Avengers).