Peter Mark Richman, who frequently played villains, dies

Peter Mark Richman in an episode of The FBI

Peter Mark Richman, a character actor who had a long career and often played villains, has died at 93, Variety reported.

He was often tapped by QM Productions for its various shows and was part of the “QM Players” of actors frequently employed by producer Quinn Martin.

Richman’s QM credits included The FBI (appearing as a guest star in eight of nine seasons), The Invaders, The Fugitive, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, and The Streets of San Francisco. The actor was part of a big cast for the QM TV movie House on Greenapple Road, which led to the Dan August series.

Richman also was called upon by casting directors for 1960s spy shows, including The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (the show’s two-part series finale), It Takes a Thief, and Mission: Impossible.

He also was the lead in Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966), which mixed spy fi with sci fi. The cast also included Aliza Gur, who earlier appeared in From Russia With Love as one of the two gypsy fighting women.

The production was poked fun at on Mystery Science 3000, where a host and two puppets (which were supposed to be robots) provided running commentary.

Richman’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 150 credits from 1953 to 2016.

UPDATE: The Silver Age Television account on Twitter embedded a clip where Richman appears. It’s pretty typical of the characters that Richman played.

Happy New Year 2021 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2021 for readers of The Spy Command. There’s actually going to be a James Bond film in the new year, so there will be plenty to discuss.

Of course, regarding that latter point, we said that a year ago and it didn’t work out. Hopefully, it will go better this time around.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve (even in a hunkered down, pandemic way).

Happy New Year, everyone.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Tom Cruise exposes an entertainment fault line

Tom Cruise, who probably not smiling when he yelled at the MI:7 crew

This week, the U.K. tabloid The Sun came out with a story about how Mission: Impossible 7 star-producer Tom Cruise yelled at crew members concerning how they didn’t take proper precautions for COVID-19.

Cruise’s language (including “motherfuckers”) got most of the attention. But Cruise’s other comments probably were more far-reaching.

Hollywood, Cruise said, is “making movies right now because of us,” the actor said. “I’m on the phone with every fucking studio at night, insurance companies, producers, and they’re looking at us and using us to make their movies.”

Mission: Impossible 7, being made back-to-back with Mission: Impossible 8, is one of the biggest movie projects being filmed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. M:I 7 already has had COVID delays.

Millions of dollars are stake. Also, the movie industry is in flux because of streaming services. Warner Bros., now owned by AT&T, is going all in on streaming. Warner Bros. entire 2021 film slate will debut in the U.S. on HBO Max while also showing on theaters.

As a result, M:I 7 has even more riding on its shoulders.

“Do you understand the responsibility that you have?” Cruise told crew members, according to a recording of Cruise obtained by The Sun. “Because I will deal with your reason. And if you can’t be reasonable and I can’t deal with your logic, you’re fired.”

M:I 7 isn’t the only major movie project affected by COVID-19. The Batman incurred delays after its star, Robert Pattinson, came down with the virus.

Still, Cruise as a star-producer, has gravitas on the subject. He’s the closest thing to an old-time movie star in the 21st century. At 58, his days as a leading man may be running out. His M:I film series has been underway since 1996.

What’s more, COVID-19 continues to ravage many regions around the globe. Many people don’t believe the virus is real, or isn’t that serious. It’s probably not what Cruise intended. But his sharply worded comments go beyond the entertainment world.

UPDATE (Dec. 17): The Sun is out with another story saying that five crew members quit Mission: Impossible 7 after Cruise yelled at the crew about the need to meet COVID-19 safety procedures.

John le Carre, an appreciation

David Cornwell, aka John le Carre

The 1960s spy craze, started by James Bond films, unleashed many escapist spies. But one of the most enduring espionage universe not escapist. It was the one penned by David Cornwell, writing under the name John le Carre.

Le Carre novels involved flawed humans dealing with grays, rather than black and white.

Cornwell wrote his novels independently of James Bond. Cornwell, like Ian Fleming, had worked in intelligence. Cornwell/le Carre had something to say in a more grounded espionage setting.

Le Carre would have written novels regardless of the spy craze. But the escapist thrust of much of the 1960s spy craze helped create a market for something else. James Bond helped create a market for George Smiley, le Carre’s best remembered (but from his only) protagonist.

Many le Carre novels were set during the Cold War. In 1989, as the cold war was winding down, the author was undaunted that the world was changing.

“It gives me wonderful breaks, a wonderful new deck of cards,” le Carre said in an interview with PBS. “I mean, the spy story was not invented by the cold war, it’ll continue after the cold war.”

Indeed, in the following years, le Carre wrote novels including The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama and A Most Wanted Man. Le Carre never lacked for anything to say.

“I think this is a time when we’re going to have to turn around our thinking to a great extent,” le Carre said in the 1989 interview.

“There does come a point here too, as Smiley, himself, is saying, the when is the question about when could it happen that institutional guidance, patriotism, if you will, in this case, institutional commitment, actually outlives its purpose and imposes on me and upon my conscience individual strains which I cannot support.”

Le Carre lives on through numerous adaptations of his work, both as feature films and as television miniseries.

Amusingly, two writers who adapted Fleming to the screen also worked on le Carre projects: Paul Dehn (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold) and John Hopkins (Smiley’s People). The latter also had le Carre working on the adaptation.

Today, le Carre fans are in mourning after the author’s death this past weekend. That’s understandable. Reading le Carre works usually leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

John le Carre dies at 89

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

John le Carre, a prolific author of spy novels with characters coping with ambiguously moral situations, has died at 89, The Guardian reported, citing a family statement.

Le Carre, real name David Cornwell, reached fame in 1963 with the novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Other popular novels followed, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People, The Russia House and The Night Manager.

Cornwell had worked in intelligence, which is why he adopted the le Carre pen name. In a 1989 interview with PBS, he said espionage involved doing “dishonorable things for honorable purposes.”

The author discussed the many types of spies.

“The field man is the figure who interests me because I feel he’s a metaphor for other walks of life,” Cornwell told PBS. “He’s a person I can explore, some kind of alienated character perhaps who rather like a writer is dependent on the society he’s deceiving, or penetrating, and who rather like a writer makes his perceptions secretly and reports them in due course to the consumer.”

Le Carre works were made into films and television miniseries. By 2016, a group called Intelligence Squared, held a debate which spy author — le Carre or Ian Fleming — was better.

David Farr, who adapted The Night Manager for the BBC, advocated for le Carre. Anthony Horwitz, a popular novelist whose works include two James Bond continuation novels, spoke on Fleming’s behalf.

 Below is a video from 1964 as le Carre’s career was taking off. He appeared on the U.S. television show To Tell The Truth. By this point, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was going to be made into a movie and le Carre was a hot property. The le Carre segment begins at the 8:22 mark.

Pluto TV starts a Mission: Impossible channel

Pluto TV, a free streaming service (with commercials) started a Mission: Impossible channel today. At 1 p.m. Eastern time, the channel streamed the pilot for the 1966-73 series.

The pilot was written by series creator Bruce Geller. His script won an Emmy. Team leader Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) comes up with a plot to steal two nuclear warheads from a Caribbean nation unfriendly to the United States.

At first glance, it was hard to tell how many M:I episodes Pluto TV will televise.

Regardless, it’s another chance for spy fans to sample to the original show that begat the Tom Cruise film series that has been in production (on and off) since 1996.

UPDATE: Pluto TV appears to be showing the episodes in broadcast order. The second episode was “Memory,” same as the first-season broadcast order.

Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) initially goes in the discard pile when Briggs selects his team. The guest agent is Baresh, played by Albert Paulsen, who normally played villains (and would so in later M:I episodes). But Rollin provides an assist later in the story.

Also, Bruce Geller’s photo (wearing sinister looking sunglasses) also goes in the discard pile.

Herbert Solow, who helped revive Desilu in ’60s, dies

Herbert F. Solow title card from a second-season Mission: Impossible episode

Herbert F. Solow, an executive who helped revive Desilu in the mid-1960s, died this week at 89, Variety said.

Desilu, one a major producer of TV shows, was primarily leasing studio space by the middle part of the 1960s. Solow was brought in to revive production.

The executive sold Star Trek to NBC and Mission: Impossible to CBS for the 1966-67 season.

“This was a particularly sweet time for me,” Solow said in the 1996 book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, co-authored with Robert H. Justman. Justman worked as associate producer on both pilots and was on the crew for most of Star Trek’s original three-year run.

“Star Trek and Mission were the first projects I’d put into development after I joined Desilu,” Solow said in the book.

Both would be complicated shows to make, especially for a studio that had been relatively inactive. “I’d fought the budget battles and the casting problems, the network egos and the studio’s old-fashioned polices,” he wrote.

A year later, Solow sold another series, Mannix, a private eye drama, to CBS for the 1967-68 season. That would be the final Desilu series. Gulf + Western, then Paramount’s parent company, purchased Desilu from Lucille Ball. Desilu became Paramount Television.

Solow stayed for a time but departed. Paramount management put on more pressure to cut costs.

“It wasn’t the same, so I asked out of my contract,” Solow told Patrick J. White, author of The Mission: Impossible Dossier. Solow ended up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as an executive.

UPDATE: Here is a YouTube video of Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman reading from their 1996 book. h/t @Stingray_travel for the heads up.

A comic book writer’s racy spy novels

Gardner F. Fox (1911-1986)

Gardner F. Fox (1911-1986 may not be that well-remembered today. But in his time, he created many comic book characters, including the original Flash, Hawkman, the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America.

He also wrote a number of Batman stories and contributed to that character’s mythos.

Fox also penned a 1961 story where the original Flash met the second Flash, who was introduced in 1956.

However, during the period Fox worked, comic books didn’t pay that well. So the prolific Fox did other writing, including racy spy novels.

There is now an official website about his paperback novels. It features complete stories.

Among those novels, there was a series featuring the Lady From L.U.S.T. (written under the pen name of, ahem, Rod Gray) and a series featuring Cherry Delight (written under the pen name of Glen Chase).

Fox also wrote novels featuring (as the website calls them) Tough Guys.

You can read these stories for free on the official Gardner F. Fox website. Here’s an example of a promo on Twitter:

About that 1997 unsold Five-O pilot

The original Hawaii Five-O ran for 12 years and a reboot ended this year after a 10-year run. In between is a mysterious 1997 unsold and never televised pilot for a revival.

Bits and pieces have shown up on YouTube (see embedded video above). But I finally had a chance to watch it. The pilot supposedly is awful and that’s why it has never had an official release.

I’m not sure about that. But it’s more like another 1980s/1990s cop-detective show that happens to be called Hawaii Five-O.

Background: CBS hired Stephen J. Cannell to write the pilot. Early in his career, he worked as a writer-producer at Universal, where his credits included co-creating and being a producer of The Rockford Files.

Cannell later started his own production company. The logo for that company showed Cannell furiously typing, then casually tossing a script page into the air.

Cannell was involved in producing such series as The Greatest American Hero, Riptide, Tenspeed and Brownshoe, Wiseguy, The A-Team and The Commish.

The writer-producer had no experience working on the original Five-O but presumably somebody was impressed with Cannell’s track record and he got the job. The title page for his Five-O script indicates he did the final scripting while it was co-plotted with Kim LeMasters.

Cannell originally wrote that Steve McGarrett was now governor while Dan Williams, aka Danno, was head of Five-O. In that original script, Gov. McGarrett is shot and Danno killed (!) by an assailant in a car that shows up in the middle of a public event. Cannell’s script also misspells McGarrett’s name as McGarret.

Story: In the filmed version, Danno (James MacArthur) is governor. It is stated he had succeeded McGarrett as head of Five-O prior to being elected governor. Danno’s successor at Five-O, Alex Bowland, is present and he is killed in the attack.

The public event was held to honor FBI agent Nick Wong (Russell Wong), who led efforts to rescue Danno’s daughter, who had been kidnapped. The bureau gave Wong a leave of absence for him to work with local law-enforcement officials.

Following the attack, Wong and Jimmy Xavier Berk (Gary Busey), who had been Bowland’s second in command, are appointed temporary co-chiefs of Five-O.

Jimmy getting the co-chief job is partly because former Five-O members Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong), Kono (Zulu) and Truck (Moe Keale) led lobbying efforts on behalf of Jimmy. It turns out they still have friends in Hawaiian state government.

Cannell now sets up an “Odd Couple” dynamic.

Wong is by-the-book, almost always wears a tie and gives orders ending in “and I want that 10 minutes ago!”

Jimmy, meanwhile, is a typical Cannell protagonist. He favors Hawaiian shirts follows his hunches, and isn’t afraid to break the rules.

Naturally, this duo will quarrel before, by show’s end, developing mutual respect.

Five-O’s lead suspect is Napoleon DeCastro, Hawaii’s current reigning crime boss. Five-O receives an anonymous recording fingering DeCastro and a subsequent search at the criminal’s home finds the murder weapon.

Of course, Jimmy’s gut tells him this is all too easy. (As an aside, it’s always too easy when the case appears to be solved in Act II.)

Without telling Wong, Jimmy has DeCastro freed from jail while Chin, Kono, Truck, Duke (Herman Wedemeyer) and retired lab man (!) Che Fong (Harry Endo) perform surveillance in old taxis.

Wong isn’t happy when he finds all this out. But the rigid lawman bends because Jimmy, despite being unorthodox, is capable and really does know what he’s doing.

Eventually, it turns out that a former KGB colonel is behind all this. He wants to frame DeCastro and take over Hawaiian crime himself. DeCastro had also just hired a woman tutor for his son. She, of course, is another former KGB operative who can mimic a flat, Midwestern accent.

The climax involves a big shootout. There is even a patented A-Team style car flip. The ex-KGB colonel and his men are taken into custody.

In the epilogue, Gov. Danno has recovered but will be on the mend for a while. The lieutenant governor appoints Wong the new permanent chief of Five-O. But Wong tells Jimmy privately they’ll continue as unofficial co-chiefs.

Problems: The biggest problem is that Chin Ho had been killed off at the end of the original show’s 10th season.

My guess is the other original Five-O cast members were fully aware of this. James MacArthur and Herman Wedemeyer were in that episode and Chin’s death was the major plot point. But, I suspect, there was no way they’d ruin a payday for Kam Fong.

Less jarring is when Che Fong says he’s “pulled the pin in ’68.” (“Geez, that’s almost 30 years ago,” Wong grumbles.) That sounds as if Che is saying that’s when he retired. Che also states this right after Duke says he retired six years earlier.

But 1968 was the year the original show began. Different actors played the part until Harry Endo took over. Che Fong made his last appearance in 1977.

Review: This is essentially a Stephen J. Cannell show that happens to be called Hawaii Five-O. You could take Jimmy Xavier Berk and put him in any other Cannell series and it’d work just as well.

Reinforcing that is the score. The version I saw had no credits but it sounds like Mike Post, who worked on a number of Cannell shows. But whoever worked on the music, there is a decent version of the Hawaii Five-O theme by Morton Stevens.

Cannell could produce snappy dialogue and does so here in spots.

It was nice to see the old Five-O gang get a final curtain call. If you view this as a Stephen J. Cannell program with Five-O cameos, it’s easier to watch.