Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.

Bruce Geller: M:I’s renaissance man

Bruce Geller “cameo” as an IMF operative not selected for a mission by Briggs (Steven Hill).

A sixth Mission: Impossible film is in production. There’s plenty of publicity concerning star-producer Tom Cruise, actor Henry Cavill (who has joined the cast of this installment) and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.

What you won’t find much is mention without whom none of it would be impossible, M:I creator Bruce Geller.

Geller died almost four decades ago in a crash of a twin-engine aircraft. It was a sudden end for someone who had brought two popular series to the air (M:I and Mannix) that ran a combined 15 years on CBS. He was a renaissance man capable of writing, producing, directing and song writing.

Geller, according to The New York Times account of his death, graduated from Yale in 1952, majoring in psychology, sociology and economics. His father, Abraham Geller, was a judge. However, Geller didn’t pursue a law career. (He did end up portraying his father in a 1975 TV movie, Fear on Trial.)

Instead, Geller became a writer of various television series, including Westerns such as Have Gun-Will Travel, The Westerner and The Rifleman. Along the way, he also wrote the lyrics and book for some plays.

By the mid-1960s, Geller was also a producer at Desilu. His brainchild was M:I, whose pilot involved the theft of atomic bombs from a Caribbean dictator unfriendly to the United States.

The pilot was budget at $440,346 with a 13-day shooting schedule, according to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. It came in at $575,744, with 19 days of filming. While series episodes would be more modestly budgeted, it was a preview that M:I was not going to be an easy show to make.

CBS picked up M:I for the 1966-67 season. A year later, the network did the same for Mannix, featuring Mike Connors as a private investigator.

Geller didn’t create the character. Richard Levinson and William Link pitched the concept of a rugged, no-nonsense Joe Mannix coping with the corporate culture of investigative company Intertect.

Geller threw out a Levinson-Link story and wrote his own pilot script. Levinson and Link would be credited as creating the series, with Geller getting a “developed by” credit.

Mannix would be the last Desilu series. During its first season. Lucille Ball sold the company and it would become part of Paramount.

Eventually, that meant trouble for Geller. Paramount wanted to control costs and it eventually barred Geller from the studio lot. He’d continue to be credited as executive producer of both M:I and Mannix but without real input.

The producer moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he made a police drama, Bronk, that only lasted one season on CBS (1975-76). Geller also produced and directed a movie with James Coburn about pickpockets, 1973’s Harry In Your Pocket.

Today, Geller is almost a footnote when it comes to the M:I film series, which began in 1996. He does get a credit (“Based on the Television Series Created by Bruce Geller”). But the films are more of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, including spectacular stunts Cruise does himself.

There’s no way to know what Geller’s reaction would be. And, because he was only 47 when he died, there’s no way to know what Geller may have accomplished had it not been for the 1978 plane crash.

Regardless, Geller crammed a lot of living into his 47 years. At the end of the video below, you can see him collect his Emmy for the Mission: Impossible pilot script.

Happy 100th birthday, Richard Shores

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

Today, May 9, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Richard Shores.

Shores isn’t well known among the general public. He was a busy composer for television shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (he was the primary composer for that show’s final season), The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Hawaii Five-O, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke  and Perry Mason, among others.

Journalist and movie-television music expert Jon Burlingame described Shores’ work in a 2004 interview after producing an U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack.

“I have become a huge Richard Shores fan as a direct result of this project,” Burlingame said, referring to the U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack. “As for U.N.C.L.E., he was the right man at the right time. He had the right sensibility for fourth-season shows (serious but sometimes jazzy).”

With spy and spy-related shows of the 1960s, Shores had an impact. Besides U.N.C.L.E., he scored 23 episodes of Five-O, from 1969 to 1974, 14 episodes of The Wild Wild West and one episode of It Takes a Thief.

Often, his scores were somber and dramatic. However, he was not a one-trick pony.

He scored an offbeat 1966 episode of Gunsmoke titled Sweet Billy, Singer of Songs. It was a mostly comedic outing of the normally serious show, involving a number of relatives of Festus (Ken Curtis) descending upon Dodge City.

Richard Shores title card for an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Richard Shores title card for an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Shores’ music was appropriately light and unlike the composer’s usual fare.

With The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (1966-67), Shores’ music was better than episodes he scored such as The Prisoner of Zalamar Affair and The Montori Device Affair.

For the fourth season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68), Shores’ music meshed with the more serious direction that producer Anthony Spinner decided to take the series.

The first episode of the season, The Summit-Five Affair, was drastically different than the show’s campy third season offerings. Gerald Fried, who scored more U.N.C.L.E. episodes than any other episodes, apparently was influenced. His single fourth-season offering in The Test Tube Killer Affair, sounds similar to Shores’ style.

Daliah Lavi, ’60s spy femme fatale, dies

Daliah Lavi, right, chats with Dean Martin during filming of TheSilencers

Daliah Lavi, who co-starred in the 1967 Casino Royale spoof as well as The Silencers, has died at 74, according to an obituary posted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Lavi also appeared in Some Girls Do and The Spy With the Cold Nose.

In 1966’s The Silencers, Lavi played Tina, a character actually in the first Matt Helm novel, Death of a Citizen.

While the movie was done as a spoof, the basic dynamic was retained from the serious original story. Helm thinks Tina is on his side when she’s really working for the other.

The ’66 movie, starring Dean Martin, took the basic plots of two serious Donald Hamilton novels and went in an outlandish direction.

Lavi’s career extended from the 1950s into the late 1990s. She was born in Palestine. The former actress died May 3 in Asheville, North Carolina, according to an obit published by the Asheville Citizen-Times.

That obit says her “funeral and interment will take place in her native Israel.”

Our modest proposal for Harrison Ford’s next movie

Barnaby Jones main title

Harrison Ford, who turns 75 in July, has had a long run playing heroic figures, principally Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

For a time, it seemed as if Ford was taking a back seat to other actors. For example, in 2011’s Cowboys and Aliens, he was clearly a supporting player to star Daniel Craig.

Then, in 2015, Ford was a big star again with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where he got top billing playing Han Solo once more. However, Han was killed by his son who had given into the Dark Side of The Force.

Meanwhile, there’s supposed to be a fifth Indiana Jones movie but nothing scheduled for at least a couple of years. Do we want Indy pushing 80? Or is it time to retire Indy?

Which gets us to a more practical idea: How about Ford starring in a movie version of the 1973-80 television series Barnaby Jones?

Think about it for a minute. Ford already is older than Buddy Ebsen was when he filmed the Barnaby Jones pilot. (The veteran actor was 64 when the show’s first episode aired on Jan. 28, 1973.)

Barnaby Jones out-thought his opponents, assisted by his daughter-in-law Betty (Lee Meriwether) and, in later seasons, by a much-younger cousin, J.R. Jones (Mark Shera).

It would be an opportunity for Ford to use a different set of acting skills compared with Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Plus, audiences clearly still like Ford. As a result, a Barnaby Jones movie would still get attention in the 21st century.

Just something to think about.

Wild Wild West TV movies get home video release

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

TV movie revivals of The Wild Wild West from 1979 and 1980 are getting a separate home video release, according to the TV Shows on DVD website.

The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West were released in 2008 as part of a complete series release of the original 1965-69 series.

However, according to TV Shows on DVD, the two TV movies are being released as a double feature in June by CBS/Paramount.

Both TV movies included the original stars, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Both were directed by Burt Kennedy and produced by Robert L. Jacks, with Jay Bernstein as executive producer.

The Wild Wild West Revisited was written by William Bowers. In its original broadcast, More Wild Wild West had Bowers sharing the writing credit with another scribe, Tony Kayden. But at least some subsequent TV releases had Bowers getting sole writing credit.

Both TV movies had a much lighter tone than the original show. Still, Conrad and Martin were in fine form, the best reason to watch both.

The Wild Wild West Revisited is set in 1885, with the agents summoned from retirement to combat Miguelito Loveless Jr. (Paul Williams), who has mastered cloning and the construction of atomic bombs.

More Wild Wild West is set in 1890, when our heroes are again taken from retirement to combat a Albert Paradine II (Jonathan Winters), who has a pair of “Hulks” to do his bidding. (CBS was airing The Incredible Hulk TV show at the time.)

Also making an appearance is Victor Buono, as a character modeled after Henry Kissinger. Buono was the villain in the original show’s pilot and played Count Manzeppi in two second-season episodes.

Neither TV movie is the best The Wild Wild West has to offer but if you have all four seasons of the original series, it’s worth completing your collection.

For more information: WILD, WILD WEST?

U.N.C.L.E. sequel being written, /Film says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

Armie Hammer is quoted by the /Film website as saying a sequel for the 2015 Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is being written despite the film’s tepid box office.

According to the website, Hammer said he contacted Lionel Wigram, the co-producer and co-scripter of the 2015 movie.

“I was like, ‘Dude, what’s the deal? I get asked about this shit all the time. Can you just write a sequel?’” Hammer is quote as saying.

“He was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, fuck it, I’ll do it. Sure, I’ll write a sequel.’ I was like, ‘If you write one, I’m sure we can get one made,’ so who knows? Today is the first day I’ve actually told anyone that story.”

Two caveats: 1) Studios and production offices are littered with scripts that were never made into films. 2) Wigram, in this telling, doesn’t exactly sound like it’s his top priority.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s global box office was less than $110 million. During its opening weekend in the U.S., it came in No. 3, behind Straigh Outta Compton and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. The latter debuted two weeks earlier than U.N.C.L.E.

Wigram’s collaborator in writing the film was director Guy Ritchie. The duo’s latest project is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which has had three separate release dates but is currently scheduled to come out May 12. That movie also is being scored by Daniel Pemberton, who did the music for the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The 2015 project was an “origin” story and dispensed with familiar U.N.C.L.E. tropes such as a secret headquarters. It had Hammer as Illya Kuryakin and Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo. Cavill currently is working on Mission: Impossible 6.

UPDATE (April 17): The Collider website also chatted with Armie Hammer. That story had slightly different quotes from the actor. “I actually recently talked to Lionel Wigram… and I was like, ‘Dude if you don’t start writing this script I’m gonna show up at your house and cut all of the tires of all of your cars, I swear to God.’”

So, in this telling, Wigram replied (according to Hammer), “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna do it, I’ll probably start writing it.”