Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

Introducing The Spy Command’s (sort of) podcast

Griffey the Griffin

In marketing, it’s called “extending the brand.” The Spy Command is adding a (sort of) podcast.

It consists of audio versions of Spy Command posts. No major investment of time is needed. All but one entry so far last less than four minutes.

This began as an experiment. The blog is hosted on WordPress and it offers an option to turn a post into a podcast.

I’ve held off until now. But I decided to give it a try, at least in baby steps. The first four used an auto-recorded. The problem with that is the auto voice “reads” photo captions as if they were regular text.

So I’ve started doing the recordings myself. That also enables me to place the proper emphasis on sentences.

You can see the podcast’s HOME PAGE ON SPOTIFY. Undoubtedly, there will be more changes ahead.

Al Harrington, Five-O stalwart, dies at 85

Al Harrington in a 1996 special on Hawaii television

Al Harrington, who was a regular cast member on the original Hawaii Five-O series, died Sept 21 after suffering a stroke, according to Legacy.com.

Harrington played detective Ben Kokua during the fifth through seventh seasons. Harrington was a local entertainer who was hired by Leonard Freeman, the creator and executive producer of the series. Harrington had played criminals in earlier Five-O seasons.

According to Memories of Hawaii, a special that ran on Hawaiian television in 1996, Harrington ran afoul of star Jack Lord.

“He felt I was maybe too tall…I was too something,” Harrington said on the special. The actor said Freeman was committed to his choice.

However, Freeman died in 1974. “Then after Leonard died, the writing was on the wall, that I wasn’t going to be there much longer,” Harrington said.

The actor continued as an entertainer. He was cast in a recurring part in the 2010 Hawaii Five-0 (the O became a 0).

Harrington was born in December 1935 in American Samoa. He played running back for Stanford University, where he graduated in 1958. Harrington also performed Polynesian dancing on the side.

Harrington appeared in an episode of To Tell the Truth. He and two impostors fooled the four-person panel. Harrington also performed a sword dance.

Happy 88th birthday, David McCallum

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

Today, Sept. 19, is David McCallum’s 88th birthday.

He’s almost the last man standing from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn is gone. So is Norman Felton, the producer who met with Ian Fleming in 1962. So is Sam Rolfe, who took the Felton-Fleming ideas and put them into a script. Many of the actors are gone, including Leo G. Carroll.

Earlier this year, Richard Donner, who directed the first U.N.C.L.E. episodes to prominently feature McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin character, also passed away.

There’s not a whole lot that needs saying. McCallum had a great career. He still has many fans who admire him. Happy birthday. We’ll leave it at that.

M:I 7 gets pushed back further into 2022

Tom Cruise

Mission: Impossible 7 is being moved further back into 2022 as Paramount opted to delay two Tom Cruise movies.

The studio pushed back Tom Gun: Maverick to Memorial Day weekend 2022, with M:I 7 now slated for Sept. 30 of next year. M:I 7 previously had the Memorial Day date.

The seventh M:I adventure has had its share of delays stemming from COVID-19. The original plan was to have M:I 7 and 8 film back-to-back and then be released in 2021 and 2022. But that idea was abandoned early this year.

Both M:I 7 and 8 are being directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who helped Cruise’s two previous Mission: Impossible movies.

The M:I series in the past decade has drawn attention for its stunts, which have star-producer Cruise as an active participant. Also, M:I had been coming out more frequently (three films from 2011 through 2018) than James Bond movies (two entries in the 2010s) before the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 had an impact on both. No Time to Die has been delayed three times because of the coronavirus. But those all took place after principal photography was completed. M:I 7 has had delays in the midst of filming. This week, it was announced No Time to Die will proceed with a Sept. 30 release in the U.K. (and other countries) with an Oct. 8 U.S. release.

Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data, made observations on social media.

The move also means M:I 7 won’t be out until the seemingly ageless Cruise turns 60 on July 3, 2022.

A look at some Ed Asner non-Lou Grant roles

Edward Asner’s title card for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Double-O-Nothing Affair

Actor Edward Asner has died at age 91. He, understandably, is receiving acclaim for a long career including playing Lou Grant on two series (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a comedy, and Lou Grant, a drama).

What follows are some of his acting credits of interest to the blog:

The Double-O-Nothing Affair, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.: Asner played a Thrush chieftain whose headquarters is based at a used-car dealership. It’s an outlandish concept, but Dean Hargrove’s script makes it work. The story also makes April Dancer (Stefanie Powers) and Mark Slate (Noel Harrison) look like smart, competent agents. That wasn’t always the case with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. spinoff. Asner, as usual, makes a great villain.

The Night of the Amnesiac, The Wild Wild West: Secret Service agent James West (Robert Conrad) loses his memory just as Asner’s villain gets his way out of prison. The villain’s gang has been taken over by his brother. The brothers hate each other but Asner’s character gets the advantage. Asner complains how killing family members makes him depressed.

Hawaii Five-O/Five-0 (original and reboot): Asner played villain August March in both versions of the series. He was a highlight in both.

The FBI: Asner played a kidnapper in two episodes. In The Tormentors (season one), Asner is more stable of the kidnappers who have seized a young man (Kurt Russell) who is the son of an aging rich man (Lew Ayres). Asner’s character is done in by his sickly and disturbed partner (Wayne Rogers). In The Dynasty (third season), Asner and his nephew (Martin Sheen) have kidnapped a man who runs a family business. Asner’s character is nasty and not well educated. His idea of reading is looking at Superboy comic books. In The Attorney (fourth season), Asner plays a sympathetic character, a working-class stiff whose daughter (Dawn Wells) is involved with a Cosa Nostra crime boss.

House on Greenapple Road: This TV movie was made by Quinn Martin, the producer of The FBI. Asner was part of a stellar cast (Janet Leigh, Christopher George Peter Mark Richman, Lynda Day George, Keenan Wynn, Walter Pidgeon, Joanne Linville and others) about a murder investigation with many twists. Asner plays a county sheriff, hungry for publicity and an overall louse. The TV movie was made in 1968 but not shown until 1970. It led to QM’s Dan August series.

An MGM art department veteran goes before the camera

Veteran set decorator Henry Grace as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in The Longest Day

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

If you watch movies and TV shows either made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or filmed at the studio from the late 1950s through the 1960s, one name pops up frequently.

That would be set decorator Henry Grace (1907-1983). Set decorators take a set and add touches to customize them to a scene in a story.

Grace would receive more than 200 credits in films and TV shows. He received 13 Oscar nominations and won once, for Gigi (1958). His other film credits include North by Northwest, the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, How the West was Won, The Americanization of Emily and A Patch of Blue. Grace also received an Emmy nomination for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

During this era, many TV shows leased stages at MGM. As a result, Grace received credits on series such as The Twilight Zone, Combat! and My Favorite Martian.

What makes Grace different from other Hollywood art department veterans was he got a chance to go before the camera.

Specifically, Grace was judged to resemble Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander in World War II, who was responsible for the D-Day invasion. As a result, he got the role of Ike in 1962’s The Longest Day. It was a small, but important, role in a big, sprawling film.

On one occasion, one of the behind-the-camera guys got a moment in the sun.

Henry Grace, along with others (including title designer Saul Bass) gets a title card in North by Northwest

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.