Bond questions: The Wrap edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions granted an interview to the entertainment news website The Wrap. The half-siblings proclaimed they’re not interested in Bond film spinoffs. However, some questions appear not to have been asked.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

You say you’re not interested in spinoffs. But what about the James Bond Jr. cartoon show or that attempted Jinx spinoff movie?

Apparently, that was a different era. James Bond Jr. was made during Eon’s 1989-1995 hiatus from making James Bond films. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually pulled the plug on the Jinx movie.

What about all those non-Bond movies you’ve worked on?

You mean Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) ? Which had a global box office of $4 million? Or Nancy, which had a worldwide box office of $92,000. Or, The Rhythm Section with a global box office just shy of $6 million.

Yes, that’s what I mean.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy were small, dramatic films. The Rhythm Section was an espionage-themed film that sought a larger audience and, for whatever reason, didn’t achieve it. It happens that way sometimes.

What is the bottom line?

Eon’s record outside of the Bond film series is rather mixed. Compared to Nancy, Call Me Bwana (1963), the Bob Hope comedy Eon made between Dr. No and From Russia With Love, is a blockbuster. (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on an Ian Fleming’s children story and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, was not made under the Eon banner.)

Clearly, Eon wants to do other things besides Bond films. But Bond still is its major asset. Eon’s leadership needs to evaluate its future. We’ll see how that goes.

RE-POST: Robert Towne channels 007 for U.N.C.L.E.

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Richardo Montalban and Robert Vaughn in The Dove Affair

Screenwriter Robert Towne celebrated his 87th birthday on Nov. 23. The Oscar winner also participated in the 1960s spy craze. This is adapted from a 2013 post.

1963 saw From Russia With Love, the second James Bond movie. About a year after it came out, a future Oscar winning screenwriter would channel the film for an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Towne would go on to win an Oscar for his script for 1974’s Chinatown. A decade earlier, he was among the writers to pen first-season scripts for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show that had been pitched as “James Bond for television.”

Towne perhaps took that idea a bit literally. His sole U.N.C.L.E. credit, The Dove Affair, featured an extended sequence on a train going through the Balkans, a very similar setting to From Russia With Love.

U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) faces a complicated situation. His mission is to smuggle out a medal in the shape of a dove that has tiny engraved names of agents of Thrush, the villainous organization that opposes U.N.C.L.E. Satine (Richardo Montalban) is the top intelligence agent of a Balkan nation where Thrush is trying to seize control. Satine is a genuine patriot but he’s willing to kill Solo if it furthers his country’s interests.

Much of the episode’s second half evokes the mood of From Russia With Love. The TV show, though, isn’t as compelling when it comes to a short fight scene with Solo and Satine compared to a fight between James Bond (Sean Connery) and SPECTRE killer Red Grant (Robert Shaw). Part of it stems from the limitations of 1960s television in depicting violence. Some of it probably stems from tight TV production schedules.

Overall, though, the similarities are telling. With The Dove Affair, there is the additional complication of “the innocent” character, in this case, a school teacher (June Lockhart), who’s escorting a group of U.S. high school students around Europe.

Satine, as written by Towne, has one quirk — he’s afraid of children. Solo uses the presence of the high school students to his advantage. There is also some good dialogue.

SATINE (agitated, referring to the students): They find me interesting!

SOLO: And so you are. I wouldn’t deny that for a minute.

To read a more detailed review of The Dove Affair, CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 12.

When is a character’s appearance ‘official’?

On social media this week, there was a discussion of when an actor’s appearance as a character is official or not.

For example, in the 1990s, there was a License to Thrill ride at some U.S. theme parks. Bond fan Paul Scrabo made a video about it. The video was taken at a Virginia park. I went on the same ride at a park in Ohio near Cincinnati.

In any case, part of the ride included a video where Judi Dench played M and Desmond Llewelyn played Q. How official should this be treated?

There are other examples of where the Bond cinematic universe blurred with other media.

Roger Moore played James Bond in a 1964 British television show. Likely nobody took it seriously at the time. Sean Connery was in the midst of his 1960s run as Bond in movies made by Eon Productions. It’s more of a footnote.

However, Pierce Brosnan played Bond in a 1990s Visa commercial, with Desmond Llewelyn along for the ride as Q. This ran in the middle of Brosnan’s 007 films. MI6-HQ.com uploaded a copy to YouTube.

Nor is this sort of thing restricted just to James Bond. A few other examples:

–“Illya Kuryakin” in Hullabaloo, 1965: This half-hour weekly show featured a guest host introducing various musical acts. David McCallum was in character as Illya Kuryakin and was introduced as his fictional alter ego. Leo G. Carroll picked up some spare change doing some voice-over work as U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly.

David McCallum, Patricia Crowley and Robert Vaughn in a publicity still for Please Don’t the Daisies

–“Napoleon Solo” and “Illya Kuryakin” in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, 1966: Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are listed in the end titles as their U.N.C.L.E. characters and not their actual names. McCallum as Kuryakin is at the start of the episode, Vaughn as Solo is at the end. Children of a suburban family think their dad is a spy after he meets Kuryakin. Solo sets them straight in the conclusion.

–Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966: This comedy was Doris Day’s entry in the 1960s spy craze. Robert Vaughn as Solo makes a cameo during a party scene. Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. plays.

Ad for Here’s Lucy

–Mike Connors as Joe Mannix in Here’s Lucy, 1971: Mike Connors starred in the private eye drama Mannix (1967-1975). In the middle of that run, Connors played Mannix in an episode of the situation comedy Here’s Lucy starring Lucille Ball. Is it an “official” appearance? Both series ran on CBS.

–Mike Connors as Joe Mannix in Diagnosis Murder, 1997: Diagnosis Murder featured Dick Van Dyke as a crime-solving doctor. Joe Mannix shows up in an episode that’s a sequel to a 1973 Mannix installment. Guest stars from the earlier show (Pernell Roberts, Julie Adams and Beverly Garland) reprise their roles from 24 years later. Clips from the 1973 Mannix episode are used as flashbacks. That’s as official as you can get.

–Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter in Diagnosis Murder, 1997: Diagnosis Murder worked up an episode featuring actors from 1960s spy series as guest stars. Only one, Barbara Bain, actually reprised her 1960s part, Cinnamon Carter from the original Mission: Impossible series. Robert Culp, Patrick Macnee and Robert Vaughn played new characters for the story.

Arthur Weingarten, TV writer-producer, dies

Robert Vaughn and Leo G. Carroll in a moment from The Thrush Roulette Affair, written by Arthur Weingarten

Arthur Weingarten, a writer or producer on various U.S. television series in the 1960s into the 1990s, has died at 86.

His death was noted on the In Memoriam page of the Writers Guild of America West website.

Weingarten wrote for both The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, The Green Hornet, Honey West and The Name of the Game.

He also worked on different Quinn Martin shows, including Dan August (writer), The FBI (executive story consultant in the final season) and The Manhunter (producer).

On The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Weingarten penned The Carpathian Caper Affair. That episode was typical of the show’s campy style. Carpathian Caper included a giant toaster death trap.

Yet, on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Weingarten wrote The Thrush Roulette Affair which was in line with the darker tone of that series’ final season. The episode included a brainwashed Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) trying to kill fellow agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn).

The producer of Man’s final season was Anthony Spinner. He’d hire Weingarten to work on QM’s Dan August and The FBI.

RE-POST: The blog’s obit for Paul Baack from 2017

Paul Baack (1957-2017 ) in 2013, wearing headphones to utilize his voice-activated software.

Paul Baack, co-founder of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, died four years ago today. I’m re-posting the obituary I published that day. 

Paul Baack, co-founder of the James Bond fan site Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, died today at 60.

Paul and Tom Zielinski began the site, intended as a James Bond “e-magazine,” in 1997. HMSS, according to the founders, was the equivalent of a “toy train” for them.

It was more, of course.

From 1997 until 2011, HMSS presented magazine-length articles about James Bond and related topics. Contributors included Raymond Benson, the 007 continuation novel author from 1997 to 2002.

Benson named a character after Paul in his 1999 Bond novel High Time to Kill.

Normally an obituary refers to its subject by his or her last name. But the Spy Commander, for this obit, will refer to him by his first name.

Paul, from the beginning, designed the HMSS pages. His graphics enhanced the articles. He had a way of prodding the authors to make their contributions just a little bit better. Paul would make suggestions to improve the articles.

Those suggestions came in the form of a gentle nudge, not a dictate. HMSS, after all, was a hobby — the toy train analogy — not life or death. Nevertheless, Paul’s instincts were excellent. He was right far more than he was wrong.

Paul Baack-designed promo for the fall 2011 issue of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, the e-magazine’s last issue.

Paul led a tough life. In 2003, he was paralyzed after being struck by a car. Despite that, he carried on. He utilized voice-activated software to do his HMSS work and follow his various other interests, which included doing artwork such as THIS and THIS and THIS.

This blog was, in fact, Paul’s idea. He wanted a way for HMSS to have a presence on the internet between “issues.” The Spy Commander was among the HMSS contributors.

Eventually, I took over the blog. But I was always aware he was reading. I was always glad to receive his feedback.

HMSS had a good run. It went offline in 2014.

“Bond and Holly” by Paul Baack

Paul was one of the most memorable people I ever met. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering he endured since 2003. But he endured it with warmth, and grace and humor.

James Bond fandom is richer for what Paul and Tom Zielinski started. This blog, obviously, would not exist without Paul’s encouragement.

After HMSS went offline, the blog published THIS POST about how it was now on its own. Paul posted this comment:

“‘Upward and onward’ indeed! Heartfelt thanks to you, Bill, for keeping the flame.”

Thanks to you Paul, for lighting the flame in the first place.

RE-POST: A sample of Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

This month marks the 59th anniversary of the meetings Ian Fleming had with television producer Norman Felton. Those meetings led to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series that ran from 1964 to 1968. This is a re-post of a 2015 article.

A Bond collector friend let us look over his photocopies of various Ian Fleming correspondence. Much of it included the 007 author’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

First, there were photocopies of 11 Western Union telegraph blanks where Fleming in October 1962 provided ideas to U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. The first blank began with “springboards,” ideas that could be the basis for episodes.

One just reads, “Motor racing, Nurburgring.” Fleming had a similar idea for a possible James Bond television series in the 1950s. This notion was included in this year’s 007 continuation novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horwitz, which boasts of containing original Ian Fleming content.

On the fifth telegram blank, Fleming includes this idea about Napoleon Solo: “Cooks own meals in rather coppery kitchen.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea saw the light of day in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie released in August. In an early scene in the film, Solo (Henry Cavill) is wearing a chef’s apron, having just prepared dinner for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) after getting her across the Berlin Wall.

Fleming also made some other observations about Solo and the proposed series.

Telegraph blank No. 8: “He must not be too ‘UN’” and not be “sanctimonious, self righteous. He must be HUMAN above all else –- but slightly super human.”

Telegraph blank No. 11: “In my mind, producing scripts & camera will *make* this series. The plots will be secondary.”

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sends a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wants a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.

On June 7, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a letter containing material devised by Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer commissioned to write the U.N.C.L.E. pilot.

“In the latter part of the material, which deals with the characterization of Napoleon Solo, you will discover that those elements which you set down during our New York visit have been retained,” Felton writes Fleming. “However, the concept for a base of operations consisting of a small office with more or less a couple of rooms has been changed to a more extensive setup.”

This refers to the U.N.C.L.E. organization that Rolfe has created in the months since the original Fleming-Felton meetings in New York.

“It will give us scope and variety whenever we need it, although as I have said, in many stories we may use very little of it,” Felton writes. “This is its virtue. Complex, but used sparingly.

“In my opinion almost all of our stories we will do little more than ‘touch base’ at a portion of the unusual headquarters in Manhattan, following which we will quickly move to other areas of the world.”

At the same time, Felton asks Fleming for additional input.

“I want the benefit of having your suggestions,” Felton writes Fleming. “Write them in the margin of the paper, on a telegraph blank or a paper towel and send them along. We are very excited, indeed, in terms of MR. SOLO.” (emphasis added)

However, Fleming — under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman — soon signs away his rights to U.N.CL.E. for 1 British pound.

On July 8, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a brief letter. It reads in part:

Your new book, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.

They tell me that there are some islands in the Pacific where one can get away from it all. They are slightly radioactive, but for anyone with the spirit of adventure, this should be no problem.

Fleming responds on July 16, 1963.

Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.

Your Pacific islands sound very enticing, it would certainly be nice to see some sun as ever since you charming Americans started your long range weather forecasting we have had nothing but rain. You might ask them to lay off.

With best regards and I do hope Solo gets off the pad in due course.

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.