The man who hired Goldsmith, Williams and others

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on a first-season episode of Universal’s The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

The blog’s post this week about the television factory run by MCA Corp.’s Revue Studios (later Universal Television) didn’t have room to get into some details. This post is aimed at remedying that.

One of Revue-Universal’s stalwarts was Stanley Wilson, who ran the music department.

In that capacity, he hired composers who had to work under tight deadlines. Wilson hired some of the best, some of whom would become major film composers.

One of Wilson’s hires was Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). Goldsmith already had credits at CBS. But the network let him go.

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on an episode of Thriller, whose composers included Jerry Goldsmith.

Wilson wisely assigned him jobs at Revue-Universal. Some of Goldsmith’s best television work was on the studio’s 1960-62 anthology series Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff. For a 2010 home video release, extras included permitting viewers to listen to Goldsmith’s music only for episodes he scored.

Wilson (whose title was either “musical supervisor” or “music supervisor”) also brought on John Williams to work on the 1960-62 series Checkmate, a detective series created by Eric Ambler. It was one of the earliest credits for Williams. Williams was also hired by Wilson to work on the anthology show Kraft Suspense Theater.

Other notable Wilson hires included Morton Stevens, beginning with an episode of The General Electric Theater. The episode starred Sammy Davis Jr. Stevens worked for Davis as his arranger.

Wilson hired Stevens for the Davis episode of The GE Theater. That began a career switch for Stevens of scoring television shows. That included scoring the pilot for Hawaii Five-O and devising its iconic theme. Stevens also was a major composer on Thriller.

Other Wilson hires included Quincy Jones for the pilot of Ironside (resulting in the creation of another well-known theme) and Dave Grusin on a number of Universal projects. They included the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder that introduced Lt. Columbo to television audiences.

Jon Burlingame, a journalist who has written extensively about television and film music, had a 2012 article in Variety when Universal named a street on its Southern California lot in honor of Wilson.

“Stanley Wilson Avenue connects Main Street with James Stewart Avenue on the Universal lot, not far from the now-demolished Stage 10 where its namesake conducted literally thousands of hours of music by young composers who would go on to become the biggest names in Hollywood film music,” Burlingame wrote.

On his blog, Burlingame wrote an additional tribute. “Wilson is an unsung hero in the film/TV music business.”

Wilson died in 1970 at the age of 54.

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Universal in the ’60s & ’70s: The Television Factory

 

Universal logo, circa 1960s

In the 1960s and ’70s, Universal’s television division was like a TV factory.

Its shows had a certain look, a certain sheen. Universal’s TV operation would help launch the careers of people such as director Steven Spielberg and writer-director Steven Bochco (who both worked on the same episode of Columbo).

Universal developed the concept of “the wheel,” where different shows rotated in the same time slow, or a series that had rotating leads. Examples: The NBC Mystery Movie (different rotating shows) and The Name of the Game (rotating leads).

Universal, of course, still produces television shows. It’s now part of Comcast as is NBC, where many Universal shows were telecast. But it’s not the same because, naturally, television has evolved. Still, it’s a worth a look back.

Origins: Music Corp. of America, or MCA, was a talent agency. But MCA saw the potential of television. It formed Revue in 1950 as a television production arm. It acquired the studio lot of Universal (then known as Universal-International) in 1958 and eventually acquired Universal itself.

Revue produced all sorts of shows: Westerns (Wagon Train and The Virginian), comedies (The Jack Benny Program, Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters), crime dramas (M Squad), and anthology shows such as Alfred Hitchock Presents (hosted by Hitch), Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and The General Electric Theater (hosted by Ronald Reagan).

Eventually, all of its TV series were under the better-known Universal brand. The boss of MCA-Universal was Lew Wasserman, who became a major figure in Hollywood. Writers Richard Levinson and William Link, when devising the Mannix television series, came up with a character named Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) who was modeled on Wasserman.

The Universal mogul apparently didn’t mind. After Campanella’s Wickersham character was written out after the first season of Mannix, the actor ended up as one of the leads on “The Lawyers” part of The Bold Ones, another Universal “wheel.”

Glory Days: Universal was a major supplier of shows for U.S. television. As early as 1964, it embraced the idea of made-for-television movies. Its first effort, The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, was deemed too violent and got a theatrical release.

One of the early TV movies was 1966’s Fame is the Name of the Game, starring Tony Franciosa as an investigative reporter for a magazine.

This would be the basis for The Name of the Game (1968-71), an early example of “the wheel.” Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry rotated as the leads of the series, which concerned the magazine empire headed by Glenn Howard (Barry).

A key figure at Universal television, who is not remembered much today, was Richard Irving (1917-1990), a producer-director. He oversaw a Universal Western series (Laredo), which aired on NBC from 1967 to 1967.

Irving also produced and directed the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder, where TV audiences were first introduced to Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk). The same year, he produced and directed a TV movie with international intrigue titled Istanbul Express, starring Barry, Senta Berger and John Saxon.

Irving remained a booster of Columbo. He directed another TV movie with the detective, 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man, which finally sold Columbo as a series.

The Universal TV operation cruised throughout the ’70s. In the early 1980s, it had another hit with Magnum: P.I. But things got tougher that decade. Universal excelled at one-hour dramas and TV movies at a time things were changing.

In 1990, MCA sold itself to Japan’s  Matsushita Electric. It would be bought and sold over the years before being acquired by Comcast.

Albert Heschong: Wizardry on a TV budget

Albert Heschong-designed set for the 1968 pilot of Hawaii Five-O

One in an occasional series of unsung figures of television.

Albert Heschong (1919-2001) labored for years in the art department at CBS, working on the network’s in-house productions.

During Heschong’s career, that meant designing sets on a more economical budget compared with motion pictures.

Heschong succeeded. He received on-screen credits for live television dramas (Playhouse 90), filmed dramas, Westerns (including Gunsmoke) and sitcoms.

On occasion, Heschong could stretch his budget to create some memorable sets.

One of his best efforts was for the pilot to the original Hawaii Five-O series. That pilot, in effect combined spy-fi with police drama.

Villain Wo Fat has a futuristic laboratory housed inside an oil tanker. Wo Fat has devised a form of torture. Victims are deprived of the use of their senses while suspended in a shallow pool.

The laboratory is the first thing viewers see in a short pre-titles sequence. Toward the end of the sequence, viewers see what happens (the victim mindlessly screams) when they finally are let loose.

Naturally, the climax of the pilot takes place in the same set when McGarrett (Jack Lord) undergoes the same torture. Unknown to Wo Fat, however, the lawman has been programmed to impart false information.

Albert Heschong’s title card for The Night of the Raven on The Wild Wild West

Heschong also frequently worked on The Wild Wild West. For that series, which combined spies with cowboys, imagination was a must for the art department. The series frequently depicted “modern day” technology in the 1870s.

A major highlight for Heschong was the second-season episode The Night of the Raven. Arch villain Dr. Loveless has succeeded in shrinking his nemesis James West. Thus, Heschong and his crew had to create  sets where the miniaturized West (Robert Conrad) is menaced by spiders and cats.

Heschong’s work on the series meant he’d be brought back for the 1979 TV movie The Wild Wild West Revisited. For that, he retained his art director title.

However with the 1980 TV movie More Wild Wild West, he got the spiffier title of production designer, which more accurately reflected his contributions. Heschong’s credit also appeared in the main titles instead of the main titles.

Heschong’s career extended from the early 1950s into the 1990s.

Well, you can’t say Solo isn’t a popular title

Circa 1963:

1963-64 (before being renamed The Man From U.N.C.L.E.):

2013:

2018:

The Spy Command marks its 9th anniversary

Today marks the ninth anniversary of The Spy Command.

The blog began with the name The HMSS Weblog. The first post on Oct. 8, 2008 concerned how three Raymond Benson James Bond continuation novels had been collected under the title The Union Trilogy. The post was penned by Paul Baack, who had the idea of the blog.

The Spy Commander, who has been running the blog for some time, didn’t weigh in with his first post until Oct. 19, 2008. That concerned A Man Called Sloane, the short-lived spy adventure with Robert Conrad and produced by QM Productions.

The blog began to hit its stride (and find its own voice) with a 2009 series of posts about the 45th anniversary of Goldfinger. It later had series of posts about the 50th anniversary of Dr. No and From Russia With Love as well as series about Dr. No’s script and behind-the-scenes financial issues of Dr. No. (CLICK HERE for part I.)

The blog formally was on its own in September 2014. The blog changed its name to The Spy Command in February 2015.

Assuming the blog is still around next year, we’ll have to do something more elaborate for the 10th anniversary.

1990: Columbo vs. Hugh Hefner (sort of)

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) conducts a con game with Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk).

Over the years, there have been many takeoffs based on Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.

Hefner’s death this week reminded the blog of one of the most amusing versions from 1990 when Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) dealt with a Hefner-like character.

Columbo Cries Wolf did more than that. Writer William Read Woodfield (1928-2001) very much played with the normal Columbo formula. Years earlier, Woodfield, with his then-partner Allan Balter (1925-1984), had written key episodes of Mission: Impossible

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the founder of a Playboy-like magazine, Bachelor’s World. Instead of Playmates, there are “Nymphs.” Instead of the Playboy Mansion, there is the “Chateau.”

However, in this story, the Hefner figure has a business partner (Deidre Hall) who owns 51 percent of the enterprise. She appears to want to sell out to a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron. But the partner goes missing and Lt. Columbo is assigned the case as a possible homicide.

Woodfield even works in a reference to a British police detective played by Bernard Fox in a 1972 Columbo story, Dagger of the Mind.

The first three-quarters of Columbo Cries Wolf unfolds as a typical Columbo outing. But Brantley pulls a switch, basically begging for publicity as Columbo’s investigation proceeds.

Los Angeles officials (including a nervous mayor played by David Huddleston) aren’t sure. The Police Chief (Columbo veteran bit part player John Finnegan) assures the mayor that the department’s “best man” (Columbo, finally getting some recognition for a spectacular record) is on the case.

Woodfield pulls a big switch when it’s revealed that no murder actually occurred, with Brantley and his partner pulling a con game on Columbo.

Despite that, Brantley’s business partner still wants to sell to the media baron (albeit at a higher price). So Brantley kills her for real this time.

Columbo, with egg on his face from the first fiasco, takes another turn at bringing Brantley to justice. The climax depends on early 1990s tech (which new viewers wouldn’t recognize.

Still, it’s one of the best episodes of the Columbo revival on ABC that ran from 1989 to 2003. (The original Columbo series ran from 1971 to 1977 on NBC.)

Kingsman sequel: ‘More everything!’

Teaser poster for Kingsman: The Golden Circle

In 1968, there was a trailer for a Thunderball-From Russia With Love double feature that promised more thrills, excitement, etc. Finally there was this promise: “More everything!”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. more or less makes and delivers on the same promise.

With The Golden Circle, there’s more violence, more swearing (the f-bomb is a favorite) and more cynicism compared with the original.

However, the Matthew Vaughn-directed movie at times actually provides actual emotion. But don’t worry. If that’s not your thing, it’ll pass before long and you can enjoy more mayhem.

In a way, the movie is almost review proof. People who liked the original (also directed by Vaughn) are going to enjoy the sequel and won’t care about reviews. Those who didn’t care for the 2015 movie, more or less, aren’t part of The Golden Circle’s intended audience anyway.

Just to keep the plot summary to a minimum (what follows are shown on trailers so the spoiler adverse needn’t fear): The secret Kingsman organization is almost entirely wiped out although Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and gadget master Merlin (Mark Strong) survived.

They meet up with Statesman, a U.S.-based secret organization much like Kingsman except its front is a distillery. Julianne Moore is this movie’s lead villain, who is going to kill millions of people unless she gets what she wants.

Vaughn (who co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman) is a skilled director who knows exactly what he’s doing. The occasional emotional scenes demonstrate that. It’s more or less up to the viewer whether it’s what you want.

The movie is long (141 minutes). Still, it has its moments. For me, though, not as many as the first half of the original film. While there are plot twists, there’s nothing that surprising.

By this time, you know exactly what you’re getting. “Manners maketh man” of the original film is given lip service but mostly is gone. Grade: C-Plus.