Happy 88th birthday, Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Today, Nov. 2, is the 88th birthday of artist Steve Ditko. In an era when Marvel Comics characters are big business at the movie, Ditko was one of the people who made that possible.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man, already the subject of five movies from 2002 to 2014 and about to become part of the movie “universe” of Marvel Studios.

He also created Dr. Strange, another Marvel character that’s about to get the big-screen treatment. Ditko also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist is an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work.

Ditko keeps to himself. In the 200s, British television show host Jonathan Ross did a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko contributed to the plots of those early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories. In short, it was a lot.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

Regardless, Ditko was, and is, an original. Here’s wishing Mr. Ditko a happy birthday.

The man who assembled the ‘QM Players’

John Conwell's title card in a second-season episode of 12 O'Clock High.

John Conwell’s title card in a second-season episode of 12 O’Clock High.

One of an occasional series about unsung heroes of television.

In the 1960s and ’70s, shows produced at QM Productions had the feel of a repertory theater as many of the same guest stars appeared on various Quinn Martin shows.

As noted in the book Quinn Martin, Producer, there was an even nick name for this: the “QM Players.” The informal group consisted of performers such as Leslie Nielsen (star of the first QM series, The New Breed), Peter Mark Richman, Louise Latham, Jessica Walter, J.D. Cannon, Lynda Day George, Bradford Dillman and many others.

The QM executive responsible for this was John Conwell, who headed the company’s casting operation. He was a former actor, appearing in such productions as The Twilight Zone pilot, Where Is Everybody? and as a guest star in a Ray Milland series, Markham.

Conwell moved from in front of the camera to behind it, including the fourth season of The Twilight Zone, when the show aired in a one-hour format. He became part of QM Productions with that company’s second series, The Fugitive.

For most of his time at QM, however, Conwell’s titles in QM show credits didn’t really give the audience an idea of what he did.

Conwell was initially credited as “assistant to producer,” then “assistant to the executive producer.” Finally, by 1977, he was credited as “in charge of talent.”

In any case, Conwell became one of producer Quinn Martin’s key lieutenants. Martin paid more for guest stars ($5,000 for a one-hour episode compared with a going rate of $2,500). So that helped raise the interest of performers to be on QM shows.

Still, it was Conwell who ran the QM casting operation, which also had casting directors for individual series. That may help to explain why actors kept coming back.

Conwell even stayed at the company after Martin’s departure following the sale of QM Productions to Taft Broadcasting. He died in 1994 at the age of 72.

Bill Finger to get credit on Batman adaptations, THR says

Gotham promotional art

Gotham promotional art

Bill Finger, widely viewed as the co-creator of Batman, is to get a credit for his work on Batman-related adaptations, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER SAID.

Finger will begin receiving a credit on the Gotham television series “beginning later this season,” according to a statement from DC Entertainment published by THR. Finger (1914-1974) will also get a credit in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice, DC said in the statement.

Bob Kane has received sole creator credit for Batman since the character debuted in 1939, including seven Warner Bros. movies released since 1989.

Finger’s contributions to the character include major revisions to Kane’s original costume (such as the cowl and gauntlets as well as a dark color scheme), the Bruce Wayne true identity, Bruce Wayne back story, the original Robin, the original Robin’s back story, etc. Finger wrote the first Batman story published in Detective Comics No. 27 and many other early stories.

In 2014, illustrator Ty Templeton did a cartoon showing what Batman would have been like without Finger’s contributions.

DC said in the statement published by THR it and Finger’s family “reached an agreement that recognizes Mr. Finger’s significant contributions to the Batman family of characters.”

In addition to Batman, Finger also co-created the original version of Green Lantern, which debuted in 1940. Finger also co-wrote a two-part story in the 1966 Batman television series.

DC has long been owned by the various parent companies of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warner Bros. and moved to Burbank, California, from New York, the comics company’s long-time home.

A question for ‘Mr. Warner’ about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Jerry Goldsmith, circa mid-1960s

Jerry Goldsmith, circa mid-1960s

“Mr. Warner”
Warner Bros.
Burbank, CA

Dear “Mr. Warner”:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie you’ve been promoting lately certainly looks interesting. The publicity department certainly seems to be busy. Just one question.

Is it possible that a certain tune by the gentleman pictured in this post in the movie? Maybe in the end titles?

A number of fans of the original 1964-68 television series are curious.

The blog here has occasionally asked people who’ve attended advanced screenings whether it is. They tend to be younger and aren’t familiar with the music we’re asking about.

If you could let everyone know, that’d be great.


The Spy Commander

UPDATE (10 p.m. ET): On a more serious note, “Mr. Warner” opened up his promotional budget once more for U.N.C.L.E.

A long commercial for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was shown on ABC’s telecast of the ESPY awards. It was introduced by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. The spot included a scene with Solo and Kuryakin not seen in any of the trailers. The Cavill-Hammer introduction was recorded a while ago because the actors were still sporting the beards they’ve recently shaved off.

Anyway, the ESPYs, which mix sports and show business, was moved this year to ABC from ESPN. Chances are, “Mr. Warner” made a substantial purchase.

UPDATE II (11:10 p.m. ET): Here’s some footage of the ESPY spot via Henry Cavill Online.

A thought or two about the James Bond musical

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball

“I have to sing now?” “Be quiet, darling!”

We’ve had the first volley about a possible (unlikely?) James Bond stage musical. Here are a few reactions from this modest corner of the Internet.

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape…and you don’t mess around with Jim (Bond)”

In this corner, we have Danjaq LLC (the holding company for Broccoli-Wilson family’s 007 interests, including Eon Productions). In the other, we have a daughter of Danjaq-Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman who says her stage production is a parody that’s protected by fair use provisions of copyright law.

Merry Saltzman announced last week she had secured the rights for a 007 musical. This week, Danjaq/MGM, which control the 007 film rights, said they also control the stage rights. Danjaq/MGM said they haven’t licensed those rights to anybody.

Merry Saltzman, the daughter of Danjaq/Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman, replied her planned stage production is a parody, which falls under fair use provisions of copyright law. In short, she doesn’t need to license any rights from Danjaq/MGM.

A little bit of history: Danjaq had been known to employ lawyers to try to shut down anything it viewed as a threat.

The original Danjaq founders, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, bullied 007 creator Ian Fleming to abandoning his activities related to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series. So much so, Fleming sold off his U.N.C.L.E. interest for one British pound in June 1963, at a time the success of the 007 film series was far from assured. Danjaq/Eon, famously, also went after Kevin McClory when he tried to mount movies based on the 007 rights he held.

Regardless of how sound Merry Saltzman’s case is, she probably has fewer resources for a legal fight than Danjaq/Eon. Lawyers may end up making money than this stage production will generate.

Is this really a good idea?

This is the broader issue. A half-century ago, Mad magazine did a parody of a 007 magazine.

It was pretty funny. Written by Frank Jacobs and drawn by Mort Drucker, it had a lot of good jokes and featured “songs” written to the tune of songs from Oklahoma!

Still, for all of the hard word by Jacobs and Drucker, that’s not anywhere near the effort to put on a Broadway stage production. Has Merry Saltzman really lined up enough entertainment to do a Broadway/Las Vegas show? Intentionally entertaining, that is.

Merry Saltzman says planned 007 musical is a parody

Skyfall's poster image

Will 007 sing yet?

The woman behind a planned James Bond musical says she’s pushing on with the project.

Merry Saltzman TOLD PLAYBILL, that her production doesn’t need to be licensed from Danjaq LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which control the film rights and say they also control the stage rights.

The reason? Saltzman says the play is a parody and that it “does not require permission from the owners of the intellectual property being parodied,” according to Playbill.

Copyright law includes “fair use” provisions where parts of copyrighted works can be used. Parody is an example of fair use. Mad magazine, for example, deals in parody. Mad has parodied 007 on a number of occasions, although he’s usually called “James Bomb” or another name to make clear it is a parody.

On July 8, Danjaq (holding company for the Broccoli-Wilson family 007 interests, including Eon Productions) and MGM issued A STATEMENT in response to Saltzman’s announcement about her stage production, to be called James Bond: The Musical. Danjaq and MGM said “no James Bond stage show may be produced without their permission.”

Saltzman issued her own statement to Playbill that said, “We are producing a parody, no permissive rights are required from Eon, Danjaq, MGM et al to produce our show; it will not infringe on their intellectual property. James Bond: The Musical will go on as planned.” Saltzman told Playbill that a reference in her original announcement to having secured rights, referred to acquiring “rights to a James Bond musical parody written by Dave Clarke with music and lyrics by Jay Henry Weisz.”

From a distance, this would appear to be an aggressive utilization of parody/fair use. It’s one thing for a half-dozen pages in Mad or a short 007 skit on Saturday Night Live. It’s another to do a complete stage musical. We’ll see.

Merry Saltzman is the daughter of Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Danjaq and Eon. Harry Saltzman sold his 007 rights to United Artists in 1975 because of personal financial troubles. MGM acquired UA in the early ’80s. To read the entire Playbill story, CLICK HERE.

A James Bond musical and flying cars

Skyfall's poster image

“Oh Vesper, I adore you…Oh Vesper I cannot have you!”

Riddle me this: What do a James Bond musical and flying cars have in common?

Answer: They have the same likelihood of taking place without a disaster happening.

Stop and think about it. A James Bond film (SPECTRE) just finished principal photography. What are people talking about?

They’re talking about what a James Bond musical would be like. That’s because Merry Saltzman, daughter of founding 007 film producer Harry Saltzman, announced plans for one.

The initial stories didn’t even pose BASIC QUESTIONS about the project, much less get answers.

In this Internet age, people have run with the idea. For example, there have been stories about POSSIBLE CASTING, even if we don’t really know how realistic the production is.

Dealing with issues such as how Ms. Saltzman got the rights are messy and complicated. It’s more fun to speculate. Such as how the opening song might go….

“Oh Vesper, I adore you…
Oh Vesper I cannot have you…
One day you were here by my side…
Now you’re buried and that I cannot abide!

This reminds us of a video the satire site The Onion did in 2007. The site showed a television interviewer who persisted in asking executives of automakers about their plans to make flying cars. For now, talk of a James Bond musical is about as relevant as flying cars.

Or, to channel The Onion, “It seems the jury is still out about a James Bond musical.”

UPDATE: Nicolas Suszczyk, a Bond blogger who occasionally writes guest posts here, put this out on Twitter:


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