Yvonne Craig, TV’s Batgirl, dies at 78

Yvonne Craig in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Yvonne Craig in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl in the 1960s Batman series, has died at 78, according to obituaries ON HER OFFICIAL WEBSITE and on CNN’S WEBSITE.

She died “from complications brought about from breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver,” according to the obituary on her website.

Craig’s Barbara Gordon was introduced during the final season of the 1966-68 Batman series. The librarian doubled as the masked crime fighter Batgirl, whose identity was unknown to Batman or Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton), her father.

Craig also appeared in various 1960s spy shows and movies. She had a supporting role in The Brain Killer Affair, a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as a woman whose brother is the key to a plot hatched by villain Dr. Dabree.

The actress was brought back to appear in extra footage for movie versions of U.N.C.L.E. episodes. Her biggest such role was in One Spy Too Many, where she played Maude Waverly, niece of U.N.C.L.E. chief Waverly (Leo G. Carroll). None of her scenes appeared in the television version, Alexander the Greater Affair.

Craig also had a supporting role in In Like Flint, the second Derek Flint film starring James Coburn.

You can CLICK HERE to view a very brief Q&A with the actress done in the late 1990s.

Finally, here’s a 1974 public service announcement with Craig again playing Batgirl. Adam West declined to participate, so Dick Gautier played Batman instead. The video isn’t very good, unfortunately.

Guy Ritchie says Brad Pitt was his choice for (older) Solo

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt

Director Guy Ritchie, talking on A PODCAST, says Brad Pitt was his first choice to play Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Had Pitt, 51, been cast, his version of Solo would have been older compared to a younger Illya Kuryakin, Ritchie said. The American actor “told me to piss off,” the director said of Pitt.

Ritchie didn’t provide a time frame when all this occurred. He confirmed (as he did in other interviews) that Tom Cruise, 53, was indeed considered to play Solo before opting to concentrate on Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.

“Mission: Impossible interfered with the process,” Ritchie said. “He (Cruise) was occupying too much of the same space.”

Also, as he has done in other interviews, Ritchie says actor Henry Cavill, 32, was considered to play Kuryakin, but the director felt Cavill didn’t look right with blonde hair. Armie Hammer, who turns 29 this month, ended up with the role. Also, in the Ritchie-directed movie, Solo and Kuryakin were depicted as being roughly the same age, the same as the 1964-68 original series.

One other notable quote about the U.N.C.L.E. movie from Ritchie: “We’re more about (Harry) Palmer than we are about (James) Bond.”

To listen to the podcast, CLICK HERE. The U.N.C.L.E. quotes occur after the 31:00 mark.

Covers for new 007 comic book revealed

One of the alternate covers for the new James Bond comic book

One of the alternate covers for the new James Bond comic book

The new James Bond comic book published by Dynamite Entertainment will have some alternate covers, COMIC BOOK RESOURCES REPORTED.

Here’s an excerpt of the story:

When he returns to comics this November, not only will 007’s new Dynamite Entertainment series be helmed by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters, it will feature an A-List roster of artists providing variant covers for the first issue.

CBR News has the exclusive first look at the covers for “James Bond” #1, the first chapter of “VARGR,” a story that will find the world-famous secret agent fighting for his life in the wake of another 00 agent’s demise. Illustrated by Dom Reardon, Jock, Gabriel Hardman, Stephen Mooney, Dan Panosian, Francesco Francavilla, and Glenn Fabry, the covers call back to the character’s pulp roots.

“Variant,” or alternate, covers are a way to entice buyers of comic books to purchase multiple copies of the same issue.

James Bond will provide the climax for “The Year of the Spy.” In September, the new 007 continuation novel, Trigger Mortis, is scheduled to be published as well as a collection of unauthorized Bond stories in Canada, where Ian Fleming’s original literary stories are in the public domain.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, will debut in the U.K. in October and in the U.S. on Nov. 6.

To see the Comic Book Resources story, CLICK HERE.

Final thoughts about the U.N.C.L.E. film

Bus for participants in U.N.C.L.E. movie press junket in Rome

Bus for participants in U.N.C.L.E. movie press junket in Rome

With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie now in U.S. theaters and heading for international screens over the next few weeks, we conclude (for now, at least) our coverage of the return of Solo and Kuryakin with these observations.

It’s a miracle the movie even got made: The new version of U.N.C.L.E. got off to a disappointing start in U.S. theaters, getting steamrolled by Straight Outta Compton. But three years ago, many U.N.C.L.E. fans be happy there was even a film to be steamrolled.

For decades, it seemed like there was a curse. Various attempts were made to revive U.N.C.L.E. to no avail. It finally happened. It’s not a hit in the U.S. That’s show biz. But the project survived many obstacles.

Marketing a movie is really hard: Warner Bros. (or “Mr. Warner” as we like to jokingly refer to the studio) was faced with a challenged property.

The original U.N.C.L.E. fan base is aging. There hadn’t been an U.N.C.L.E. production (The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV film) since 1983. The studio had to reach out to a broader public.

Mr. Warner tried a lot. U.N.C.L.E. was part of Warner Bros. activities at the San Diego Comic Con. The studio had a press junket in Rome. It flooded broadcast and cable television with advertisements. It flooded social media for at least the last month.

Warner Bros. also had test screenings in 2014, trying to see if younger viewers would be interested. It appeared to test well. But it’s a different deal from letting people in for free for a testing screening compared with expecting people to spend their own money.

The studio wasn’t helped when rival Paramount shifted Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation to July 31, two weeks before U.N.C.L.E. For Warners there were two choices: shift U.N.C.L.E. to a third release date or make a stand on Aug. 14. It’s hard to argue, except with hindsight, Mr. Warner made the wrong choice.

This should also be a reminder that what Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios is pretty remarkable. Marvel has interested audiences in Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man, in addition to its more familiar characters such as Iron Man and Captain America. It bears repeating: Marketing a movie is really hard.

Don’t mistake intensity for numbers: Some U.N.C.L.E. fans believed the movie would benefit from actor Henry Cavill’s intense fan base.

Cavill fans like their guy. A lot. And they’re fine folks. We’ve communicated with them quite a bit via social media. But it takes more than an intense fan base to turn a movie into a hit. To become a hit, a movie has to reach out to the broader public.

U.N.C.L.E. movie underwhelms in U.S. opening

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

UPDATE (Aug. 17) — Revised figures on Monday, ACCORDING TO THE NUMBERS WEBSITE, put The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie at $13.4 million, compared to $60.2 million for Straight Outta Compton.

(ORIGINAL POST): The Man From U.N.C.L.E. underperformed in the United States and Canada, finishing No. 3 in its debut weekend with estimated ticket sales of $13.5 million, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Guy Ritchie’s reinterpretation of the 1964-68 television series trailed Straight Outta Compton, a film about the rap group N.W.A. at $56.1 million and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, in its third weekend of release.

The Tom Cruise M:I film had estimate weekend ticket sales of $17 million, according to A TWEET from Exhibitors Relations.

Straight Outta Compton initially was estimated to produce a $30 million opening weekend and is coming in at almost twice that. It also was also shown on 2,757 screens, compared with U.N.C.L.E.’s 3,638, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

Over the weekend on social media, there was some debate about all this. Those who were annoyed (or worse) that the movie didn’t retain the series’ secret headquarters, Jerry Goldsmith theme (only a few notes were used in the film), or who wanted different casting, etc., said the results validated their positions.

The answer, though, may be more simple than that. It could be that outside of the aging U.N.C.L.E. fan base (including folks such as the Spy Commander) and the younger Henry Cavill fan base, there weren’t that many people who wanted to see the movie.

Warner Bros. can’t be blamed for a lack of marketing support. The studio bought ads all over U.S. television the past few weeks. For example, it paid for a two-minute ad on the ABC prime-time telecast of the ESPN ESPY awards. The spot ran shortly before transgender ex-athlete Caitlyn Jenner picked up an award for sports courage, the main highlight of the show.

Would having Jerry Goldsmith’s full theme boosted the box office take? If a great Goldsmith theme had that much impact, the 1973 series Hawkins on CBS would have lasted longer than a season and the 1975 Archer series (as in Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer) on NBC would have run longer than six episodes.

Would having the secret HQs, complete with Del Floria’s tailor shop have changed the outcome? 2015 audiences already had a secret HQs in Kingsman: The Secret Service. It was basically an updated version of the U.N.C.L.E. secret HQs of the show.

Would having, say, Jon Hamm, the star of the now-completed Mad Men series, as Napoleon Solo instead of Henry Cavill changed things?

Hamm’s Million Dollar Arm in 2014 was No. 4 its opening weekend in the U.S. at $10.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It finished with worldwide box office of $38.3 million. Of course, to be fair, he also was the voice of Herb Overkill in Minions, which had worldwide box office of more than $900 million.

Would having cameos by Robert Vaughn or David McCallum, the stars of the original show, increased ticket sales significantly? Would ticket sales double or triple? Or would they have risen by 1 percent or less? Meanwhile, McCallum endorsed the film in a Fox News interview and that doesn’t seem to have had much impact.

For Warner Bros., the best hope for the film may be in overseas markets. The DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD website reported there were early signs of a better reception in various countries, including Russia.

Happy 90th birthday, Mike Connors

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Aug. 15 is the 90th birthday of actor Mike Connors, a familiar face to American audiences.

His spy entertainment credentials include Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film that rode the spy craze of the decade.

Today, that movie is a bit of a curiosity item, particularly how it bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1979 007 film Moonraker (except for its budget).

The main item of Connors’ acting resume is the 1967-75 detective series Mannix. The lead character, Joe Mannix, seemed to absorb a considerable amount of punishment in solving his cases.

Mannix dabbled occasionally in espionage, including a second-season episode where there was a spy played by Hugh Beaumont.

The series also had a two-part episode in its seventh season, where Mannix gets recruited by the U.S. government to help out the rebel leader of a South American country.

In the final season, there’s another two-part story where Mannix gets involved in international intrigue outside the U.S. That two parter was based on the Victor Canning novel Venetian Bird. It also had the last score for the series by Lalo Schifrin, who penned the show’s theme music.

Connors was already 42 when Mannix first aired. He had been a basketball player at UCLA and was still athletic enough to make a convincing action hero. During the filming of the pilot, he was injured while dodging a helicopter, a scene that would be used in the main titles of the series.

Here we go again: SPECTRE an origin story, Mendes says

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

It’s deja vu all over again.

Sam Mendes, the director of SPECTRE, is quoted in an ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY STORY as saying the 24th James Bond film is an origin story.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The Bond creation myth never happened,” Mendes says. “I felt there was an opportunity there: What made him? And who were the people who affected him along the way? You’re sort of telling the story backwards of how Bond became Bond.”

Nine years ago, Casino Royale, the 21st 007 film and the first to star Daniel Craig, was marketed as an origin story for Bond.

This continued well after its theatrical release. In the United States, the USA cable channel showed the film. USA’s promos had the tagline, “How James became Bond!”

In the Casino Royale novel, author Ian Fleming’s first, Bond already was a veteran agent. The story took place in 1951 (or so we’re told in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel) and Bond had been active as an operative since World War II.

That was then, this is now. “Spectre provides a kind of culmination to the three previous films while developing a backstory that’s been largely unexplored until now,” according to the Entertainment Weekly story.

The main thing that’s changed since Casino Royale is that Danjaq LLC/Eon Productions (the Broccoli-Wilson family entities that control the Bond film rights and produce the films) reached a settlement with the estate of Kevin McClory.

That settlement, reached in 2013, gives Danjaq/Eon (and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, their partner) control of SPECTRE and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

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