Roger Smith, 77 Sunset Strip star, dies

Roger Smith, top center, in a TV Guide cover featuring the cast of 77 Sunset Strip

Roger Smith, who starred with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in 77 Sunset Strip, has died at 84, according to Variety.

The 1958-64 series was an early hit for ABC. Warner Bros., which produced the TV series, quickly launched other private eye shows.

77 Sunset Strip was part of an “extended universe” decades before the term was coined.

Other shows part of that universe included Hawaiian Eye (with Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad), Bourbon Street Beat (with Richard Long and Andrew Duggan) and Surfside 6 (with Troy Donahue and Van Williams).

All of the shows featured snappy theme songs by Mack David and Jerry Livingston.

Smith was fired with most of the 77 Sunset Strip cast following the show’s fifth season. Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. remained as Jack Webb and William Conrad revamped the show, turning Zimbalist’s Stuart Bailey into a lone-wolf PI. The experiment didn’t last the 1963-64 season.

Smith married actress Victoria Shaw in 1956, but the couple divorced in 1965, according to a biography on IMDB.COM. In 1967, Smith married Ann-Margaret. He gave up acting and managed her career.

One of his final public appearances was with Ann-Margaret for the premiere of the 2017 movie Going In Style.

Mary Tyler Moore’s noir beginnings, role as TV mogul

Mary Tyler Moore's unusual title card for an episode of the Thriller TV series

Mary Tyler Moore’s unusual title card for Man of Mystery, an episode of the Thriller TV series

Mary Tyler Moore died Jan. 25 at the 80, The New York Times and numerous media outlets reported. Quite understandably, the obituaries focused on how she, in the words of the Times, “helped define a new vision of American womanhood” with The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1960s and ’70s.

That’s because a woman wearing pants (as her Laura Petrie did in Van Dyke) or being an independent career woman (as her Mary Richards was on her namesake show) were considered big deals at the time.

The purpose of this post is to highlight other parts of her lengthy career: Her start on black-and-white TV and her later role as television mogul.

Her early credits included Sam, the woman answering service during the third season of Richard Diamond, Private Eye. She also made the rounds in guest appearances on other detective shows of the era such as 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat and Checkmate. This was a time that television was almost entirely filmed in black and white.

The actress also appeared in two episodes of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology show, Thriller. She was more prominent in her second appearance, Man of Mystery. That episode ran during the 1961-62 season, which coincided with the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show. CLICK HERE for a review at a Thriller fan website.

Moore, in 1969, formed MTM Enterprises with her then-husband Grant Tinker. MTM produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show but it would quickly expand.

Initially it stayed with situation comedies (including Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoffs) but branched out into drama and other formats. Its hour-long shows included the medical drama St. Elsewhere and Remington Steele. The latter made Pierce Brosnan a star in the United States and put him in position to take the role of James Bond.

MTM would change ownership a number of times before eventually dissolving in the late 1990s. But it left a significant mark on U.S. television.

Tinker and Moore divorced in 1981. Tinker died in November at age 90.

 

Leslie H. Martinson, versatile director, dies at 101

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Leslie H. Martinson, a versatile director who mostly worked in television, has died at 101, according to an obituary published by The New York Times.

Martinson’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 108 directing credits, from 1953 through 1989. Besides TV, he also directed some movies, including the 1966 Batman feature based on the Adam West television show and 1963’s PT 109, with Cliff Robertson playing John F. Kennedy as a U.S. Naval officer in World War II.

Naturally, with a resume that long, Martinson dabbled in spy entertainment.

Another one of his movie credits was 1967’s Fathom, Raquel Welch’s entry into the 1960s spy craze. It also featured a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and main titles designed by Maurice Binder, and prominently feature the movie’s star.

What’s more, Martinson directed nine episodes of the original Mission: Impossible series. Those episodes ran during the show’s later seasons.

The director worked at various studios. He was in demand at Warner Bros. in the late 1950s and early ’60s, directing episodes of the studio’s detective (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside 6) and western (Maverick, Lawman, Cheyenne) series.

In the latter category, Martinson directed a particularly amusing Maverick installment, Gun-Shy,  which was a parody of the hugely popular CBS western Gunsmoke.

In Gun-Shy, Bret Maverick (James Garner) keeps running afoul of Marshal Mort Dooley. Maverick is repeatedly thrown out of town by Dooley. But Bret, trying to find buried riches, keeps coming back. Writer Marion Hargrove even threw in a joke referencing another CBS western, Have Gun-Will Travel.

Eventually, Bret has to face off against Dooley in a gunfight. But Maverick outsmarts the marshal by staying just outside the range of the lawman’s pistol. Martinson staged the sequence as a send-up of the opening of Gunsmoke where Marshal Matt Dillon faced off against a gunfighter.

In praise of the 2-part (or more) episode

In the 21st century, many television series are serialized, featuring a story line, or arc, that lasts an entire season. However, there was a time when a story that lasted two (or more) episodes was special, something to savored.

For viewers of the era, such multi-part episodes could be special. Because it wasn’t the norm, such story lines drew attention to themselves. What follows is a sampling.

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the first-season of the 1964-68 series, extra footage was shot so two episodes could be re-edited into feature films for the international market. Starting with the second season, the show produced two-part episodes that could be more easily be turned into movies.

Six such two-part episodes were made, two each for seasons two through four. One of the best was Alexander the Greater Affair at the start of Season Two. Industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn) was a fan of Alexander the Great and sought to control the world like his namesake. The movie version was titled One Spy Too Many. The television version, though, didn’t make the show’s syndication package and wasn’t seen again until 2000.

Mission: Impossible: The 1966-73 series included a number of two-part episodes. A second-season two parter was re-edited into a movie for international audiences called Mission: Impossible Versus the Mob.

M:I’s biggest multi-part adventure was a three-parter called The Falcon, which aired during the show’s fourth season. Arguably, The Falcon (written by Paul Playdon), was the series most intricately plotted story.

Hawaii Five-O: Another series with multiple two-part stories, some of which (FOB Honolulu, The Ninety-Second War) included Steve McGarrett opposing his arch enemy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). That includes the series’ pilot, which was re-edited into a two-part story at the end of the show’s first season.

What’s more, Wo Fat stories in the eighth and ninth season kicked off the season and were presented as two-hour episodes. The latter, Nine Dragons, featured extensive location shooting in Hong Kong.

Five-O’s fifth season also had a three-part episode where McGarrett took down the Vishons, a Hawaiian crime family. In the third part, McGarrett has been framed and doesn’t appear to have much chance to beat the rap. For one of its reruns on CBS, the story was re-edited into a two-and-a-half-hour presentation aired on a single night.

Also, a 1979 two-hour episode, The Year of the Horse, featured one-time 007 George Lazenby with “special guest star” billing, though he was a secondary villain. That installment included extensive on-location shooting in Singapore.

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

The FBI: The longest-running series from producer Quinn Martin had four two-part stories. The Defector, the show’s first-season two-parter, was an impressive espionage-themed effort.

The show’s two parter for the second season was The Executioners, which was edited into a movie for international audiences titled Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI.

The series’ final two-parter, The Mastermind in the seventh season, featured three actors (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat and Scott Marlowe), who were a kind of all-star collection of QM villains.

Mannix: The private eye drama featured a first-season story where Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the boss of Mannix’s detective agency, appears to freak out for no reason. Part I included a massive fight between Wickersham and Mannix (Mike Connors).

The series wouldn’t do another two-part episode until its seventh and eight seasons, when Mannix (Mike Connors) ran his own private eye agency. Both stories took Mannix out of the United States. The final two parter also included composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

The Wild Wild West: The 1965-69 series combined spies and cowboys. It only had one two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror, but it was a doozy. It features Raven, a group trying to take over the world, which has demonstrated its power by programming officials into performing various destructive acts.

When the story (written by Ken Pettus) was filmed, co-star Ross Martin was recovering from a heart attack. So character actor William Schallert (1922-2016) played a substitute agent to work with Robert Conrad’s James West.

77 Sunset Strip: The show’s final season (1963-64) began with a *five*-part episode, simply titled “5.” Jack Webb, who had taken command of Warner Bros. television unit, ordered up a major revamp of the private eye series.

Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was retained, and his Stuart Bailey character was transformed into a lone wolf detective. “5” plunged Bailey into international intrigue, with an all-star cast of guest stars.

 

‘Mr. Warner’ and creator credits

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, for the most part, weren’t happy to see that Sam Rolfe — the major creator of the 1964-68 television series — didn’t get a credit with the movie that debuted this month.

Rolfe (1924-1993) created Illya Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly as well as the U.N.C.L.E. organization and format. The main element he didn’t create was Napoleon Solo, which had been hashed out by executive producer Norman Felton and 007 author Ian Fleming.

Felton (1913-2012) did receive an “executive consultant” credit in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The series didn’t carry a formal creator credit. Instead it was either, “Developed by Sam Rolfe” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe,” depending on the season of the show.

While Rolfe not getting a mention is understandably disappointing, Warner Bros., aka “Mr. Warner” on this blog has an interesting history.

In the early days of Warner Bros. television, the real-life Mr. Warner (Jack) had an aversion to bestowing a creator credit. Roy Huggins didn’t get a creator credit for either Maverick or 77 Sunset Strip. Charles Larson (the person who most likely deserved one) didn’t get a creator credit for The FBI, a co-production with Quinn Martin. On the other hand, When Maverick became a Warner Bros. movie in 1994, Huggins did get on-screen recognition.

Warner Bros. also controls DC Comics. The studio gives credit for movies based on DC characters where it has an obligation. Superman movies, for example, have a creator credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Warner and DC only agreed to that in the 1970s as the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve was being prepared and there was a big public relations campaign for Siegel and Schuster.

Warners also gives Bob Kane the creator credit for Batman, although there’s evidence that uncredited Bill Finger really did the heavy lifting. In 2014, cartoonist Ty Templeton drew what a Batman without Bill Finger would look like. Anyway, Warners/DC also credits Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) for Wonder Woman.

Other than that, though, no creator credits. The 2011 Green Lantern, for example, movie didn’t credit John Broome and Gil Kane. The current Flash television series doesn’t credit Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Put another way, Sam Rolfe — who wrote the U.N.C.L.E. pilot and produced the show’s first season — has plenty of company. Also that “developed by” credit probably gives the studio legal leeway in not including Rolfe in the movie’s credits.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. dies at 95

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who portrayed stalwart heroes in 77 Sunset Strip and The FBI, has died at 95, according to an obituary at the DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEBSITE.

Between the two shows, Zimbalist had a starring role on U.S. television for 15 out of 16 years from 1958 to 1974. He stayed busy with character roles afterward, including a recurring part on Remington Steele, with his daughter Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan. He also voiced Alfred the Butler in Batman cartoons beginning in 1992 and lasting into the early 21st century.

In 77 Sunset Strip, Zimbalist played former OSS agent Stuart Bailey, who ran a private detective agency. It was an early hit on television for Warner Bros. The first five seasons included a snappy theme song and a mostly lighter take on the proceedings. The sixth, and final, season had a drastic makeover where Zimbalist was the only cast member retained.

Zimbalist was back in television in 1965, with The FBI. He played Inspector Lewis Erskine, the bureau’s top investigator. It would run for nine seasons and be the longest-running series by producer Quinn Martin. The show featured a good many espionage-related stories in its early seasons, though that tailed off over time. By the seventh season (the most recent released on DVD), there were only three such stories.

77 Sunset Strip featured a lot of fast-paced banter between Zimbalist’s Bailey and the other detectives in the agency. Zimbalist’s Erskine, by contrast, was stern much of the time. In the earliest episodes, Erskine is still tormented how his wife “took a bullet meant for me.” He had a daughter in college (Lynn Loring) who wanted to marry his FBI associate, something that did not make Erskine happy. The angle was dropped before the end of the first season.

In AN INTERVIEW WITH DVD TALK, Zimbalist reflected on the two series.

EZ: It’s interesting, the two shows: the audiences were very different. First of all, they were different in time. But 77 Sunset Strip was a universally popular series. I mean, everybody loved it; it was the favorite. The F.B.I., because of the nature of the F.B.I. itself, because of the conditions in the world at the time, of the Sixties and so forth, [the public] was sharply divided. A lot of people were on the F.B.I.’s side, and a lot of people were not. We had that to contend with; we didn’t have the universal audience put in our lap the way we had with the other series.

He also offered up this summation of his career:

I would say that I was a very lucky actor who came into very lucky times, and got to Hollywood, and was put under contract by Warners in the very last days of the studio contract era, and was privileged to go through that time which is gone now. I mean, people produce from the back of a pick-up truck today; it’s a totally different world. But that world was invaluable and I treasure the memory of it.

Here’s the end titles to the first episode of The FBI:

Happy 79th birthday, David McCallum

David McCallum, left, in all of his U.N.C.L.E. glory as Illya Kuryakin

For many actors, there are periods of few jobs. David McCallum, who turns 79 on Sept. 19, always seems to keep working.

It has been almost 30 years since he last played U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin (in the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), but McCallum never seems to lack for work over a long career. In fact, his current gig, in a supporting role on NCIS, has lasted more than twice as long as his turn as Kuryakin (1964-68 excluding the 1983 TV movie).

The Scotsman transcended the “sidekick” role. There were other sidekicks on TV shows whose popularity rivaled or even exceeded that of the lead character (Rowdy Yates on Rawhide or Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip come to mind). But McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin went a step further.

McCallum appeared, in character, as host of Hullabaloo, introducing musical acts and dodging assassination attempts by enemy agents. At the end, two women “agents” get him in handcuffs, arousing an, er, interesting reaction among women McCallum fans.

All of that was a chance to get some extra work. On The Man From U.N.C.L.E., McCallum, by all accounts, was a true professional. Also, the actor made the best with lines like this one: “No man is free who works for a living. But I’m available.”

The Kuryakin character was created by Sam Rolfe, who scripted the pilot episode of the series and was producer of the show’s first season. But much of the character was developed by writer Alan Caillou in four key episodes: The Quadripartite Affair and The Guioco Piano Affair (the first significant use of the Kuryakin character); The Terbuf Affair (which actually revealed background about Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo); and The Bow-Wow Affair (the first Kuryakin-centric story, which included the “no man is free” line). It didn’t hurt that star Vaughn was concurrently pursuing a PhD and didn’t mind the occasional break from the grind of filming.

McCallum has had his share of tough times. His first marriage to actress Jill Ireland ended in divorce and an adoptive son died of an accidental drug overdose. And the Illya Kuryakin has been a mixed blessing AS DESCRIBED IN A 1998 NEW YORK TIMES STORY.

Still, McCallum keeps working. He can even enjoy the occasional in-joke about his former life as U.N.C.L.E.’s ace Russian operative: