1967: Dick Tracy vs. spies

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Producer William Dozier had a hit with 1966’s Batman television series and sold a second series with The Green Hornet, based on a radio show. So, in 1967, he tried to extend his streak with a pilot for a Dick Tracy series.

The final product ended up being influenced by ’60s spymania.

To write the pilot, Dozier hired Hal Fimberg, who wrote or co-wrote the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. Rather than use an established member of Tracy’s gallery of villains, Tracy’s foe in Fimberg’s script was Mr. Memory (Victor Buono).

Mr. Memory is kidnapping various ambassadors as part of a plot to disrupt NATO on behalf of an unspecified froeign power. They’re being abducted in Washington and taken to Tracy’s unnamed city. In the comic strip, the city wasn’t specified either, but seems like Chicago. Cartoonist Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator, lived near the Windy City. Gould’s successors, on occasion, drew the city to closely resemble Chicago.

The Tracy of the pilot was influenced by Dozier’s Batman show. While there was no “Tracy Cave,” the detective has a sophisticated lab in the basement of his house, accessible only by a secret entrance. Evidently, the city’s police lab wasn’t up to Tracy’s standards.

Besides Mr. Memory’s plot and the presence of writer Fimberg, there are other influences of 1960s spy entertainment.

One of Mr. Memory’s goons is played by Tom Reese, who played Ironhead in the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row. Fimberg’s script also lifts a bit from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In that spy show’s second episode, The Iowa Scuba Affair, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is locked in while poison gas is being pumped into his hotel room. Solo gets out by setting fire to a container of shaving cream and blowing the door open. In the pilot, Tracy ends up in a hotel room. Mr. Memory injects poison gas and Tracy pulls the same trick.

Actor Ray MacDonnell certainly had the Tracy look. If you ever seen Victor Buono playing a villain, you know what to expect. The proceedings aren’t subtle but they’re not as campy as Batman was.

Dozier’s failure to secure a buyer for this was an indicator his hot streak was coming to an end. Also in 1967, ABC canceled The Green Hornet after one season. The network also cut Batman back to a single episode weekly as it limped into its final season.

The pilot is embedded below (though there’s always the risk the video will get yanked). There’s a snappy theme song from The Ventures.

One oddity in the closing credits: There’s a credit the show is “based on and idea and characters created by” Gould and Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein owned the UPA cartoon studio that made some bad Tracy cartoons in the early ’60s. All of the primary characters (Tracy, Sam, Lizz, Junior, Chief Patton) in the pilot are from Gould’s comic strip. Also, at the very end, you can hear Dozier in his best “Desmond Doomsday” voice.

The Fall Guy’s 007-inspired art

Two Fall Guy ads for separate episodes

Two Fall Guy ads for separate episodes

Above are two ads for episodes of ABC’s The Fall Guy based on James Bond film art.

Back on Nov. 17, we carried AN OBITUARY for television writer-producer Glen A. Larson, whose credits included creating The Fall Guy, which ran on ABC from 1981 to 1986.

The obituary referenced how the opening episode of the show’s second season featured stuntman/bounty hunter Colt Seavers (Lee Majors) working on a James Bond (or certainly James Bond-like) movie. The guest cast included Martine Beswicke, who appeared in two 007 films, From Russia With Love and Thunderball.

A reader replied The Fall Guy had another episode titled Always Say Always, where Colt again worked as a stuntman on a Bond movie. This the guest cast included three actresses who’d worked in 007 films: Lana Wood, Joanna Pettet (from the 1967 Casino Royale) and Britt Ekland.

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

Bond collector Gary Firuta sent along copies for ads of both episodes. The Always Say Always ad is on the left, and the ad for Bail and Bond is on the right. In both, Lee Majors is depicted in a Bond-ish pose, similar to Roger Moore in posters for Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun — except Majors is holding his gun in his left hand.

Meanwhile, the ad on the right also looks like it has additional art that looks extremely similar to some of the art from Live And Let Die’s poster.

The Live And Let Die ad showed a boat crashing into a police car. The Fall Guy ad had a boat crashing into a plain automobile. The car in The Fall Guy ad is open, with someone falling out, unlike the police car in the Live And Let Die artwork.

UPDATE: Reader Delmo Waters Jr. steered us toward an August 2013 installment of the HILL PLACE blog which had a detailed look at Always Say Always.

UPDATE: Two 007 film villains in The FBI season 7

fbititlecard

We were catching up on the newly released season 7 set of The FBI television series. It turns out there are *two* actors who played James Bond movie villains who appeared during the show’s 1971-72 season.

Louis Jourdan was the lead villain in The Minerva Tapes, the 12th episode broadcast that season. It was Jourdan’s third appearance in the series, all of which involved either espionage or international intrigue storylines.

In the story, Jourdan is the ringleader of a Communist spy ring operating in the United States. His daughter becomes involved with one of his operatives. Meanwhile, there’s a power struggle going on within the spy ring. Into this volatile situation, the FBI’s top operative, Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) goes undercover.

It would end up being at least the fourth time that Zimbalist’s Erskine character would employ the actor’s Dandy Jim Buckley/Alfred the Butler voice to carry off the impersonation.

In the very next episode, Bitter Harbor, the actor who played the very first 007 film villain, Joseph Wiseman, who played the title character in 1962’s Dr. No, was the lead guest star.

Wiseman plays a respected leader of West Coast fisherman who has agreed to a massive loan by mobsters. The mob is looking to take over. Zimbalist’s Erskine dispatches his deputy, special agent Tom Colby (William Reynolds) to go undercover.

As it turns out, these season 7 episodes were never shown in syndication. A few episodes from the season were made available several years ago by AOL. But the new season 7 set, for the most part, is the first time these episodes have been made available since they were shown by ABC.

EARLIER POST: THE FBI SEASON 7: END OF AN ERA

Stan Lee to make appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The SHIELD helicarrier in the first SHIELD story in Strange Tales No. 135.

The SHIELD helicarrier in the first SHIELD story in Strange Tales No. 135.

Stan Lee, the 91-year-old former editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, is going to make an appearance on the Feb. 4 installment of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series.

Lee gave AN INTERVIEW TO IGN where he talked about the appearance and a bit about the original comic book. An excerpt:

IGN TV: My first question with you appearing on S.H.I.E.L.D. is, what took so long?! Were you saying, “Hey, why am I not in the first episode of this show?”

Stan Lee: Oh, I like the way you think! I felt the same way. Why was it not called Stan Lee and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? [Laughs] No, I’m glad that they gave that one little cameo, though. It’s a little bit longer than a cameo. It’s almost a supporting role. Instead of the usual three or four or five seconds, I think this took almost half a minute.

IGN: You were there for the beginning of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Lee: Well, I’m glad they invited me, because I did the first S.H.I.E.L.D. story in the comics with Jack Kirby. I love the whole concept of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I don’t know if you’d remember, but years ago, there was a television show called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and U.N.C.L.E. was a secret organization and so forth. I got the idea for S.H.I.E.L.D. from U.N.C.L.E.. I thought it’d be great to have an organization like that, but because we were doing comic books, I’d make it bigger and more colorful and more far out. We had a book called Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, which we stopped publishing after awhile. The fans would wonder, “What happened to Sgt. Fury? Where is he now?” So it occurred to me that if I did this group S.H.I.E.L.D., why not put Sergeant Fury at the head of it, except he’d now be a Colonel. So he’d be Colonel Fury and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — and that’s how it all started. I loved the idea, and I’m so glad that it’s a TV series. As it moves along, I hope it just gets wilder and wilder.

Nick Fury's first post World War II appearance

Nick Fury’s first post World War II appearance


Lee’s memory is a little faulty in the interview.

Actually, the Sgt. Fury World War II title continued to be published after S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in 1965. Thus, for a few years, Nick Fury appeared in two different titles (Sgt. Fury and Strange Tales, which S.H.I.E.L.D. shared with Dr. Strange) with stories set in two different time periods.

Also, Lee and Kirby, who created the Fury character to begin with, first established Nick Fury had survived World War II in Fantastic Four No. 21, published in 1963. At that point, Fury was with the CIA. He was still with that agency when he was recruited to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales No. 135.

In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t hit its stride until Jim Steranko took over as writer-artist in 1966-68.

1966: F Troop’s spy parody of a spy parody

Pat Harrington as spy B Wise with Ken Berry's Capt. Parmenter

Spy B Wise shows off a gadget to Capt. Parmenter

In 1966, everybody was getting in on the spy game, even the Western comedy F Troop. But instead of directly parodying James Bond, the Warner Bros. show instead did a takeoff of a takeoff.

In Spy, Counterspy, Counter Counterspy, the U.S. War Department has developed a top secret weapon, a bullet proof vest. It’s to be tested at Fort Courage, whose commanding officer is the bumbling Capt. Wilton Parmenter (Ken Berry).

Security for the test is handed to top secret spy B Wise (Pat Harrington Jr.), who mimics the rapid fire delivery of Don Adams on Get Smart. He even says, “Sorry about that!” (without saying chief) and has a gimmicked shoe (which has a gun instead of a telephone).

The thing is, when this episode aired on ABC, it coincided with Get Smart’s first season on NBC. Adams infused Maxwell Smart with some of his own comedy bits, but F Troop more or less does a full takeoff on Max and didn’t wait very long to do so. Meanwhile, there’s a woman spy (Abbe Lane) prowling about and one of the spies is a traitor.

Marvel to re-issue Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. stories

Jim Steranko's cover for Strange Tales No. 167

Jim Steranko’s cover for Strange Tales No. 167, climax of the Yellow Claw storyline.

Marvel Comics is re-issuing artist-writer Jim Steranko’s classic run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in September in time for a new S.H.I.E.L.D. series on ABC.

The trade paperback is priced at $34.99 but can be PRE-ORDERED ON AMAZON.COM FOR $24.79. It reprints the Nick Fury stories from Strange Tales Nos. 151-168 and issues 1-3 and 5 of Fury’s own title. (No. 4 was an expanded re-telling by Roy Thomas and Frank Springer of the S.H.I.E.L.D. origin story by first done by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Strange Tales No. 135.)

Steranko took over as S.H.I.E.L.D. artist with issue 151. Jack Kirby, Fury’s co-creator, did rough layouts with Steranko doing finished pencils and inks. Eventually, Steranko took over as writer as well.

Steranko came in the middle of a storyline started by Stan Lee involving a new mysterious Supreme Hydra who was a master of disguise. Steranko eventually revealed the character to be none other than Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, Fury’s nemesis from World War II.

Steranko had another long storyline reviving a 1950s villain, the Yellow Claw. The politically incorrect named villain is revealed in the last installment to be merely a robot. It was all part of an elaborate, chess-like game played by Dr. Doom and a sophisticated robot.

James Bond makes a "cameo" in Strange Tales No. 164

007’s “cameo” in Strange Tales No. 164

Steranko clearly was a James Bond fan. One of his stories featured a weapons expert named Boothroyd. In Strange Tales No. 164, the Sean Connery version of Bond pays a one-panel visit to a S.H.I.E.L.D. barber shop front.

The new paperback is coming out on Sept. 24. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC will air its new S.H.I.E.L.D. series this fall, built around Clark Gregg’s agent seen in a number of Marvel movies, including 2012’s The Avengers. When last seen, it appeared Gregg’s Agent Coulson had died. Then again, the audience only had the word of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about that. The S.H.I.E.L.D. series is overseen by Whedon, who directed the Avengers film.

Meanwhile, here’s a tip of the cap to TANNER’S DOUBLE O SECTION BLOG, where we first read about this.

2000 HMSS STORY: DON’T YIELD, BACK S.H.I.E.L.D.

Would you believe…Don Adams would have been 90 today?

Don Adams and Barbara Feldon grace the cover of TV Guide

Don Adams and Barbara Feldon grace the cover of TV Guide

April 13, besides being the birthday of the literary James Bond, is also the birthday of one of the better known actors from the 1960s spy craze: Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart on Get Smart, the 1965-1970 spy comedy.

He was born April 13, 1923, according to his IMDB.COM BIOGRAPHY. As we’ve written before, Adams wasn’t the first choice to play Maxwell Smart.

The show was originally developed with Tom Poston as the lead character. But it was rejected by ABC, where executives were not amused by the Mel Brooks-Buck Henry script, which included a dwarf as a villain called Mr. Big. All this came out in interviews Poston and producer Leonard Stern made for the Archive of American Television decades later.

Shortly after the ABC rejection, a crestfallen Mel Brooks encountered an NBC executive who asked the writer what was wrong. Brooks told the story of his unsold pilot. As it turned out, NBC had Don Adams under contract and had to pay him until the network could find Adams a show. NBC, thus, was now very interested. Brooks and Henry worked in Adams’ “Would you believe?” routine and other changes. Michael Dunn, soon to be the villainous Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West, brought Mr. Big to life.

Get Smart was one of the most successful of the ’60s spy shows, running five full seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS). It was revived as a 1980 theatrical movie starring Adams, The Nude Bomb (which didn’t include Barbara Feldon as Agent 99) and a later television movie Get Smart Again (this time with Feldon). There was also another short lived Get Smart television series on Fox.

The concept was brought back in 2008 with Steve Carell in another theatrical movie. This one insisted on providing a backstory for Max, where he had once been an obese back-office employee who dreamed of being an agent, etc., etc. In the original, there was no attempt to explain Max; he simply was.

The 2008 film did OK at the box office, with with $230 million in worldwide ticket sales. But Steve Carell didn’t make anybody forget Don Adams, who had died three years earlier. As it turned out, that would be impossible.

For Warner Bros., which released the ’08 movie, the box office wasn’t good enough to order up a sequel. Sorry about that, Chief.

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