Somewhere in an alternative universe…

…this James Bond-ish adventure was an actual film, not just a “movie within a movie” as in 1978’s Hooper. And, in that alternate universe, you could be sure that egotist director Roger Deal would seek enhanced billing.

“Make me look good, Sonny.”

Warner Bros. Presents
A film by ROGER DEAL  A Max Berns production

ADAM WEST in THE SPY WHO LAUGHED AT DANGER

Screenplay by Cordwainer Bird and Roger Deal  Story by Cordwainer Bird

Produced by Max Berns

Directed by ROGER DEAL

(c) MCMLXVIII Warner Bros. A Warner Communications Company

William Self: Fox TV to the rescue

William Self title card on an episode of Batman, produced by 20th Century Fox’s television unit

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

In the early 1960s, things were not looking good at 20th Century Fox.

The 1963 film Cleopatra, while popular with audiences. It sold 67.2 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada. That was more than Goldfinger’s 66.3 million.

But Cleopatra was so expensive, it had no chance of recouping its costs. The studio was going to need a bailout.

The bailout came from its television division, headed by executive William Self, a former actor.

Self’s TV unit took an inventory of the properties Fox held and began developing television versions.

As a result, in the fall of 1964, Fox came out with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (based on the studio’s 1961 film produced by Irwin Allen); Peyton Place, based on a 1956 novel, made into a 1957 Fox film; and 12 O’Clock High, based on a 1948 novel and made into a 1949 Fox movie.

All three were part of ABC’s 1964-65 schedule. Also, Fox produced Daniel Boone for NBC that same season.

Soon after, Self’s Fox TV unit was the home of other Allen shows as well as the 1966-68 Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The latter got off to a rocky start as test audiences were confused by the campy approach.

Self’s tenure at Fox lasted into the early 1970s. He became a producer (something he had done before joining Fox), whose credits included 1976’s The Shootist, the final John Wayne film.

Self died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Vaughn, Moore, Landau in Emmy In Memoriam

Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Roger Moore (The Saint) and Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) were among those included in the In Memoriam segment of the Emmy broadcast Sunday night on CBS.

Also included were Mike Connors of Mannix and Adam West of the 1966-68 Batman series. With the latter. a short clip from the show’s pilot played, with Batman doing the “Batusi” dance.

The Emmy version of In Memoriam seemed more weighted to performers compared with the Oscars telecast on ABC, which included publicists. However, some behind-the-camera professionals were included in the Emmy In Memoriam, including producer Stanley Kallis, who worked on Mission: Impossible, among other shows.

Vaughn, who had an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and Connors were not included in the Oscars In Memoriam segement earlier this year.

Others included were Mary Tyler Moore (the segment ended with her) and cartoon voice June Foray.

UPDATE (Sept. 18): You can view the In Memoriam segment for yourself.

The 1978 movie that foretold the future of 007 films

Burt Reynolds and the cast of Hooper in the film’s final scene

On occasion, movies actually predict the future. One such example is 1978’s Hooper.

The film concerns an aging stunt man, Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds) working on a James Bond-like movie being directed by a pompous, “auteur” director, Roger Deal (Robert Klein).

The star of the fictional film is Adam, played by Adam West. Apparently West is playing himself. At one point, he is also referred to as “Mr. West.”

Flash forward a couple of decades or so, and James Bond films are being directed by “auteur” style directors such as Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and Sam Mendes (Skyfall and SPECTRE).

Now, if you’ve ever read the credits of any movie or TV show, there’s boilerplate how any resemblance between the characters and real people living or dead is strictly coincidental. That language is intended to avoid lawsuits.

Coincidence or not, some of Hooper’s principals (Reynolds, co-star Brian Keith and director Hal Needham) worked on Nickelodeon, a 1976 film directed and co-written by “auteur” director Peter Bogdanovich, concerning the early years of the movie business.

In Hooper, at one point, Roger Deal says how movies are “pieces of time.” By coincidence, that’s a catch phrase associated with Bogdanovich.

As the story in Hooper unfolds, Sonny — who is one stunt gone wrong from being paralyzed — comes up with one last, great stunt for the Bond-like film.

Roger Deal (Robert Klein) being a jerk while Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds) and Max Berns (John Marley) are on the sidelines.

Roger Deal is interested and sends out his lackey assistant director (Alfie Wise) to talk down Sonny’s asking price. After Sonny takes the assistant director on a hair-raising drive around the studio, the stuntman gets his asking price.

A subplot in the movie is how veteran producer Max Berns (John Marley) is really powerless. The “auteur” director, once production has started, holds all the cards.

In the end, despite the risks, Sonny pulls off the stunt, capping his stuntman career. Sonny also punches out Roger Deal just before the end titles.

Life rarely is as tidy as movies. Nevertheless, Hooper provided a preview of what would happen in real life.

Adam West dies at 88

Adam West and Burt Ward in a publicity still for Batman

Adam West, star of the 1966-68 Batman television series, has died at 88, according to an obituary published by The Hollywood Reporter.

The actor died Friday after a short battle with leukeimia, the Reporter said, citing a family spokesperson.

Batman debuted Jan. 12, 1966. The show originally was to have come out in the fall of 1966. However, ABC’s fall 1965 schedule produced low ratings and Batman’s development was accelerated. The half-hour show aired twice a week.

Executive producer William Dozier opted for a “camp” approach, having trouble taking the original comic book source material seriously.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., used a 1960s comic story, “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler,” as the basis for his pilot script.

Semple delivered a story in which West’s Bruce Wayne/Batman took everything very, very seriously amid the writer’s jokes. Batman, though, didn’t have a laugh track.

Batman didn’t test well ahead of its premiere. “It was a disaster,” William Self, then the head of 20th Century Fox Television, said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. The test did not include the comic book-style effects (POW! ZAP!) nor the narration that Dozier himself would provide.

Self said that on the night of Batman’s debut he got a call on his unlisted home telephone number. “Is it supposed to be funny?” Self quoted the caller as saying. When Self said yes, the caller replied, “Then we loved it.”

Batman was a hit. West and Burt Ward, who played Dick Grayson/Robin, were suddenly big stars. A feature film with West and Ward was put into production and its came out in the summer of 1966.

The show’s impact was so powerful that other adventure shows, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the science fiction shows of Irwin Allen, adopted a much lighter tone.

Batman, though, flamed out. By the fall of 1967, it was cut back to one night a week. The show was done by the spring of 1968.

Adam West, in the meantime, had difficulty finding work having been typecast. He declined to appear as Batman in a 1974 public service announcement promoting equal pay for women. Dick Gautier took West’s place, mimicking West’s delivery as Batman.

Also, sometime after Batman, West received some consideration to play James Bond, according to the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

The closest West would get to that came in 1978 movie Hooper. He plays the star, apparently himself, of a James Bond-style movie. His character is named Adam and he even is referred to as “Mr. West” at one point.

The story concerned Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds), an aging stuntman dealing with pompous “auteur” director Roger Deal (Robert Klein).

Eventually, West’s career did pick back up in character roles. He also did voice over working, including playing Batman in some cartoons.

West discussed that aspect of his career in an interview for the Archive of American Television.

Van Williams dies at 82

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Horney

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet

Van Williams, the nominal star of the 1966-67 television version of The Green Hornet, died late last month, according to an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

Williams played Britt Reid, the editor and publisher of The Daily Sentinel who battled crime as the masked Green Hornet. Reid had to dodge both hoods and the police, who believed the Hornet was a racketeer.

The district attorney, Frank Scanlon (Walter Brooke) was in on the masquerade. Meanwhile, Sentinel reporter Mike Axford (Lloyd Gough) was determined the Hornet be captured.

The show, however, became a platform for Bruce Lee, who played the Hornet’s assistant, Kato. Lee’s skill in martial arts was a highlight of the series. For youngsters in the audience, Lee’s Kato upstaged Williams’ Green Hornet. Lee (1940-1973) would become a star before his sudden death.

The show, based on a radio series, was an attempt by producer William Dozier to extend his success with masked characters after the debut of Batman in January 1966. Dozier even provided the narration in the show’s main titles, using his “Desmond Doomsday” voice he utilized in Batman.

Dozier’s Batman series also featured a two-part story in 1967 where the Green Hornet traveled to Gotham City, running afoul of Batman. Earlier in that same season, Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Dick Grayson were briefly depicted watching The Green Hornet on television. In a different episode, the Green Hornet and Kato opened a window and talking to Batman and Robin, who were climbing up a building. Robin (Burt Ward) commented about the strange outfits worn by The Green Hornet and Kato.

Earlier in his career, Williams played private detective Kenny Madison, first on Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60) and then Surfside 6 (1960-62). two Warner Bros. series that aired on ABC.

About that Batman ’66-U.N.C.L.E. comics crossover

Batman 66-UNCLE

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Batman television series, which coincides with the second issue of DC Comics crossover of Batman ’66 (a comic book version of the Adam West/Burt Ward series) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The TV series debuted on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13, 1966. It was an instant hit, and its style affected other shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as producers sought to emulate what made Batman so popular (even if it was for a short time).

The first issue of the comic book came out in December. On social media, we’ve seen some fans of the original U.N.C.L.E. series decry the new comic book and the Batman TV show.

Some original U.N.C.L.E. fans say Batman contributed to U.N.C.L.E.’s eventual demise. That overlooks how nobody forced the U.N.C.L.E. creative team to adopt a similar tone as the Batman show.

Other U.N.C.L.E. fans have complained the Solo and Kuryakin characters in the comic book don’t closely resemble the Robert vaughn and David McCallum versions from the original 1964-68 television series.

According to THIS REVIEW the second issue of the comic book, there were “legal reasons” why exact likenesses of Vaughn and McCallum couldn’t be used.

Regardless, despite the disappointing box office of 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the international spy organization is hanging in there at the start of 2016.

For what it’s worth, the first issue of the comic book evoked scenes from U.N.C.L.E. episodes and it’s apparent the creative team of the comic book has done research into the U.N.C.L.E. series.

U.N.C.L.E.-Batman comic book scheduled

BatmanUNCLE

A comic book story featuring a crossover between The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman has been scheduled, NEWSARAMA.COM REPORTED.

This is part of the Batman ’66 title published by DC Comics.

How is this possible? DC has long been a corporate cousin of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warners, even moving from its long-time home in New York to Burkbank, California, home base of Warner Bros.

That move reflects how Warners is ramping up its output of films based on DC characters. The studio also controls The Man From U.N.C.L.E. original series, which ran from 1964 to 1968.

Batman ’66 is based on the 1966-68 series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The comic uses the likenesses of the actors. DC has published crossover stories with The Green Hornet, mimicking a teamup from the original Batman show. The comic even published a story based on a rejected script plot by Harlan Ellison for the Batman series.

According to Newsrama.com, the U.N.C.L.E. crossover will be published in December.

“The deadly organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H. has a new twist in their plans for world conquest—they’re recruiting some of Gotham City’s most infamous villains!,” according to a description published by Newsrama.com. “Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin bring this information to the one man who knows everything about these new enemies: Batman. Before you can say ‘Open channel D,”’the Dynamic Duo and the Men from U.N.C.L.E. are jetting off to Europe to thwart the schemes of this deadly criminal cartel.”

In real life, the U.N.C.L.E. television series was influenced by the Batman show. In U.N.C.L.E.’s VERY LIGHT THIRD SEASON, two regular Batman writers, Stanford Sherman and Stanley Ralph Ross, were hired to contribute scripts. Ross even worked THE SAME JOKE into both series.

UPDATE: If you CLICK HERE, you can read a 2013 Den of Geek story about the rejected Harlan Ellison story for the Batman television series, which featured Two Face as the villain.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967’s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975’s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.