Martin Landau, M:I’s disguise artist, dies

Martin Landau as Rollin Hand in an IMF dossier photo

Martin Landau, who gained fame as Mission: Impossible disguise expert Rollin Hand, has died at 89, the TMZ website said.

Landau died Saturday at the UCLA Medical Center “after a short hospitalization where he suffered unexpected complications,” TMZ said.

Landau enjoyed a long career that began in the early 1950s. It included a number of espionage-related stories, including portraying Leonard, a henchman in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed North by Northwest (1959); a Cold War themed episode of The Twilight Zone; and playing Thrush operative Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

But he was most famous for Mission: Impossible, where he appeared during the show’s first three seasons.

M:I producer Bruce Geller wrote the part of Rollin Hand (originally named Martin Land) in his pilot script especially for Landau. Landau didn’t want to sign a series deal. Geller wanted the actor for the pilot badly enough he proceeded anyway.

It would be a decision that would have a major impact on the series.

Initially, the idea was Rollin would only appear occasionally. However, series star Steven Hill, for religious reasons, insisted on leaving work at sundown on Friday.

Count Zark (Martin Landau) menaces Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Bat Cave Affair

As a result, scripts were revised to de-emphasize Hill’s Dan Briggs and to keep bringing back Rollin. Throughout the first season, Landau was listed as either a guest star or making a “special guest appearance.”

After the first season, Hill was fired, with Peter Graves replacing him as a new Impossible Missions Force mastermind, Jim Phelps. Landau was now joint star with Graves.

However, Landau would only agree to do one season at a time. This gave him enormous leverage in his contract negotiations.

After three seasons, Paramount executives wanted to cap costs on Mission: Impossible. The studio had tough negotiations with Landau.

According to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Paramount offered a small raise (to $7,000 an episode from $6,500 in the third season) while the actor wanted $11,000 per episode for the fourth season and $12,500 for season five.

Meanwhile, according to the book, Peter Graves had a clause in his contract that nobody else on the show could be paid more than he was. A raise for Landau also meant a raise for Graves.

Eventually, Landau departed, replaced by Leonard Nimoy as a new disguise expert, Paris. That led to Barbara Bain, Landau’s real-life spouse, exiting the series as well.

Landau and Bain years later starred in Space: 1999, a syndicated Gerry Anderson science fiction series that ran two seasons. The couple divorced in 1993.

Landau eventually secured three nominations for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, with one win for 1994’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. His turn as Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair decades earlier (where he spoke with the same Lugosi accent) was a sort of warm up.

Neverthless, Landau retained his association as Rollin Hand. In 2014, the MeTV cable channel produced promos for M:I with Landau urging viewers to “watch me on Me…MeTV,” while it was running the series as part of a Sunday night block of spy shows.

Barbara Bain to get star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Barbara Bain in Mission: Impossible

Barbara Bain in Mission: Impossible

Barbara Bain, who won three Emmys for her role in Mission: Impossible, will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016, ACCORDING TO VARIETY.

Bain, 83, was the not the headline name in the Variety story. Bradley Cooper and Quentin Tarantino were. Also, the list of show business people getting a star also includes, among others, Kurt Russell, Kathy Bates and Michael Keaton.

Still, it’s recognition for Bain, who beat out the likes of Diana Rigg, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell and others when she won three straight acting Emmys while a member of the cast of the original M:I series.

The actress played Cinnamon Carter, sultry femme fatale for the Impossible Missions Force. Because the IMF frequently played con games with its adversaries, Cinnamon got to take on many guises.

Her time on M:I ended abruptly. Her then-husband, Martin Landau, was also a big draw. But Landau never signed a long-term deal for the series. After the parent company of Paramount acquired Desilu, the studio didn’t like how Landau had leverage to negotiate a new deal each season.

Landau was gone going into the fourth season. So was Bain, who was under contract but in the end that didn’t matter. When she won her final Emmy for M:I, she let everyone know how she felt. Still, the actress got to play the part one last time in a 1997 episode of Diagnosis Murder, which featured other stars of 1960s spy shows (including Robert Culp and Robert Vaughn) as guest stars.

UPDATE: Martin Landau already has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on the north side of the 6800 block of Hollywood Boulevard, according to this PAGE ON THE LOS ANGELES TIMES website. M:I Star Peter Graves ALSO HAS A STAR on the walk of fame on the north side of the 6600 block.

Mission: Impossible’s 45th anniversary: a series disavowed

Sept. 17 is Mission: Impossible’s 45th anniversary. It comes at an odd time. The fourth movie in 15 years based on the series comes out later this year. But, for fans of the original, that’s not necessarily cause for celebration.

The Bruce Geller-created series, which ran from 1966 to 1973, was about a team, with its core members possessing a variety of skills: master planners, masters of disguise, femme fatales and an electronics whiz among them. When special talents were needed, the Impossible Missions Force could call upon doctors, actors, skilled drivers and the like.

With a group like that, they couldn’t be assigned just anything. In the pilot, IMF leader Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) is given a doozy of a task involving a couple of atomic bombs. He then selects team members to carry out his plan:

In case you’re wondering, the first picture that went to the “discard” pile was none other than Geller, the writer and producer of the pilot. He’d end up winning an Emmy for his script, the only writing credit he’d receive on the series.

M:I wasn’t an easy show to produce. It was expensive by the standards of its day. Initially the brass at Desilu, the studio where M:I was made, accepted that. After Paramount bought Desliu, executives weren’t always so understanding. Also, egos were involved. Writers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter, among the most prolific scribes of the early seasons, sometimes clashed with Geller, who had the title of executive producer after the pilot. The Woodfield-Balter duo were named producers in the third season but following another Geller fight left the show.

Earlier, during season one, there were other conflicts. Hill, an Orthodox Jew, insisted on leaving the set by sunset on Friday, a complicating factor for a series that required extra filming time. That led to Martin Landau, as disguise ace Rollin Hand, to get more screen time. He initially was to only appear at most occasionally. Hill was replaced for season two by Peter Graves as Phelps and Landau got second billing. Both Graves and Landau were big stars as a result.

Landau, though, ended up leaving after the third season. Landau had never signed a long-term contract. His deals were season by season, and he used that leverage to negotiate pay raises. Before the fourth season began, the cost-conscious regime at Paramount wasn’t as willing to open up the checkbook the way Desliu had. Starting with the fourth season, cast changes were more frequent. Barbara Bain, who won three Emmys on M:I, was also Mrs. Martin Landau and followed her husband out the door (despite having signed a series contract). She let the public know how she felt about it when she picked up her third Emmy for M:I:

By the sixth season, M:I had dropped its spy/espionsage theme plots and the IMF concentrated entirely on taking down “the Syndicate” in part because it was cheaper. Still it ran a full seven seasons and a revival, in which Jim Phelps comes out of retirement, ran for two more starting in 1988.

Yet, in many ways, the Tom Cruise movies that began in 1996 have eclipsed the original show. Those films are, well, all about superman Ethan Hunt (Cruise, of course), who seems to have all the skills while his Greek chorus of agents look on approvingly. The first Cruise movie even made Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) the villain.

It was as if the Secretary really had disadvowed any knowledge of the actions — not to mention the Emmy awards and the memories — of the original IMF. Pretty much the only things to make the jump to the Cruise movies was Lalo Schifrin’s theme music and a “based on the series created by” credit for Geller, who died in 1978 in a crash of a small plane.

Thus, fans of the original show have to content themselves with rewatching the series. All seven seasons are available on DVD. And on Nov. 29, the first season of the 1988 revival becomes available on DVD. And 45 years ago, it began like this:

Leonard Stern, Get Smart producer, dies at 88

Leonard Stern, the producer of Get Smart and a long-time writer and producer of other shows, passed away this week at the age of 88. Besides Get Smart, his credits were varied and included The Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners, and McMillan & Wife. Even his short-lived shows, such as I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster and He & She, have a devoted following.

Because of our subject matter, though, we’re concentrating on his contributions to Get Smart. As executive producer, he helped turn the pilot script by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry into a successful series. That wasn’t easy, as Stern described in this interview; the script had to be redone to tailor it to Don Adams (under contract to NBC) after the show was originally envisioned for Tom Poston:

During the show’s run, Stern collaborated on a script with Buck Henry that earned both men an Emmy. The 1967 Emmys turned out to be a big night for TV spy shows, with Mission: Impossible creator Bruce Geller and co-star Barbara Bain also getting Emmys. You can Stern and Henry get theirs (presented by Bain and M:I’s Martin Landau), starting around the 2:40 mark of this video:

RIP, Mr. Stern. CLICK HERE TO READ THE WASHINGTON POST’S OBITUARY. Meanwhile you can READ THE WRAP’S OBITUARY BY CLICKING HERE (which gives Stern’s age as 87).

1997: a 1960s spy reunion with Culp, Vaughn,Macnee and Bain

The Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder often engaged in “stunt casting,” in which the producers would deliberately cast actors famous for certain roles in the past and put them in a story that evoked their iconic images.

In November 1997, CBS aired an episode of the series called “Discards,” which featured the stars of 1960s spy shows. Most of the screen time went to Robert Culp, who played the father of a series regular. Besides Culp (I Spy), Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) were on hand, playing spy types. What’s more, Barbara Bain was there actually reprising her Cinnamon Carter role from Mission: Impossible. On top of that, Phil Morris, the son of M:I’s Greg Morris appeared.

Here are some clips:

Mission: Impossible’s Peter Graves dies

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Peter Graves, star of the both the original Mission: Impossible series and its 1980s revival, was found dead at his California home, apparently from natural causes.

Graves, the brother of Gunsmoke star James Arness, was brought into M:I starting with the show’s second season. The show never explained why Graves’s Jim Phelps replaced Steven Hill’s Dan Briggs as the leader of the Impossible Missions Force. In any case, for the next six years, Graves (as well as Greg Morris) would be a constant in a show that went through a lot of turmoil and cast changes, with the likes of Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Warren, Sam Elliott and Peter Lupus (who was replaced for a time before returning) coming in and out as regulars.

Obituaries for Graves will also prominently mention his work on Airplane! but because this is a spy entertainment-focused blog, we had to include this montage on YouTube of opening titles from the original show. It keeps repeating the theme to get in more clips of episodes than the typical opening of an M:I installment:

And here’s a titles sequence from the 1988-90 revival to show Jim Phelps lighting the fuse.

UPDATE: The New York Times has now published a longer obituary. You can view it by CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

1968: Time analyzes Mission: Impossible’s appeal

Few people remember Bruce Geller today. He created Mission: Impossible, developed Mannix and was viewed in his heyday as a brilliant television producer. His series were known for very stylized title sequences. In fact, it’s his hand who strikes the match that lights the fuse in the M:I title sequence of the original TV series. He died in a aircraft crash in 1978 but was very much on the mind of Time magazine a decade earlier when it described his most successful TV product:

The program is TV’s hottest suspense series, and its fans find in it the same inspired implausibility that characterized The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in its prime. Bruce Geller, 37-year-old film, TV and off-Broadway writer who conceived the whole enterprise, concedes that his original script was basically a paste-up of Topkapi and several other favorite movies. When Hollywood wouldn’t buy it, he turned to Desilu. When Desilu proposed a series, he turned nervous, fearing he would run out of ideas—his own or other people’s. But he tried, and made it. M:l won four Emmys last year, and now in its second season it ranks as a solid favorite in the Sunday evening slot formerly occupied by Candid Camera and What’s My Line? Needless to say, Lucille Ball is disavowing nothing.

In many ways, Time described M:I at its peak. In the third season, a quarrel between Geller and his best writers, William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter, would lead to the departure of the latter duo. Also, during the second season, Paramount acquired Desilu from Lucille Ball. That led to a new studio regime that emphasized cost cutting — which, in turn, led to the departure of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.

To read the entire, story, just CLICK HERE.