Mission: Impossible’s human computer

Barry Crane (1927-1985)

Barry Crane (1927-1985)

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

When it debuted in 1966, Mission: Impossible was unlike other television series. Its pilot involved a covert team of operatives stealing two atomic bombs. The question was whether such a show could be sustained on a weekly basis.

One of the people who ensured it would was Barry Crane. His official title when the show began was associate producer. Crane helped break down M:I stories into shooting schedules which could be filmed efficiently. M:I was always going to be an expensive show. Crane helped the production get the most bang for its buck.

“To make it simple, he was a walking computer,” Stanley Kallis, one of M:I’s producers, told author Patrick J. White in 1991’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. “He had perfect recall and could juggle in his mind eighty facts at any moment.”

Before joining the M:I crew, Crane (born Barry Cohen) had been production manager for a number of series at Four Star, including Burke’s Law. Crane came aboard M:I after the pilot had been made and production was ramping up on the series.

M:I executive producer Bruce Geller sold another series a year later with Mannix, the private eye drama with Mike Connors. Geller shifted Crane to that series, where he also directed an episode toward the end of the first season. For the 1968-69 series, Crane held the associate producer post on both series. Along the way, he ended up directing 15 episodes of M:I and six episodes of Mannix.

Before the end of M:I’s seven-year run, Crane was promoted to producer of that series. By this time, the show was under more pressure to control costs. The last two seasons focused on the Impossible Missions Force doing battle with “The Syndicate,” a reference to the Mafia. According to White’s book, Crane “was effective at designing good-looking shows on a practical basis.”

During his television career, Crane was also a noted player of Bridge. Here’s an excerpt of a Crane bio on an unofficial website about the history of the Amercan Contract Bridge League.

Crane became ACBL’s top masterpoint holder in 1968, a position previously held only by Oswald Jacoby and Charles Goren. Crane amassed points at an astounding rate until, at the time of his death, he had 35,138, more than 11,000 ahead of any other players.

By the mid-1970s, Crane primarily was a director, working on various television series. His credits included helming the final episode of Hawaii Five-O, “Woe to Wo Fat,” in 1980.

Crane’s story, however, would not have a happy ending. He was found at his home, “apparently the victim of a bludgeoning,” according to a July 7, 1985 story in the Los Angeles Times.

The murder was never solved, according to Crane’s entry on Wikipedia.

 

Frank D. Gilroy dies, playwright created Burke’s Law

The cast of

The cast of “Who Killed Julie Greer?” including Dick Powell as Amos Burke, first row, right

Frank D. Gilroy, a distinguished playwright, has died at 89, according to obituaries published in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE WRAP.

Gilroy won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1964 play The Subject was Roses. Prior to that work, he did a teleplay that brought to life a TV character of note.

It was Gilroy who created the character of millionaire police detective Amos Burke, who made his debut in the first episode of The Dick Powell Theatre, Who Killed Julie Greer?

In that 1961 episode, Powell himself played Amos Burke, who proceeded to the crime scene in a chauffeur-driven limousine. The show has a brief exchange between a police sergeant and a reporter (Alvy Moore).

The reporter asks how Burke had become rich. “The smart way,” the sergeant replies, “he was born with it.” The sergeant informs the reporter that Burke started as a rookie cop and worked his way up to being the top detective on the police force.

“You mean he loves crime that much?” the reporter asks.

“Crime in general, murder in particular,” the sergeant replies.

Two years later, after Powell’s death, the concept was picked up as a series, Burke’s Law. This time, Gene Barry played Burke. After two seasons, the show got a major makeover, turning Burke into a secret agent. The series was renamed Amos Burke, Secret Agent. It was canceled midway during the 1965-66 season.

Throughout the series, Gilroy got a credit during the end titles that the show was “based on characters created by” the playwright.

Who Killed Julie Greer? included a lot of snappy dialogue, something that carried over to the series. For Gilroy, Amos Burke wasn’t the main highlight of his resume, but Burke still has his fans today.

Gene Barry dies at age 90

Gene Barry passed away Dec. 9, according to an Associated Press story carried on The New York Times Web site.

In February, we had a post that discussed how his Burke’s Law series was abruptly changed into Amos Burke, Secret Agent in the fall of 1965. Barry often cut a dashing figure in multiple TV series as well as starring in the 1953 version of The War Of The Worlds. He’ll be missed.

UPDATE: Here’s the conclusion and end titles of an episode of Amos Burke, Secret Agent:

1965: Amos Burke (abruptly) becomes a secret agent

The fall of 1965 was quite a time for television spy shows. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on NBC was entering its second (and most highly rated) season, with the network adding I Spy to its schedule. And, over on CBS, The Wild, Wild West was about to mix spies with cowboys.

ABC didn’t want to be left behind. But it made the most unusual move of the three networks. Instead of commissioning a new show, it opted to revamp Burke’s Law, an escapist show about a millionaire policeman, into Amos Burke, Secret Agent.

The show had its origins as an episode of the anthlogy program The Dick Powell Show, where its namesake host portrayed Amos Burke, an ace police detective. The series debuted in 1963, with Gene Barry cast as Burke, going to crime scenes in a Rolls Royce limousine. Burke’s Law also featured a lot of guest stars, including former movie stars. It was a formula that the show’s producer, Aaron Spelling, would re-use in other series.

With the new format, Barry remained (as did a faster tempo version of the show’s theme music by Herschel Burke Gilbert) but little else. Suddenly, Burke was reporting to a mysterious chief known only as “The Man” (Carl Benton Reid).

The move didn’t work. Amos Burke, Secret Agent got canceled in early January 1966. However, if you want to get a sense of what the revamped show looked like, a compilation of clips from an episode is below.