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

Dan August coming to DVD in December

The cast of Dan August (Burt Reynolds seated, while left to right, Ned Romero, Richard Anderson, Norman Fell and Ena Hartman) in a publicity still

Dan August, the Quinn Martin series that helped (albeit in an unusual way) Burt Reynolds become a star will be available on DVD in December, according to a listing at Visual Entertainment Inc.

The series only ran first run during the 1970-71 season on ABC. After it wasn’t picked up, Reynolds took a blooper reel with him on talk show appearances, according to the book Quinn Martin, Producer. Audiences discovered the star’s sense of humor, which gave his career momentum.

The police drama originated with a television movie, House on Greenapple Road. That starred Christopher George as the police detective.

When ABC wanted a series, Quinn Martin wanted George to reprise the role. But the actor made a pilot for another series, The Immortal, which was also on ABC’s schedule. George went with that, opening the door for Reynolds. (As it turns out Visual Entertainment also offers The Immortal.)

Anthony Spinner title card for an episode of Dan August

The day-to-day producer of Dan August was Anthony Spinner (b. 1930), who was the fourth-season producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He also worked on a number of QM shows as a writer or producer. Spinner pushed the QM envelope on Dan August, having story lines dealing with topical issues of the day.

The Visual Entertainment series says CBS ran the show. It did, but not first-run. CBS ran it during the summer of 1973, with Reynolds now a movie star.

For more information about Dan August, CLICK HERE. It’s available for pre-order and ships Dec. 7.

Burt Reynolds dies at 82

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

Burt Reynolds, who had a long career and was a big movie star in the 1970s and ’80s, has died at 82, according to The Hollywood Reporter, citing his manager.

In the ’70s, Reynolds’ name came up as a possible James Bond. Director Guy Hamilton was keen on the idea after seeing the actor on television. But nothing came of it.

Reynolds had acting credits extending back to the late 1950s. He was half-Comanche Quint Asper, a sidekick to James Arness’ Marshal Matt Dillon in 50 episodes of Gunsmoke from 1962 to 1965. He also was the star of a short-lived police series, Hawk, in 1966.

Burt Reynolds in the main titles to Dan August (1970-71)

Another police drama, Dan August, paved the way for Reynolds to be a star. Not because the show was a hit (it only lasted one season, 1970-71).

Instead, as noted in the book Quinn Martin, Producer, Reynolds used the show’s blooper reel during appearances on talk shows. For the first time, according to author Jonathan Etter, audiences had an opportunity to witness the actor’s sense of humor.

In the ’70s, Reynolds broke out and became a film star. He was helped by doing a centerfold-style photo shoot for Cosmopolitan, though he’d later say he regretted doing it.

His 1970s credits included the likes of Deliverance, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing and The Longest Yard (he’d play a different part in a 2005 remake starring Adam Sandler) and, most memorably, Smokey and the Bandit.

Dean Martin, Roger Moore and Burt Reynolds in The Cannonball Run.

Reynolds also had a chance to (sort of) revisit 007 territory in 1978’s Hooper, directed by former stuntman Hal Needham, who had directed Smokey and the Bandit.

In Hooper, the actor played the film’s title character, an aging stunt man working on a James Bond-type film being directed by an “auteur” style director, Roger Deal (Robert Klein). It almost predicted the 21st century 007 films Skyfall and SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes.

Another Reynolds comedy, 1981’s The Cannonball Run, included Roger Moore as Seymour, who thinks he’s Roger Moore.

Reynolds’ stardom faded, but he plugged away into the new century. He also extended into directing and producing (including the 1990s television series Evening Shade, where he starred).

John Meston: Winning the West

John Meston title card for an episode of Gunsmoke

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

In the 21st century, it’s hard to remember how popular Westerns were on U.S. television. At their height, Westerns had their own category in the Emmys.

The one Western that stood above the others was Gunsmoke, which had a 20-year run on CBS. And one of the show’s key figures was writer John Meston, who co-created the Gunsmoke radio show in 1952.

Meston’s radio scripts were initially adapted for television. In those early days, they’d often they’d be assigned to other writers, including future movie director Sam Peckinpah.

By the show’s second season, Norman Macdonnell, Gunsmoke’s other co-creator was now in the producer’s chair. Meston was writing full television scripts, either adapting his radio work or penning new stories. Meston would be the primary writer for the TV show’s first 10 seasons, even outlasting Macdonnell, who was replaced as producer during the 10th season.

‘It’s Too Late’

Meston’s scripts included Bloody Hands, a 1957 installment in which Matt Dillon (James Arness) almost falls apart after killing three of four bank robbers in self defense. Tired of the bloodshed, Dillon quits his U.S. marshal job.

For a brief while, Dillon enjoys his respite. He beats Doc (Milburn Stone) in a game of checkers and goes fishing with Kitty (Amanda Blake).

But Dillon, in the end, can’t escape. A gunman has killed one of saloon women at the Long Branch. Chester (Dennis Weaver) rides to the stream where Dillon and Kitty are relaxing.

Chester, uncharacteristically is wearing a gun belt. He hands it to Dillon. No one else is capable of taking the gun man. “I would if I could, but I ain’t good enough,” Chester says.

Dillon attempts to protest. An emotional Chkester replies “it too late for that, Mr. Dillon. Just way too late.” Dillon takes the gun belt. The episode ends with Dillon riding back to Dodge City. Dillon has been dragged back into the life he thought he could escape from.

A Footnote

Admittedly, this post has nothing do with spies. However, I was watching a 1964 Meston-scripted Gunsmoke on Monday night (Dry Well). Like a lot of Meston stories, it ends less than happily with a tragic and unnecessary death.

“What a waste,” says Burt Reynolds’ Quint Asper, a Meston-created character introduced in the early 1960s. As a result, I tweeted out an image of the Meston title card shown in this post.

That tweet got more of a response than I expected. So I figured Meston definitely merited an entry in the blog’s “unsung figures of television” series.

Meston died in 1979 at the age of 64. The New York Times published a four-paragraph obituary published by the United Press International news service. One of the prolific and talented writers on television ended his life as a footnote in the newspaper of record.

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.

Burt Reynolds at 80: the (could-have-been) Bond

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

Burt Reynolds at the end of Hooper (1978)

Feb. 11 was the 80th birthday of Burt Reynolds. For a time, in the very early 1970s, some (such as director Guy Hamilton) thought he could have been a good James Bond.

That wasn’t meant to be, but the actor’s milestone birthday is worthy of a pause for reflection.

Reynolds was a better actor than a lot of his critics gave him credit for. At the same time, for a long time, Reynolds was quoted as acknowledging that he accepted some roles because it would be fun, rather than stretching his acting chops.

Regardless, Reynolds worked his way up. For a time in the early 1960s, he was a supporting player on Gunsmoke as Quint Asper, a half-Indian blacksmith in Dodge City. Reynolds also had a memorable guest appearance on The Twilight Zone, where he played a pompous actor, doing a spot-on impersonation of Marlon Brando.

Reynolds later became the lead actor in police dramas such as Hawk and Dan August.

The latter, which aired during the 1970-71 season on ABC, was a turning point. Not because it was successful, but because Reynolds took a copy of the show’s “blooper reel” with him on talk shows. (See the book Quinn Martin, Producer for more details.) For the first time, audiences could see what his colleagues already knew — Reynolds had a sense of humor.

Reynolds could be serious when he wanted to, such as the 1971 movie Deliverance. But, for some (such as the Spy Commander), one of his best performances — where drama and comedy were required — was 1978’s Hooper.

In that Hal Needham-directed film, Reynolds played the lead stunt man on a James Bond-like movie being directed by an “A” list movie director (Robert Klein). The latter character was based on Peter Bogdanovich, who directed 1976’s Nickelodeon, a film where Reynolds worked as an actor and Needham as stunt coordinator.

In 1978, it was inconceivable that an “A” list director would ever do a Bond movie. So, in some ways, Hooper was a sort-of preview of the Sam Mendes-directed 007 films of the 21st century.

Anyway, here’s a hearty happy birthday for Burt Reynolds.