The man who hired Goldsmith, Williams and others

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on a first-season episode of Universal’s The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

The blog’s post this week about the television factory run by MCA Corp.’s Revue Studios (later Universal Television) didn’t have room to get into some details. This post is aimed at remedying that.

One of Revue-Universal’s stalwarts was Stanley Wilson, who ran the music department.

In that capacity, he hired composers who had to work under tight deadlines. Wilson hired some of the best, some of whom would become major film composers.

One of Wilson’s hires was Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). Goldsmith already had credits at CBS. But the network let him go.

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on an episode of Thriller, whose composers included Jerry Goldsmith.

Wilson wisely assigned him jobs at Revue-Universal. Some of Goldsmith’s best television work was on the studio’s 1960-62 anthology series Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff. For a 2010 home video release, extras included permitting viewers to listen to Goldsmith’s music only for episodes he scored.

Wilson (whose title was either “musical supervisor” or “music supervisor”) also brought on John Williams to work on the 1960-62 series Checkmate, a detective series created by Eric Ambler. It was one of the earliest credits for Williams. Williams was also hired by Wilson to work on the anthology show Kraft Suspense Theater.

Other notable Wilson hires included Morton Stevens, beginning with an episode of The General Electric Theater. The episode starred Sammy Davis Jr. Stevens worked for Davis as his arranger.

Wilson hired Stevens for the Davis episode of The GE Theater. That began a career switch for Stevens of scoring television shows. That included scoring the pilot for Hawaii Five-O and devising its iconic theme. Stevens also was a major composer on Thriller.

Other Wilson hires included Quincy Jones for the pilot of Ironside (resulting in the creation of another well-known theme) and Dave Grusin on a number of Universal projects. They included the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder that introduced Lt. Columbo to television audiences.

Jon Burlingame, a journalist who has written extensively about television and film music, had a 2012 article in Variety when Universal named a street on its Southern California lot in honor of Wilson.

“Stanley Wilson Avenue connects Main Street with James Stewart Avenue on the Universal lot, not far from the now-demolished Stage 10 where its namesake conducted literally thousands of hours of music by young composers who would go on to become the biggest names in Hollywood film music,” Burlingame wrote.

On his blog, Burlingame wrote an additional tribute. “Wilson is an unsung hero in the film/TV music business.”

Wilson died in 1970 at the age of 54.

What if Fleming hadn’t exited U.N.C.L.E.?

The cast of Checkmate

The cast of Checkmate

We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming crying U.N.C.L.E. and opting to end his participation in the television series that would become The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But would have happened if he had stuck around?

It might have been similar to Checkmate, a 1960-62 crime drama on CBS.

Checkmate featured two dashing private detectives (Anthony George and Doug McClure), aided by an academic (Sebastian Cabot). Two things stood out about the show: it was produced by a production company owned by Jack Benny and it was billed as having been created by novelist Eric Ambler (1909-1998), a contemporary of Ian Fleming. In fact, in the novel From Russia, With Love, Fleming’s James Bond has an Ambler novel with him on his journey to Istanbul. Amber in 1958 also married Joan Harrison, an associate of Alfred Hitchcock, who oversaw production of the director’s television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

According to IMDB.com, Ambler never wrote an episode of Checkmate. According to the IMDB.com information, he sometimes got a creator credit and sometimes didn’t during the two seasons of the show. (From a few episodes we’ve seen, the “Created by Eric Ambler” credit appears in the main titles during the first season and shows up in the end titles in the second.)

Ambler’s participation (or lack of it) in Checkmate mirrors what was shaping up with the television project originally named Solo: it was originally to have billed Ian Fleming’s Solo, but the heavy lifting of devising a pilot episode story was done by writer Sam Rolfe. Once Fleming signed away his U.N.C.L.E. rights for 1 British pound, Rolfe still only got a “developed by” credit instead of a “created by” credit for the 1964-68 series.

Based on a sampling of episodes, Checkmate is entertaining. One episode (The Human Touch) featured Peter Lorre as the villain. Also, the series, including its theme music, was an early credit for composer John Williams (who called himself Johnny Williams at the time). Still, Ambler didn’t do the heavy lifting in terms of coming up with stories. That was left to others.

As a result, we suspect had The Man From U.N.C.L.E. come out as Ian Fleming’s Solo, the author would have been a kind of front man (even if he had lived past August 1964) while executive producer Norman Felton, Rolfe (who produced the show’s first season) and others done most of the work of devising story lines.

Fleming and Hitchcock: how to turn old news into a `scoop’

This week, the U.K. Daily Mail newspaper had a story it presented as a scoop: that Ian Fleming wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first James Bond movie and he went through novelist Eric Ambler to make an approach to the famed director.

“I say you chaps, what’s the fuss?”


You can view the Mail’s story BY CLICKING HERE. Warning: be prepared to read deep into the story before finding the whole story. But first, here’s an excerpt:

James Bond creator Ian Fleming wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first 007 movie, it has emerged.

A telegram sent in 1959 has revealed one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in British cinema history and will leave James Bond fans shaken and stirred.

Fleming sent the communique in which he asked Hitchcock to take the helm of the first Bond film through a mutual friend. (emphasis added)

Oh, and here’s the headline (at least on the Web edition):

Revealed: The secret telegram that shows Ian Fleming wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the first Bond film (emphasis added)

The “first Bond film” in question was Thunderball, which originated as a film project in the late 1950s. When it fell apart, Fleming turned it into a novel, starting a complicated legal fight. Thunderball would eventually become the fourth film in the series produced by Eon Proudctions and would spawn a non-Eon remake, 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

If you read all the way to the 11th paragraph of the Daily Mail story, you’ll see the article cites the Web site Letters of Note, which IN A MAY 2 POST (or 13 days before the Daily Mail story) produced an image of the telegram sent from Fleming to Ambler about making an approach to Hitchcock.

Letters of Note, meanwhile, credited Robert Sellers’s book, The Battle for Bond, which was first published in 2007, or five years ago, with turning up the telegram.

Letters of Note is a Web site that reproduces images of letters, correspondence, etc., involving famous people. Nor is this the first time, it has dealt with Fleming. Last year, the site presented a copy of a letter Fleming sent to a reader indicating that James Bond survived the end of the From Russia With Love novel. The value Letters of Note brings is that people can view images of the original documents.

The Daily Mail didn’t mention The Battle for Bond until the next-to-last paragraph. Now, the Daily News could have added more value to the story but didn’t.

For example, why did Fleming send a telegraph to a British novelist with a Los Angeles address? Well, even minor research would have shown Ambler was working as a movie and television writer, including the screenplay for the movie The Wreck of the Mary Deare and creating the 1960-62 television series Checkmate. Dig a little bit deeper and you’d discover that Ambler in 1958 married to Joan Harrison, a Hitchcock associate who was a producer on the Alfred Hitchock Presents television show, and had worked with the director even further back, including as a writer on 1939’s Jamaica Inn.

And, finally, digging just a little further back, you’d discover that in the From Russia, With Love novel, the literary Bond takes a copy of an Eric Ambler novel with him to Istanbul (Chapter 13). Adding any or all of these details would have made for a much richer article. Instead, the newspaper takes a revelation from a five-year-old book and tells us how Bond fans will be shaken and stirred.

Not quite.