James Frawley, an appreciation

Peter Falk in a surrealistic moment in the Columbo episode Murder, a Self Portrait, directed by James Frawley.

James Frawley (1936-2019) was never a star but was a working actor. When he switched to directing, he found his true calling.

Frawley appeared in some Spy-fi. Hhe wasn’t the main villain but usually a secondary one. But he made an impact, nevertheless.

One example was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Guioco Piano Affair, written by Alan Caillou and directed by Richard Donner. Frawley plays a South American police lieutenant who has been assigned to assist agent Napoleon Solo.

Frawley’s character pulls a double cross because he has been bribed by the villains. But the policeman doesn’t realize he himself has been double crossed. Solo (Robert Vaughn) overcomes Frawley’s character and gets both men to safety.

Nevertheless, Frawley’s character tries to double cross Solo *a second time.* Solo, this time  is more than ready. He whistles and the military of the unnamed South American nation take the conspirators into custody. It’s a very satisfying ending.

“You see,” Solo says. “I didn’t trust you.”

As a director, Frawley had an even bigger impact. He worked on comedy series, including The Monkees, where he helmed 28 episodes and won an Emmy. Yet, Frawley could direct drama.

One of his best dramatic efforts came with the Columbo episode Murder, a Self Portrait.

Famous artist Max Barsini (Patrick Bauchau) lives with his second wife and a model. They’re next door to Barsini’s first wife. The artist kills his first wife because he’s still afraid, years after the fact, he’ll spill the beans on a killing he did.

The late first wife had a relationship with a psychologist. While under his care, the former Mrs. Barsini described reoccurring dreams. As staged by Frawley, Max is in the middle of painting Lt. Columbo while the audience can hear a recording of the murder victim describing the dreams.

The dream sequences were filmed in black-and-white, adding to the surrealism. In the end, the recordings provide Columbo with the clues he needs to crack the case.

Frawley as a director was late coming to Columbo. He worked on the show during the 1976-77 season (the final NBC season) and the first year Columbo was on ABC (1989). But he still made his mark.

In the 21st century, Frawley isn’t that well known. But for those who saw his work as an actor and director, he’ll be remembered.

Actor-director James Frawley dies at 82

James Frawley in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

James Frawley, a character actor and Emmy award-winning director, died Jan. 22 at 82, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun newspaper.

As an actor, he some times played secondary villains. His acting appearances included episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy and The FBI.

He branched into directing during in the mid-1960s. He was active into the 2000s, according to his entry on IMDB.com.

Frawley won an Emmy for an episode of The Monkees and was nominated for another. He directed 28 episodes of that comedy series. But he proved adept at drama as well.

The director helmed six episodes of Columbo. Some of them included unusual staging. Murder, Smoke and Shadows in 1989 featured a young director as the killer. Some scenes emphasized visual tricks of movie making. Murder, a Self Portrait, also that same year, featured Patrick Bauchau as the killer. The episode included recreation of dreams described on tape.

Frawley also directed episodes of the original Magnum, PI, Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Law & Order. He also helmed The Muppet Movie.

Below is a video from the 1967 Emmys when Frawley won his directing award. It includes Barbara Bain and Bruce Geller of Mission: Impossible also getting Emmys as well as Buck Henry and Leonard B. Stern of Get Smart.

Richard Irving: Key part of Universal’s TV Factory

Richard Irving’s title card for a Gene Barry episode of The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Richard Irving was a major figure in the establishment of Universal’s television factory.

Irving, a one-time actor, helped get TV movies at Universal off the ground.

He directed two TV movie pilots for Columbo (Prescription: Murder in 1968 and Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971). He also produced and directed 1968’s Istanbul Express (a sort-of TV movie equivalent of From Russia With Love) and the TV movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.

As a producer, he oversaw Universal TV shows such as Laredo, a western, and The Name of the Game.

With the latter, he produced the Gene Barry episodes of the first season. For the rest of the series, he assumed the title of executive producer, supervising the different producers for the episodes starring Barry, Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.

Dean Hargrove, Irving’s associate producer for the first season of The Name of the Game, took over as producer of the Gene Barry episodes from the second season onward.

Irving was promoted to being a Universal television executive, which lasted until 1979.

Steven Bochco, working at Universal in the early 1970s, said in an interview for Archive of American Television, that it was Irving who got him involved in Columbo.

“I got a call from Dick Irving,” Bochco remembered. “‘Dick, it’s a mystery show. I don’t know anything about mystery writing. It’s a mystery to me.'”

According to Bochco, Irving said, “‘Do it. It’ll be great.'”

It was. Bochco wrote Murder by the Book, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the first series episode for Columbo. It also was the first installment of the NBC Mystery Movie aired by the network. Bochco went on the script a number of Columbo episodes on his way to being an important writer-producer on U.S. television.

The Los Angeles Times, in its 1990 obituary for Irving, put his contributions into perspective.

In an era when motion picture studios refused to release their old films to television, not wanting to contribute to declining theater attendance, Irving and such pioneers as William Link, Richard Levinson, Norman Lloyd and a handful of others filled the small screen with dramas, mysteries and comedies.

Irving died at the age of 73.

Steven Bochco, prolific TV writer-producer dies, THR says

Steven Bochco’s title card for the Columbo episode Murder by the Book.

Steven Bochco, a prolific television writer and producer whose credits included Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, has died at 74, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Details about Bochco’s death were not immediately available, THR said. Bochco had been suffering from leukemia.

Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and LA Law featured large ensemble casts. The two police series in particular addressed adult themes and had a gritty presentation.

“Bochco time and time again refused to bend to network chiefs or standards and practices execs, thus earning rare creative control during his five decades of envelope-pushing work,” THR said in its obituary. Bochco won 10 Emmy awards.

Bochco began his career at Universal’s television operation. He was the story editor for the Robert Stack episodes of The Name of the Game, a series about a publishing empire. The series rotated Stack, Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry as lead actors.

When that series wrapped in 1971, Bochco moved over to Columbo, part of the NBC Mystery Movie. Bochco wrote the first regular Columbo episode broadcast, Murder by the Book.

The story concerned half of a mystery writer team who kills his partner. The episode was directed by another up and comer, Steven Spielberg. Bochco was nominated for an Emmy for his script. But he lost out to Richard Levinson and William Link, Columbo’s creators, for an episode they wrote that season.

What follows are some excerpts from an interview Bochco did for the Archive of American Television about his career. The first concerns how he came to work on Columbo. The others concern Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.

William Read Woodfield: Photographer, magician, writer

William Read Woodfield title card for a Columbo episode, Colmubo And The Murder of a Rock Star, which he also wrote.

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

It’s said that writers inevitably bring their life experiences into their work.

In the case of William Read Woodfield, he brought varied life experiences into his: Magician, photographer as well as accomplished scribe.

In a 2001 obituary, Variety described his work in photography.

Born and reared in San Francisco, Woodfield carved his photo niche during the 1950s and ’60s with published works being exhibited alongside Richard Avedon and Cecil Beaton. His most famous series of photographs were made May 23, 1962, when Marilyn Monroe performed her famous nude swimming scene on the 20th Century Fox lot for the uncompleted feature “Something’s Got to Give.” The photos made the covers of magazines worldwide and proved to be Monroe’s last hurrah as she was fired from the picture shortly thereafter and died 10 weeks later.

The obituary added this:

“A magician since childhood, Woodfield founded the magazine Magicana and employed his knowledge of magic on ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Columbo’ and ‘Sea Hunt.'”

Frank Sinatra as photographed by William Read Woodfield.

As a writer for television, Woodfield, by himself or in collaboration with Allan Balter, specialized in intricate plots. The Woodfield-Balter team was formed during the first season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Woodfield wrote for the series and Balter was an associate producer.

The Woodfield-Balter duo perhaps gained their greatest fame writing for Mission: Impossible. Barbara Bain, when accepting her second (of three) Emmys for the show, cited the Woodfield-Balter scripts as one reason why the show was popular.

In Mission’s third season, the duo were promoted to producers. But they ran afoul of creator/executive producer Bruce Geller. They departed early that season, but not before writing a two-part story.

The team stayed together into the 1970s, including producing a TV adaptation of Shaft for the 1973-74 season. After that, they went their separate ways.

In the late 1980s, when Universal revived Columbo (this time broadcast on ABC), the premiere story, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, was written by Woodfield. The plot included a magician (Anthony Zerbe) who sought to debunk a man, Elliott Blake (Anthony Edwards), posing as a psychic who is pulling a con on the CIA.

However, it turns out the magician and the phony psychic have a secret past. Blake kills the magician. That brings Columbo in the case. One of the highlights of the episode is the magician’s funeral, where Woodfield brings his magician into full play.

Woodield died Nov. 24, 2001, at the age of 73.

Universal in the ’60s & ’70s: The Television Factory

 

Universal logo, circa 1960s

In the 1960s and ’70s, Universal’s television division was like a TV factory.

Its shows had a certain look, a certain sheen. Universal’s TV operation would help launch the careers of people such as director Steven Spielberg and writer-director Steven Bochco (who both worked on the same episode of Columbo).

Universal developed the concept of “the wheel,” where different shows rotated in the same time slow, or a series that had rotating leads. Examples: The NBC Mystery Movie (different rotating shows) and The Name of the Game (rotating leads).

Universal, of course, still produces television shows. It’s now part of Comcast as is NBC, where many Universal shows were telecast. But it’s not the same because, naturally, television has evolved. Still, it’s a worth a look back.

Origins: Music Corp. of America, or MCA, was a talent agency. But MCA saw the potential of television. It formed Revue in 1950 as a television production arm. It acquired the studio lot of Universal (then known as Universal-International) in 1958 and eventually acquired Universal itself.

Revue produced all sorts of shows: Westerns (Wagon Train and The Virginian), comedies (The Jack Benny Program, Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters), crime dramas (M Squad), and anthology shows such as Alfred Hitchock Presents (hosted by Hitch), Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and The General Electric Theater (hosted by Ronald Reagan).

Eventually, all of its TV series were under the better-known Universal brand. The boss of MCA-Universal was Lew Wasserman, who became a major figure in Hollywood. Writers Richard Levinson and William Link, when devising the Mannix television series, came up with a character named Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) who was modeled on Wasserman.

The Universal mogul apparently didn’t mind. After Campanella’s Wickersham character was written out after the first season of Mannix, the actor ended up as one of the leads on “The Lawyers” part of The Bold Ones, another Universal “wheel.”

Glory Days: Universal was a major supplier of shows for U.S. television. As early as 1964, it embraced the idea of made-for-television movies. Its first effort, The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, was deemed too violent and got a theatrical release.

One of the early TV movies was 1966’s Fame is the Name of the Game, starring Tony Franciosa as an investigative reporter for a magazine.

This would be the basis for The Name of the Game (1968-71), an early example of “the wheel.” Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry rotated as the leads of the series, which concerned the magazine empire headed by Glenn Howard (Barry).

A key figure at Universal television, who is not remembered much today, was Richard Irving (1917-1990), a producer-director. He oversaw a Universal Western series (Laredo), which aired on NBC from 1967 to 1967.

Irving also produced and directed the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder, where TV audiences were first introduced to Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk). The same year, he produced and directed a TV movie with international intrigue titled Istanbul Express, starring Barry, Senta Berger and John Saxon.

Irving remained a booster of Columbo. He directed another TV movie with the detective, 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man, which finally sold Columbo as a series.

The Universal TV operation cruised throughout the ’70s. In the early 1980s, it had another hit with Magnum: P.I. But things got tougher that decade. Universal excelled at one-hour dramas and TV movies at a time things were changing.

In 1990, MCA sold itself to Japan’s  Matsushita Electric. It would be bought and sold over the years before being acquired by Comcast.

1990: Columbo vs. Hugh Hefner (sort of)

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) conducts a con game with Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk).

Over the years, there have been many takeoffs based on Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.

Hefner’s death this week reminded the blog of one of the most amusing versions from 1990 when Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) dealt with a Hefner-like character.

Columbo Cries Wolf did more than that. Writer William Read Woodfield (1928-2001) very much played with the normal Columbo formula. Years earlier, Woodfield, with his then-partner Allan Balter (1925-1984), had written key episodes of Mission: Impossible

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the founder of a Playboy-like magazine, Bachelor’s World. Instead of Playmates, there are “Nymphs.” Instead of the Playboy Mansion, there is the “Chateau.”

However, in this story, the Hefner figure has a business partner (Deidre Hall) who owns 51 percent of the enterprise. She appears to want to sell out to a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron. But the partner goes missing and Lt. Columbo is assigned the case as a possible homicide.

Woodfield even works in a reference to a British police detective played by Bernard Fox in a 1972 Columbo story, Dagger of the Mind.

The first three-quarters of Columbo Cries Wolf unfolds as a typical Columbo outing. But Brantley pulls a switch, basically begging for publicity as Columbo’s investigation proceeds.

Los Angeles officials (including a nervous mayor played by David Huddleston) aren’t sure. The Police Chief (Columbo veteran bit part player John Finnegan) assures the mayor that the department’s “best man” (Columbo, finally getting some recognition for a spectacular record) is on the case.

Woodfield pulls a big switch when it’s revealed that no murder actually occurred, with Brantley and his partner pulling a con game on Columbo.

Despite that, Brantley’s business partner still wants to sell to the media baron (albeit at a higher price). So Brantley kills her for real this time.

Columbo, with egg on his face from the first fiasco, takes another turn at bringing Brantley to justice. The climax depends on early 1990s tech (which new viewers wouldn’t recognize.

Still, it’s one of the best episodes of the Columbo revival on ABC that ran from 1989 to 2003. (The original Columbo series ran from 1971 to 1977 on NBC.)