1960s adventure footnote: My Friend Tony

Main title to My Friend Tony

One of the most successful television producers of the 1960s was Sheldon Leonard (1907-1997). Leonard produced many situation comedies, but also dabbled in dramas such as I Spy (1965-68).

My Friend Tony (1969) was one of Leonard’s least successful efforts, which ran a mere 16 episodes on NBC.

The series star was James Whitmore (1921-2009), an Emmy winning actor who was also twice nominated for an Oscar.  The title character was played by Enzo Cerusico (1937-1991). Whitmore’s character first encountered Cerusico’s Tony during World War II in Italy.

These days, there’s not a lot of information available about the show. One promo that aired during NBC’s broadcast of the 1969 Super Bowl had this description: “A vial of deadly germs imperils an entire city on My Friend Tony tonight.”

The series creators included Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who had written the 1949 film White Heat. By 1969, the duo had become writer-producers handling the day-to-day supervision of Mannix, which aired on CBS.

Leonard summoned Earle Hagen to come up with a theme. The musician, by this point, had worked for Leonard for years on sitcoms such as The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hagen also had composed the theme for I Spy.

A video with the main and end titles to an episode of My Friend Tony has been on YouTube for a while. The cast included veteran character actor Richard Anderson as well as future sitcom star Penny Marshall.

New I Spy CD available from Film Score Monthly

Film Score Monthly has brought out a second I Spy CD, this one containing the tracks of two I Spy albums from 1966 and 1967.

The two albums weren’t actual soundtracks. Rather, they had re-recordings of compositions that Earle Hagen did for the 1965-1968 series. Here are some of the details from FSM’s Web site:

I SPY, Vol. 2—The LPs brings together both the Warner Bros. album released in early 1966 and the Capitol Records disc issued in late 1967 (both remastered from the original ¼” stereo tapes). The result is truly a “best of” I Spy, incorporating music from each of the show’s three seasons. Although both albums were re-recordings, Hagen employed many of the same session musicians he hired on a weekly basis for the show, and some of the arrangements are quite close to the originals heard on the series soundtrack.

Hagen (1919-2008) was the go-to composer for producer Sheldon Leonard’s various situation comedies such as The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. So, when the producer branched out into the one-hour drama format with the Robert Culp-Bill Cosby spy series, Leonard made sure Hagen was involved.

FMS’s first I Spy CD consisted of the soundtracks from selected I Spy episodes. Collectors have been seeking new versions of the 1960s albums for years. This second FSM I Spy project also includes liner notes from TV and movie music expert Jon Burlingame.

For more details, JUST CLICK HERE.

Meanwhile, for those who’ve never sampled I Spy, here’s the titles from an episode, accompanied by Hagen’s theme music:

45th anniversary of TV spy mania part III: I Spy’s touch of reality

The television spy mania of September 1965 had a mostly escapist flavor. The primary nemesis of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was Thrush, a “band of renegades” out “to rule the world.” The Wild, Wild West’s pilot concerned a plot to take over much of the western United States and its third episode would introduce a dwarf mad scientist named Dr. Loveless who had ambitions far beyond that.

I Spy was different. U.S. agents Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) dealt with, well, Soviet and Chinese agents. In other words, it was a series grounded in the Cold War. It wasn’t exactly John Le Carre. We still got exotic locations (or at least exotic for most viewers in the mid-1960s). Like other spy shows of the era, it had its share of challenges to get on the air.

The series was created by writer-producers Morton Fine and David Friedkin. They would be denied a creators credit until the 1994 television movie I Spy Returns, which didn’t air until both men had died. They joined forces with executive producer Sheldon Leonard, who cranked out popular half-hour sitcoms for CBS such as The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Leonard was looking to expand his customer base (with NBC agreeing to air I Spy) and wanting to do something other than a sitcom.

Robert Culp, however, wasn’t pleased with the Fine-Friedkin scripted/Leonard-directed pilot. In a DVD commentary recorded many years after the series, Culp described locking himself away to work on his own scripts for the show, without knowledge of the producers. Before production began, he had four completed scripts. He took one of them to the producers who, while admitting it was quite good, said he couldn’t just drop off a complete script. Culp was told he’d have to do a “treatment,” or outline, before submitting another.

Culp went back worked up a treatment for the second of his already-completed scripts. The producers liked it and said to write it up. He dropped off a copy the same day. Realizing they’d been had, the Fine-Friedkin team asked just to see what Culp had.

NBC evidently agreed with Culp. The network wouldn’t air the pilot until midway through the 1965-66 season. For the first episode to be broadcast, NBC chose So Long Patrick Henry, one of the Culp-scripted episodes. Here’s the entire episode on YouTube.

I Spy was a landmark show because it featured a white man and a black man as equals while the civil rights movement was in full swing. It also helped make Bill Cosby a huge star. The premier episode can also be enjoyed for Culp’s script (including a bit of dark humor but is also politically incorrect toward Asians, it should be noted), the performances its guest stars. Composer Earle Hagen even managed to drop “The James Bond Theme” in the show’s epilogue. It’s easy to understand why NBC selected So Long Patrick Henry to kick off the series.

I Spy’s Robert Culp dies

Two 1960s spy icon die the same month. Robert Culp, who starred with Bill Cosby on I Spy, died at the age of 79 after collapsing outside his Hollywood home, according to an Associated Press story on the Web site of The New York Times.

His death comes just 10 days after the death of Peter Graves, the star of Mission: Impossible.

Culp provided edgy, unpredictable performances for decades. In I Spy, he played Kelly Robinson, a U.S. agent who had a cover as a “tennis bum,” which enabled him to travel the world. Culp’s Robinson was a man whose world was shades of gray, not black and white. He often had plenty of reasons to question the value and ethics (or lack thereof) in his work. Of all the 1960s spy shows, I Spy perhaps came the closest to dealing with real-world Cold War themes.

Culp also scripted some of the best episodes of the series, including the first broadcast on NBC, So Long, Patrick Henry. (Note: Hulu lists it as the pilot episode but it isn’t; NBC selected the episode to air because network executives believed it was a stronger show than the pilot, which didn’t air until about mid-season.)

If you’d prefer watching the episode on YouTube, you can do it right here:

If you’re not up to watching an entire episode, here are the main titles from another episode featuring Culp, Cosby and a great theme by Earle Hagen:

While we’re at it, here’s a memorable Culp cameo in an episode of Get Smart:

UPDATE: The New York Times now has its own staff-prepared obituary on its Web site.

I Spy now on YouTube

YouTube recently cut a deal with Hollywood studios that is enabling complete episodes of some old TV shows to be on YouTube. One of the shows is I Spy, the groundbreaking 1965-1968 series that featured white and black agents paired together. It also helped make a star of Bill Cosby.

So far, only five episodes of the first season are on YouTube. Also, YouTube appears to have decided to not permit the episodes to be embedded on Web site. In any event, the episodes available (and we’re linking them via their titles) are as follows:

So Long Patrick Henry: Agents Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) are to present defected athlete Leroy Browne (Ivan Dixon) a chance to regain his U.S. citizenship. Written by Culp, this was the first episode broadcast but it’s not the pilot. Directed by Leo Penn, son father of actor Sean. Composer Earle Hagen actually incorporates The James Bond Theme (rather effectively) in the epilogue.

A Cup of Kindness: Russ Conley, Kelly’s old teacher in spy school, shows up in Hong Kong and gives Kelly and Scott an envelope. The contents, once decoded, are instructions saying Conley’s a double agent and has to be killed. Written by series creators Morton Fine and David Friedkin, with Friedkin playing Conley.

Carry Me Back to Old Tsing-Tao . A Chinese criminal wants to return to his home on Taiwan (called Formosa here). The U.S. will permit him to do so IF he makes good on $1 million in back taxes. The problem: the criminal has three badass sons-in-law (Bernard Fox, David Sheiner and Michael Conrad) who want the money for themselves.

Chrysanthemum . Composer Hagen incorporates a tune he originally wrote in the 1940s and which he’d revive in the 1980s for a Mike Hammer series starring Stacy Keach.

Dragon’s Teeth. Kelly runs into an old flame while on assignment. Don’t be surprised if it turns out badly.