Sid Haig dies at 80

Sid Haig as the hood who had “a bruddah” in Diamonds Are Forever

Sid Haig, an actor who made it big in horror movies but also had his moments in spy-fi, died Sept. 21 at age 80, according to Yahoo Movies UK.

Haig starred in films such as House of 1000 Corpses,  The Devil’s Rejects and other films directed by Rob Zombie.

Before becoming a horror star, Haig was a busy character actor, including a lot of work on television. That included appearances in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible and Get Smart.

Haig also made an impression with a small role in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. He’s part of the “brain trust” (Felix Leiter’s words) of hoods waiting on Sean Connery’s Bond (posing as Peter Franks) to take the body of the real Franks to Slumber Inc.

On the way to the mortuary, there’s a brief exchange of dialogue where the leader of the group (Marc Lawrence asks, “The stiff, uh, deceased back there. Your brother, Mr. Franks?”

“Yes, it was,” Bond replies.

Haig’s character perks up. “I got a bruddah!”

“Small world,” Bond says.

1998: Grant Tinker talks about I Spy, Get Smart

Grant Tinker (1926-2016)

The blog spent some time viewing a 1998 Archive of American Television interview with Grant Tinker, who spent part of his career as an NBC executive as well as being co-founder (with his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore) of MTM Productions.

In particular, the blog viewed portions of the interview dealing with Tinker’s role as a West Coast-based NBC executive in the 1960s. In that capacity, he dealt with producers such as Norman Felton (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sheldon Leonard (I Spy) and Leonard Stern (Get Smart).

Tinker didn’t spent much time talking about Norman Felton (he referenced other shows Felton made). But he discussed I Spy and Get Smart in some detail.

I Spy: “I remember the very day” that Sheldon Leonard “walked into my office and said, he wanted to travel a show. He hadn’t done a dramatic show that I could remember. He wanted to cast (Robert) Culp and (Bill) Cosby.”

The interviewer asks if Tinker had pause about casting an African American actor in such a key role. “It didn’t give me pause….Bill was an established comedian.” Tinker said he was more skeptical about containing costs for a series that would have actual location filming in Europe and Asia.

As it turned out, Leonard had $400,000 in cost overruns for the first season (which involved location shooting in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mexico). Today, that’s quaint. Regardless, Leonard “was such an honorable guy. He was wondering if we could help with that. Of course, we did. We picked it all up.”

Get Smart:  An agent brought Tinker a script after the network had spent all of its development money for the upcoming television season. The script had been turned down by ABC.

“It turned out ABC had paid $7,500 for Buck Henry and Mel Brooks to write it. It was Get Smart. I read it that night.”

Tinker called his superiors, telling them they had to secure the property. “We have to find the money to do one more pilot.”

NBC had Don Adams under contract and he became the star. “We didn’t know what else to do with him, so we put him in Get Smart,” Tinker said. “It was just so funny.”

To watch the part of the interview dealing with I Spy, go here starting around the 24:26 mark.

To watch the part of the interview about Get Smart, go here starting around the 3:38 mark.

The longevity of comedy spies

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

A reader said the following on Twitter: “If Rowan Atkinson can play Johnny English at 63 surely Craig can continue for several more films.”

The reader is referring, of course, to 007 star Daniel Craig, 50. He has said Bond 25 will be his final Bond effort. But The Mirror had a story last week saying Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli hasn’t given up on luring him for future installments.

First, to what the reader pointed out. Rowan Atkinson has been in Johnny English (2003), when he was 48; Johnny English Reborn (2011), when he was 56; and Johnny English Strikes Again, coming out this fall.

The blog’s guess: Audience expectations are different for comedy spies than for other fictional spies. Comedy spies may have fight scenes, but that’s not why an audience seeks them out.

Consider Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart in Get Smart. Adams served in the military during World War II and became a comic after the war. Get Smart originally was developed with comic actor Tom Poston in mind for the role. But ABC took a pass.

NBC expressed because it had Adams under contract. Writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry retooled their script to work in Adams comedy bits (“Would you believe?….”).

Adams already was 42 when Get Smart began. It ran for five seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS). Then, Smart returned in the 1980 theatrical film The Nude Bomb, when Adams was 57. Then there was the 1989 TV movie Get Smart, Again! when he was 66. Finally, there was a brief Get Smart series revival (seven episodes) in 1995 with Max now the Chief. The series ran its course a couple of months before Adams turned 72.

Over that 30-year span, Adams was Maxwell Smart in the mind of many viewers. Get Smart began as a James Bond parody. But it was so popular, the Western comedy series F-Troop had an episode with actor Pat Harrington doing a Maxwell Smart parody named B Wise. In other words, it was a parody of a parody.

A 2008 film version with Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart did OK business, but no sequel was ordered up.

50th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

Originally published Dec. 28, 2012. Adjusted to note it’s now the 50th anniversary along with a few other tweaks.

Jan. 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also a sign that 1960s spymania was drawing to a close.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts.

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.”

Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty.

NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969.

NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but shifted away from spy story lines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done.

Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

1966: Bob Hope’s spy parody

Cover to a home video release of Bob Hope television specials

In 1962, the final Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road film, The Road to Hong Kong, provided a kind of preview to what would soon be seen in James Bond movies.

Four years later, in October 1966, Hope devoted most of one of his NBC specials to a parody of James Bond films and other spy entertainment titled, “Murder at NBC.”

In it, Hope plays a mad scientist who has developed a “chemical spray” that can shrink objects or people. He’s demanding $1 billion from the United States or else he’ll sell it to a foreign power.

To be honest, the special is more noteworthy for the comedians assembled than it is for the extended skit itself.

Among the performers: Jonathan Winters, Rowan & Martin, Dan Adams (as Maxwell Smart), Bill Dana (as Jose Jimenez), Johnny Carson (as himself), Don Rickles, Red Buttons, Soupy Sales, Bill Cosby (not playing Alexander Scott fro I Spy), Dick Shawn, Jimmy Durante and Milton Berle (in drag, an old Berle bit).

Some of the misfires: Jack Carter as detective “Charley Chin” (using just about all Asian stereotypes) and Wally Cox as the diminutive Mr. Big, a gag previously used in the pilot for Get Smart when a character by that name was played by Michael Dunn). Finally, there are plenty of Mexican stereotypes in the final sequence.

Put another way, it’s roughly on par with the Eon Productions comedy Call Me Bwana, which also starred Hope.

Toward the end of the story, the mad scientist confronts Mr. Big.

“Who are you with?” Hope’s character asks. “Smersh? KAOS? SPECTRE? What’s your network?”

“NBC,” Mr. Big replies.

If you really want to see it (and how it turns out), a video is embedded below. “Murder at NBC”  begins just after the 8:00 mark following an opening monologue by Hope.

Thanks to Craig Henderson for the tip about this.

 

Bill Dana dies; he had connections to Get Smart

Three Szathmary brothers: Al, Bill (Dana) and Irving in a photo that ran on the Film Music Society website.

Bill Dana, best known as the character Jose Jimenez, has died at 92, according to an obituary published by The Washington Post.

Dana, born William Szathmary, had connections to Get Smart.

The Bill Dana Show, a 1963-65 sitcom with Dana as Jose Jimenez, included Don Adams as a hotel detective, Bryon Glick.

The character of Glick, essentially, was a warm up for Adams playing Maxwell Smart in Get Smart.

The 1965-70 spy spoof originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind as Maxwell Smart. ABC took a pass. But NBC, which had Adams under contract, took a flier. The Smart character was tweaked to incorporate Adams comedy bits such as “Would you believe…?”

What’s more Dan’s brother, Irvin Szathmary (1907-83) composed the music for the series, including its distinctive theme.

In 1980, a theatrical movie version of Get Smart, The Nude Bomb, was produced. Bill Dana was one of the writers.

Bill Dana also was a guest star in a third-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He was one of the relatively rare male innocents.

Here’s a clip from The Bill Dana Show in which Adams’ warmup to Maxwell Smart is nearly complete.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Dana described the origin of Jose Jimenez.

UPDATE (7 p.m.): Reader Stuart Basinger reminds the blog that Bill Dana appeared as Agent Quigley in a fifth-season Get Smart episode titled Ice Station Siegfried.

Don Rickles dies at 90; credits include ’60s spy TV shows

Don Rickles with Don Adams in Get Smart

Comedian and actor Don Rickles has died at 90, according to an obituary posted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Rickles’ insult humor kept him in the public eyes for decades. In the 1960s, he was already well known and became a guest star on a number of spy series of the era.

His spy TV credits include a two-part Get Smart story, The Little Black Book, where he played Sid Krimm, a Korean Army buddy of Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart; a first-season episode of The Wild Wild West where Rickles’ character appears to be the primary villain; and an episode of I Spy, Night Train to Madrid.

Veteran television director Ralph Senensky helmed Rickles’ appearance in The Wild Wild West, titled The Night of the Druid’s Blood. Here is how Senensky described Rickles in a post on his website about the episode.

“Don was a fanatically conscientious actor, deadly serious about his craft. But that was only during rehearsals and filming,” Senensky wrote. “Rickles between shots was the funnyman in charge. Between takes those final four and a half days seemed more like a Las Vegas showroom than a film set.”

That included insult humor aimed at the show’s star, Robert Conrad, according to the director.

“Robert Conrad was not the tallest creature on the planet, but according to Rickles, even with lifts in the shoes he wore, he barely reached the height of Billy Barty,” Senensky wrote.

“Rickles was merciless, but funny….For some reason Don never targeted me. I wonder if it was because he realized which side of the bread his close-ups were buttered on.”

UPDATE (3:35 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore noted the passing of Don Rickles on Twitter.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js