Charles Larson, prolific writer-producer

Charles Larson title card for The FBI episode “Slow March Up a Steep Hill.”

Another in a series about unsung figures of television

In the 21st century, top producers of TV shows are celebrated as “showrunners.” In the 20th century, such figures were anonymous to the general public.

Thus was the case with Charles Larson. He was the founding producer (i.e. the day-to-day producer) of The FBI, who probably should have credited as the series creator but the show never had a creator credit. He guided other series as well.

As a writer only, Larson worked on everything from the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels version of The Lone Ranger to the mini-series Centennial.

One of his fans was director Ralph Senensky, whose many credits included episodes of 12 O’Clock High and The FBI where Larson worked as associate producer and producer respectively.

Larson “was a fine writer who did an amazing amount of rewriting on scripts before and even during filming,” Senensky wrote about Larson.

Concerning an episode of 12 O’Clock High titled “The Trap,” Senensky wrote: ” The script I was given was a blatant melodrama of five people stranded in a cellar during a London air raid. Charles fleshed out the people and created a complex study of the conflict of class differences as five people faced the ugly horror of war.”

Senensky wrote that his favorite episode of The FBI was a second-season installment called “The Assassin.” The teleplay was credited to John McGreevy and the plot to Anthony Spinner. “I detected Charles’ fine handprints all over THE ASSASSIN, the best script I had yet been handed on THE FBI and eventually the best one of the series I would ever direct.”

On The FBI, Larson wrote and produced the fourth episode, “Slow March Up a Steel Hill.” It looks like it may have been the pilot.

There’s a lot of explanatory dialogue concerning how the wife of Inspector Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. Erskine’s sidekick is determined to marry Erskine’s college-age daughter (!). And it’s established that Erskine was so stubborn, he sometimes got in trouble with his boss, assistant director Arthur Ward (Philip Abbott). The latter theme wouldn’t be used much after the first half of the first season.

Also, on The FBI, Larson had to deal with the real-life bureau, which had veto power over guest stars and scripts. “Charlie had a really difficult job,” production manager Howard Alston told author Jonathan Etter for the book Quinn Martin, Producer. “The first year he had to listen to all the FBI’s input, to all of the people who felt they knew more about how to do the show than he did.”

After departing The FBI after the fourth season, Larson produced other series, none of which was a big hit. He continued as a writer beyond that. One of his most memorable scripts was for the 1977 Hawaii Five-O episode The Bells Toll at Noon. There were three separate writing credits but Larson was listed as doing the final teleplay.

The story concerns a disturbed man (Rich Little) who kills people while re-enacting scenes from classic movies. Little, the famed impressionist, mimicked James Cagney and other movie stars. It was one of the highlights of the show’s ninth season.

Larson died in 2006 at the age of 83.

1996: Five-O fans meet (almost all of) the original cast

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title of the original series.

In 1996, fans of the original Hawaii Five-O series had a chance to meet with almost all of the main cast members of the series at a fan convention.

The event took place in two locations: The first half in the Los Angeles area, the second in Honolulu.

James MacArthur, Gilbert Kauhi (stage name, Zulu) and Kam Fong, the supporting actors in the 1968-80 show, were there. Jack Lord, who starred as lawman Steve McGarrett (six years after playing Felix Leiter in Dr. No), was still alive but had retired to private life.

I attended the Los Angeles part of the event. Among the things that happened there:

On the first day of the gathering, MacArthur, Zulu and Kam Fong just hung around with fans, engaging in casual conversation. It was very low-key and informal.

-MacArthur, asked why he left the show after 11 seasons, said he simply had done enough. He described telling the powers that be about the decision and that he didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

–Zulu was asked why he left the show. He replied that he and Jack Lord never got along all that well. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Zulu said he tried at the start of one season (I suspect season three but he didn’t specify) he tried to get off to a new start with the series star.

Zulu’s title card during the first four seasons of Hawaii Five-O.

“Hey Jack, you’re looking great!” But Lord walked off. Zulu said he was confused. Then he was told the actor had gotten a facelift during the series hiatus.

Zulu told another anecdote in which the Five-O team apprehended a suspect. According to him, Lord felt Zulu was little slow. On the next take, according to this anecdote, Zulu zoom around the others. “OK, McGarrett! I’ve got him.” In this telling, the Big Kahuna wasn’t happy.

After, some time elapsed, a late-arriving fan again asked Zulu why he left the show. For a moment, I felt bad after hearing the stories he told earlier. But Zulu didn’t miss a beat. He grinned and repeated his “Lord taketh away” line.

–MacArthur, commenting to Zulu, said the Hawaiian actor was burning the candle at both ends in those days. Zulu did his Five-O work during the day and did a night club act in the eventing.

–Rose Freeman, widow of Five-O creator Leonard Freeman, told attendees that Jack Lord was cast only days before filming of the pilot began. Initially, American actor Robert Brown (not to be confused with the British actor Robert Brown, who played M in four 007 films) had been cast.

–Fans watched episodes shown with a film projector. At one point , Zulu was there watching with the fans. One episode shown had his replacement, Al Harrington. Zulu did a mock boo. Another one of the episodes shown was Bored, She Hung Herself, an episode that was shown only once on CBS and hasn’t been seen since, in either syndication or home video. The story behind that is a little complicated. 

–I let myself get outbid for a copy of the 1967 first draft of Leonard Freeman’s pilot script for a charity auction. I scanned it and committed to memory what I could. There was no Danno and McGarrett was the only Caucasian of the Five-O characters.

–A friend of Five-O theme composer Morton Stevens showed up. He had heard about the event and wanted to check it out.

–On the final day in LA, many of the fans were preparing to head to Hawaii for the rest of the event. I prepared to head home. As I was leaving the hotel to head to LAX, I ran into Zulu at the door.

“I just want to thank you for being here,” he said.

Obviously, he would have said it to any other fan. But it was a great moment for me, nevertheless.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

Less obvious ways of celebrating Global James Bond Day

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Friday is Global James Bond Day, the event that was invented six years ago for the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Dr. No.

There are obvious ways to mark the day, namely watch a Bond film or films, read a James Bond novel, etc.

What follows are some less obvious ways. They involve offerings available on home video with significant 007 connections.

–Watch selected episodes of Hawaii Five-O (1968-80): Series star Jack Lord was the original Felix Leiter in Dr. No. So any episode begins with that. But these episodes have additional Bond ties.

The Year of the Horse (11th season). George Lazenby, a decade removed from his only performance as Bond, gets “special guest star” billing. He’s actually the secondary villain. His character also is considerably scruffier than Bond. But, hey, it’s a pretty major tie to the Bond series. The episode was filmed in Singapore.

Deep Cover (10th season). Maud Adams made her Five-O appearance inbetween her two 007 films, The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy. Here, she’s the leader of a spy ring that’s up to no good. She’s quite convincing ordering people to die.

George Lazenby in Hawaii Five-O’s The Year of the Horse.

My Friend, the Enemy (10th season). Luciana Paluzzi plays an Italian journalist who complicates things for McGarrett (Lord) in a kidnapping case involving international intrigue. This wasn’t the first time Paluzzi was paired with Lord. They acted together more than a decade earlier in an episode of 12 O’Clock High.

Episodes with Soon-Tek Oh. The late actor was in eight episodes, including the pilot. Recommended would be The Jinn Who Clears the Way (fifth season). It’s one of the Wo Fat episodes and his character is a “young Maoist” who’s being manipulated by Wo Fat. It also has a shock ending.

–Watch selected episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The 1964-68 series also has performers who’d play major Bond roles before their 007 appearances.

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair. Luciana Paluzzi figures in here. She plays Angela, an operative for Thrush who can be pretty cold blooded.

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy.

To Trap a Spy is an expanded version of the show’s pilot released as a movie. Paluzzi and star Robert Vaughn filmed additional footage after production of the pilot was completed. The thing is, Angela is a dry run for Paluzzi. The character is extremely similar to Fiona, the SPECTRE assassin she’d play in Thunderball.

The Four-Steps Affair is a first-season episode. It takes extra footage used to lengthen the running times of the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (The Spy With My Face was the other) and combined it with with new material to make a television episode. Obvious difference: Angela sleeps with Solo (Vaughn) in Trap a Spy but doesn’t in The Four-Steps Affair.

The Five Daughters Affair/The Karate Killers (third season). The Five Daughters Affair was a two-part story that was expanded into a feature film for the international market.

At the start, a fleet of mini-helicopters attack Solo and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). This was made after You Only Live Twice but before the 1967 007 film (which included mini-copter Little Nellie) arrived in theaters.

What’s more, the cast includes Telly Savalas and Curt Jurgens in supporting roles. Neither is a villain, though (as they would be in Bond films). The villain is played by Herbert Lom.

Meanwhile, I am aware of episodes of the Roger Moore version of The Saint with David Hedison and Lois Maxwell. I just don’t own copies. The Hedison episode has an especially cute ending.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m. New York time): I got “mansplained” that Danger Man/Secret Agent has Bond actors in it also. Besides the actors this reader named (Bernard Lee and Desmond Llewelyn), there’s also Earl Cameron. Also, John Glen edited a number of episodes.

You could also extend that to The Prisoner, the other major Patrick McGoohan series. Guy Doleman, who played Count Lippe in Thunderball, was Number Two in the episode titled Arrival.

And while we’re at it, I could also mention Donald Pleasance was in Part II of Hawaii Five-O’s The Ninety-Second War. He’s a German scientist who began working for the U.S. with the end of World War II who’s being blackmailed by Wo Fat.

I could also add The Avengers (Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, many character actors and crew members) and various Gerry Anderson shows (Derek Meddings special effects, Shane Rimmer), but I’m not. These are blog posts, not books.

Hawaii Five-0 presents a hyper remake of original pilot

A still from the Cocoon remake.

Hawaii Five-0 began its ninth season with a remake of the original show’s pilot.  While it was pretty close to the 1968 TV movie in places, the 2018 version was more hyper.

Part of it couldn’t be helped. The original (written by Leonard Freeman and directed by Paul Wendkos) has more time to work with. It filled a two-hour time slot. In those days you got around 50 minutes of show after excluding commercials.

The 2018 version filled a single-hour time slot, and these days you get 40 to 43 minutes or so without the commercials.

The remake also gives McGarrett 2.0 (Alex O’Loughlin) more of a personal motive. (Of course.)

In the original, McGarrett was a friend of Hennessy, a U.S. intelligence operative (he wasn’t identified as working for the CIA) who turns up dead. It turns out he was one of several agents who had mysteriously died. In the remake, McGarrett had known all of the dead men.

With the remake, McGarrett puts things together really, really quickly. Still, the show faithfully recreates the sensory deprivation tank torture of the 1968 pilot. In that TV movie, the pilot was supervised by Wo Fat.

The Wo Fat of the current show was killed off back in 2014. Nevertheless, Wo Fat 2.0 (Mark Dacascos) makes an appearance in the form of a hallucination while McGarrett is being tortured. There’s a new villain, part of a “rogue” faction of Chinese intelligence. He happens to have a shaved head like the original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh).

The 2018 version also retains (understandably) the style of the current series. So, we still get arguments between McLaughlin’s McGarrett and Scott Caan’s Danno. In the remake, McLaughlin and Caan are together where Jack Lord’s McGarrett was by himself in the 1968 pilot.

Also, of course, the fight scenes are faster paced and violent than what viewers got in 1968. In the original, the climatic fight is between McGarrett and a traitorous U.S. intelligence agent. (They had to let Wo Fat go so he’d spread false information McGarrett had been programmed to say.). In the remake, McGarrett fights several guys, including the lead villain.

To be honest, I haven’t watched the current series that closely for the past few years. The remake held my interest. It was interesting to see what would be included.

Finally, the writing credit read, “Written by Leonard Freeman and Peter M. Lenkov.” Lenkov is the executive producer of the current series. The script of the remake used a surprising number of lines from Freeman’s original script.

So it was nice to see Freeman share in the full writing credit and not be relegated to a “story by” credit. Freeman died in 1974, after production of the original show’s sixth season had ended production. It would run another six seasons without him, although it was never quite the same.

Hawaii Five-O’s 50th anniversary: Cop show with a spy twist

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Adapted and updated from a 2013 post.

Fifty years ago this month, Hawaii Five-O debuted. While a cop show, it had an element of international intrigue from the start.

The two-hour television movie version version of the pilot, which first aired on CBS on SEPT. 20, 1968, concerned a plot where Red Chinese intelligence operative Wo Fat was torturing U.S. intelligence agents in the Pacific Rim and obtaining important information.

Steve McGarrett, the no-nonsense head of state police unit Hawaii Five-O is drawn to the case because the latest victim was a friend of his. The lawman, a former U.S. Naval intelligence officer, isn’t one to back down from official pressure to lay off.

The pilot immediately grabbed the attention of viewers. A short pre-titles sequence shows Wo Fat using a sensory deprivation chamber for the torture. That’s followed by a 90-second main title featuring a stirring theme by Morton Stevens.

The composer initially thought about re-using the theme he wrote for an unsold pilot, CALL TO DANGER. His wife, Annie Stevens, strongly advised against the move, according to a 2010 STORY IN THE HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER. As a result, Stevens created one of the greatest themes in television history.

The series was conceived by veteran television producer Leonard Freeman, who wrote the pilot. Freeman’s 1967 first draft had a team led by McGarrett, with a mid-20s Hawaiian sidekick, Kono Kalakaua, a third, heavy-set detective and Chin Ho Kelly, who was the Honolulu Police Department’s liaison with Five-O. In the final version of the story, the sidekick became the Caucasian Danny Williams; the Kono name was given to the heavier-set character; and Chin Ho was made a full-fledged member of Five-O.

Freeman & Co. were preparing to film the pilot with American actor Robert Brown as McGarrett. Rose Freeman, widow of the Five-O creator, told a 1996 fan convention in Los Angeles that CBS objected to the casting and, just five days before filming was to start, Brown was replaced with Jack Lord, the first screen incarnation of Felix Leiter in Dr. No. Brown ended up starring in another 1968 series, Here Come the Brides.

Perry Lafferty, a former CBS executive, told the story a bit differently in an interview for the Archive of American Television. His version, though, still had Jack Lord as a last-minute casting.

The pilot had Tim O’Kelly as Danny. When the series was picked up, Freeman recast the part with James MacArthur, who a small, but notable role in Hang ‘Em High, a Clint Eastwood Western film that Freeman had produced.

The international espionage aspect of Five-O remained throughout the show’s 12-year run, though less so in the later seasons. Wo Fat, played by Khigh Dhiegh, made a NUMBER OF RETURN APPEARANCES, including the 1980 series finale. As the U.S. and China began to normalize diplomatic relations, Wo Fat became an independent menace. In the ninth-season opener, Wo Fat attempts to take over the Chinese government.

George Lazenby in a 1979 episode of Hawaii Five-O

Five-O matched wits with a number of other spies played by the likes of Theodore Bikel (who had tried out for Goldfinger), Maud Adams and Soon Tek-Oh. George Lazenby, the second screen James Bond, played a secondary villain in a 1979 episode filmed on location in Singapore.

Five-O wasn’t always an easy show to work on. Freeman died in early 1974, after the sixth season completed production. Zulu (real name Gilbert Kauhi), who played Kono left after the fourth season; he told fans at the 1996 convention about problems he had with Jack Lord. His replacement, Al Harrington as another detective, departed in the seventh season.

Nevertheless, Five-O had a long run. When it left the air, Five-O was the longest-running crime drama, a status it held until Law and Order, the 1990-2010 series.

Lord’s Steve McGarrett emerged as one of the most recognizable television characters. In 2007, 27 years after the final Five-O episode, THE NEW YORK TIMES’S OPINION PAGES summed up Five-O’s appeal.

“Evil makes McGarrett angry, but when he speaks, his voice is startlingly gentle, exuding a quiet control that a beleaguered generation of parents surely wished they had when facing the forces of social decay,” reads the commentary by Lawrence Downes.

The writer ends his piece describing what it might be like if McGarrett was president. He dispatches Kono and Chin to stop illegal immigration and tells Danny that he wants undocumented workers “legalized. Tell Congress to send me a bill. I want it tough, and I want it fair. And I want it on my desk Monday morning.”

In 2010, CBS introduced a new version of the show, with a slightly different spelling (Hawaii Five-0, with a digit instead of a capital O as in the original), a younger McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and a Danny with more attitude (Scott Caan).

The current series is in its ninth season. For the 50th anniversary of the original show, it will feature a remake of Cocoon, the 1968 pilot. The remake is scheduled to be telecast on Sept. 28.

The 2010s Five-0 has other significant differences than the original. In the eighth season, the McLaughlin and Caan versions of McGarrett and Danny decided to go into the restaurant business on the side. I can’t imagine Leonard Freeman would have approved.

On the other hand, the producers were smart enough to keep the Morton Stevens theme music. Now, as in 1968, it’s still a highlight.

50th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Apapted and updated from a 2013 post.

Sept. 20 is the 50th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played.

Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969’s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series.

Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

This decade, Stevens got attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith.

A Morton Stevens title card (for music supervision, not for his theme) for a first-season episode of Hawaii Five-O

Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

In 2016, the blog did a post about Stevens as part of its “unsung figures of television” series.

Stevens’ work on Hawaii Five-O represents a paradox. It’s a famous TV theme. Million of people know it. Yet he’s relatively obscure. Stevens had a successful career. Yet his contemporaries — such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams — achieved more fame than he did.

Regardless, the Five-O theme is a crowning achievement for Stevens. Watching a Hawaii Five-O theme is akin to viewing a James Bond film scored by John Barry. In both cases, the composers established a music template that thrills viewers decades later.

Wo Fat 2.0 to be part of Five-0 pilot remake

A still from the Cocoon remake posted on social media by executive producer Peter Lenkov.

You can’t keep a good man — or arch villain — down.

Mark Dacascos, who played Wo Fat 2.0 in the current Hawaii Five-0 series, will be part of a Sept. 28 episode that remakes Cocoon, the pilot for the original 1968-80 Five-O series, according to Entertainment Weekly’s website.

The original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh) was the villain of the 1968 pilot and would bedevil Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) until the show’s final episode.

However, in the current series, which began in 2010, the Dacascos version of Wo Fat seemed to be definitively killed off in a 2014 episode.

This begs the question. Has executive producer Peter Lenkov devised a way to bring his Wo Fat back from the dead? Or will Wo Fat still be dead but appear in a flashback?

Naturally, there are no answers now.

Decascos tweeted out the Entertainment Weekly story. Lenkov, in turn, did a “quote tweet.” (Sunset on the Beach refers to an annual outdoor showing of the first episode of a Five-0 season.)

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