Evolution of spy entertainment 1960s-present

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball (1965)

In the newest episode of James Bond & Friends, Dr. Lisa Funnell raises the question whether spy entertainment has evolved beyond James Bond.

You could make the argument that things have regressed since the 1960s spy craze.

In 1965 alone, you could go to a movie theater and see the likes of Thunderball (the fourth James Bond movie and definitely on the escapist end of the spectrum) as well as The Ipcress Files (produced by Harry Saltzman with Bond film crew members along for the ride) and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (based on a John le Carre novel).

That’s a lot of variety for a single year.

On British and American television, you could see series either affected by Bond (The Avengers and Danger Man) or started because of the spy craze (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, I Spy and Mission: Impossible).

Today? Well, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series was influenced by early Bond movies as well as U.N.C.L.E. and The Avengers.

Le Carre novels continue to be adapted but they often appear on TV mini-series.

The 1960s was the decade of the spy craze. The 1970s was a barren time for spy TV. It has waxed and waned since then.

Jack Turley, veteran TV writer, dies

A group of “test tube” killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode written by Jack Turley

Jack Turley, an American TV writer who was active for three decades, died last month at the age of 93, according to the Writers Guild website.

Turley wrote in various genres including westerns, crime dramas, and soap operas. He found work in spy television shows of the 1960s, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and Blue Light, the latter a short-lived World War II spy drama starring Robert Goulet.

Turley wrote three U.N.C.L.E. episodes. One of his best-remembered stories was The Test Tube Killer Affair in the show’s fourth season.

The villainous organization Thrush has raised young killers from childhood. One of them, Greg Martin (Christopher Jones) is the prize pupil of the bunch. As a demonstration project, Martin is on a mission to blow up a dam in Greece and destroy a nearby village.

Turley also was often employed by QM Productions. Among the series he wrote for were The Fugitive, 12 O’Clock High, The FBI, and Dan August.

The writer’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 54 credits.

Cicely Tyson and the spy craze

Cicely Tyson and Ivan Dixon in So Long Patrick Henry, the first episode of I Spy broadcast by NBC in 1965.

Cicely Tyson has died after a long and distinguished career in acting. Her passing on Jan. 28, at the age of 96, prompted many tributes.

“In a remarkable career of seven decades, Ms. Tyson broke ground for serious Black actors by refusing to take parts that demeaned Black people,” according to an obituary in The New York Times. “She urged Black colleagues to do the same, and often went without work.”

Tyson made her presence known during television shows created during the 1960s spy craze.

She played a supporting role in So Long Patrick Henry, the first episode of I Spy that was broadcast on Sept. 15, 1965. Tyson portrayed an African princess who was engaged to Elroy Browne, a U.S. athlete who had defected to China during the 1964 Olympics in Japan.

The episode was not the show’s pilot. But it was one of four first-season episodes written by star Robert Culp. NBC moved the episode up to be the premiere for the series.

Tyson returned in a second-season episode of I Spy, Trial by Treehouse, that aired during the show’s second season.

The actress also was a guest star in a 1970 episode of Mission: Impossible, Death Squad. The IMF’s Barney Collier (Greg Morris) is vacationing in a Latin American country and falls in love with Tyson’s character, artist Alma Ross.

The brother of a police official obsesses over Alma. The police official runs a death squad and Barney soon is targeted to be its next victim.

What follows is a sampling of the many tributes to Tyson.

The nature of fandom

Daniel Craig as James Bond

The past few weeks have been rough for James Bond fans. They’ve witnessed the passing of key actors such as Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Michael Lonsdale.

All three had long careers that extended beyond James Bond films. But some Bond fans say something to the effect that they represent OUR Pussy Galore, OUR Tracy, OUR Drax.

However, fans of The Avengers TV series might counter something like, yes but that’s OUR Cathy Gale or OUR Emma Peel.

This extends beyond Bond fandom.

I’ve seen some fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. say having an American and a Russian as partners was BIG AND BOLD.

Meanwhile, fans of the original I Spy television series counter that having a White and a Black man as equal partners was a lot more controversial in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Undoubtedly, there are many other examples. Many fans, though, don’t want to examine all that. They are concerned with their fandom. No more, no less.

No criticism is intended in any of this. It’s the way of the world. It’s also the nature of fandom.

Mort Drucker, ace Mad artist, dies at 91

Part of the Mort Drucker-drawn parody of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Mort Drucker, one of the best artists to grace the pages of Mad magazine, has died at 91, The New York Times reported. He died Thursday at his home in Woodbury, N.Y., according to the newspaper. (The Times originally said Wednesday and corrected the story.)

Drucker specialized in parodies of movies and television shows. His caricatures bore dead-on resemblances to actors, while making exaggerations for comic effect. He began working at Mad in the 1950s and lasted well into the 21st century.

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

The artist, naturally, had pencil and pen ready during the spymania of the 1960s and beyond.

Among his work:

–007 (April 1965 issue), showing what a stage musical featuring “James Bomb” would be like. Naturally, there was a Connery caricature. The villainous organization ICECUBE is towing the U.K. to the North Pole. The head of the organization is revealed to be Mike Hammer, angry that Bomb had taken away his book sales.

The parody, written by Frank Jacobs, included songs were all sung to the tune of songs from Oklahoma! For example: “Poor Bomb Is Dead,” instead of “Poor Jud Is Dead.”

–A parody of The Man From U.N.C.L.E,, titled The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E. (July 1965 issue). Besides caricatures of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the story included an appearance by a Sean Connery caricature dressed in a tuxedo with a “007” button. The Illya Kuryakin takeoff has hired 007 to do away with the Napoleon Solo takeoff. There were also cameos from the White Spy and Black Spy from Mad’s Spv Vs. Spy feature.

Image from The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E.

–The Spy That Came in for the Gold (September 1966), parody of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

Why Spy? (June 1967 issue), parody of I Spy with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby.

–Mission: Ridiculous (April 1968 issue), parody of Mission: Impossible. The letters page of the issue had a letter from Martin Landau and Barbara Bain asking why Mad hadn’t yet parodied M:I. The letter came complete with a photo of the actors looking at an issue of Mad.

–The March 1974 issue of Mad that parodied the first eight movies in the 007 series produced by Eon Productions. The parody titles were Dr. No-No, From Russia With Lunacy, Goldfingerbowl, Thunderblahh, You Only Live Nice, On His Majesty’s Secret Shamus, Dollars Are Forever and Live And Let Suffer.

Mort Drucker in a 2015 video by the National Cartoonists Society

Drucker also drew later 007 parodies, including takeoffs of The Spy Who Loved Me (June 1978 issue) and For Your Eyes Only (March 1982 issue). With the latter, the White Spy and Black Spy of Spy Vs. Spy again make a cameo.

Drucker was also in demand for projects other than Mad. One of his most prominent was the poster for 1973’s American Graffiti.

Part of the Mort Drucker-drawn 007, Mad’s version of a “James Bomb” stage musical. The villain reveals himself to be Mike Hammer, who is angry at 007 for taking away all his book sales.

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

Happy 100th to a familiar, often villainous, face

Nehemiah Persoff in Mission: Impossible

Aug. 2 is the 100th birthday for Nehemiah Persoff, a character actor who excelled at playing villains.

Persoff, over a career lasting from the late 1940s to the early 2000s, played:

–A Blofeld-like villain in the 1961 John Wayne Western The Comancheros;

–A secondary Thrush villain out to kill his former mentor Mandor (Jack Lord) in The Master’s Touch Affair in the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.;

–Three episodes of The Wild Wild West, including the show’s 1965 pilot;

–Two episodes of I Spy, three episodes of Mission: Impossible, an episode of It Takes a Thief, and seven episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

Persoff could play heavies in comedies as well as dramas.

For example, Persoff played gangster Little Bonaparte in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. The mobster was hearing impaired, wearing hearing aids. Little Bonaparte has fellow gangster Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his men gunned down at a party, with the killer coming out of a large cake.

A lawman played by Pat O’Brien enters asking what happened.

“There was something in that cake that didn’t agree with them,” Little Bonaparte replies.

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.

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.

Nancy Wilson dies at 81

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson, an accomplished singer who also was cast in dramatic parts on television, has died at 81, according to The Washington Post.

Wilson’s “beguiling expressiveness in jazz, R&B, gospel, soul and pop made her a crossover recording star for five decades,” The Post said. She died on Nov. 13.

An excerpt from The Post’s obituary:

Jazz historian and critic Will Friedwald, in his volume “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers,” called Ms. Wilson a formidable presence in pop, jazz and blues — “the most important vocalist to come along after these three genres were codified and move freely among them.”

Wilson caught the eye of casting directors, including parts where a character was also a singer.

Among her acting credits were:

I Spy, “Lori”: Wilson played the title character in the episode written by series creators Morton Fine and David Friedkin. Wilson’s Lori was the sister of a man (Greg Morris) suspected of killing members of a team trained in detecting underground nuclear tests. But the situation isn’t as clear as it seems. Wilson was a friend of I Spy star Bill Cosby, according to The Post’s obituary.

Hawaii Five-O, “Trouble In Mind”: Wilson played Eadie Jordan, a singer addicted to heroin. She’s in Hawaii at the same time poison-laced heroin is being circulated. Five-O is trying to find the source of the deadly heroin. The cast included Morton Stevens, composer of the famous Five-O theme, as a musician who dies from poisoned heroin.

The FBI, “The Confession”: Wilson was Darlene Clark, a diva singer. Her manager Abel Norton (Hal Linden) blames her for the death of his son. Norton then kidnaps her daughter. The idea is to force Darlene to publicly confess to a hit-and-run accident years earlier. The cast also included a mustache-less Tom Selleck as an FBI agent.