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.

1966: Dick Van Dyke takes on the spy craze

Title card for The Man From My Uncle

In the 1960s, many television shows did a take on the spy craze. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66), one of the most acclaimed U.S. situation comedies, was no exception.

Near the end of its run, CBS aired “The Man From My Uncle.” It has references to both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (near the peak of its popularity) and James Bond films. Amusingly, the episode doesn’t actually have spies.

Nevertheless, a nameless U.S. agency (resembling the FBI) asks Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) for the use of their house to conduct a surveillance in their New Rochelle, New York, neighborhood.

The lead agent is Harry Bond (Godfrey Cambridge). Given this is 1966, the significance of agent Bond’s name is obvious when Rob looks at the agent’s identification.

ROB: Bond? Harry Bond? Hey, you’ve got the same last name…

BOND: Yeah. Please no jokes. I’m not 007.

Something similar happens a few moments later when Laura meets the government man.

LAURA: Bond? Isn’t that the name of….

Rob stops her before things get too far.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Rob was the head writer for a leading variety television program. The Dick Van Dyke Show was an early sitcom which depicted its lead character at both home and at work.

As a result, in this story, Rob is nervous and excited that a government man is working out of his home. Rob’s anxiety around Harry Bond is the source of much of the humor of the episode.

Harry Bond’s quarry is a criminal who has a relative living in Rob’s neighborhood. Suffice to say, the feds eventually get their man despite Rob’s offers of assistance.

At the end of the episode, Rob speaks into what he thinks is his son’s walkie talkie.

ROB: Hello, Thrush? This is agent Triple-oh-nine. If you do not release our agents immediately, we will activate our atomic de-activator and blow up your tonsils. Do you read me there, Thrush?

BOND: This is Thrush.

ROB (embarrassed): Hi, Thrush.

BOND (bemused): We read you and will release all your agents if you just stop playing with our equipment.

ROB: Mr. Bond, I’m sorry. I thought this was my son’s.

BOND: That’s all right, Triple-oh-nine. We’ll be right in.

For those not familiar with U.N.C.L.E., Thrush was the villainous organization of that 1964-68 series.

Godfrey Cambridge’s title card for The Man From My Uncle

Trivia: The Man From My Uncle was written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson. While mostly known for writing comedy, the duo also wrote an episode of the hour-long drama I Spy that same season.

Sheldon Leonard was the executive producer of both The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Spy. Marshall and Belson later developed Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple into a television series.

Marshall (1934-2016) later became a director of such films as Pretty Woman and The Princess Dairies.

Godfrey Cambridge died in 1976 in the TV production Victory at Entebbe, where he was playing Ugandan president Idi Amin. He was replaced by Julius W. Harris, who had portrayed Tee Hee in Live And Let Die.

Meanwhile, you can view The Man From My Uncle below (at least as long as YouTube doesn’t yank it).

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.

Soon-Tek Oh, busy actor, dies

Soon-Tek Oh as an ill-fated secret agent in the Matt Helm film Murderers’ Row.

Soon-Tek Oh, a Korean-born actor whose career extended decades, died April 4, according to an obituary in Korea JoonAng Daily, an English language newspaper in South Korea.

The publication listed his age as 85. The Internet Movie Data Base listed his age as 74.

(UPDATE: Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have listed his age as 85.)

Korea JoonAng Daily said Oh graduated from  Yonsei University in 1959 with a degree in political science. He then went to the University of California-Los Angeles, where he ended up studying acting, the newspaper said.

The actor made his rounds in spy and international intrigue related movies and television series.

He played Lt. Hip in the second Roger Moore 007 film, The Man With The Golden Gun. Before that, he appeared in I Spy, the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row (an uncredited role as a Japanese secret agent who’s killed early in the film), It Takes a Thief, The Wild Wild West (a small role as the villain’s houseboy) and eight episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

Lt. Hip assisted Moore’s Bond on a mission in Golden Gun. Often in Bond films, that’s the type of role that ends up being a “sacrificial lamb.” Oh’s Lt. Hip avoided that fate. The character also had two nieces whose martial arts skills helped Bond get out of a jam.

With Five-O, the actor was present at the beginning. In the pilot episode, he played a lab technician for villain Wo Fat, who has devised an unusual torture method involving a “cocoon.”

His parts got larger as the series progressed. Oh returned in a first-season Five-O episode, Face of the Dragon, He played a Chinese agent who is spreading Bubonic plague. Oh also portrayed a “young Maoist” who is being manipulated by Wo Fat as part of a plot in the fifth-season episode The Jinn Who Clears the Way.

The actor’s IMDB.COM entry lists 116 acting credits, extending from 1965 and running through 2006. He was also billed as Soon-Taik Oh (as he was in The Man With the Golden Gun) and Soon-Teck Oh.