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.

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Jim Steranko: 1960s spy fan

Jim Steranko provides a Sean Connery/007 cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 (1967)

Not that it’s a terrible surprise but writer-artist Jim Steranko, who had a legendary run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1960s, was a big fan of 1960s spy entertainment.

His S.H.I.E.L.D. stories included a weapons master named Boothroyd. He also had the Sean Connery version of James Bond make a one-panel cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 in 1967.

Anyway, Steranko takes questions from fans (or “henchmen”) each Sunday night on Twitter.

The Spy Commander couldn’t resist. So I asked if he had seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. during the period.

The answer? Well, judge for yourself:

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I needed to look it up. The Hunter was a 1952 series where, according to IMDB.COM, Bart Adams used the cover of an international businessman to battle Communist spies. Barry Nelson was the first actor to play James Bond in the 1954 CBS television production of Casino Royale.

Our favorite character actors: Jeanette Nolan

Jeanette Nolan in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

One in an occasional series

“Jeanette Nolan…well, she continues to amaze me,” Richard Boone said in 1963 at the end of the initial broadcast of the anthology show that bore his name.

“She’s a remarkable actress,” Boone said. Nolan was part of the “company of players” who appeared in the weekly Richard Boone Show anthology series.

Indeed, Nolan proved her talents repeatedly over a half-century career.

From playing Lady Macbeth opposite Orson Welles in a 1948 movie to numerous guest appearances on television, Nolan was a chameleon. Her appearance, diction and accent all changed in response to the characters she played.

Naturally, such a versatile talent was seen many times on spy and related television shows.

Among them: Edith Partridge, the eccentric but deadly wife of villain G. Emory Partridge in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; two episodes of I Spy (one as the contact for Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott); one episode of Hawaii Five-O; and one episode of The FBI.

Nolan was part of an acting family. Her husband was veteran character actor John McIntire (1907-1991) and her son was Tim McIntire (1944-1986). She on occasion acted together with her husband, including the Western series The Virginian.

Jeanette Nolan was never a star, with the exception of Dirty Sally, a short-lived spinoff series from Gunsmoke.

Nolan’s IMDB.COM entry lists 200 acting credits. She died on June 5, 1998, at the age of 86.

Fox commits to pilot ‘loosely’ based on I Spy, Deadline says

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

The Fox television network has committed to the production of a pilot for a new series that would be based on the I Spy television series, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported. 

The pilot, at least for now, wouldn’t carry the I Spy name and would only be “loosely” based on the 1965-68 series, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva wrote.

“I hear that during the discussions with the network, the idea evolved as Fox brass were not interested in a straight I Spy remake but instead a new take on the buddy spy genre,” according to Andreeva.

It will be written by David Shore and directed by McG, Deadline reported. Also involved is producer John Davis, one of the producers of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In the original series, Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott (Robert Culp and Bill Crosby) were U.S. agents operating under the cover of a tennis pro and his trainer. Of 1960s American spy shows, it was the series most grounded in the Cold War and relatively realistic, compared with U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible and the comedy Get Smart.

I Spy has had a checkered post-series history.

Culp and Cosby were reunited in a 1994 television movie, I Spy Returns, featuring aging versions of their original characters. In it, both have grown children operating as spies.

That TV movie didn’t generate interest in any further adventures. It did, however, posthumously provide a creator credit for Morton Fine and David Friedkin. The two were producers of the series, but never received credit for creating the show while it was originally broadcast. Sheldon Leonard, executive producer of the original, had that title for the TV movie, along with Cosby.

The show was also made as a 2002 comedy theatrical film with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. That production still causes groans from fans of the 1965 series.

 

U.N.C.L.E. and catching lightning in a bottle

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded how this month is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles meeting Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The gathering reflected how U.N.C.L.E., for a time in the 1960s, was a very big deal. 

It was the Fab Four who requested the meeting. They were fans of the show and wanted to see the actor.

Vaughn was busy simultaneously being the lead in a U.S. television series and studying for a Ph.D. But the meeting took place anyway.

U.N.C.L.E.’s history is very much one of ups and downs. It almost got canceled in its first season. It enjoyed its best ratings in its second season (1965-66).

In fact, James Bond films actually benefited from U.N.C.L.E. Two 007 television specials, The Incredible World of James Bond and Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond (made to promote Thunderball and You Only Live Twice), aired in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot on NBC.

But by January 1968, U.N.C.L.E. was canceled as its ratings plunged.

For the most part, U.N.C.L.E. was like catching lightning in a bottle — bright and powerful. For enthusiasts (including the Spy Commander, it should be noted), the light still shines bright. To the broader population, not so much. The same applies to other ’60s spy entertainment such as The Wild Wild West, I Spy and other shows.

In the 21st century, the “lightning in a bottle” shows still are fondly remembered by the original fan base. Trying to interest younger viewers remains a challenge. A year ago this month, a new movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t find an audience even as the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series was a hit.

So it goes. Nevertheless, those who were along for the ride originally still have their memories.

Jack Davis, extraordinary artist, dies at 91

Jack Davis promotional art for Get Smart

Jack Davis promotional art for Get Smart

Jack Davis, a talented artist known for his work on Mad magazine and various commercial artwork, died Wednesday at the age of 91, the University of Georgia said in an announcement.

The university released the news because Davis, a Georgia native, often did caricatures of the school’s bulldog mascot.

Besides Mad, Davis frequently got work commercial art jobs promoting movies and television shows. Perhaps his most famous was the movie poster for 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with caricatures of Spencer Tracy and the film’s mammoth cast.  Davis then parodied his own work for the cover of It’s a World, World, World, World Mad, a paperback collection of Mad reprinted features.

With the popularity of spy shows in the 1960s, Davis did illustrations promoting The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart and I Spy. The artist also illustrated an U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox.

Davis also drew an intricate illustration promoting NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup. To appreciate it better, click on the image below.

Jack Davis' epic illustration promoting NBC's 1965-66 television lineup

Jack Davis’ epic illustration promoting NBC’s 1965-66 television lineup

 

 

Garry Marshall dies; wrote an I Spy episode

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Garry Marshall, a veteran writer-producer on television series as well as a movie director, has died at 81, according to AN OBITUARY PUBLISHED BY VARIETY.

On television, his credits included developing The Odd Couple as a TV series and creating Happy Days. His movie credits including directing 1990’s Pretty Woman.

For the purposes of this blog, we just wanted to note that Marshall, with his then-partner Jerry Belson, wrote a quirkly I Spy episode titled No Exchange on Damaged Merchandise.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks as U.S. agent Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) writes up a report to his superiors, seeking reimbursements for expenses from an assignment.

His partner Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) wants Kelly to forget it. But Robinson is so annoyed with the bureaucracy, he’s determined to get the reimbursement.

The viewer doesn’t get the entire story until Robinson is about to complete the report. Along the way, Scott was almost killed. Meanwhile, the duo was forced to improvise a prisoner exchange with a corpse.