A director reflects on making episodes of spy TV

From The Night of Big Blast directed by Ralph Senesky

From The Night of Big Blast directed by Ralph Senensky

Ralph Senesky directed a lot of episodic television, including installments of 1960s spy-related television series. In 2009 and 2010 ON HIS BLOG, Senensky described some of the episodes he helmed in detail.

For example, there was The Night of the Druid’s Blood, a first-season episode of The Wild, Wild West. At this point, the series producer was Gene L. Coon, who “told me that because of the uniqueness of the series, he rewrote most of the scripts; that he used the writer’s first draft submission as a frame for him to build on.”

One of the guest stars was Don Rickles. “Don was always on, with his incredibly sharp wit and acute skills of observation. It seemed almost no one was safe. Robert Conrad was not the tallest creature on the planet, but according to Rickles he barely reached the height of Billy Barty.” However, the director also wrote all that ended when the cameras started to roll. “he was fanatically serious about his work.”

Senensky was back a few months later for a second-season West episode, The Night of the Big Blast. Gene Coon was gone, with Michael Garrison (who had been executive producer) in the producer’s chair. There was one other big change: the series was now being made in color.

To save money during those early years of filming in color, not all of the daily rushes would be printed in color. For each sequence only one setup would be printed in color (it was usually the master shot for the scene). The rest of the takes for that sequence would be printed in black and white. Therefore the work print of the film would bounce back and forth from color master to black and white closeups. It wasn’t until the final answer print that we got to see the entire film in color.

Senensky also describes the work habits of old Hollywood (guest star Ida Lupino) and the then-newer variety during the first day of filming.

The crew reported at the usual 7:30 am; filming was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am. Five minutes before 8, Ida Lupino reported to the set, in costume and makeup, ready to film. At 8:25 am our Miklos, MIchael McCloud, arrived; at 8:50 am Robert Conrad showed up and we were able to start filming. Allthough these late arrivals were not standard practice throughout the television industry, they also were not sole occurrences.

(snip)

But studios and production companies, in the age of television were at a disadvantage. Once an actor was established as a bona fide star of a successful network series, they seemed to hold the stronger hand. If the studio fired Vince Edwards, how does BEN CASEY continue on the air? Or Peter Falk on COLUMBO? Or Robert Blake on BARETTA? It was a different world. I know of a show (which shall remain nameless) where the producer challenged one of the show’s stars. Guess who was the one dismissed! I remember the stunned look on the face of the show’s story editor when he came into the office of the production manager (I was present) and announced, “I’ve just been made the producer.”

At the same time, Senesky describes how Conrad and the stuntmen arranged and rehearsed fights, with Conrad not needing a double being a big help. As for co-star Ross Martin, his “wide range as an actor proved invaluable for Ross to assume many, various identities. In this episode he had the rare chance to be the romantic hero, since Jim West has allegedly been eliminated from the story.”

You can read Senensky’s full posts about Druid BY CLICKING HERE and Big Blast BY CLICKING HERE.

There’s also a post about a late first-season episode of Mission: Impossible (filmed as star Steven Hill was being phased out) that you can view HERE and a second-season episode of The FBI involving an espionage story HERE. Senensky also directed an I Spy episode, but didn’t write about it on the blog.

Ursula Andress and Luciana Paluzzi meet Boris Karloff

Even the most dedicated 007 fan probably won’t spend $100 or so just to catch two of the most famous Bond women of the 1960s as guest stars on a TV series. Still, if said 007 fans are considering buying a DVD box sets for other reasons of the 1960-62 horror/crime anthology series Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff, they can also watch Ursula Andress and Luciana Paluzzi starring in separate episodes.

Andress was the lead in La Strega, playing a young 19th Century woman whose grandmother is, well, a witch. She’s trying to separate herself from granny, who’s having none of it. The episode originally aired on Jan. 15, 1962, early in the production of Dr. No. So it was probably filmed in late 1961. The episode was written by Alan Caillou, who penned early, influentical episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and directed by Ida Lupino.

Paluzzi starred in Flowers of Evil, which was originally broadcast almost two months later. We haven’t had a chance to check it out fully, but murder is definitely part of the proceedings.

Karloff, besides hosting, also acted in a handful of Thriller episodes though not either of these. The complete series was originally priced at around $150 but has been marked down to just under $100.

As we said, it’s not a Bond collector’s item, but 007 fans who have other reasons to purchase (for Karloff, for the fine scores by Jerry Goldsmtih and Morton Stevens, for adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Bloch and Robert E. Howard among others), they may want to give it a look.

UPDATE: The video’s not that good, but here’s the start of La Strega: