William Self: Fox TV to the rescue

William Self title card on an episode of Batman, produced by 20th Century Fox’s television unit

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

In the early 1960s, things were not looking good at 20th Century Fox.

The 1963 film Cleopatra, while popular with audiences. It sold 67.2 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada. That was more than Goldfinger’s 66.3 million.

But Cleopatra was so expensive, it had no chance of recouping its costs. The studio was going to need a bailout.

The bailout came from its television division, headed by executive William Self, a former actor.

Self’s TV unit took an inventory of the properties Fox held and began developing television versions.

As a result, in the fall of 1964, Fox came out with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (based on the studio’s 1961 film produced by Irwin Allen); Peyton Place, based on a 1956 novel, made into a 1957 Fox film; and 12 O’Clock High, based on a 1948 novel and made into a 1949 Fox movie.

All three were part of ABC’s 1964-65 schedule. Also, Fox produced Daniel Boone for NBC that same season.

Soon after, Self’s Fox TV unit was the home of other Allen shows as well as the 1966-68 Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The latter got off to a rocky start as test audiences were confused by the campy approach.

Self’s tenure at Fox lasted into the early 1970s. He became a producer (something he had done before joining Fox), whose credits included 1976’s The Shootist, the final John Wayne film.

Self died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Joseph Gantman: On the ground floor

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Joseph Gantman in the 1960s found himself on the ground floor of notable television shows.

His primary legacy was as the day-to-day producer for the first two seasons of Mission: Impossible.

Gantman came aboard after the pilot was produced. Series creator Bruce Geller supervised the show, but it was up to Gantman to get things going, including securing a steady stream of scripts that could be filmed. He would end up winning two Emmys for his efforts.

Those two seasons featured some of the show’s best stories, such as Operation: Rogosh (the IMF tricks an “unbreakable” Soviet Bloc operative into thinking it’s three years later so he’ll give up where he’s planted germ cultures that will poison the drinking water supply of Los Angeles).

Gantman was worn down by the time he left the series at the end of its second season. His successors, William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter, who wrote many of the best stories of the first two seasons, bolted after disagreements with Bruce Geller. That was an indication that Gantman’s work wouldn’t be easy to duplicate. M:I was tough on producers generally. Gantman’s tenure was almost a marathon by comparison.

Before Mission, Gantmen worked on the pilot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with the vague tile of “production assistant,” but his title card in the television version featured his credit in the end titles on the screen by itself. Presumably, that was an indication he was a key contributor of the pilot.

During the 1964-65 season, Gantman was associate producer for 16 of the 32 episodes of the first season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, when that Irwin Allen-produced shows emphasized espionage over monsters.

Later, during the 1968-69 season, he was producer for five episodes of the first season of Hawaii Five-O, including three of the first five telecast by CBS (excluding the pilot, which aired as a TV movie). Five-O’s initial campaign was rough (it was the first series actually filmed in Hawaii) and it chewed up producers.

Gantman isn’t remembered much today. U.N.C.L.E. is remembered, behind the camera, for the efforts of Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe. Voyage is seen as what launched Irwin Allen’s 1960s shows. M:I is recalled for Bruce Geller’s concept. The original Five-O is remembered for creator-executive Leonard Freeman, who guided the show for six of its 12 seasons before his death in early 1974.

Yet, Gantman was a key lieutenant, at one time or another (just one episode in U.N.C.L.E.’s case) on all of them. That’s why TV shows have title cards.

 

3 things to note before declaring Skyfall best 007 movie ever

Last week, the entertainment Web site Whatculture! presented 5 Reasons Why Skyfall Might Be the Best James Bond Film Ever. Author Chris Wright opined:

I am confident that this will be the best of the series so far and a hell of a way to celebrate the momentous 50th Anniversary. (emphasis added)

Wright has bought into Barbara Broccoli’s comment how Skyfall may exceed the 22 previous installments of the series made by Eon Productions. What follows that people may want to keep in mind regard Whatculture!’s reasons that Skyfall will be the best:

An A-List cast and crew doesn’t guarantee success: Imagine a movie with at least five former or future Oscar winning actors and a crew that included a director, a composer, a director of photography and an editor who had all won Academy Awards. You’d have The Swarm, Irwin Allen’s 1978 disaster movie that was a critical and box office flop.

The cast included Michael Caine, Olivia de Havilland, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke and Henry Fonda, all of whom had either won Oscars up until then or would receive them in the future. Producer-director Allen had an Oscar on his shelf (for a 1953 documentary), as did director of photography Fred Koenekamp, composer Jerry Goldsmith and editor Harold F. Kress. All of those crew members, including Allen, had other Oscar nominations.

Is this a pretty extreme example? Absolutely. But it’s not unique, either.

Third-time-the-charm rule has a mixed record: Author Wright, cites one of his reasons thusly:

With Skyfall marking Daniel Craig’s third time in the lead role, the history of the series suggests this might be his finest instalment. When Sean Connery and Roger Moore were both starting out in the role it took them both three films to fully settle into the part and make it their own. Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me are both considered to be among the best of the series and it is no coincidence that these are both the third films for each actor.

What about Pierce Brosnan and The World is Not Enough? Brosnan’s third Bond movie did fine at the box office but it wasn’t universally proclaimed his best outing. Nor did the film have the impact of either Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me, the latter giving the series a jump start. Maybe Daniel Craig’s third film will have that kind of impact, but again merely being the actor’s third film isn’t a guarantee.

The Aston Martin DB5?: The 1960s sports car has been driven by Bond in two mega hits (Goldfinger and Thunderball), in two Pierce Brosnan movies (GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies) and Craig’s Casino Royale. In terms of impact, it played a central role pretty much only in Goldfinger, where it was the movie’s centerpiece gadget. You don’t see it after Bond gets to Nassau in Thunderball. In the Brosnan and Craig movies to date it’s more like an homage to the earlier movies. In Casino Royale, Craig/Bond wins the DB5 in a poker game against a secondary villain. Any super-priced luxury car could have substituted had a DB5 not been available.

Despite that, Whatculture! says the DB5 will be a leading reason why Skyfall is No. 1.

Again, this is not a prediction that Skyfall is going to bomb at the box office or be a bad 007 movie. Fans say you can’t say that until the movie is out. Again, predicting Skyfall will be No. 001 among 007 movies is a matter of faith at this point.

1965: The men from U.N.C.L.E. present some Emmys

In 1965, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was at or near its peak of popularity. So it was natural that stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would be selected as presenters during the Emmy broadcast.

Viewing it more than four decades later, a few observations come to mind:

1) It’s a reminder of far *technically* television has come, especially for live broadcasts. 2) It’s a reminder that awards shows haven’t really improved that much despite the better techology; the sequence begins with an awful joke from Danny Thomas. 3) For people of a certain age, this is a chance to see the people who had received credits on familar 1960s TV shows, such as 20th Century Fox television special effects whiz L.B. Abbott whose name appeared on Irwin Allen’s various series and Batman 4) Both Vaughn and McCallum would end up working with director of photography William W. Spencer during The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s third season when Spencer would substitute for regular DOP Fred Koenekamp on The Matterhorn Affair. 5) Winners in those days knew how to keep the speeches short.

Here’s how it went:

Col. Klink IS Ernst Stavro Blofeld!

Today, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is remembered as part of producer Irwin Allen’s collection of 1960s science-fiction (or in the eyes of some critics schlock) TV shows. And, of course, for 007 fans, it’s where two-time Felix Leiter David Hedison was a star. But in its first season, 1964-65, it had some spy themes.

One such episode was the show’s pilot, written and directed by Allen himself. It features a villain that evokes Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s early appearances in the James Bond film series of a shadowy mastermind.

Well you can watch that episode on Hulu by CLICKING RIGHT HERE. The voice certainly sounds like actor actor Werner Klemperer, who’d gain his greatest fame as Col Klink in Hogan’s Heroes. In fact, despite being in shadows, he LOOKS like Klemperer/Klink as well.

UPDATE: At the 34:17 mark, there’s a close-up of the mystery villain. Despite the shawdows, it defintiely looks like Klemperer. Yet, at the 35:40 mark or so, it appears character actor Theo Marcuse (1920-1967) is playing the mystery leader.

UPDATE II: Marcuse is credited in the end titles as “Dr. Gamma” but a close look shows he and Klemperer were doing the same role. There’s also a James Bond connection: the film editor of the episode is John W. Holmes, one of two film editors credited in Diamonds Are Forever.