Noble failure: The Richard Boone Show

Logo for The Richard Boone Show

On occasion, television shows attempt to punch above their weight. They may not succeed, but they deserve a salute for the effort.

That applies to The Richard Boone Show, which ran for one season (1963-64).

Boone (1917-1981) was at his height of popularity in the early 1960s.

He had starred for six seasons as Paladin in Have Gun — Will Travel. With the end of that popular Western, Boone pretty much could write his own ticket.

The actor was not a typical star. He had quirky tastes. What he wanted to do was the television equivalent of a theater company performing different plays each week.

Boone had a receptive audience in Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. The duo supervised popular game and panel shows such as What’s My Line?, Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth. But they also wanted to break out of the genre.

In that regard, the Goodson-Todman track record was mixed. They produced a Philip Marlowe series that lasted one season. They also produced The Rebel, a Western series that ran for two series today best remembered for a Johnny Cash title song.

Goodson-Todman was determined to turn The Richard Boone Show into a prestige series.

As producer, Goodson and Todman hired Buck Houghton, the producer of the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone. Clifford Odets was brought on as story supervisor, to line up scripts for the new anthology show. Odets, unfortunately, died in August 1963 during production of the series.

For the “company of players,” the regulars included the likes of Harry Morgan, Robert Blake, Jeanette Nolan, Ford Rainey, Lloyd Bocher, Laura Devon, Warren Stevens and other familiar faces on early 1960s television.

Many of the episodes starred Boone, but not all. When Boone wasn’t the lead player, he would portray a secondary character. Meanwhile, the cast had plenty of opportunities to display their acting abilities.

In many ways, the “company of players” was like an actual theater company with the actors playing around with makeup, include bald caps, fake mustaches, putty noses, wigs and such.

In terms of music, the production team hired Henry Mancini to come up with a theme while episodes were scored by composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Fred Steiner and Lalo Schifrin.

Today, in the 21st century, it’s easy to image an undertaking like The Richard Boone Show being televised on Netfilix or Hulu as an original series (depending on the headliner). But, during the 1963-64 series, the series ran for a year before disappearing.

In a commercial sense, the show was a failure. Artistically, it was a noble failure. What follows is the unusual opening and end titles of the show.

 

Mannix vs. spies

Mike Connors in a first-season episode of Mannix, an iconic image used in the show's main titles.

Mike Connors in The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher, a first-season Mannix episode.

This week’s death of Mannix star Mike Connors spurred the blog to take a look at some spy-related episodes of the private eye drama.

Mannix mostly mixed it up with hoods and other crooks. But, on occasion, there were espionage-related stories.

The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher (first season): Intertect, the large detective agency Mannix works for in the first season, is hired by Germans representing a European industrial concern. They’re after a missing scientist.

Mannix doubts the motives of the agency’s clients — with good reason, it turns out. The reality is there are a group of Nazis from World War II and Nazi hunters. Mannix is in the middle and has to figure out who is who.

Deadfall (first season): A two-part story involving industrial espionage.

Vancom Industries is developing an advanced laser. It has hired Intertect to provide security. A Vancom lab technician is killed in an explosion caused by sabotage and the lead Intertect operative apparently has been killed in an auto accident.

Vancom rival Berwyn Electronics demonstrates its own version of the device. The laser only fires at a target spot and won’t fire if blocked from the target by a human being.

Mannix picks up the trail. The question is whether the Intertect operative was involved with the sabotage and who at Vacom participated in the theft of the system.

Meanwhile, Intertect chief Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) is behaving erratically as the result of a medical prescription. Toward the end of Part I, Wickersham explodes in rage at Mannix and fights the detective viciously.

Mannix must not only solve the case but find out the reason for Wichersham’s behavior.

To the Swiftest, Death (second season): Mannix is participating in an amateur auto race. One of the race cars is involved in a fiery crash, apparently killing the driver. Mannix is hired to investigate the crash. But U.S. authorities are taking an unusual interest in the case.

Race Against Time (seventh season): The first two-part story since the first season of the series.

Mannix is recruited by the U.S. government. Mannix knows Victor Lucas, who is leading a resistance movement inside a repressive country.

Mannix recruits a famed heart surgeon (John Colicos) and smuggles him into the country. Mannix and the doctor meet up with members of the resistance movement. Before the doctor can perform the surgery, the pacemaker that Mannix brought with him has been smashed.

Mannix must now find another suitable pacemaker and find out who the traitor is within the resistance movement.

Bird of Prey (eighth season): Producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts acquired the rights to a Victor Canning novel as the basis of this two-part episode.

A case takes Mannix to another country. He becomes aware of a plot to kill the nation’s leader. In Part II, the plot succeeds and Mannix is framed as the assassin.

The detective now is on the run, trying to clear his name and bring the conspirators to justice. The two-part story also marks composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

M:I’s 50th: ‘Your mission, should you decide to accept it…’

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Mission: Impossible, 50 years after its first telecast this month, still resonates with some viewers.

Part of it is Lalo Schifrin’s memorable theme. Producer-star Tom Cruise retained it when he began his M:I movie franchise in 1996. In the most recent installment, 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, some of Schifrin’s score from the series was also carried over.

Part of it is that many people still remember the 1966-73 original fondly. In September 2014, the MeTV channel brought M:I back for a year as part of a programming block called “The Spies Who Love ME.”

The channel hired Martin Landau, who played disguise expert Rollin Hand for the show’s first three seasons, to do promos. “Watch me on Mission: Impossible,” Landau said.

Some of the images and catchphrases certainly are still remembered. Among them: the main title with its burning fuse; the team leader (Steven Hill the first season, Peter Graves the final six) being briefed in an unusual manner; and the mysterious voice of the never-seen voice saying, “You mission, should you decide to accept it…”

The original series was a tense place to work.

The show chewed up producers (Joseph Gantman, Stanley Kallis and Bruce Lansbury among them). Those day-to-day producers had the primary task of maintaining a steady supply of elaborate stories. They had a tough act to follow after the pilot where the Impossible Missions Force steals two atomic bombs.

What’s more, Bruce Geller, the creator-executive producer, had a falling out with the talented writing tandem of William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter. Woodfield and Balter had received attention for their intricate tales.

But, in the show’s third season (when they were promoted to producers), Woodfield and Balter soon departed after conflicts with Geller. A few seasons later, Geller himself was barred from the Paramount lot because of his battles with studio executives.

Despite all that (because of all that?), M:I had an impact on television audiences.

When Steven Hill died last month, his obituary in The New York Times, detailed more about his one year on M:I than it did his 10-year stint on Law and Order as stern D.A. Adam Schiff.

The Tom Cruise film series is less team-oriented than the TV show. Most notably, its first installment turned the Jim Phelps character played by Peter Graves in the series into a villain. Regardless, the movie series is still around. The Deadline: Hollywood entertainment news website reported last month that a sixth installment may have hit a temporary snag as details get worked out.

But M:I 6 seems more likely than not. Paramount is struggling right now and needs a hit. Cruise, in great shape at 54, isn’t getting any younger. Both sides have ample incentive to get a deal done.

None of this, of course, would have been possible without Bruce Geller (1930-1978), who managed to make a weekly series where nothing was impossible.

Marching bands prove when spy music is part of society

You know when spy music has become part of the fabric of society when it’s performed by a marching band.

Marching bands, by definition, don’t perform edgy music. Such bands perform music is, more or less, universally accepted.

On Sept. 19, the Ohio State University marching band performed various James Bond music during half time of a football game. The 007 fans who frequent his website will recognize every tune played.

When it comes to spy (or spy-like) television themes that the general public relates to, marching bands are one place to look.

Here’s a marching band playing Lalo Schifrin’s theme for Mission: Impossible:

Also, Morton Stevens’ Hawaii Five-O theme is a favorite for marching bands. Here’s a sample, performed by the University of Minnesota marching band, based a long way from Hawaii:

 

Happy 90th birthday, Mike Connors

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Aug. 15 is the 90th birthday of actor Mike Connors, a familiar face to American audiences.

His spy entertainment credentials include Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film that rode the spy craze of the decade.

Today, that movie is a bit of a curiosity item, particularly how it bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1979 007 film Moonraker (except for its budget).

The main item of Connors’ acting resume is the 1967-75 detective series Mannix. The lead character, Joe Mannix, seemed to absorb a considerable amount of punishment in solving his cases.

Mannix dabbled occasionally in espionage, including a second-season episode where there was a spy played by Hugh Beaumont.

The series also had a two-part episode in its seventh season, where Mannix gets recruited by the U.S. government to help out the rebel leader of a South American country.

In the final season, there’s another two-part story where Mannix gets involved in international intrigue outside the U.S. That two parter was based on the Victor Canning novel Venetian Bird. It also had the last score for the series by Lalo Schifrin, who penned the show’s theme music.

Connors was already 42 when Mannix first aired. He had been a basketball player at UCLA and was still athletic enough to make a convincing action hero. During the filming of the pilot, he was injured while dodging a helicopter, a scene that would be used in the main titles of the series.

Jon Burlingame starts a YouTube channel

Film and television music expert Jon Burlingame has started a YouTube channel called Reel Music. First up: a look at Burlingame’s picks for top 10 spy movie scores.

Burlingame has written books on television composers and James Bond music. In the initial video, launched on Aug. 11, his selections comprise a number of different composers.

Burlingame’s list is presented in chronological order and doesn’t attempt to rank the 10 selections. It begins with Bernard Herrmann’s score for 1959’s North by Northwest and ends with John Powell’s score for 2002’s The Bourne Identity.

Along the way, there are two John Barry scores (Goldfinger and The Ipcress File), three Bond films (including one not made by Eon Productions) as well as efforts by Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin.

You can take a look for yourself. While individual viewers might quibble with selections or argue for others, there’s no dispute that Burlingame knows the music territory.

Note: the image below shows posters for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Neither shows up on the list, but they present a “news peg” in journalism-speak.

Daniel Pemberton: U.N.C.L.E. score avoids 007 sound

Daniel Pemberton's Twitter icon

Daniel Pemberton’s Twitter icon

Composer Daniel Pemberton said that director Guy Ritchie wanted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie score to avoid the James Bond film sound.

Also, in an interview with The Spy Command, Pemberton said Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to the original 1964-68 television series is present in the film, but only makes a cameo appearance.

Pemberton joins a long list of U.N.C.L.E. composers, including Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin, who scored two episodes and did the second-season arrangement of Goldsmith’s theme.

Pemberton’s U.N.C.L.E. score received a rave review July 29 on the Films on Wax website, which said the score included “wonderful music that is a hell of a lot of fun.”

Here’s the text of the interview.

SPY COMMANDER: How did you become involved in scoring The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

PEMBERTON: I’d just finished the Ridley Scott film The Counselor and as a result there was a bit more interest in me as a composer suddenly. I had a meeting at Warner Bros. in the US and they mentioned that Guy (Ritchie) was doing U.N.C.L.E. I was a big fan of the idea so they asked me to get a showreel together.

So I did that but I didn’t think my reel was actually that good. It certainly wasn’t ‘Hollywood slick’ — it had a load of crazy stuff I’d done for TV and video games more than my movie scores. This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Basically, Guy had heard pretty much every showreel in Hollywood and he was fed up because he said they all sounded the same. Mine was the only one that sounded different apparently. So we had a meeting, I hung out on set and was offered the job. Wowzers.

QUESTION: You’re on record as being a fan of Lalo Schifin. How would you describe the influence Schifrin had on your work?

PEMBERTON: I really love Lalo’s stuff. I actually met him when I was 21 and interviewed him for a magazine called The Wire. He was such a charming guy. Kinda weird when I think about it now — I am a fellow U.N.C.L.E. composer! I would have never have guessed at the time.

I think it was the mix of great grooves and musicality mixed with all that exotic instrumentation of those scores of his that really connected with me. One of my fav cues was always ‘Jim On The Move’ from the M:I TV series. It had such a cool piano solo. I made sure we got one track on the U.N.C.L.E. album (Escape From East Berlin) that had a crazy keyboard solo on it — you can’t beat ’em!

QUESTION: The original U.N.C.L.E. series included scores by a number of talented composers. Did you research the series any before doing your score for the U.N.C.L.E. movie?

Not that much. I saw a few and was familiar with some of the music already. There’s that slightly ouch one (Spy Commander note: The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV movie in 1983) where George Lazenby turns up but they obviously can’t call him James Bond so they come up with all these slightly amusing ways to insinuate that yes, it’s James Bond and not basically George Lazenby in a tuxedo. But Guy wanted a fresh take on it so it wasn’t a vital part of the process. I wanted to respect what I thought were the cool aspects of the series musically but give them a new twist rather than slavishly replicate them, as I think any composer of the time would have done as well.

QUESTION:  The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is a period piece, set in the 1960s. Did you do any research concerning the ’60s before scoring the movie?

PEMBERTON: Oh yeah. Well I had been a massive fan of all the ’60s spy scores anyway growing up so there wasn’t a lot of research to do on that front. I’d already done it. But in terms of getting a really great authentic ’60s sound, yes I did tons.

I hooked up with a great engineer and mixer at Abbey Road called Sam Okell. Sam is basically a complete gear nerd and is really into 1960s recording processes. So we did tons of research on those. What would be cool? Which ones are worth spending the time on and which ones could we do better now?

We used so much great gear — old REDD mixing desks (look it up!) which are these insane mixers that look like they are from a Soviet nuclear facility. You’d record stuff through them and it would sound fantastic. We did stuff down to tape, even used the echo chamber room in Abbey Road to get reverb on a few tracks.

I also did lots of research into getting the sounds right. I remember really loving the bass sound on Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson album and by a really weird coincidence a friend of mine is married to Jane Birkin’s brother. He’s this hive of info on everything and he had a load of stuff about the recording process on that album in his giant shed. So I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and sat down with that for quite a while!

Also the musicians would bring their own spin on things. The flute we used was actually the one from The Jungle Book. Dave the flautist had bought it off the guy years ago. We also hired in a great 1960s Harpsichord. I would totally buy one for myself if it wasn’t for the fact that within about three hours it was out of tune. The tuner had gone home and we were running out of time on a cue and I was like, ‘Shit!! We have to get this done before the tuning just totally goes!!’

QUESTION: How is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie different than James Bond films?

PEMBERTON: I’d say U.N.C.L.E. has a bit more of a heart to it in a way. I love Bond so much but it’s very aggressive in some respects. With U.N.C.L.E. I think there’s a bit more warmth and also a bit more lightness. With this film we definitely played against the action in a number of places whereas with Bond it would be played very straight.

Guy was very insistent it DIDN’T sound like Bond which I think is the template for any sort of spy cliche these days. So that was good. It meant we probably didn’t use as much brass as I originally thought we would but I think it gives our film a very different sonic palette. There’s one cue ‘Into The Lair’ which Guy was like, ‘It’s a bit Bondy – but I’ll let you have it,’ as it was all the big tremolo strings John Barry was so great at.

I think with Bond one of its greatest strengths and also weaknesses is the template for the sound is so mapped out. You know what you’re going to get pretty much before you even see the film. Whereas with U.N.C.L.E. I think you have no idea. Which is fun because it means you can always pull the odd surprise — like the screaming buggy chase cue — out of the bag! For me, I love it when a film score surprises you..

QUESTION: Were there any surprises once you started work on the U.N.C.L.E. movie?

I think originally I imagined it to be more thematic and traditional score based. But it soon became apparent Guy wanted to do it differently and make the cues more like stand alone tracks. Which, once I’d worked that out, was great!

It was a very very long process. I worked alongside the edit right from the beginning which is fantastic in that you can really help influence the movie and write original music rather than copy temp, but also very, very intense. I would actually write multiple ideas for every scene. Every scene I probably scored in about three, four or five different ways.

Guy wanted to try everything out he could. He has an amazing editor called James Herbert who is also brilliant at coming up with ideas and they would just be thrown at me all the time. So I had to work really really fast and make things appear out of nowhere, sometimes in an evening. But the end result is so good it’s a process I would definitely go through again. I am up for U.N.C.L.E. 2, 3 and so on if they do them!

QUESTION: Besides Lalo Schifrin, are there any other composers you’d consider an influence?

Oh so many. OK here we go with just some random names: John Barry, Edwin Astley, Ennio Morriconne, Serge Gainsbourg, Nina Rota, Francis Lai, Quincy Jones, Jerry Goldsmith, The Beatles, erm this could go on for ages…

QUESTION: Were you able to incorporate Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme into your score?

Ah! The million dollar question! I was keen to get it in somewhere and for a while it was at the end of the film. But a lot of people — and I think these were people and an audience who were not familiar with its history — felt it didn’t feel right for the tone of the rest of the film. They didn’t know the track or recognize it.

Guy was very keen for this to be a fresh new take on U.N.C.L.E. and you have to respect his vision as a director on that. But I was still keen we got it in there somewhere as Jerry is one of the greats and I know the fans would want it.

At one stage, we had a couple of the bad guys whistling it — I’d recorded it in a session and everything. But that got ditched. It was last minutes before we hit the sound stage and I was bemoaning the fact it wasn’t in there at all to James the editor and he came up with a genius idea — the radio!

There’s a scene where Solo switches stations on a radio. So we got one of the stations playing the Hugo Montenegro version. He hears it but decides, this time, it’s not for him and changes the station. So I like that because this is a new Solo, a new U.N.C.L.E., but there’s a homage in there to the past — it’s really like a musical cameo rather than a starring role.

And put it this way — you can go rewatch The Avengers or The Saint which both really got the theme in there but were, for me, somewhat suspect films. Or you can just absorb the fun of this film because I think everyone has done a great job. SO yeah do the last one..!

Note from the Spy Commander: Daniel Pemberton’s current project is scoring the film Steve Jobs.