1960s meme: The irresistible hero

Publicity still for Dr. No that established James Bond was irresistible to women.

A recurring meme of 1960s entertainment — greatly aided by the James Bond film series — was the hero so irresistible to women they couldn’t keep away.

By the end of the decade, it was so prevalent, it came up on all sorts in places. What follows are some examples — both obvious and one not so obvious. (And no, it’s not a comprehensive list.)

Sean Connery as James Bond (of course): In his first scene in his first movie (Dr. No), the Connery Bond already has the attention of Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) while at a casino. She surprises him at his flat wearing nothing but his pajama top.

Over the course of Connery’s 1960s run, even small-part characters show their appreciation. In both Dr. No and Thunderball, women hotel clerks eye Bond as he walks away.

Film editor Peter Hunt, years later (for the “banned” Criterion commentaries), said Connery  “was really a very sexy man” and that the few stars of his appeal “virtually can walk into a room and f*** anybody.”

Certainly, that’s the way director Terence Young, followed by Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert, staged it with Connery in the part. The success of the 007 films would soon be felt elsewhere.

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was pitched to network executives as “James Bond for television.” Ian Fleming, 007’s creator, was involved for a time, though not many of his ideas made it to the final product.

Vaughn’s Solo was the obvious Bondian figure (although the blog has argued before there are key differences, including Solo having more of a moral streak).

But McCallum’s Illya also proved irresistible to the oppose sex. That included two first-season episodes where the female lead (played by McCallum’s then-wife Jill Ireland) decides Illya is the U.N.C.L.E. agent for her.

Another first-season installment included Susan Oliver as a woman whose uncle has been killed by his pet dog as part of an extortion plot. The Oliver character asks Illya if he is present “to bodyguard me? Uh, should I say guard my body?” In the final scene, they’re walking arm in arm.

Robert Conrad as James West: The Wild Wild West was pitched to network executives as “James Bond and cowboys.” So CBS aired the adventures of James West and U.S. Secret Service partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

West drew the attention of women, especially those working for his opponents. In the first Dr. Loveless episode, West wins over Loveless’ female assistant (Leslie Parrish). She helps him escape, enabling the agent to stop Loveless’ plot.

The producers also took advantage of Conrad’s chiseled physique, so there are a number of episodes where West appears shirtless.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett: In the first season of Hawaii Five-O, McGarrett, too, was intended to draw the attention of women. In the pilot, a graduate student (Nancy Kwan) falls for the lawman after being questioned about what she knows concerning the death of a U.S. intelligence agent.

Later in the first season, the girlfriends of two suspects in a complicated kidnapping case ogle McGarrett as he walks away. And in the two-parter Once Upon a Time, a woman medical quack (Joanne Linville) gets the hots for the Big Kahuna. So does a woman records clerk who helps McGarrett do research.

This sort of thing faded away in future seasons, although there would be occasional episodes where McGarrett became involved with a woman.

Robert Stack as Dan Farrell: At this point readers are wondering if this post has gone off the rails. But bear with us for a moment.

Dan Farrell (Robert Stack) busy researching a story for Crime magazine.

The Name of the Game was a 1968-71 series with three rotating leads: Stack, Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry. It concerned a magazine publishing empire run by Glenn Howard (Barry).

Stack’s Dan Farrell worked at Crime magazine. A first-season stack episode, Swingers Only, reflects how the irresistible hero meme could surface where you didn’t expect it.

A friend of Farrell’s (who’s also a staffer at Crime magazine) has been arrested for the murder of a young women he was having an affair with. Farrell looks into the situation. He has to check out Los Angeles’ “swingers” culture to do it.

The intrepid journalist shows up at a “swingers” pool party to talk to someone. The party is already getting out of control. A ping pong table is thrown into the pool.  A bikini-clad woman quickly gets out of the pool. “Hi! Do you belong to somebody?” She’s quickly disappointed when Farrell says he’s working. She still is making eyes at him as he walks away.

Later, Farrell visits another woman (Nancy Kovack) to follow up a lead. She grabs Farrell and begins making out with him. Farrell, though, keeps his cool. She’s lying to him and he knows it.

Eventually, Farrell gets into a bar fight following up another lead. Later, he solves the case (his friend didn’t do it) and writes a cover story for Crime. All in a day’s work.

1965: Jim West’s first encounter with Dr. Loveless

James West (Robert Conrad) has his first encounter with Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn)

James West (Robert Conrad) has his first encounter with Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn)

Two recent birthdays spurred us to check out the first encounter between James West and Dr. Loveless in The Wild Wild West.

Robert Conrad, who played the intrepid Secret Service Man, celebrated his 81st birthday on March 1. Leslie Parrish, a busy actress in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, also celebrated her 81st on March 13.

Both were in the third episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth, the first story to feature mad scientist Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn).

CBS apparently realized the episode was out of the ordinary. The network moved up Wizard so it would be one of the first stories aired (it was broadcast on Oct. 1, 1965).

The John Kneubuhl script gave Dunn a lot to do. His Loveless barely is holding onto his sanity. Yet, Loveless clearly is brilliant. In the second half of the story. West is shown some of Loveless’ prototypes for inventions including television, penicillin (mere “bread mold,” as Loveless tells West), automobiles and airplanes.

The James Bond influence on the show also is in evidence.

At this point, Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) is more like Q rather than West’s full partner. Artemus has built a horse-drawn coach that is the equivalent of 007’s Aston Martin, even including an ejector seat.

However the coach, similar to the DB5 in Goldfinger, only provides the hero a momentary respite from those who threaten him.

What’s more, the episode provides a preview of an actor who’d show up in the Bond films more than a decade later — Richard Kiel, who plays Voltaire, the main henchman for Loveless. The 5-foot-8 Conrad eventually vanquishes the 7-foot-2 Kiel.

The episode made an impression on the production team and the network. Loveless would return for nine more episodes, including three more in the first season.