Mike Connors, likable action star, dies at 91

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

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

Mike Connors, who often played rugged but likable heroes, has died at 91, according to an obituary posted by Variety.

Connors was best known as the private eye title character in Mannix (1967-75). But he also participated in the 1960s spy craze as the star of Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film which had a plot very similar to the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker.

Connors was athletic, having played basketball at the University of California-Los Angeles under legendary coach John Wooden. For a time, he was billed as Touch Connors, a nickname he picked up from his basketball days.

He displayed his athleticism in the Mannix pilot, written by Bruce Geller and directed by Leonard J. Horn.

In the story’s climax, a helicopter piloted by a killer dive bombs Mannix at a California desert golf course. Images from the sequence would be incorporated in the show’s main and end titles.

In the show’s first season, Mannix worked at a large detective agency with a rigid set of rules devised by owner Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella). This was devised to set up a conflict of the individual (Mannix) coping with the system. Wickersham was based on Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA Corp., the then-parent company of Universal Studios.

During that first season, there was a recurring bit where Joe would demonstrate to Intertect just how good he was only to purposely goof up.

In one episode, while on the firing range, he fires bulleyes at the first three targets perfects and then purposely miss the next five. In another, Mannix and other Interect operatives went on a foot race. Mannix would have easily won but decided to go off and enjoy a smoke instead.

That was all thrown out in the show’s second season as Joe struck off on his own, helped only by his secretary Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher).

Mannix absorbed a lot — A LOT — of punishment throughout the show’s eight seasons. As played by Connors, he was both tough and compassionate, always on the side of the underdog.

Prior to Mannix, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die was an amusing project for Connors. The film included a sequence where agent Kelly (Connors) climbs into the Christ the Redeemer statue, fighting off enemy operatives.

The actor’s career was extensive, with his IMDB.COM entry listing more than 100 credits.

Stephen Kandel: Have genre, will write

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Another in an occasional series about unsung figures of television.

Stephen Kandel, now 89, was the kind of television who could take on multiple genres and do it well.

Science fiction? He wrote the two Star Trek episodes featuring Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), one of Captain Kirk’s more unusual adversaries.

Espionage? His list of credits included I Spy, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief and A Man Called Sloane.

Crime dramas? Hawaii Five-O and Mannix, among too many to list here. His work included a Cannon-Barnaby Jones crossover, The Deadly Conspiracy, a 1975 two-part story airing as an episode of each series.

Not to mention the occasional Western, drama, super hero series (Batman and Wonder Woman) and some shows that don’t easily fit categories (The Magician, MacGyver).

Writer Harlan Ellison in 1970 referred to Kandel as “one of the more lunatic scriveners in Clown Town.” In a column reprinted in The Other Glass Teat, Ellison wrote that Kandel was assigned to write an episode of a drama called The Young Lawyers that was to introduce a new WASP character.

According to Ellison, ABC opted to tone down socially conscious stories among other changes. Kandel wasn’t a fan of the changes. He initially named the new WASP character “Christian White.”

“It went through three drafts before anyone got hip to Steve’s sword in the spleen,” Ellison wrote.

Other in-joke humor by Kandel that did make it to television screens.

One was a 1973 episode of Mannix, Sing a Song of Murder. Kandel named a hit man Anthony Spinner. Kandel had earlier worked for Spinner on the QM series Dan August.

Presumably Spinner didn’t mind. Kandel ended up working for Spinner on Cannon.

Another bit was Kandel’s script for A Man Called Sloane episode titled The Seduction Squad. Robert Culp played a Blofeld-like criminal, except he carried around a small dog instead of a cat.

Kandel wrapped up his television career with MacGyver. Today, somewhere in the world, there may be an episode of some series written by Kandel being shown.

 

In praise of the 2-part (or more) episode

In the 21st century, many television series are serialized, featuring a story line, or arc, that lasts an entire season. However, there was a time when a story that lasted two (or more) episodes was special, something to savored.

For viewers of the era, such multi-part episodes could be special. Because it wasn’t the norm, such story lines drew attention to themselves. What follows is a sampling.

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the first-season of the 1964-68 series, extra footage was shot so two episodes could be re-edited into feature films for the international market. Starting with the second season, the show produced two-part episodes that could be more easily be turned into movies.

Six such two-part episodes were made, two each for seasons two through four. One of the best was Alexander the Greater Affair at the start of Season Two. Industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn) was a fan of Alexander the Great and sought to control the world like his namesake. The movie version was titled One Spy Too Many. The television version, though, didn’t make the show’s syndication package and wasn’t seen again until 2000.

Mission: Impossible: The 1966-73 series included a number of two-part episodes. A second-season two parter was re-edited into a movie for international audiences called Mission: Impossible Versus the Mob.

M:I’s biggest multi-part adventure was a three-parter called The Falcon, which aired during the show’s fourth season. Arguably, The Falcon (written by Paul Playdon), was the series most intricately plotted story.

Hawaii Five-O: Another series with multiple two-part stories, some of which (FOB Honolulu, The Ninety-Second War) included Steve McGarrett opposing his arch enemy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). That includes the series’ pilot, which was re-edited into a two-part story at the end of the show’s first season.

What’s more, Wo Fat stories in the eighth and ninth season kicked off the season and were presented as two-hour episodes. The latter, Nine Dragons, featured extensive location shooting in Hong Kong.

Five-O’s fifth season also had a three-part episode where McGarrett took down the Vishons, a Hawaiian crime family. In the third part, McGarrett has been framed and doesn’t appear to have much chance to beat the rap. For one of its reruns on CBS, the story was re-edited into a two-and-a-half-hour presentation aired on a single night.

Also, a 1979 two-hour episode, The Year of the Horse, featured one-time 007 George Lazenby with “special guest star” billing, though he was a secondary villain. That installment included extensive on-location shooting in Singapore.

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

The FBI: The longest-running series from producer Quinn Martin had four two-part stories. The Defector, the show’s first-season two-parter, was an impressive espionage-themed effort.

The show’s two parter for the second season was The Executioners, which was edited into a movie for international audiences titled Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI.

The series’ final two-parter, The Mastermind in the seventh season, featured three actors (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat and Scott Marlowe), who were a kind of all-star collection of QM villains.

Mannix: The private eye drama featured a first-season story where Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the boss of Mannix’s detective agency, appears to freak out for no reason. Part I included a massive fight between Wickersham and Mannix (Mike Connors).

The series wouldn’t do another two-part episode until its seventh and eight seasons, when Mannix (Mike Connors) ran his own private eye agency. Both stories took Mannix out of the United States. The final two parter also included composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

The Wild Wild West: The 1965-69 series combined spies and cowboys. It only had one two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror, but it was a doozy. It features Raven, a group trying to take over the world, which has demonstrated its power by programming officials into performing various destructive acts.

When the story (written by Ken Pettus) was filmed, co-star Ross Martin was recovering from a heart attack. So character actor William Schallert (1922-2016) played a substitute agent to work with Robert Conrad’s James West.

77 Sunset Strip: The show’s final season (1963-64) began with a *five*-part episode, simply titled “5.” Jack Webb, who had taken command of Warner Bros. television unit, ordered up a major revamp of the private eye series.

Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was retained, and his Stuart Bailey character was transformed into a lone wolf detective. “5” plunged Bailey into international intrigue, with an all-star cast of guest stars.

 

Mission: Impossible’s human computer

Barry Crane (1927-1985)

Barry Crane (1927-1985)

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

When it debuted in 1966, Mission: Impossible was unlike other television series. Its pilot involved a covert team of operatives stealing two atomic bombs. The question was whether such a show could be sustained on a weekly basis.

One of the people who ensured it would was Barry Crane. His official title when the show began was associate producer. Crane helped break down M:I stories into shooting schedules which could be filmed efficiently. M:I was always going to be an expensive show. Crane helped the production get the most bang for its buck.

“To make it simple, he was a walking computer,” Stanley Kallis, one of M:I’s producers, told author Patrick J. White in 1991’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. “He had perfect recall and could juggle in his mind eighty facts at any moment.”

Before joining the M:I crew, Crane (born Barry Cohen) had been production manager for a number of series at Four Star, including Burke’s Law. Crane came aboard M:I after the pilot had been made and production was ramping up on the series.

M:I executive producer Bruce Geller sold another series a year later with Mannix, the private eye drama with Mike Connors. Geller shifted Crane to that series, where he also directed an episode toward the end of the first season. For the 1968-69 series, Crane held the associate producer post on both series. Along the way, he ended up directing 15 episodes of M:I and six episodes of Mannix.

Before the end of M:I’s seven-year run, Crane was promoted to producer of that series. By this time, the show was under more pressure to control costs. The last two seasons focused on the Impossible Missions Force doing battle with “The Syndicate,” a reference to the Mafia. According to White’s book, Crane “was effective at designing good-looking shows on a practical basis.”

During his television career, Crane was also a noted player of Bridge. Here’s an excerpt of a Crane bio on an unofficial website about the history of the Amercan Contract Bridge League.

Crane became ACBL’s top masterpoint holder in 1968, a position previously held only by Oswald Jacoby and Charles Goren. Crane amassed points at an astounding rate until, at the time of his death, he had 35,138, more than 11,000 ahead of any other players.

By the mid-1970s, Crane primarily was a director, working on various television series. His credits included helming the final episode of Hawaii Five-O, “Woe to Wo Fat,” in 1980.

Crane’s story, however, would not have a happy ending. He was found at his home, “apparently the victim of a bludgeoning,” according to a July 7, 1985 story in the Los Angeles Times.

The murder was never solved, according to Crane’s entry on Wikipedia.

 

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.

Mission: Impossible TV scores coming next month

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Original scores from the 1966-73 television series Mission: Impossible are coming out next month from La-La Land Records, according to an announcement on the FILM SCORE MONTHLY MESSAGE BOARDS.

An excerpt:

La-La Land Records and CBS proudly announce the release of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – THE TELEVISION SCORES, a limited edition 6-CD box set, showcasing the restored and remastered original music scores from the classic 1966-1973 television series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, starring Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris and Martin Landau.

The set was produced by music journalist Jon Burlingame, who also produced four CD sets of soundtracks from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. in the 2000s.

The retail price is $99.98 and is limited to 1,500 units. The M:I set will be available for order at http://www.lalalandrecords.com starting at 3 p.m. ET on July 28 and be shipped starting Aug. 10.

The set includes music by Lalo Schifrin, who also composed the iconic M:I theme, Gerald Fried, Robert Drasnin, Jerry Fielding and others.

Mission: Impossible was the first of three series where Schifrin collaborated with producer Bruce Geller. Mannix (another hit) and Bronk (not so much) were the others.

La-La Land Records also is releasing the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION SOUNDTRACK.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

New M:I movie title is Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Paramount said today that the fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible movie will be titled Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and the movie’s trailer is due out March 23.

The studio also released a television commercial, a kind of teaser to the teaser trailer. According to the video, the title refers to the Syndicate, “a rogue nation trained to do what we do,” in the words of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.

In the original 1966-73 television series, the Syndicate referred to the Mafia and organized crime. M:I and other shows of the era — including Mannix, a private eye drama from the same production company — avoided direct references to the Mafia.

The existence of the 21st century version of the Syndicate was teased at the end of 2011’s Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

Paramount originally planned to release Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation on Dec. 25, but moved it up to July 31.

Here’s the commercial released today:

UPDATE: Vanity Fair has an article how Cruise performed the signature stunt shown at the end of the video. To view it, CLICK HERE.

Anatomy of a television inside joke

Never let it be said television writers don’t have a sense of humor — especially when making inside jokes about their profession.

"Who's the funny guy?"

“Who’s the funny guy?”

We were watching an episode of Mannix from the 1973-74 season called Sing A Song of Murder. In it, intrepid P.I. Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) gets the drop on a guy who’s been tailing him. The interloper is a P.I. from Chicago named Anthony Spinner, who’s revealed later to be a hitman.

That caught our attention since another Anthony Spinner was the producer for the fourth, and last, season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and would go on to be producer for a number of Quinn Martin series, including The FBI, Caribe and Cannon.

The Mannix episode was written by Stephen Kandel, who wrote for a number of spy-related series including I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O and A Man Called Sloane. He also has a bit of cult fame as the writer of the two Harry Mudd episodes on the original Star Trek series.

Anyway, Kandel also wrote for a Quinn Martin series that ran during the 1970-71 season called Dan August, whose producer happened to be….Anthony Spinner. He later wrote for Cannon when Spinner was producer of that QM show.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but given the background, an inside joke for viewers seems the more likely explanation.

Paul Mantee, busy character actor, dies at 82

Paul Mantee

Paul Mantee

Character actor Paul Mantee, who frequently appeared on spy-oriented television shows, has died at the age of 82, according to AN OBITUARY PUBLISHED BY THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Mantee’s appearances included Mission: Impossible, I Spy and a two-part Mannix story in the 1973-74 season where Mannix volunteers to help out the U.S. in a delicate mission in South America.

Mantee also got his chance to star in a spy movie, albeit a relatively low budget one, A Man Called Dagger, where he played the title character. Here’s the trailer, with Jackson Beck (the frequent voice of Bluto on Popeye cartoons) doing the announcing:

According to MANTEE’S ENTRY ON IMDB.COM, his acting credits extended to 1998.