Martin Landau, M:I’s disguise artist, dies

Martin Landau as Rollin Hand in an IMF dossier photo

Martin Landau, who gained fame as Mission: Impossible disguise expert Rollin Hand, has died at 89, the TMZ website said.

Landau died Saturday at the UCLA Medical Center “after a short hospitalization where he suffered unexpected complications,” TMZ said.

Landau enjoyed a long career that began in the early 1950s. It included a number of espionage-related stories, including portraying Leonard, a henchman in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed North by Northwest (1959); a Cold War themed episode of The Twilight Zone; and playing Thrush operative Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

But he was most famous for Mission: Impossible, where he appeared during the show’s first three seasons.

M:I producer Bruce Geller wrote the part of Rollin Hand (originally named Martin Land) in his pilot script especially for Landau. Landau didn’t want to sign a series deal. Geller wanted the actor for the pilot badly enough he proceeded anyway.

It would be a decision that would have a major impact on the series.

Initially, the idea was Rollin would only appear occasionally. However, series star Steven Hill, for religious reasons, insisted on leaving work at sundown on Friday.

Count Zark (Martin Landau) menaces Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Bat Cave Affair

As a result, scripts were revised to de-emphasize Hill’s Dan Briggs and to keep bringing back Rollin. Throughout the first season, Landau was listed as either a guest star or making a “special guest appearance.”

After the first season, Hill was fired, with Peter Graves replacing him as a new Impossible Missions Force mastermind, Jim Phelps. Landau was now joint star with Graves.

However, Landau would only agree to do one season at a time. This gave him enormous leverage in his contract negotiations.

After three seasons, Paramount executives wanted to cap costs on Mission: Impossible. The studio had tough negotiations with Landau.

According to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Paramount offered a small raise (to $7,000 an episode from $6,500 in the third season) while the actor wanted $11,000 per episode for the fourth season and $12,500 for season five.

Meanwhile, according to the book, Peter Graves had a clause in his contract that nobody else on the show could be paid more than he was. A raise for Landau also meant a raise for Graves.

Eventually, Landau departed, replaced by Leonard Nimoy as a new disguise expert, Paris. That led to Barbara Bain, Landau’s real-life spouse, exiting the series as well.

Landau and Bain years later starred in Space: 1999, a syndicated Gerry Anderson science fiction series that ran two seasons. The couple divorced in 1993.

Landau eventually secured three nominations for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, with one win for 1994’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. His turn as Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair decades earlier (where he spoke with the same Lugosi accent) was a sort of warm up.

Neverthless, Landau retained his association as Rollin Hand. In 2014, the MeTV cable channel produced promos for M:I with Landau urging viewers to “watch me on Me…MeTV,” while it was running the series as part of a Sunday night block of spy shows.

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.

MeTV: Good-bye Mr. Solo, hello James West

metv logo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., after a two-year run, is departing MeTV. But the cable channel isn’t dispensing with spies. It’s adding The Wild Wild West to its schedule.

The changes take effect Sept. 5, MeTV said on its website.

U.N.C.L.E. debuted on MeTV in September 2014, leading off a block of programming on Sunday nights dubbed “The Spies Who Love ME.” That block went away in the fall of 2015, but U.N.C.L.E. was televised early Sunday and early Monday. U.N.C.L.E. finale on MTV will be 2 a.m. Eastern Time, Sept. 5.  The 1964-68 series is being shown overnights on the Heroes & Icons channel.

The Wild Wild West will be on Saturdays at 6 p.m. ET, as part of the channel’s block of western program. The 1965-69 series, which had a lot of fantasy elements, will act as a transition for MeTV’s Saturday night lineup of superhero and science fiction shows.

H&I also shows The Wild Wild West, with two episodes from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Sundays.

U.N.C.L.E. now on Heroes & Icons channel

Heroes & Icons logo

Heroes & Icons logo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is now being shown by the Heroes & Icons channel in the overnight hours.

The 1964-68 spy adventure is being televised at 4 a.m. New York time weeknights and 3 a.m. Sundays, according to the channel’s website. H&I currently is television episodes from the first season.

H&I is similiar to MeTV. Both televise programs from the 1950s to the 1980s. H&I tends to show more one-hour programs while MeTV shows more situation comedies.

U.N.C.L.E. still is on MeTV, but only on the weekend overnight schedule. MeTV began showing U.N.C.L.E. in the fall of 2014 as part of a block of programming it called “The Spies who Love ME.” MeTV ended that block of shows in August 2015.

MeTV’s ‘Spies Who Love ME’ concludes Sunday

metv logo

MeTV, the U.S. channel mostly featuring 1960s and ’70s shows, is ending its “Spies Who Love ME” Sunday night block of shows this weekend.

Mission: Impossible, which had been on at 11 p.m. ET Sunday, and The Saint, which has been airing at 1 a.m. Mondays, are leaving the MeTV schedule altogether for now, the channel said in an announcement about its fall schedule.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which has been telecast at 10 p.m. ET on Sundays, is moving to the overnight weekend schedule. It will be on at 2 a.m. ET Sundays and Mondays (considered part of the Saturday and Sunday schedules).

Get Smart will be telecast on the overnight Sunday schedule, showing at 1 a.m. on Monday. With “Spies Who Love ME,” MeTV showed two episodes of the 1965-70 comedy start at midnight.

To see the entire new schedule, which begins Aug. 31, CLICK HERE for a PDF version.

MeTV’s spectacular Dec. 7 spy TV double feature

Madlyn Rhue, David McCallum and Robert Vaughn in The Terbuf Affair

Madlyn Rhue, David McCallum and Robert Vaughn in The Terbuf Affair

MeTV, the U.S. channel devoted to classic television series, is scheduled to telecast one of the best episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. followed by one of the best Mission: Impossible outings on the night of Dec. 7.

At 10 p.m. New York Time, is The Terbuf Affair, the 14th episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was the fourth, and final, episode directed by future A-list movie director Richard Donner.

Alan Caillou, the episode’s writer, developed the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum. But Caillou also provides one of the few episodes to provide some of the back story for Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn.

In Terbuf, a woman from Solo’s past (Madlyn Rhue) seeks help from the U.N.C.L.E. agent. Solo and Kuryakin are due back at U.N.C.L.E. HQs shortly but Kuryakin isn’t going to let Solo venture into this personal mission alone.

Caillou, besides scripting this particular adventure, also gets to play a villain. From this point forward, U.N.C.L.E. fans wouldn’t get much in the way of Solo’s background. Menawhile, Caillou’s script builds upon what he established with previous episodes he wrote. All in all, a favorite for U.N.C.L.E. fans.

A classic M:I con in Operation: Rogosh

A classic M:I con in Operation: Rogosh

At 11 p.m., MeTV is scheduled to show the third episode of Mission: Impossible, Operation: Rogosh.

The original leader of the Impossible Missions Force, Dan Briggs (Steven Hill), has a doozy of an assignment. Rogosh, an operative of an unfriendly foreign power, has been in Los Angeles for a week. Rogosh typically leaves mass destruction in his wake.

Moreover, Rogosh (Fritz Weaver) is not know to break through “conventional means.” Briggs has a limited time to make the unbreakable Rogosh spill his guts.

The episode has many great moments. Rogosh (Fritz Weaver) is no one’s fool, so the IMF won’t have an easy time. Briggs’ plan calls to con Rogosh to believing it’s three years later and he’s being tried for his life in his native country. At the same time, Rogosh’s confederates are trying to find him to silence him permanently.

This episode would become the template for future M:I adventures. It’s greatly enchanced by a Lalo Schifrin score.

U.N.C.L.E.: the week that was

"I can't believe everything that's going on, Illya."

“I can’t believe everything that’s going on, Illya.”

The week of Sept. 21-27 may be the busiest U.N.C.L.E.-related week since the 1964-68 series ended its first television run in January 1968. At least social media amplifies activity to make it seem that way.

It was also the week where news about U.N.C.L.E. 1.0 (the original series) and U.N.C.L.E. 2.0 (a movie version scheduled for release in August 2015 and starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer) collided.

Here’s a look:

Sept. 21: In the U.S., the MeTV channel runs the third episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Quadripartite Affair. It’s one of the best of the entire series and was the first to include significant screen time for David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin character. The director was future movie director Richard Donner and scripter Alan Caillou would do much to develop Kuryakin in several first-season stories.

Sept. 22: Fans celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary across a variety of social media.

Sept. 23: Composer Daniel Pemberton confirms via Twitter that he’s written the score for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie directed by Guy Ritchie and that recording of the music begins on Sept. 24.

Sept. 24: Recording sessions of the U.N.C.L.E. score begin at Abbey Road Studios. Separately, the movie gets a rating of PG-13 from the Motion Picture Association of America, according a list of MPAA ratings compiled by Box Office Mojo.

Sept. 25: Warner Home Video announces plans to re-release The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, according to TVSHOWSONDVD.COM. The re-release, scheduled for Nov. 4, will have all the extras a 2007 release had but the packaging will be different.

Sept. 26: The Golden Anniversary Affair, a two-day gathering of 100 fans, begins in Culver City, California, at the site of the former MGM studio where the show was produced.

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, stars of the original series, aren’t able to attend but post greetings on the event’s website. Fans post pictures on social media of crew members, including associate producer George Lehr and composer Gerald Fried, who scored the most episodes of the show.

Also posted are photos of original props, including the U.N.C.L.E. special, such as THIS ONE by author Paul Bishop.

Half a world away, composer Pemberton makes a posting on Twitter that appears to reveal one track of his movie score will be titled His Name Is Napoleon Solo.

Sept. 27: The Golden Anniversary Affair and the U.N.C.L.E. movie recording sessions continue. Andrew Skeet, a musician working on the recording, Tweets a picture of Pemberton working on his keyboard at Abbey Road.