Vaughn, Moore, Landau in Emmy In Memoriam

Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Roger Moore (The Saint) and Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible) were among those included in the In Memoriam segment of the Emmy broadcast Sunday night on CBS.

Also included were Mike Connors of Mannix and Adam West of the 1966-68 Batman series. With the latter. a short clip from the show’s pilot played, with Batman doing the “Batusi” dance.

The Emmy version of In Memoriam seemed more weighted to performers compared with the Oscars telecast on ABC, which included publicists. However, some behind-the-camera professionals were included in the Emmy In Memoriam, including producer Stanley Kallis, who worked on Mission: Impossible, among other shows.

Vaughn, who had an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and Connors were not included in the Oscars In Memoriam segement earlier this year.

Others included were Mary Tyler Moore (the segment ended with her) and cartoon voice June Foray.

UPDATE (Sept. 18): You can view the In Memoriam segment for yourself.

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Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.

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.

Mike Connors, an appreciation

Sample of Mannix season two titles.

Sample of Mannix season two titles.

At the end of the pilot episode of Mannix, the namesake detective is troubled.

His client is elderly mobster Sam Dubrio (Lloyd Nolan), an absolute piece of human trash. Dubrio was the target of an extortion designed to look like a kidnapping. His (not biological) daughter was part of the plot.

Joe Mannix has figured out that Dubrio’s long-suffering and abused wife is part of the plot. As played by Mike Connors, the viewer can see in Mannix’s eyes he wouldn’t mind letting her go.

But Mannix can’t let it go. He gently, but firmly, calls out Mrs. Dubrio (Kim Hunter). Only now does the mobster realize how he’s been played.

It’s a very nice scene. Connors comes across very naturally. It’s a moody conclusion after memorable set pieces, including Mannix dodging a helicopter.

Connors, who died this week at 91, wasn’t a flashy actor. But audiences found him likable and more than just an action star. He made Mannix a popular show, which ran eight seasons on CBS.

The season one DVD set of Mannix has an interview and commentary track with Connors and his first-season co-star, Joseph Campanella. The latter played Lew Wickersham, head of the large private detective agency that employed Mannix.

The first season had an undercurrent of the individualist detective coping with the bureaucratic detective agency and its rules.

Campanella told Connors in the DVD extras that the star of a series sets the tone and on Mannix it was a relaxed one. He gave Connors all the credit.

Starting with the second season, Mannix was off on his own. According to Campanella, executive producer Bruce Geller told him that the audience’s interest was on Connors’ Mannix, (Campanella would return in a later season as a guest star in a different role.)

Thus, Mannix was now helped primarily by his secretary, Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher), the widow of a police officer. Fisher won an Emmy in the role and was nominated for three others.

Connors was athletic and had played college basketball at UCLA. He was already in his 40s when Mannix began production in 1967. But he was quite convincing. He needed to be. Mannix absorbed untold punishment from hoods (and even an occasional spy).

Connors was so convincing it actually seemed plausible in 1997, at the age of 71, he reprised the role of Mannix in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.

The installment of the Dick Van Dyke crime mystery, written by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, was a sequel to a 1973 Mannix episode. The original guest stars ( Pernell Roberts, Julie Adams and Beverly Garland) also returned.

Mannix wasn’t necessarily in his 70s like the actor who played him. But it was clearly an older Mannix. He was still as dogged as ever, in this case determined to make good a promise he made in the original 1973 episode. The actor sold the audience on every bit of the story.

Connors, of course, was more than Mannix. His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 100 acting credits between 1952 and 2007.

They include 1966’s Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, a spy film set in Brazil that bears more than a little resemblance to 1979’s Moonraker. He also had other televisions series, including Tightrope and Today’s FBI.

Still, for many, Connors will also be linked to Mannix. That’s thanks to his characterization of the detective as well as Lalo Schifrin’s theme and the title design, often employing multiple images of Mannix in action.

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.

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.

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.