“Without whom, etc.”

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

It was 109 years ago today that Ian Fleming was born.

Without him, James Bond novels wouldn’t have come to be. That would have freed up a slot for President John F. Kennedy’s list of his top 10 favorite books. Who knows what book would have benefited from being on that early 1960s list?

Also, James Bond movies wouldn’t have come to be. That’s 24 movies in the official series (and counting) plus two others.

Neither would have The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originated when producer Norman Felton was approached about whether he’d like to a series based on Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book.

The author’s involvement (from October 1962 to June 1963) with U.N.C.L.E. spurred NBC to put the show in development. By the time Fleming exited (under pressure from Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), enough work had occurred for NBC to keep developing the series. One of Fleming’s ideas (that Napoleon Solo liked cooking) ended up in the 2015 movie version of the show.

For that matter, pretty much the entire 1960s spy mania (Matt Helm movies, Flint movies, I Spy, The Wild Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible) probably doesn’t happen because Bond generated a market for such entertainment.

Happy birthday, Ian Fleming.

Dina Merrill dies at 93

Dina Merrill, center, with Jeffrey Hunter and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a publicity still for the debut of The FBI.

Dina Merrill, an “actress and heiress to two fortunes,” has died at 93, according to an obituary posted by The New York Times.

Merrill was the daughter of Wall Street stockbroker E.F. Hutton and “cereal heiress” Marjorie Merriweather Post died Monday, according to The Times.

Her acting credits included the first episode of The FBI, where she played Jean Davis, a woman being stalked by a psychopath played by Jeffrey Hunter; The Controllers, a two-part Mission: Impossible story, where she played a woman operative in the show’s fourth season; an academic manipulated by Wo Fat in the 1976 Hawaii Five-O episode Nine Dragons; and Calamity Jan, the girlfriend of cowboy villain Shame (Cliff Robertson, her then-husband) during the final season of Batman.
An excerpt from the obituary:

 

As a child, born into the American aristocracy of money and high society, Ms. Merrill wished she could take the bus “like the other kids,” she said, instead of being driven to school by the family chauffeur. After she became a successful actress, she told Quest magazine, “It’s fascinating to lead someone else’s life for a while.”

Merrill also appeared on game shows, such as To Tell The Truth. Here is an example.

Bruce Geller: M:I’s renaissance man

Bruce Geller “cameo” as an IMF operative not selected for a mission by Briggs (Steven Hill).

A sixth Mission: Impossible film is in production. There’s plenty of publicity concerning star-producer Tom Cruise, actor Henry Cavill (who has joined the cast of this installment) and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.

What you won’t find much is mention without whom none of it would be impossible, M:I creator Bruce Geller.

Geller died almost four decades ago in a crash of a twin-engine aircraft. It was a sudden end for someone who had brought two popular series to the air (M:I and Mannix) that ran a combined 15 years on CBS. He was a renaissance man capable of writing, producing, directing and song writing.

Geller, according to The New York Times account of his death, graduated from Yale in 1952, majoring in psychology, sociology and economics. His father, Abraham Geller, was a judge. However, Geller didn’t pursue a law career. (He did end up portraying his father in a 1975 TV movie, Fear on Trial.)

Instead, Geller became a writer of various television series, including Westerns such as Have Gun-Will Travel, The Westerner and The Rifleman. Along the way, he also wrote the lyrics and book for some plays.

By the mid-1960s, Geller was also a producer at Desilu. His brainchild was M:I, whose pilot involved the theft of atomic bombs from a Caribbean dictator unfriendly to the United States.

The pilot was budget at $440,346 with a 13-day shooting schedule, according to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. It came in at $575,744, with 19 days of filming. While series episodes would be more modestly budgeted, it was a preview that M:I was not going to be an easy show to make.

CBS picked up M:I for the 1966-67 season. A year later, the network did the same for Mannix, featuring Mike Connors as a private investigator.

Geller didn’t create the character. Richard Levinson and William Link pitched the concept of a rugged, no-nonsense Joe Mannix coping with the corporate culture of investigative company Intertect.

Geller threw out a Levinson-Link story and wrote his own pilot script. Levinson and Link would be credited as creating the series, with Geller getting a “developed by” credit.

Mannix would be the last Desilu series. During its first season. Lucille Ball sold the company and it would become part of Paramount.

Eventually, that meant trouble for Geller. Paramount wanted to control costs and it eventually barred Geller from the studio lot. He’d continue to be credited as executive producer of both M:I and Mannix but without real input.

The producer moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he made a police drama, Bronk, that only lasted one season on CBS (1975-76). Geller also produced and directed a movie with James Coburn about pickpockets, 1973’s Harry In Your Pocket.

Today, Geller is almost a footnote when it comes to the M:I film series, which began in 1996. He does get a credit (“Based on the Television Series Created by Bruce Geller”). But the films are more of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, including spectacular stunts Cruise does himself.

There’s no way to know what Geller’s reaction would be. And, because he was only 47 when he died, there’s no way to know what Geller may have accomplished had it not been for the 1978 plane crash.

Regardless, Geller crammed a lot of living into his 47 years. At the end of the video below, you can see him collect his Emmy for the Mission: Impossible pilot script.

Jim Steranko: 1960s spy fan

Jim Steranko provides a Sean Connery/007 cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 (1967)

Not that it’s a terrible surprise but writer-artist Jim Steranko, who had a legendary run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the 1960s, was a big fan of 1960s spy entertainment.

His S.H.I.E.L.D. stories included a weapons master named Boothroyd. He also had the Sean Connery version of James Bond make a one-panel cameo in Strange Tales No. 164 in 1967.

Anyway, Steranko takes questions from fans (or “henchmen”) each Sunday night on Twitter.

The Spy Commander couldn’t resist. So I asked if he had seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. during the period.

The answer? Well, judge for yourself:

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I needed to look it up. The Hunter was a 1952 series where, according to IMDB.COM, Bart Adams used the cover of an international businessman to battle Communist spies. Barry Nelson was the first actor to play James Bond in the 1954 CBS television production of Casino Royale.

Lawrence Montaigne, busy character actor, dies

Lawrence Montaigne (1931-2017)

Lawrence Montaigne, a character actor frequently seen on television in the 1960s and ’70s, has died at 86.

His death was announced on Facebook by his daughter, Jessica. The startrek.com website published an obituary.

Montaigne may be best known for the 1967 Star Trek episode Amok Time. He played Stonn, the Vulcan boyfriend of T’Pring (Arlene Martel), who is betrothed to Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

It’s one of the best-remembered episodes of the 1966-69 series in part because it includes a fight between Spock and Captain Kirk (William Shatner), which is heightened by a Gerald Fried score. Years later, the Jim Carrey movie The Cable guy did a parody, including Fried’s music.

Montaigne also was in the cast of an earlier Star Tre episode, Balance of Terror, in a different role.

The actor was more than Star Trek. He was in the large cast of the 1963 movie The Great Escape. Montaigne also appeared in many spy and detective shows, usually as a villain.

Lawrence Montaigne in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Among them: two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; two episodes of Mission: Impossible; one episode of I Spy; one episode of Blue Light, the World War II spy series with Robert Goulet; one episode of Hawaii Five-O; one episode of It Takes a Thief; and eight episodes of The FBI.

Montaigne’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 69 acting credits.

The Other Spies and their longevity that 007s can only envy

Never rile up fans of “The Other Spies.”

A Bond website, Dalton Was Best, got a lot of publicity for declaring that Daniel Craig is now the second-longest serving Bond. The methodology was starting with the time an actor was cast as Bond through the time his replacement was announced.

The Avengers Tv Show on Twitter, using those rules came up with some calculations of spy actors who have much more longevity than any Bond actor.

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Patrick Macnee is 37 years because he began in 1961 as Steed and wasn’t re-cast until Ralph Fiennes in the 1998 Avengers feature film. Peter Graves is 29 years because he debuted as Jim Phelps in 1967 and wasn’t replaced until Jon Voight in the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie. Tom Cruise is at 20 years and counting (21 this fall) because he was the star of the Mission: Impossible movie series that started with the 1996 film.

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Two more worth mentioning: Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. They were signed in 1963 (when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot was shot) and weren’t replaced as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin until 2013 when the U.N.C.L.E. film began production. That’s an even 50 years.

But Harry Palmer hasn’t been recast since Michael Caine’s debut in 1965. (He did three theatrical films in the 1960s and two made-for-television ones in the 1990s). By the recasting rule, Caine, in theory, is still on the clock, with his 52nd anniversary later this year.

I doubt these calculations will go viral the way the Daniel Craig one did. Still, you never know what you can stir up.

UPDATE (7:35 p.m. ET): Well, this post stirred up at least a little hornet’s nest.

The Avengers Tv Show received tweets asking about Jim West, Maxwell Smart, John Drake and The Prisoner. This was never intended to be a comprehensive ranking, more like poking fun at the original blog post (and reaction by the British media that made it go viral).

Separately, reader Matthew Bradford ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE notes another Len Deighton-based production featured a character that may have really been Palmer under a different name. Actually, the explanation is more detailed than that, but Matthew says you can make the case the Palmer role was re-cast, or at the very least the issue deserves an asterisk.

UPDATE II (7:45 p.m. ET): Earlier today a friend e-mailed and raised these questions about the early Bond actor longevity rankings that started all this.

“Do they count the fact of when these guys were NOT under contract?

“Connery after THUNDERBALL?

“Roger after SPY and each film thereafter?

“Dalton until 1994?

Pierce signed for DAYLIGHTS and then released?”

Bruce Lansbury, WWW and M:I producer, dies

Bruce Lansbury (left) with siblings Angela Lansbury and Edgar Lansbury

Bruce Lansbury (left) with siblings Angela Lansbury and Edgar Lansbury

Bruce Lansbury, a prolific television producer and executive, has died at 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The younger brother of actress Angela Lansbury made his own mark in the entertainment business.

His credits included The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, Wonder Woman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and his sister’s series, Murder, She Wrote. Bruce Lansbury was also a television executive at Paramount during the 1970s.

Lansbury came aboard as producer of The Wild Wild West part way through the show’s second season. He initially worked under executive producer Michael Garrison, the show’s creator.

However, Garrison died as the result of injuries from a fall in August 1966. Lansbury took command of the series, a mix of spy fi, sci fi and, on occasions, outright fantasy. He would stay for the rest of the show’s run.

Lanbury didn’t lack for things to do. He joined Mission: Impossible during that show’s fourth season. M:I was a series that chewed up producers under the best of circumstances.

By this time, M:I’s best ratings were behind it. Paramount wanted cost cuts and tensions ran high between the studio and executive producer Bruce Geller.

Lansbury was Paramount’s choice to take over as M:I producer, according to The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White. Part of the reason why Lansbury’s experience with The Wild Wild West.

During Lansbury’s reign, Peter Lupus as Willy, the Impossible Missions Force’s strongman, was phased out for a time. Lupus’ popularity forced the production team to change course.

Also, Paramount, after a series of disagreements with perfectionist Geller barred the M:I creator from the lot. Geller continued to collect fees and be credited as executive producer. But he was blocked from working on his own show.

Despite all that, Lansbury kept the M:I machinery going. He left the series during the sixth season, when Paramount promoted him to vice president of creative affairs.

Later in the 1970s. Lansbury returned to being a television producer, with credits extending into the 1990s.

Lansbury was born Jan. 12, 1930 in London. He was the twin brother of Edgar Lansbury, a theater producer.