Jon Burlingame on Wild Wild West, other TV soundtracks

Cover to The Wild Wild West CD soundtrack

Jon Burlingame is a journalist, author and academic, writing extensively about movie and television music.

Over the past 15 years, he has produced a number of television soundtracks, including CD sets for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. His latest effort, a soundtrack for The Wild Wild West is now available from La-La Land Records.

The blog interviewed Bulingame by e-mail.

SPY COMMAND:  Movie soundtracks have been done for decades. But television soundtracks (actual music from TV shows, as opposed to new arrangements of TV music), by comparison are rarer. Why is that? Is part of it the notion that television work was more disposable than movie work?

JON BURLINGAME: That’s a very interesting question, Bill, and something not really understood by most outsiders.

Historically, TV soundtracks have generally been re-recorded because of the union rules involving music recorded for TV shows. In the past, the American Federation of Musicians demanded a full repayment to every musician who played on each score. If those rules were still in place (and the union relaxed that demand several years ago, making these “historical soundtracks” possible), the record label would have been responsible for repaying every musician (or his or her estate) for every recording session represented on the album; in this case over 200 individual musicians playing on more than two dozen scores over four years would have incurred a huge cost, possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Cover to one of Jon Burlingame’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks released in the 2000s.

I encountered this when I first proposed a classic MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack in 1990; the estimated union repayments alone were in the neighborhood of $80,000, making it prohibitive for any label attempting it. So it was always less expensive to just go back in the studio for one day and create a new recording of the various themes.

Also, the success of the show itself is always a factor — and, as you point out, a lot of TV music is just deemed forgettable.

SC:  The TV soundtracks you’ve produced have come out decades after the series involved. What are are some of the common challenges? (i.e., finding the music, etc.)

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always multiple challenges. First, does the music still exist? That alone can be a difficult problem (the Lorimar library, for example, is gone; there will never be a WALTONS soundtrack featuring those wonderful Jerry Goldsmith scores because all that music is lost).

Then, who controls that music? Is the studio that produced it still in business, and if so, will they license a soundtrack to an enterprising label interested in creating an album?

Then there are the creative aspects of producing: how to create an enjoyable listening experience featuring just the music, away from the images it was always meant to accompany.

SC: What’s the back story with your latest project, The Wild Wild West soundtrack?

JON BURLINGAME: La-La Land Records had a big success with its 6-disc MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TV-score collection, which I produced for them in 2015. So when I asked if they’d like to follow it up with another classic 1960s spy show, THE WILD WILD WEST, their answer was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.”

I knew it would be more of a challenge, but having already produced multiple MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and MISSION albums, I really wanted to do this. There had never been any commercial recording of that wonderful Richard Markowitz theme (much less any of the dramatic scores), and it seemed like a terrible oversight given the classic status of the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series.

It was a different situation than the MGM-produced U.N.C.L.E. music or the Paramount-produced MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE music. Those studios retained copies of all the music on (mostly) quarter-inch tape, and once the deals were made, we simply accessed those archives, transferred the music to digital and went to work.

Artwork from the second-season Wild Wild West episode The Night of Big Blast.

WILD WILD WEST was different in that CBS (the original producer) closed its music-department doors in the early 1990s and donated its tapes to UCLA; unfortunately that collection was incomplete and many of the tape boxes were not well labeled, so finding individual scores was much more difficult.

I had very good documentation of who composed what and when it was recorded, so armed with that information I went looking for all of the original music. Some scores simply weren’t there or were impossible to find given the inadequate labeling.

I feel incredibly lucky, however, to have found nearly everything I really wanted for the collection in pristine condition at UCLA, including 10 of the original 11 Markowitz scores, all four of the original Robert Drasnin scores, and four of the six original Richard Shores scores. Add to those a handful of others by Harry Geller, Jack Pleis and Fred Steiner.

Four of the 26 scores we feature on the album — for which we could not find original tapes — had to be restored from the isolated music tracks from the shows themselves. But our restoration guy, the uber-talented Chris Malone, did such a brilliant job that you’ll be hard-pressed to tell which of those weren’t from tape sources.

I had great partners in the collaboration: Not just La-La Land executives Matt Verboys and M.V. Gerhard, but Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall, who cleared everything with CBS and was my liaison on a daily basis; Johnny Davis, Chris Malone and Doug Schwartz, who transferred, restored and mastered all those 50-year-old tapes into the CDs you now have; spy-TV expert Craig Henderson, who looked over everything I did and helped ensure the accuracy of the booklet; and art director Jim Titus, who had never seen an episode prior to designing our cover and booklet, and yet created a spectacular, colorful, fun package that captures the spirit and look of the old show. He used some of the original art of the train and the opening titles and lots of great old photos of the cast and guest stars. It’s an eye-popping package, worthy of a Grammy if you ask me!

SC: While working on The Wild Wild West soundtrack, was there one moment that gave you more satisfaction than the rest of your work?

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always fun working with classic music from the era in which you grew up. WEST was filled with challenges, but a few moments stand out: Discovering that we had Markowitz’s original pilot score in three-track stereo; hearing Malone’s remarkable restoration of Dave Grusin’s delightful waltz from “Night of the Puppeteer”; and re-discovering Richard Shores’ thrilling action music, especially from the third and fourth seasons.

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)

We knew that Dimitri Tiomkin had written two different songs for the series that were eventually rejected. The question was, which were recorded and could we find those? I knew that the Tiomkin estate had a full-length vocal demo of one and sheet music for both. Especially satisfying during the search process was the discovery that an instrumental version of one of the themes had been recorded (in a last-ditch, ultimately unsuccessful, effort to salvage the Tiomkin deal for CBS) and that lyricist Paul Francis Webster actually wrote three lyrics for the two tunes, parts of which we reproduce in the booklet. Webster’s papers are currently being archived and preserved by the Film Music Society, and that’s where that discovery was made.

Robert Drasnin (1927-2015), who delivered memorable scores for The Wild Wild West

Very late in the process (in fact, the album was nearly finished), it occurred to me that former CBS music director Herschel Burke Gilbert retained many, many tapes from throughout his career. A glance at his inventory revealed that he had kept various mixes of the Tiomkin vocal demo; our mastering engineer Doug Schwartz did his magic and what’s on the CD actually sounds better than the version owned by the Tiomkin estate!

And one final thing: composers Markowitz and Drasnin didn’t live long enough to see this album reach fruition, but their children have, and it’s been a pleasure to be able to work with Kate Markowitz and Michael Drasnin, both of whom have been supportive and supplied materials (photos, scores, tapes) that enabled us to put together a package that honors their music and their memories.

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

SC:  I personally find it interesting that some of the composers who worked on The Wild Wild West (Robert Drasnin and Richard Shores) also worked on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Specifically with Drasnin (who composed the de facto theme for Dr. Loveless) and Shores, their names aren’t that well known among the general public. What makes their work special?

JON BURLINGAME: These guys were great composers and great human beings; I met both of them while writing my first book back in the early ’90s.

Drasnin could score anything, drama, comedy, Westerns, science fiction, you name it; he was the perfect composer for television, which requires not only immediate inspiration but also enormous craft. Plus he was tremendously witty (look at some of his amusing cue titles on the box).

Shores had an immediately recognizable style, and an unique rhythmic sense that inevitably brought a smile to your face (whether you were listening to his music for U.N.C.L.E., WEST, IT TAKES A THIEF or HAWAII FIVE-0).

A sampling of Richard Markowitz’s title cards.

SC: Finally, I wanted to ask about Richard Markowitz, who composed The Wild Wild West theme (and did a number of scores for the series, including the pilot). He did a lot of television work but probably isn’t that well known among the general public. From what I’ve heard on different series, he was pretty versatile. What made him stand out?

JON BURLINGAME: You’re right, Bill, he was incredibly versatile. He had a big record hit with the Johnny Cash vocal of THE REBEL, but if you listen to his music for episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE FBI, POLICE STORY, MURDER SHE WROTE; or his themes for HONDO, JOE FORRESTER, THE LAW & HARRY McGRAW, you’ll hear a composer with a wide range and ability to work in any style. He worked consistently for more than 30 years in television. But I think THE WILD WILD WEST may be his most memorable theme.

SC: Final question. If you could only produce *one* more television soundtrack (and any pending rights situations were resolved), what would it be?

JON BURLINGAME: Hahaha! I guess I’d most like to round out my spy-TV experience by doing another I SPY album (there are two out there, and I only wrote the notes for one, but I’d love to produce one too), or a first-ever IT TAKES A THIEF soundtrack. I have a special fondness for THE GREEN HORNET at Fox, and if rights could be ironed out that would be fun too.

I have a long-range, hoped-for plan to do HAWAII FIVE-0 one day (have it all mapped out on paper) but there are legal issues that may preclude that from happening for some time. We’ll see. For now I am delighted to have been able to create soundtrack albums for some of my favorite shows as a kid.

Jon Burlingame also is the author of The Music of James Bond.

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.

Fred Koenekamp, director of photography, dies

Fred Koenekamp

Fred J. Koenekamp, an Oscar winning director of photography, has died, according to an announcement on Facebook by cinematographer Roy H. Wagner. He was 94.

Koenekamp received an Oscar for his work on 1974’s The Towering Inferno. He was also nominated for photographing Patton and Islands in the Stream.

He graduated to feature films after his work on television. That included 90 of 105 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Koenekamp was twice nominated for an Emmy for his U.N.C.L.E. photography.

Koenekamp was the son of cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp (1891-1992). The elder Koenekamp began his career at the Mack Sennett Keystone Studio early in the 20th century, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fred Koenekamp got his start at RKO as a film loader, according to a biography on the Turner Classic Movies website. He worked his way up to camera operator on movies such as 1955’s Kismet and 1957’s Raintree County.

By 1963, he became director of photography, working on the MGM television series The Lieutenant. The show was created and produced by Gene Roddenberry, with Norman Felton as executive producer.

Fred Koenekamp title card from a fourth-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Lieutenant only lasted the 1963-64. Felton hired Koenekamp for his new series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The series pilot had been photographed by Joseph Biroc. Koenekamp and Biroc would both work on The Towering Inferno and shared the Oscar for that movie.

Koenekamp would remain on U.N.C.L.E. until part way through the show’s fourth, and final, season. However, Koenekamp would have one final U.N.C.L.E. credit when he photographed the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Koenekamp also subbed as director of photography for two episodes of the Mission: Impossible television series.

The cinematographer’s career extended into the 1990s, according to the IMDB.COM ENTRY. He was among the U.N.C.L.E. crew members who appeared at The Golden Anniversary Affair, a 2014 event in Los Angeles celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary.

UPDATE (6:30 p.m.): Variety has posted a short obituary that states Koenekamp died on May 31. A memorial service has been scheduled for June 17, Variety said.

“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.