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.

Stanley Kallis, M:I and Five-O producer, dies at 88

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title

Stanley Kallis, a veteran television producer whose credits included stints on Mission: Impossible and Hawaii Five-O, has died at 88, according to Variety.

Kallis had producing credits going back to the late 1950s, according to his IMDB.com entry.

Kallis joined M:I early in its third season. Producers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter abruptly departed following clashes with creator-executive producer Bruce Geller. Kallis had joined Paramount as a producer following a job at CBS. Geller hired him to get M:I back on track.

The series was a grind on the producers responsible for day-to-day production. Kallis was no exception. “It was like riding a tiger by the tail,” Kallis told author Patrick J. White for his 1991 book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. “The damn thing whacked me.”

Neverthless, Kallis, helped by his new hire, script consultant Paul Playdon, righted the ship. Kallis remained producer into the fourth season. During the time Kallis was producer, M:I had two two part episodes (The Bunker and The Controllers) and the show’s only three-part story (The Falcon).

Kallais handed off the M:I job to Bruce Lansbury, who had previously been producer of The Wild Wild West.

Kallis departed to be supervising producer of Hawaii Five-O’s third season, one of the best for that show. Kallis would oversee the production of three Wo Fat episodes and a pair of two-part stories.

The producer remained busy on other projects for years, including the series Police Story and the mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. He was also a producer on Columbo when the character was revived on ABC in the late 1980s.

Fritz Weaver, dependable character actor, dies at 90

Fritz Weaver's title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver’s title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver, a versatile character in television and movies, has died at 90, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

The Times’ obituary led with how Weaver won he won a Tony award and that he played a German doctor slain by the Nazis in the 1978 mini-series Holocaust.

Weaver’s career extended from the 1950s into the 21st century. It included performances in a number of 1960s spy shows, including the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The Vulcan Affair, or its movie version, To Trap a Spy) and multiple episodes of Mission: Impossible. He also appeared in the pilot to Magnum: PI, which had a story line involving international intrigue.

The actor’s non-spy television appearances included two episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Weaver’s film appearances included 1964’s Fail Safe, as an Air Force officer who cracks under pressure, and Black Sunday, a 1977 John Frankenheimer-directed movie about terrorists who attempt an attack at the Super Bowl.

While Weaver never became a star, he found steady work on film and the stage. What follows is a clip of Weaver in a third-season episode of The FBI, where he played a member of a spy ring.

Cleveland Pops orchestra to have 007 music program

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

The Cleveland Pops orchestra on Nov. 12 will have a program titled “The Name is Bond…James Bond!”

The program includes various James Bond film songs, including Goldfinger, Skyfall, Diamonds Are Forever and Nobody Does Better. Some non-Bond selections are also part of the program, including Secret Agent Man and Mission: Impossible.

The Cleveland Pops is conducted by Carl Topilow and performing will be Rachel York, an actress and singer.

The Cleveland Pops will perform at Severance Hall starting at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $21 to $95.

More details about the program, including how to order, can be found by CLICKING HERE.

 

Robert H. Justman: In the nexus of Star Trek, M:I, Superman

robert-h-justman-title-card

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

This month is the 50th anniversary of both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. One man links both. Not to mention The Adventures of Superman.

That man would be Robert H. Justman (1926-2008).

Justman was associate producer for the pilots of Star Trek (specifically, the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before) and Mission: Impossible.

At the time, Desilu was a sleepy studio. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were divorced in 1960. Desi was handled creative efforts. Lucy was the no-nonsense head of business affairs. After the divorce, Lucy bought out Desi.

Over time, Desi’s absence had an effect. As older Desilu shows ran their course, the studio wasn’t able to replace them. By the mid-1960s, Desilu mostly rented out its studios to other production companies.

In early 1966, however, Desilu was getting its mojo back. It pitched two expensive series (for their time), Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, to television networks. Both sold.

Robert Justman suddenly was in demand. Both Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Mission: Impossible creator Bruce Geller wanted Justman to work on their series. Roddenberry won out.

Earlier in his career, Justman worked on a show featuring another major character. He had been an assistant director on The Adventures of Superman, the 1950s series with George Reeves as Superman. He held the same post with The Outer Limits in the early 1960s.

Today, Justman is known mostly for Star Trek. Roddenberry made him part of his team when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987.

Still, over a long career, Justman worked in a variety of genres, including a Philip Marlowe series and a TV version of The Thin Man. He was producer of Search, a spy-like series on NBC during the 1972-73 season.

Leslie H. Martinson, versatile director, dies at 101

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Leslie H. Martinson, a versatile director who mostly worked in television, has died at 101, according to an obituary published by The New York Times.

Martinson’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 108 directing credits, from 1953 through 1989. Besides TV, he also directed some movies, including the 1966 Batman feature based on the Adam West television show and 1963’s PT 109, with Cliff Robertson playing John F. Kennedy as a U.S. Naval officer in World War II.

Naturally, with a resume that long, Martinson dabbled in spy entertainment.

Another one of his movie credits was 1967’s Fathom, Raquel Welch’s entry into the 1960s spy craze. It also featured a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and main titles designed by Maurice Binder, and prominently feature the movie’s star.

What’s more, Martinson directed nine episodes of the original Mission: Impossible series. Those episodes ran during the show’s later seasons.

The director worked at various studios. He was in demand at Warner Bros. in the late 1950s and early ’60s, directing episodes of the studio’s detective (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside 6) and western (Maverick, Lawman, Cheyenne) series.

In the latter category, Martinson directed a particularly amusing Maverick installment, Gun-Shy,  which was a parody of the hugely popular CBS western Gunsmoke.

In Gun-Shy, Bret Maverick (James Garner) keeps running afoul of Marshal Mort Dooley. Maverick is repeatedly thrown out of town by Dooley. But Bret, trying to find buried riches, keeps coming back. Writer Marion Hargrove even threw in a joke referencing another CBS western, Have Gun-Will Travel.

Eventually, Bret has to face off against Dooley in a gunfight. But Maverick outsmarts the marshal by staying just outside the range of the lawman’s pistol. Martinson staged the sequence as a send-up of the opening of Gunsmoke where Marshal Matt Dillon faced off against a gunfighter.

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.