Ernest Lehman biographer discusses the writer’s spy films

Cover to Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005) was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood history. His work covers various genres and includes massive box office successes.

A new biography of the writer is coming out this month — Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success.

The blog interviewed the author, Jon Krampner, by email. The interview concentrated on three espionage-themed productions that Lehman scripted: North by Northwest (evoked on the book’s cover image), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Prize, and Black Sunday, Lehman’s final movie project. But Lehman also scripted various dramas such as Executive Suite (1954) and musicals, including West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

North by Northwest, in particular, had a major impact. Released in 1959, its balance of humor and drama coupled with certain set pieces (especially when a crop duster plane chases after Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill) helped set the stage for the 1960s spy film craze.

1963’s From Russia With Love, in a sequence not part of Ian Fleming’s novel, had a helicopter going after Sean Connery’s James Bond.

Here is the interview.

THE SPY COMMAND: How did Ernest Lehman first get connected to Alfred Hitchcock? How did the idea of a spy thriller evolve?

JON KRAMPNER: They were connected by the composer Bernard Herrmann who, appropriately enough, wound up scoring “North By Northwest.” Herrmann told Lehman he thought he and Hitchcock would get along well, so he set up a lunch meeting for them in Hitchcock’s office at Paramount in late August of 1956.

Herrmann was right — the two did hit it off, so they started to work on adapting “The Wreck of the Mary Deare,” a maritime drama based on the Hammond Innes novel about an abandoned ship found adrift at sea. But Lehman, as he often did during his career, quit the project, feeling there was no way he could turn it into a good film.

Lehman assumed that would be the end of their working relationship, but Hitchcock, enjoying his company, said they should work together on something else. But what? “The Hitchcock film to end all Hitchcock films,” Lehman said, and “North By Northwest” was born.

(NOTE FROM THE BLOG: The Wreck of the Mary Deare was made into a film with Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston)

TSC: Was the Lehman-Hitchcock collaboration a smooth one? Or were there rough patches?

KRAMPNER: Surprisingly, given that they were both control freaks, Lehman and Hitchcock got along pretty well on “North By Northwest,” one exception being when they were working through the crop duster scene in the living room of Hitchcock’s Bel Air home. Hitchcock, who never raised his voice, yelled at Lehman “Why do you insist on telling me how to direct the film?” Lehman would later say he should have told Hitchcock “Why do you insist on telling me how to write it?”

Seventeen years after “North By Northwest,” Lehman and Hitchcock worked together on “Family Plot,” Hitchcock’s last film. That was a different story: Hitchcock was in poor health, but Lehman kept showing up for working and wanting to get on with it. And being an established Hollywood figure himself now, he was less inclined to defer to Hitchcock. That was not a happy collaboration.

TSC: I have written before that North by Northwest had a balance of drama and humor that other films (the Bond series in particular) emulated. What thoughts did Lehman have on this subject?

KRAMPNER: Your observation is apt, but while your question is a good one, I don’t have a good answer. I worked on this book for seven years, but never ran across any musings Lehman had about the James Bond films.

TSC: How did Lehman rank North by Northwest among the movies he scripted?

KRAMPNER: It was not only his signature film, but the only original of his 15 screenplays, so he regarded it highly and with great fondness. Interestingly, the screenplay of his that he identified several times as his favorite was “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” the Rocky Graziano biopic that made Paul Newman a star.

TSC: The Prize came along a few years later. Leo G. Carroll was in the cast. And Paul Newman’s character ends up proposing to the female lead (Elke Sommer). Did Lehman consciously throw in NxNW elements? Or was that in the source material all along?

KRAMPNER: Any plot similarities between “North By Northwest” and “The Prize” were purely intentional on Lehman’s part. As with “The Wreck of the Mary Deare,” Lehman didn’t feel he could make a decent script out of “The Prize” and was preparing to abandon it. But then he decided to play up the Cold-War plot aspects that were less prominent in Irving Wallace’s novel and, in Lehman’s own words, turn it into a “road-company, not first-rate North By Northwest-type film.”

Anyone familiar with “North By Northwest” can find echoes of it throughout “The Prize”:  there’s a riff on the scene where Cary Grant takes the police back to the Townsend mansion in a futile effort to show them that’s where he was set upon by Van Damm and his gang. In “The Prize,” there’s a scene at a nudist colony that evokes NxNW’s auction sequence. And it features not one, but two — is auto-homage a word? — of the conclusion of the crop duster scene, where Cary Grant is almost run over by an oil tanker. In reviewing “The Prize,” Variety derisively referred to Lehman’s “Hitchcockeyed screenplay.”

TSC: How did Lehman feel about The Prize? Was he pleased with it? Or were there issues for him?

KRAMPNER: As suggested by the previous answer, Lehman didn’t think much of “The Prize,” although he was still stung by some of the bad reviews it got

TSC: Black Sunday was Lehman’s last movie. Big cast, based on a best-selling novel. But Lehman shared the writing credit with two others. Was Lehman satisfied or dissatisfied with it?

KRAMPNER: Lehman shared the screenwriting credit with, in that order, Kenneth Ross and Ivan Moffat, with Lehman’s name coming first. He had to share the credit because it was the only one of his films he was fired from, by producer Robert Evans and director John Frankenheimer. They may have wanted “thriller insurance” (Ross had worked on a number of such films), but they also got a film that’s more confusing, has lapses in plot logic and is utterly devoid of Lehman’s trademark humor. In a 1976 seminar Lehman gave at the American Film Institute before “Black Sunday” was released, Lehman said sardonically “I hear it’s very exciting.”.

TSC: Black Sunday is more overtly political (Israeli-Palestinian) compared with NxNW and The Prize. How did Lehman feel about that? Was Black Sunday a happy experience? Or did he know it was time to call it day?

KRAMPNER: Congratulations for spotting a hole in my research: the answer is “I don’t know.” One of the things I ordinarily would have done was to read Lehman’s last draft of the screenplay, among his papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. But around the time I would have done so, the plague was upon the land, everyone retreated into their burrows, and I never doubled back to cover that part of the waterfront.

“Black Sunday” was praised for the extent to which it humanized the Palestinian terrorists and their grievances, highly unusual for a big-budget American studio film (that praise was not universal: supposedly the Los Angeles-based B’nai Brith Messenger ran a headline “Robert Evans, Hitlerite.”)

In general, Lehman was pretty apolitical, so if I had to guess, I’d say that one (or both) of the screenwriters who came after him was responsible for that aspect of the script.

TSC: How does Ernest Lehman rank among Hollywood screenwriters? While this interview was concentrated on the spy genre, Lehman handled a variety of subjects. To a layman, such as myself, he seems incredibly versatile.

KRAMPNER: As you might, expect Ernest Lehman’s biographer to say, if he’s not at the top, he’s darn close. William Goldman, another candidate for king of the hill, said, “The three greatest screenwriters are Ingmar Bergman, Billy Wilder, and Ernest Lehman.” The British newspaper The Guardian said “He may have been the most successful screenwriter ever.”

Many are crowded near the top of screenwriting’s pantheon: Nunnally Johnson, Jules Furthman, Nora Ephron, the list goes on. I won’t say Lehman was the best, but he certainly ranked among them.

Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success is being published on Sept. 27 by the University Press of Kentucky. For more information, CLICK HERE. It can be ordered at AMAZON and BOOKSHOP.ORG. The latter is a website for independent bookstores and you may want to order there instead of behemoth Amazon.

Biography about writer Ernest Lehman to be published

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A biography of Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter of North by Northwest and many other films, is coming out in September.

The book is titled Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success. Author Jon Krampner has updated potential readers at his Ernest Lehman Bio page on Twitter concerning his research about Lehman and his work.

Lehman (1915-2005) worked in a variety of genres, including musicals such as The Sound of Music and the 1961 version of West Side Story. But Lehman’s scripts for espionage films such as The Prize, Black Sunday, and, especially, 1959’s North by Northwest, is a big source of interest for the blog.

The Alfred Hitchcock-directed movie blended drama and humor as advertising man Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) becomes involved with spies.

In some ways, North by Northwest became a template for 1960s spy movies, including James Bond films.

One of North by Northwest’s major set pieces, where a crop duster plane attacks Thornhill, was the inspiration for a sequence in From Russia With Love where a helicopter menaces Bond (Sean Connery).

In the 1960s, some members of North by Northwest’s cast would have prominent parts on spy shows on American television: Leo G. Carroll (The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible), and Edward Platt (as the Chief in Get Smart).

Krampner’s book has a website. It includes an excerpt describing the filming of North by Northwest’s crop-duster sequence. The book is scheduled to debut Sept. 27 and its price is $34.95 in hardback.

An MGM art department veteran goes before the camera

Veteran set decorator Henry Grace as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in The Longest Day

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

If you watch movies and TV shows either made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or filmed at the studio from the late 1950s through the 1960s, one name pops up frequently.

That would be set decorator Henry Grace (1907-1983). Set decorators take a set and add touches to customize them to a scene in a story.

Grace would receive more than 200 credits in films and TV shows. He received 13 Oscar nominations and won once, for Gigi (1958). His other film credits include North by Northwest, the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, How the West was Won, The Americanization of Emily and A Patch of Blue. Grace also received an Emmy nomination for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

During this era, many TV shows leased stages at MGM. As a result, Grace received credits on series such as The Twilight Zone, Combat! and My Favorite Martian.

What makes Grace different from other Hollywood art department veterans was he got a chance to go before the camera.

Specifically, Grace was judged to resemble Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander in World War II, who was responsible for the D-Day invasion. As a result, he got the role of Ike in 1962’s The Longest Day. It was a small, but important, role in a big, sprawling film.

On one occasion, one of the behind-the-camera guys got a moment in the sun.

Henry Grace, along with others (including title designer Saul Bass) gets a title card in North by Northwest

Live and Let Die script: More mayhem

Part of the Live And Let Die soundtrack packaging.

Live And Let Die was a rare case for the James Bond film series. Only one screenwriter, Tom Mankiewicz, was employed throughout the production.

An Oct. 2, 1972 screenplay was labeled as the shooting script. It’s close to what moviegoers would see in the summer of 1973 for Roger Moore’s debut as Bond. But the script still contains notable differences. With the excerpts below, words between asterisks were underlined in the script.

A more gruesome death: The script opens with the deaths of three agents as in the finished film. But the demise of the third agent is implied to more gruesome.

A MACHETE BLADE FLASHES INTO FRAME: A sickening laugh i heard as the blade sweeps down at BAINES. CAMERA FREEZES FRAME ON GLINTING MACHETE BLADE.

Recognition phrase: When Bond arrives in New York, he meets up with a contact named Charlie. Except in this script, there’s a recognition phrase or code involved,

Charlie attempts to introduce himself in a more conventional way. Bond instead pulls his Walther PPK on Charlie.

CHARLIE
Oh!
(mechanically)
You want to go to Shea Stadium? The Yankees are playing a double header.

BOND
(smiles, lowers gun)
The *Mets* play at Shea. The Baseball season doesn’t begin until April.

CHARLIE
My mistake.
(sighing)
Sorry – I forgot. We don’t do too much of that over here anymore. Oh – Mister Leiter wants to talk to you.

This exchange doesn’t appear in the film. But the basic notion of American operatives giving up on recognition phrases while the British stick with them would be used in 1995’s GoldenEye.

Bond’s trip to Harlem: Bond catches a cab to Harlem while following a group of Dr. Kananga’s associates. For some reason, the cab driver addresses Bond as “Jim” twice even though no introduction had been made. In the film, as in this script, the driver shows up again in New Orleans calling Bond “Jim.”

Tombstones: Mr. Big/Kananga tells Bond that, “Names are for tombstones, baby.” In the film, it’s come out as, “Names is for tombstones, baby.” The latter is sometimes used as a catchphrase among Bond fans.

Bond dispatches Mr. Big’s thugs: Bond is being led from Mr. Big/Kananga’s New York office to be killed by two thugs. The description is a bit more violent than in the film.

As in the film, Bond uses a steel grating from a fire escape. The grating is coming at Bond’s face but the agent ducks. The grating “slams into GUARD ONE’s face with a terrifying crunch.” Bond gets the thug’s gun as the man falls. Bond then gets behind the first thug as the second fires. That shot kills the first thug. Bond shoots the second to death.

Bond arrives in San Monique: There is a scene that’s not in the movie. Bond goes through customs upon arrival. The customs area has photos of Dr. Kananga and “propaganda messages for San Monique.” Bond doesn’t notice that the customs official he’s dealing with takes a photo of the agent’s passport photo.

Bond’s San Monique bungalow: The scene is very similar to the final film but there are a few key differences. Bond manages to decapitate the snake intended to kill him. Rosie Carver is described as “a beautiful WHITE GIRL.” After Bond tosses her on the bed she is “semi-naked, her dress having been torn in half.” The part was played by Black actress Gloria Hendry in the movie.

Continuity: Bond and Rosie charter a boat. She doesn’t know it belongs to Quarrel Jr., who’s working with Bond. Eventually, the agent makes an introduction. “Rosie Carver – meet the man who shares my hairbrush – Quarrel Jr. His father and I locked horns with a Doctor named No several years ago.” The latter line wouldn’t make the final film.

Shark gun: This weapon, which fires gas-filled pellets, is introduced during the boat sequence of the script. After told about the gun by Quarrel Jr., Bond fires a pellet into the mouth of a shark. “CAMERA HOLDS ON SHARK as it suddenly *begins to inflate to several times normal size*, the huge balloon-like fish now disappearing in the wake of the fishing boat.”

Rosie’s death: In the movie, she is killed by a gun hidden in a Baron Samedi-style scarecrow. In this script, she’s running away from Bond when she “suddenly *jumps off the side of the road*, disappears from view.” It’s a long fall. “ROSIE’s body lies broken and mangled in a stone quarry some hundred feet below.”

New Orleans airport: Bond eventually meets up with Solitaire and takes her to New Orleans. The sequence set at that city’s airport has considerably more mayhem than in the final film.

Among other things, Bond attempts to take off in the Bleeker flying school plane (with kindly Mrs. Bell aboard). But he uses a runway where two private planes are landing. There are combined plane and car crashes. The gag where the wings of the Bleeker plane are torn off is in the script but adds Mrs. Bell feinting.

Toward the end of the sequence, the plane’s controls won’t respond. The aircraft hits a fence, its propeller cutting through the fence. The plane comes down at a 45-degree angle. Bond is hanging upside down, held in place by his seat belt. “He looks over at MRS. BELL who moans, starts to come out of her coma.”

Felix Leiter later summarizes events.

“Not too bad. Extensive damage to the hangar, five planes, four cars, and a forty foot section of fence. Not to mention giving a seventy-year-old Granny the worst jolt she’s had since her wedding night. Christ, James, what a way to sneak into town.”

Boat chase: This was the action centerpiece of the film. This script’s version is more frantic. For example, a boat towing a pyramid of water skiers gets in the middle of the chase. The skiers stay upright for quite a while before they inevitably come tumbling down.

Also, a boat involved in the chase goes from the water onto a golf course. A member of a foursome is about to attempt a 30-foot putt. He jerks, striking his golf ball involuntarily as one of the villain boats lands in a nearby bunker. Naturally, the putt proves successful.

The end: In this script, there is no Baron Samedi riding the train engine. Instead we have this symbolic ending of what Bond and Solitaire are doing. Perhaps it was an homage by Mankiewicz of North by Northwest.

EXT. TRAIN TRACK JUNCTION CLOSE ON RED SIGNAL NIGHT

CAMERA CLOSE on a large, circular sign hanging over one track at a central train junction: A red light blinks on and off over the words: *NO ENTRY*. With a loud “ding,” the sign flips down, is replaced by a bright, blinking green light as BOND’s train whistles through, and off into the distance…

FADE OUT

THE END

About that ‘James Bond knockoff’ thing

A James Bond Jr. character with a pencil communicator that looks a lot like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pen communicator

A James Bond friend of mine misses much spy entertainment as examples of “James Bond knockoffs.”

OK. But the James Bond film franchise has, more than once, borrowed from others. A few examples:

From Russia With Love: Ian Fleming’s fifth novel didn’t include a sequence where Bond dodges a helicopter. This was something the filmmakers added to the movie to add visual excitement. Clearly, it’s an “homage” to North by Northwest where a crop-duster plane goes after Cary Grant.

More broadly, the Bond series owes a lot to North by Northwest. NxNW has a delicate balance of drama and humor. Director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman practically provide a blueprint for the Bond series that Eon Productions would go on to make.

Live And Let Die: The eighth Eon Bond film is based on Fleming’s second novel. But its popularity also owes much to the early 1970s “blaxplotation” craze. Essentially director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz drop Bond into the middle of a blaxplotation movie. Mankiewicz wanted to cast Diana Ross as Solitaire but Eon wouldn’t go that far.

The Man With The Golden Gun: The ninth Eon Bond film sought to take advantage of the popularity of 1970s kung fu movies. You’d see stories (ahead of the film’s release) about how Roger Moore was training furiously to credibly do martial arts.

Moonraker: In 1966, there was an Italian-based spy movie called Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. It shares Brazilian locations with 1979’s Moonraker. Heck, you could easily argue the 1966 movie makes better use of Brazil, including Rio’s massive Jesus statue. Also, there are sequences of the 1966 movie that would practically be repeated in Moonraker.

In addition to all that, in Moonraker, we hear a key tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Licence to Kill: Bond has a gun with attachments (site, extended barrel, extended magazine, rifle stock) that looks an awfully lot like the U.N.C.L.E. special. In Licence to Kill, the base gun looks like a camera but all the attachments look like the attachments of the U.N.C.L.E. Special.

James Bond Jr.: Many fans disavow this early 1990s cartoon series. But it was officially sanctioned by Eon and Michael G. Wilson shares a “developed by” credit. In episode 9, “The Eiffel Missile,” a character has a pencil communicator that appears copied from U.N.C.L.E.’s pen communicator that debuted in the second season of that series.

Working on a film set

Peter Hunt during an interview.

For the past week or so, there have been numerous stories about supposedly grim feelings on the Bond 25 set.

The thing is, given how unnatural it is to work on a movie, it’s surprising there aren’t even more accounts about unease on film sets.

With On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, first-time director Peter Hunt played mind games with first-time actor George Lazenby during the film’s critical ending scene.

“I would make him sit and wait and get a bit nervous,” Hunt said of Lazenby said in an interview for the documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “I wanted him to feel nervous and uptight.”

It’s not just Bond films, of course. Martin Landau, as part of a TCM video, talked about feeling insecure during filming of a scene in North by Northwest.

Landau talked about how director Alfred Hitchcock whispered direction to Cary Grant, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint. Landau approached Hitchcock whether he wanted the tell the actor anything.

“Martin, I’ll only tell you if I don’t like what you’re doing,” Landau quoted Hitchcock as saying while doing a Hitch impersonation.

Working on a film (for actors, anyway) involves waiting a long time while the director of photography and other crew members get things ready to film a scene. For actors, doing a play is more natural. But films pay better.

Bond 25 may, or may not, have had a lot of tension on the set so far. Regardless, making movies isn’t a 9-to-5 job. We won’t really know how it’s going until the finished product is ready for viewing.

Historian notes U.N.C.L.E., NxNW anniversaries

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Historian Michael Beschloss used his Twitter feed to note two spy-entertainment landmarks: The first telecast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the end of production on North by Northwest.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted on Sept. 22, 1964 on NBC. The show had been in development for almost two years.

Producer Norman Felton, invited to discuss doing a TV series based on Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book, instead pitched an adventure show.

The network said it’d commit to a series without a pilot episode if Felton could get Ian Fleming on board. The two had discussions in October 1962 in New York. In June 1963, Fleming dropped out because of pressure by 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Despite Fleming’s departure, the project continued, although a pilot would have to be made before NBC committed to a series. Writer Sam Rolfe did the heavy lifting on scripting the pilot and would be the day-to-day producer on the show’s first season. The series paired Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (the character name being one of Fleming’s surviving contributions) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin.

North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Ernest Lehman, would set the style for a lot of 1960s spy entertainment. It balanced drama and humor as Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill would dodge spies, with a climax on Mount Rushmore. The film ended production in September 1958 and would be released in 1959.

Here are Beschloss’s tweets:

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UPDATE (9:30 p.m. New York time): Beschloss was busy with other 1960s TV shows, including Get Smart.

 

Historian takes a brief look at North by Northwest

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Michael Beschloss, a historian who writes about U.S. presidents, turned his attention over the weekend to North by Northwest.

Beschloss’ Twitter feed (@BeschlossDC) often notes the anniversary of major historical events, accompanied by photos and illustrations. But he also posts tweets about the arts and society.

For North by Northwest, the 1959 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Beschloss had two posts.

One tweet included part of a document from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which would release the movie, to National Park Service concerning how Mount Rushmore would be used in the movie.

“None of our characters would tread upon the faces of the Presidents,” the document reads.

Beschloss also tweeted a photo of a brochure marked up by screenwriter to work out the Mount Rushmore sequence.

You can take a look for yourself.

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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.

North by Northwest: Feast of the character actors

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo right after his "directed by" credit in North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo right after his “directed by” credit in North by Northwest

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy 1959’s North by Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers. Among them: a slick performance by Cary Grant. Eva Marie Saint as the heroine, James Mason as the villain, Martin Landau as the villain’s main assistant, Ernest Lehman’s script, Bernard Herrmann’s music, etc.

The purpose of this post, though, is to point out the wealth of character actors, especially for those familiar with 1960s and 1970s television shows in the U.S. Hitchcock’s 136-minute film provided plenty of parts, albeit small in most cases, for busy character actors.

What follows is a sampling:

Leo G. Carroll (The Professor): Carroll, by this point, was something of a Hitchock regular, having previously appeared in Rebecca, Suspicion and Spellbound. Here’s he appears as “The Professor,” a high-ranking official of U.S. intelligence. It’s a preview of his performances as Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Jessie Royce Landis (Roger Thornhill’s mother): Landis was born in 1896, just eight years before Cary Grant. She steals almost every scene she’s in here, especially when she’s skeptical of her son’s wild story of spies. Her career spanned decades.

Edward Platt (Thornhill’s lawyer): At his point, Platt was six years away from his best-known role, The Chief in Get Smart.

Ken Lynch (Chicago policeman): Lynch showed up as gruff cops (he had a recurring role on the 1970s show McCloud as a New York cop) or gruff villains. With 189 acting credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY, he never lacked for work.

Malcom Atterbury (Man at Bus Stop): The busy charactor actor (155 credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY) only gets a few lines as he chats with Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill in the middle of nowhere. But Atterbury’s observation about the crop dusting plane sets up a classic sequence, which would be an influence in the Terence Young-directed From Russia With Love.

Lawrence Dobkin (U.S. intelligence official): He’s one of the people who participates in a meeting chaired by The Professor. In the 1970s, he’d double as a director on various series as well as being a character actor (including being the villain in the pilot of The Streets of San Francisco).

Les Tremayne (Auctioneer): Blessed with a smooth, silky voice, Tremayne remained busy for decades, including a part in the 1953 version of War of the Worlds.

Olan Soule (Assistant Auctioneer): Another actor blessed with a smooth voice. He had a slight build, but an enormous voice, ensuring he could get work frequently. His many voice-only roles included playing Batman in cartoons produced by Filmation and Hanna-Barbera.

Alfred Hitchcock (Man at New York Bus Stop): One of Hitchcock’s more prominent cameos, he misses the bus immediately after his “directed by” credit.

And no this is not a comprehensive list (sorry, Edward Binns and Ned Glass, among others).