Garry Marshall dies; wrote an I Spy episode

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Garry Marshall, a veteran writer-producer on television series as well as a movie director, has died at 81, according to AN OBITUARY PUBLISHED BY VARIETY.

On television, his credits included developing The Odd Couple as a TV series and creating Happy Days. His movie credits including directing 1990’s Pretty Woman.

For the purposes of this blog, we just wanted to note that Marshall, with his then-partner Jerry Belson, wrote a quirkly I Spy episode titled No Exchange on Damaged Merchandise.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks as U.S. agent Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) writes up a report to his superiors, seeking reimbursements for expenses from an assignment.

His partner Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) wants Kelly to forget it. But Robinson is so annoyed with the bureaucracy, he’s determined to get the reimbursement.

The viewer doesn’t get the entire story until Robinson is about to complete the report. Along the way, Scott was almost killed. Meanwhile, the duo was forced to improvise a prisoner exchange with a corpse.

 

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Stephen Kandel: Have genre, will write

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Another in an occasional series about unsung figures of television.

Stephen Kandel, now 89, was the kind of television who could take on multiple genres and do it well.

Science fiction? He wrote the two Star Trek episodes featuring Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), one of Captain Kirk’s more unusual adversaries.

Espionage? His list of credits included I Spy, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief and A Man Called Sloane.

Crime dramas? Hawaii Five-O and Mannix, among too many to list here. His work included a Cannon-Barnaby Jones crossover, The Deadly Conspiracy, a 1975 two-part story airing as an episode of each series.

Not to mention the occasional Western, drama, super hero series (Batman and Wonder Woman) and some shows that don’t easily fit categories (The Magician, MacGyver).

Writer Harlan Ellison in 1970 referred to Kandel as “one of the more lunatic scriveners in Clown Town.” In a column reprinted in The Other Glass Teat, Ellison wrote that Kandel was assigned to write an episode of a drama called The Young Lawyers that was to introduce a new WASP character.

According to Ellison, ABC opted to tone down socially conscious stories among other changes. Kandel wasn’t a fan of the changes. He initially named the new WASP character “Christian White.”

“It went through three drafts before anyone got hip to Steve’s sword in the spleen,” Ellison wrote.

Other in-joke humor by Kandel that did make it to television screens.

One was a 1973 episode of Mannix, Sing a Song of Murder. Kandel named a hit man Anthony Spinner. Kandel had earlier worked for Spinner on the QM series Dan August.

Presumably Spinner didn’t mind. Kandel ended up working for Spinner on Cannon.

Another bit was Kandel’s script for A Man Called Sloane episode titled The Seduction Squad. Robert Culp played a Blofeld-like criminal, except he carried around a small dog instead of a cat.

Kandel wrapped up his television career with MacGyver. Today, somewhere in the world, there may be an episode of some series written by Kandel being shown.

 

50th anniversary of U.S. TV spymania

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

This week marks the 50th anniversary of spymania in the United States, when three spy television series premiered.

I Spy (Sept. 15): The hour-long drama on NBC was the most serious, least escapist spy program on U.S. television. Its greater significance, however, was having an African American actor receiving equal billing with a white star.

That African American actor was Bill Cosby. Cosby has been in the news since last year for numerous accusations of rape, the subject of a notable cover of New York magazine this summer.

A half century ago, Cosby’s presence on I Spy was a major breakthrough for U.S. television. The show debuted in the midst of  the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert Culp, the show’s other star, also wrote episodes that gave Cosby’s Alexander Scott plenty to do and Cosby ample opportunity to show his acting ability.

“People writing…said that I was the Jackie Robinson of television drama,” Cosby said during a 2010 appearance. “I say to all of you if this true that Robert Culp has to be Eddie Stanky, Pee Wee Reese.” He said Culp’s “contribution in I Spy was very valuable in terms of civil rights.”

Besides the show’s social significance, I Spy also had extensive location filming. The lead actors accompanied a small crew that actually traveled to places such as Hong Kong and Tokyo to film exteriors. That footage would be paired with interior scenes shot at stages leased from Desilu Studios.

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

The Wild Wild West (Sept. 17): The show was originally pitched to CBS as something like “James Bond and cowboys.” It became something much greater.

The series concerned the adventures of ace U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). They traveled in style on a train.

They traveled a lot taking on, among other foes, a 19th century cyborg (John Dehner); Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), a short scientist with major plans, such as wiping out the world’s population to restore ecological balance; and Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a villain whose magic tricks might not be tricks at all.

Highlights included Conrad frequently fighting a roomful of thugs. In reality, it was usually the same group of stuntmen and it took ingenuity to disguise that fact from the audience. Also a highlight was Martin donning various disguises.

The Wild Wild West really was catching lightning in a bottle. Attempts to recapture the magic (made-for television movies in 1979 and 1980 as well as a 1999 feature film) fell short.

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Get Smart (Sept. 18): The half-hour comedy created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind. The network rejected it. NBC, looking for a show for Don Adams, snapped it up.

Brooks and Henry revamped the script to adapt it for Adams. For example, Adams had already perfected his “would you believe?” bit, using it on The Bill Dana Show situation comedy series. Thus, it was incorporated into the Get Smart pilot.

Adams’ Maxwell Smart was a force of nature. He bumbled his way through his adventures but, always confident in himself, emerged triumphant. It helped to have Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) on his side.

Get Smart, naturally, parodied the spy genre, including one episode that did a takeoff on I Spy. But the series had other targets, including an episode that parodied The Fugitive. There have been various attempts over the decades to revive Get Smart, most recently a 2008 feature film with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

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.

Real life intrudes on a legacy of the ’60s spy craze

Bill Cosby with Victor Buono in an I Spy episode

Bill Cosby with Victor Buono in an I Spy episode

As 2014 draws to a close, one of the proudest accomplishments of 1960s spy entertainment may be forgotten because of a scandal.

The scandal? The numerous allegations of rape against Bill Cosby, now 77. The accomplishment? How I Spy, the 1965-68 television series, had a major social impact in the United States.

To recap: In the fall of 1965, an African American (Cosby) starring along side a white actor (Robert Culp) on television was a huge deal. I Spy was the least glamorous, most somber, of the American spy series. The show reflected a major social movement. It was more than another television series. After I Spy was canceled by NBC, Cosby’s career advanced to many levels of success.

But, by the end of this year, Cosby was depicted as a fallen icon. The New York Times, IN A DEC. 28 STORY by Lorne Manly and Graham Bowley examined how Cosby’s legal team dealt with the allegations.

As accusations of sexual assault continue to mount against Mr. Cosby — more than two dozen women have gone public, the latest last Monday — the question arises as to why these stories never sparked a widespread outcry before. While many of the women say they never filed police complaints or went public because they feared damaging their reputations or careers, the aggressive legal and media strategy mounted by Mr. Cosby and his team may also have played a significant role.

The final outcome of the allegations remains to be seen. Still, what had been one of the high points of the 1960s spy craze may never be looked at the same way. Real life has a way of intruding — and is always more serious than fiction.

Fall 1963: Norman Felton casts his Solo

The Solo that William Boyd forgot

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Producer Norman Felton had to make a decision: Who would be cast as Napoleon Solo, the character he co-created with Ian Fleming?

The task may not have been difficult as finding a Solo for a 21st century movie version of the show (finally cast with Henry Cavill). But it wasn’t a slam dunk, either.

According to Jon Heitland’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. book, Felton for a time considered a friend, Harry Guardino, for the part.

Also in the running was actor Robert Brown, who five years later would briefly be cast as Hawaii Five-O’s Steve McGarrett until the part was re-cast with Jack Lord. Also, according to the Heitland book, Felton decided to offer the role to Robert Culp, but the actor wasn’t available.

Felton ended up going with an actor already in his employ: Robert Vaughn, 30, who was the second lead in The Lieutenant, a drama about U.S. Marine Corps officers. Felton was the show’s executive producer, with Gene Roddenberry as the creator-producer.

“I was looking for someone who would give the character a certain visual sense of sophistication,” Felton told Heitland in an interview for the 1986 book.

Vaughn, in 2007, recalled the deal being done quickly:

Other work on the project proceeded. Sam Rolfe turned in his second-draft script and Don Medford was hired to direct on Oct. 9, 1963, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline.

By November, the rest of the cast was in place. David McCallum would play the small part (in the pilot script) of Illya Kuryakin, a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent, and Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison, the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

Production was scheduled to begin on Nov. 20. It would be shut down for four days because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy two days later.

In the coming months, two men named Broccoli and Saltzman would present another challenge.

Earlier posts:

July 1963: U.N.C.L.E. presses on without Fleming

June 1963: Ian Fleming signs away his U.N.C.L.E. rights

Richard Sarafian, director of TV spy shows, dies at 83

Richard C. Sarafian

Richard C. Sarafian

Richard C. Sarafian, who directed episodes of 1960s spy television shows, died Sept. 18, according to AN OBITUARY POSTED BY VARIETY.

Sarafian directed the 1965 pilot for The Wild, Wild West, which combined spies with the Wild West. Star Robert Conrad, in a commentary track for the first-season DVD set, said that pilot, The Night of the Inferno, was expensive by mid-1960s standards. The Sarafian-directed episode sold the series and the director returned for one more first-season installment.

Sarafian also helmed EIGHT EPISODES of the 1965-68 I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, which was probably took the darkest take among ’60s spy shows. His final work on the series was the 1968 episode Home to Judgment, which had a plot SIMILAR TO THE 2012 007 MOVIE SKYFALL.

In the 1970s, Sarafian got the chance to direct some feature films, including Vanishing Point and THE NEXT MAN, in which Sean Connery played an Arab diplomat who’s the target of assassination plots.

To read the Variety obituary, CLICK HERE. To see a list of Sarafian’s directing credits on IMDB.com, CLICK HERE.