1960s meme: The irresistible hero

Publicity still for Dr. No that established James Bond was irresistible to women.

A recurring meme of 1960s entertainment — greatly aided by the James Bond film series — was the hero so irresistible to women they couldn’t keep away.

By the end of the decade, it was so prevalent, it came up on all sorts in places. What follows are some examples — both obvious and one not so obvious. (And no, it’s not a comprehensive list.)

Sean Connery as James Bond (of course): In his first scene in his first movie (Dr. No), the Connery Bond already has the attention of Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) while at a casino. She surprises him at his flat wearing nothing but his pajama top.

Over the course of Connery’s 1960s run, even small-part characters show their appreciation. In both Dr. No and Thunderball, women hotel clerks eye Bond as he walks away.

Film editor Peter Hunt, years later (for the “banned” Criterion commentaries), said Connery  “was really a very sexy man” and that the few stars of his appeal “virtually can walk into a room and f*** anybody.”

Certainly, that’s the way director Terence Young, followed by Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert, staged it with Connery in the part. The success of the 007 films would soon be felt elsewhere.

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was pitched to network executives as “James Bond for television.” Ian Fleming, 007’s creator, was involved for a time, though not many of his ideas made it to the final product.

Vaughn’s Solo was the obvious Bondian figure (although the blog has argued before there are key differences, including Solo having more of a moral streak).

But McCallum’s Illya also proved irresistible to the oppose sex. That included two first-season episodes where the female lead (played by McCallum’s then-wife Jill Ireland) decides Illya is the U.N.C.L.E. agent for her.

Another first-season installment included Susan Oliver as a woman whose uncle has been killed by his pet dog as part of an extortion plot. The Oliver character asks Illya if he is present “to bodyguard me? Uh, should I say guard my body?” In the final scene, they’re walking arm in arm.

Robert Conrad as James West: The Wild Wild West was pitched to network executives as “James Bond and cowboys.” So CBS aired the adventures of James West and U.S. Secret Service partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

West drew the attention of women, especially those working for his opponents. In the first Dr. Loveless episode, West wins over Loveless’ female assistant (Leslie Parrish). She helps him escape, enabling the agent to stop Loveless’ plot.

The producers also took advantage of Conrad’s chiseled physique, so there are a number of episodes where West appears shirtless.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett: In the first season of Hawaii Five-O, McGarrett, too, was intended to draw the attention of women. In the pilot, a graduate student (Nancy Kwan) falls for the lawman after being questioned about what she knows concerning the death of a U.S. intelligence agent.

Later in the first season, the girlfriends of two suspects in a complicated kidnapping case ogle McGarrett as he walks away. And in the two-parter Once Upon a Time, a woman medical quack (Joanne Linville) gets the hots for the Big Kahuna. So does a woman records clerk who helps McGarrett do research.

This sort of thing faded away in future seasons, although there would be occasional episodes where McGarrett became involved with a woman.

Robert Stack as Dan Farrell: At this point readers are wondering if this post has gone off the rails. But bear with us for a moment.

Dan Farrell (Robert Stack) busy researching a story for Crime magazine.

The Name of the Game was a 1968-71 series with three rotating leads: Stack, Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry. It concerned a magazine publishing empire run by Glenn Howard (Barry).

Stack’s Dan Farrell worked at Crime magazine. A first-season stack episode, Swingers Only, reflects how the irresistible hero meme could surface where you didn’t expect it.

A friend of Farrell’s (who’s also a staffer at Crime magazine) has been arrested for the murder of a young women he was having an affair with. Farrell looks into the situation. He has to check out Los Angeles’ “swingers” culture to do it.

The intrepid journalist shows up at a “swingers” pool party to talk to someone. The party is already getting out of control. A ping pong table is thrown into the pool.  A bikini-clad woman quickly gets out of the pool. “Hi! Do you belong to somebody?” She’s quickly disappointed when Farrell says he’s working. She still is making eyes at him as he walks away.

Later, Farrell visits another woman (Nancy Kovack) to follow up a lead. She grabs Farrell and begins making out with him. Farrell, though, keeps his cool. She’s lying to him and he knows it.

Eventually, Farrell gets into a bar fight following up another lead. Later, he solves the case (his friend didn’t do it) and writes a cover story for Crime. All in a day’s work.

Universal in the ’60s & ’70s: The Television Factory

 

Universal logo, circa 1960s

In the 1960s and ’70s, Universal’s television division was like a TV factory.

Its shows had a certain look, a certain sheen. Universal’s TV operation would help launch the careers of people such as director Steven Spielberg and writer-director Steven Bochco (who both worked on the same episode of Columbo).

Universal developed the concept of “the wheel,” where different shows rotated in the same time slow, or a series that had rotating leads. Examples: The NBC Mystery Movie (different rotating shows) and The Name of the Game (rotating leads).

Universal, of course, still produces television shows. It’s now part of Comcast as is NBC, where many Universal shows were telecast. But it’s not the same because, naturally, television has evolved. Still, it’s a worth a look back.

Origins: Music Corp. of America, or MCA, was a talent agency. But MCA saw the potential of television. It formed Revue in 1950 as a television production arm. It acquired the studio lot of Universal (then known as Universal-International) in 1958 and eventually acquired Universal itself.

Revue produced all sorts of shows: Westerns (Wagon Train and The Virginian), comedies (The Jack Benny Program, Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters), crime dramas (M Squad), and anthology shows such as Alfred Hitchock Presents (hosted by Hitch), Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and The General Electric Theater (hosted by Ronald Reagan).

Eventually, all of its TV series were under the better-known Universal brand. The boss of MCA-Universal was Lew Wasserman, who became a major figure in Hollywood. Writers Richard Levinson and William Link, when devising the Mannix television series, came up with a character named Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) who was modeled on Wasserman.

The Universal mogul apparently didn’t mind. After Campanella’s Wickersham character was written out after the first season of Mannix, the actor ended up as one of the leads on “The Lawyers” part of The Bold Ones, another Universal “wheel.”

Glory Days: Universal was a major supplier of shows for U.S. television. As early as 1964, it embraced the idea of made-for-television movies. Its first effort, The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, was deemed too violent and got a theatrical release.

One of the early TV movies was 1966’s Fame is the Name of the Game, starring Tony Franciosa as an investigative reporter for a magazine.

This would be the basis for The Name of the Game (1968-71), an early example of “the wheel.” Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry rotated as the leads of the series, which concerned the magazine empire headed by Glenn Howard (Barry).

A key figure at Universal television, who is not remembered much today, was Richard Irving (1917-1990), a producer-director. He oversaw a Universal Western series (Laredo), which aired on NBC from 1967 to 1967.

Irving also produced and directed the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder, where TV audiences were first introduced to Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk). The same year, he produced and directed a TV movie with international intrigue titled Istanbul Express, starring Barry, Senta Berger and John Saxon.

Irving remained a booster of Columbo. He directed another TV movie with the detective, 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man, which finally sold Columbo as a series.

The Universal TV operation cruised throughout the ’70s. In the early 1980s, it had another hit with Magnum: P.I. But things got tougher that decade. Universal excelled at one-hour dramas and TV movies at a time things were changing.

In 1990, MCA sold itself to Japan’s  Matsushita Electric. It would be bought and sold over the years before being acquired by Comcast.

Gone (and mostly forgotten): The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Robert Stack, Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in a publicity still for The Name of the Game

Over the weekend, on a Facebook group, there interesting give and take about a television series that doesn’t get much attention these days: The Name of the Game.

The 1968-71 series consisted of 90-minute episodes dealing with three major figures at a magazine publishing company: its proprietor, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry); a top reporter/writer, Jeff Dillon (Tony Franciosa); and Dan Farrell, an FBI agent turned journalist (Robert Stack). Universal dubbed this the “wheel,” with rotating leads. Susan St. James as Peggy Maxwell would end up assisting all three.

The “wheel” concept would become a staple at Universal with the NBC Mystery Movie in the 1970s.

There’s a bit of spy connection. During the series, there was an episode that revealed Glenn Howard worked for the OSS during World War II. The episode concerned accusations by a Washington politician that Howard used an OSS operation to obtain the funds he’d use to start his publishing empire.

Essentially, Glenn Howard was a younger, handsomer version of Henry Luce (1898-1967), who founded Time, Life, Fortune and Sports llustrated. Like Luce, Glenn Howard was an influential man and traveled the globe.

The series had its origins with Fame Is the Name of the Game, a 1966 TV movie starring Franciosa as Jeff Dillon.

That TV movie also included George Macready as Glenn Howard, Dillon’s boss. But when NBC decided on a series, either Universal, NBC, or both, decided they needed a better known actor. As a result, Gene Barry, who had already done at least two Universal TV movies by this point, got the nod.

The Name of the Game attempted to deal with contemporary issues: the environment, race relations, corruption.

Over time, the 90-minute format fell out of favor for television syndication. The preferred formats are either 30 or 60 minutes or two hours. As a result, The Name of the Game is not seen very much these days. The show ran 76 episodes — hardly a flop, but syndicators usually prefer at least 100 episodes.

Nevertheless, a number of talented people worked on the show. Among them was Steven Spielberg, who directed a third-season Glenn Howard episode about environmental dangers. That episode, LA 2017, has a Twilight Zone quality. Did Howard really travel into the future or what it just a dream?

Other crew members included Norman Lloyd (producer of some Franciosa episodes), Dean Hargrove (a writer-producer who worked on Glenn Howard episodes), Steven Bochco (who was story editor for the Robert Stack episodes the last two seasons) and Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits who produced the first-season Franciosa episodes.

The show also featured a snappy theme by Dave Grusin, seen below: