The Johnny Williams era of television

John Williams

John Williams told The Assocated Press earlier this month, that his score for Indiana Jones 5 may be his final movie work.

“I don’t want to be seen as categorically eliminating any activity,” The 90-year-old composer told AP. But a Star Wars score, he said, is a six-month commitment and “at this point in life is a long commitment to me.”

Williams is known mostly for his film scores, which include 51 Oscar nominations beginning in the 1960s for scores and songs. Williams was the composer of choice for director Steven Spielberg, a collaboration that lasted decades.

However, once upon a time, Williams was known as Johnny Williams and his work was all over television in the 1950s and 1960s.

Television Days

Williams played piano on the Peter Gunn theme for Henry Mancini. Williams also played as a musician in film scores such as The Magnificent Seven, Sweet Smell of Success and To Kill a Mockingbird, he recalled in a 2002 tribute to composer Elmer Bernstein.

Before he was famous: John(ny) Williams title card for the Kraft Suspense Theater episode Once Upon a Savage Night (black and white copy of a color original).

Williams was hired in 1958 by Stanley Wilson, music supervisor for Revue television (later Universal), to score episodes of M Squad, a police drama starring Lee Marvin. At that point, the composer was billed as John T. Williams Jr.

Wilson evidently liked the results and kept bringing Williams back for work. One of Williams’ jobs for Revue writing the theme for Checkmate, a 1960-62 series created by Eric Ambler.

Checkmate concerned the exploits of two private eyes (Anthony George and Doug McClure) assisted by an academic (Sebastian Cabot). Williams was now billed as Johnny Williams.

Before he was famous: John Williams title card for the unaired pilot of Gilligan’s Island.

Williams also did the theme (and scored some episodes for) a Revue anthology show, Kraft Suspense Theater. One of the installments he scored, Once Upon a Savage Night, was a particularly tense story about the search by Chicago authorities for a psychopathic killer (Philip Abbott).

In his TV days, Williams was versatile. His credits included the odd sitcom, such as the unaired pilot (plus additional episodes) of Gilligan’s Island as well as the theme for The Tammy Grimes Show, a quickly canceled program in the 1966-67 season.

Producer Irwin Allen brought in Williams to work on series such as Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel, which credited Johnny Williams for their themes.

Johnny Williams even showed up on camera in the first episode of Johnny Staccato, a 1959 series starring John Cassavettes and made at Revue. Williams, clean-shaven and with hair, played a jazz pianist. He was listed in the cast as Johnny Williams.

The Johnny Williams era drew to a close by the late 1960s. His credit for the theme of Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants series listed the composer as John Williams. For Williams, the best was yet to come.

About genre movies fighting for Oscars love

No Time to Die poster

Studios are in the midst of their blitz to get some love from the Oscars. And that includes lobbying efforts for genre movies to gain some recognition.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, has been lobbying for No Time to Die to get awards while the ultimate goal is the Oscars. Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios are moving to get Spider-Man No Way Home some Oscar love.

Once upon a time, popular movies did pretty well at the Oscars. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), a Cecil B. DeMille schlockfest *won* the Best Picture Oscar. I like Greatest Show but there’s no denying the schlock factor.

Star Wars (1977) was nominated for Best Picture. The movie won Oscars for art direction and score among other awards but fell short of actually winning Best Picture.

In more recent decades, it’s been hard for genre movies to get a lot of Oscar recognition outside of technical awards. There were some exceptions such as Best Actor awards for The Dark Knight (2008) and The Joker (2019). Ironically, both actors involved (Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix) played different versions of the same character.

It’s kind of tough to get Oscar love for playing a hero in a genre movie.

One big exception was Black Panther (2018), a Marvel film that was a big hit while highlighting a Black cast. It got a Best Picture nomination and won a few Oscars, including best score.

All of which brings us to the current situation. MGM is pushing a bit of everything, including star Daniel Craig, director Cary Fukunaga, the writing team and, of course, Best Picture.

Meanwhile, Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman (who said he hates Spider-Man No Way Home) presented a somewhat cynical reason why the academy should nominate the comic book movie anyway.

 If you want an Academy Awards telecast that wins more eyeballs than it loses, you’re going to have to nominate some of the movies that win eyeballs. I don’t disagree with that argument, and in a sense it’s the one I’m making. But this isn’t simply about numbers. It’s about a perception that drives the numbers. Sure, if “No Way Home” gets nominated, a swath of its vast fan base might tune into the Oscars that wouldn’t have otherwise. But what I’m really talking about is the essential idea that movies are, and always have been, a populist art form. If that dimension of cinema isn’t respected, something has gone wrong.

We’ll see how this turns out. The Bond films went almost 50 years between Oscars wins (special effects for Thunderball and two awards for Skyfall). Skyfall got five nominations and won two. But the Bond series has never been nominated for acting or directing.

As for Spider-Man No Way Home? Who knows? Actors and directors love to dump on comic book-based movies but a number of stars have signed on comic book-based movies.

Bond 25 questions: The MGM call edition

No Time to Die teaser poster

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer doesn’t comment very often about the James Bond film series. Occasionally, 007’s home studio discusses the franchise when reporting its quarterly financial results.

Well, No Time to Die came up this week when MGM talked to investors about third-quarter financial results. Naturally, the blog has a few questions.

What did MGM say about No Time to Die’s marketing?

Not that much. The studio said No Time to Die’s marketing will ramp up shortly after Jan. 1.

However, MGM didn’t say much more than that. At this point, No Time to Die doesn’t have a first trailer out. A rough cut, or preliminary version, was completed by August, according to the James Bond & Friends podcast. But a final version hasn’t been released yet.

To be sure, there’s a lot more to marketing than trailers. But it’s clear Bond fans aren’t seeing much marketing yet for No Time to Die.

How important will No Time to Die be for the company?

Very important. MGM is draining cash this year as it invests in new movie and TV projects as well as investing in its Epix premium TV channel.

An MGM executive referred to the company’s 2020’s feature film plans as a
“James Bond-led revitalized film slate.”

Is there something else we should be aware of?

I have listened to MGM investor calls for seven years now. Rarely do investor ask about Bond films specifically. The calls are intended to discuss MGM financial results generally.

However, this time out, MGM executives got two Bond questions.

One concerned whether MGM had consulted with Danjaq (the parent company of Eon Productions, which actually produces Bond films) whether 007 films could come out more often.

Also, MGM was asked about whether the studio has sought a new Bond actor now that Daniel Craig has said No Time to Die will be it for him.

Listening to a recording of the call, MGM execs were not prepared for either inquiry.

After the first question, there were three seconds of dead air. After the second, there were six seconds of silence.

Doesn’t sound like a lot? On most investor/Wall Street analyst calls, executives pipe up with all sorts of jargon and blather. They don’t stay silent for seconds.

What does that mean?

It means the Bond franchise has major questions to be resolved after No Time to Die arrives at theaters in April 2020.

It also means that MGM isn’t ready to discuss those issues now. MGM and Danjaq (the parent company of Eon) have joint custody of the Bond film franchise.

The entertainment industry is changing rapidly. On the MGM call, new streaming TV shows from Star Wars and Marvel Studios were referenced in questions.

Put another way, the lack of a No Time to Die trailer may not be that important in the long run. We’ll see.

When universes collide: Marvel and Star Wars?

Marvel’s Dr. Doom (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962) and Darth Vader of Star Wars, originally created for the first Star Wars movie in 1977.

Kevin Feige, the head of Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios unit, is developing a new Star Wars movie, The Hollywood Reporter said.

The move comes as Disney faces where to take Star Wars next. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, is due out late this year. That will end the entire Skywalker saga encompassing nine films from 1977 to 2019.

Since Disney acquired Star Wars from George Lucas for $4 billion ($2 billion in cash, $2 billion in Disney stock), it attempted to kick start the franchise, which had been dormant since 2005.

Some movies were big successes, but some (such as a film showing Han Solo’s back story) not as much.

Star Wars has been supervised by producer Kathleen Kennedy under Disney ownership while Marvel Studios (a separate Disney acquisition) has operated under Feige.

“With the close of the Skywalker Saga, Kathy is pursuing a new era in Star Wars storytelling, and knowing what a die-hard fan Kevin is, it made sense for these two extraordinary producers to work on a Star Wars film together.”Disney said in a statement to THR.

There have been connections between Star Wars and Marvel going back to the early days of Star Wars.

In the 1970s, many fans commented on the similarities between artist Jack Kirby’s design for Dr. Doom, the arch villain of the Fantastic Four, and Darth Vader in Star Wars.

What’s more, Marvel published comic books based on Star Wars beginning when the first film came out in 1977. The move proved to be a major boost for Marvel during a comic industry slump at the time. That helped keep Marvel alive for better days many years later.

UK film industry not diverse, says report backed by 007 boss

Barbara Broccoli

The British film industry faces a “pandemic lack of inclusion,” says a report backed by the bosses of the James Bond and Star Wars film franchises, according to The Guardian.

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions, and Kathleen Kennedy, head of Star Wars maker Lucasfilm Ltd., “are throwing their weight behind a plan, backed by £20m of national lottery money, to improve diversity in the sector,” wrote Mark Brown of The Guardian.

Both film franchises have their home bases in the United Kingdom. Lucasfilm is owned by Walt Disney Co.

Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian’s story:

The report on film employment, whether of camera operators, riggers, props or hairdressers, shows a striking lack of diversity and “significant obstacles” to people getting jobs in the first place.

Heather Carey, an associate consultant at the Work Foundation thinktank, led the data research for the report and found major barriers. “There is a culture of nepotism and a lot of the employers we spoke to just recruit via word of mouth,” she said.

“You tend to get that a bit in certain industries but in this industry it is kind of … that’s how it’s done. If you don’t have the network it is incredibly difficult to get in and progress.”

Kennedy, 64, became president of Lucasfilm when it was acquired by Disney in 2012. Previously, she was a co-founder, with Steven Spielberg, of Amblin Entertainment. Her IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 92 producer credits.

Broccoli, 57, has been producer of the last eight Bond movies, sharing the producer’s credit with her half-brother Michael G. Wilson, 75. She held other posts at Eon before that and has produced non-Bond films and plays. She is the daughter of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

Our modest proposal for Harrison Ford’s next movie

Barnaby Jones main title

Harrison Ford, who turns 75 in July, has had a long run playing heroic figures, principally Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

For a time, it seemed as if Ford was taking a back seat to other actors. For example, in 2011’s Cowboys and Aliens, he was clearly a supporting player to star Daniel Craig.

Then, in 2015, Ford was a big star again with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where he got top billing playing Han Solo once more. However, Han was killed by his son who had given into the Dark Side of The Force.

Meanwhile, there’s supposed to be a fifth Indiana Jones movie but nothing scheduled for at least a couple of years. Do we want Indy pushing 80? Or is it time to retire Indy?

Which gets us to a more practical idea: How about Ford starring in a movie version of the 1973-80 television series Barnaby Jones?

Think about it for a minute. Ford already is older than Buddy Ebsen was when he filmed the Barnaby Jones pilot. (The veteran actor was 64 when the show’s first episode aired on Jan. 28, 1973.)

Barnaby Jones out-thought his opponents, assisted by his daughter-in-law Betty (Lee Meriwether) and, in later seasons, by a much-younger cousin, J.R. Jones (Mark Shera).

It would be an opportunity for Ford to use a different set of acting skills compared with Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Plus, audiences clearly still like Ford. As a result, a Barnaby Jones movie would still get attention in the 21st century.

Just something to think about.

Still more Bond 25 questions after NYT story

Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig: Working together on another Bond movie soon?

Nothing like a story by The New York Times to generate more questions about the future of the film 007.

What’s Barbara Broccoli thinking? Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond movies. Barbara Broccoli, the Eon Productions boss, had by all accounts a good relationship with Sony executive Amy Pascal. The Broccoli-Pascal relationship was noteworthy in a still male-dominated movie business.

Pascal is gone, losing her job as a result of the Sony hacks in 2014 (though having a producer deal at Sony).

One of the bidders to release Bond 25, according to The Times is Annapurna. It’s an “upstart” (The Times’ words) movie concern that is about to release its first film Detroit, a drama about the 1967 riots in that city.

Annapurna head Megan Ellison, 31, is a tech heiress who has been active in producing dramatic films. Could she forge a bond with Barbara Broccoli, who turns 57 in June, similar to the one Amy Pascal had?

Why is MGM and Eon Productions only seeking a one-film deal? Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 a smaller company. It has been rebuilding gradually.

MGM spent much of 2016 negotiating with a Chinese buyer (still unidentified) but those talks didn’t pan out. MGM also has talked about selling stock to the public at some point.

MGM may yet see major changes. Keeping a distribution deal to Bond 25 only provides MGM executives flexibility for the future.

Why isn’t Walt Disney Co. interested in 007, according to the NYT story? Disney tends to think big. It spent billions to acquire both Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. (Star Wars) and is reaping the rewards as both crank out big hits.

Being the Bond film distributor means a lot of cost without a lot of profit. Sony, in its most recent deal, co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM and Eon got more money than Sony did.

Bond fans may object, but for Disney releasing Bond movies would probably be more trouble than its worth. Disney would only get involved with 007 if it could buy everybody out and control it all, the way it did with Marvel and Star Wars.

 

Bond series now No. 004 in unadjusted film series box office

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook in May.

The Bond Bulletin in a post today noted that the James Bond film series had fallen behind Star Wars in all-time box office. Depending on how you define “franchises,” 007 is now 004 in unadjusted box office.

In a list of franchises on The Numbers box office website, the Marvel Cinematic Universe as of Dec. 30 has $10.9 billion worldwide box office, Harry Potter $8.47 billion, Star Wars $7.2 billion and James Bond $7.08 billion.

Again, this is unadjusted box office. It’s not number of tickets sold. And it doesn’t account for rising ticket prices.

Here’s how each franchise is defined in the list compiled by The Numbers website:

James Bond: The 24 007 films produced by Eon Productions since 1962 plus 1983’s Never Say Never Again (not made by Eon but with original film 007 Sean Connery). It does not include 1967’s Casino Royale spoof film.

Star Wars: Nine movies comprised of original trilogy (1977-1983), second trilogy (1999-2005), Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015), the animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), and this year’s Rogue One, a Star Wars story.

Harry Potter: Eight Harry Potter series films released 2001 to 2011, a Potter marathon at Imax theaters this year and 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spinoff.

Marvel: Fourteen films, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and running through this year’s Dr. Strange, produced by Marvel Studios. All of the movies occur in the same fictional universe. It does not count X-Men and Fantastic Four films produced by 20th Century Fox and Spider-Man movies produced by Sony Pictures.

Fox and Sony licensed those characters before Marvel decided to make its own movies. The separate X-Men category on The Numbers website includes solo films featuring Wolverine an Deadpool.

Both Star Wars and Marvel fell under the wing of Walt Disney Co. through acquisitions. They’re released under Lucasfilm Ltd. and Marvel brand names.

Under Disney ownership, both Lucasfilm and Marvel are ramping up production.

Episode VIII of Star Wars comes out next year, with other Star Wars-related films, such as Rogue One, planned. Marvel has been making two movies a year and will make three in 2017, including Spider-Man: Homecoming, which Marvel is producing but Sony will release. This year, Spider-Man joined the Marvel cinema universe in Captain America: Civil War.

Warner Bros. plans as many as five Fantastic Beasts films.

The Bond series doesn’t have an “extended universe,” a concept made popular by Marvel. It features one character, James Bond.

2012’s Skyfall, showed the series is capable of billion-dollar box office. It terms of number of tickets sold, Skyfall was No. 3 in series history in the U.S. market at 37.8 million, behind Thunderball and Goldfinger.

The most recent entry, SPECTRE, had worldwide box office of $880.7 million, No. 6 globally in 2015.

In the U.S. market, SPECTRE sold 23 million tickets, No. 14 in series history. On that basis, it was also the lowest since the series resumed in 1995 following a six-year hiatus.

Carrie Fisher, icon for Baby Boomers, dies at 60

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher, an icon for Baby Boomers as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, has died at 60, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

Fisher suffered a “cardiac episode” during a London-to-Los Angeles flight on Dec. 23, the Los Angeles Times reported that day.

Fisher played Princess Leia for the first three Star Wars movies (but chapters IV, V and VI of the saga), released in 1977, 1980 and 1983. She again played the role of Leia, now a rebel general, in 2015’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. She had completed work on the untitled eighth episode, due out in December 2017, The New York Times said, citing Walt Disney Co.’s Lucasfilm unit.

In between, she emerged as writer as well as an actress. Her life was a public one. Fisher publicly discussed her bipolar disorder and addiction to cocaine. She was married briefly to singer Paul Simon.

Some of her writings, such as the novel Postcards From the Edge, were autobiographical. Fisher wrote the screenplay for the 1990 movie based on the Postcards novel.

Some of her non-Star Wars parts included a woman involved with an affair with a married man in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally.

“You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right,” Marie, Fisher’s character, would respond when her friends said she end the relationship. The line became a catch phrase.

Fisher, born Oct. 21, 1956, was exposed to entertainment publicity from an early age. She was the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. Both of Fisher’s parents were big stars at the time. Eddie Fisher later left Reynolds for actress Elizabeth Taylor.

She became an actress herself with 1975’s Shampoo, followed by the original Star Wars (now Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

Tributes to Fisher were posted on media after her passing.

Ken Adam, who created 007’s film world, dies

Ken Adam

Ken Adam (1921-2016)

Ken Adam, who helped create the film world of James Bond, has died at 95, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY BY THE BBC.

Adam’s official title was production designer, a duty he held on seven 007 films, starting with Dr. No in 1962 and concluding with Moonraker in 1979.

Part of Ken Adam's handiwork on Dr. No

Part of Ken Adam’s handiwork on Dr. No

With Dr. No, a modestly budgeted film, Adam’s set designs made the movie look more expensive than it really was. An example was a large room where Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) converses with an unseen Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).

In a John Cork-directed documentary, Adam described the style as “slightly ahead of its time.” Dr. No’s lair looked fantastic, yet had antiques.

Dr. No was no fluke. The Adam-designed interior of Fort Knox in Goldfinger was attention grabbing. Ian Fleming’s novel never made it inside the U.S. gold depository. Adam made it almost dream like. You could understand why Auric Goldfinger lusted after gold.

Sean Connery may have breathed film life into Fleming’s creation. Ken Adam gave the film Bond a world to inhabit.

Also, over time, Adam altered his style. His early Bond films had rectangle-shaped sets. With The Spy Who Loved Me, he introduced more curved shapes.

Finally, as the Bond films expanded in scope and budget, Adam’s job took on aspects of a construction boss.

The SPECTRE volcano base in You Only Live Twice cost as much or more than all of Dr. No. Its construction at Pinewood Studios caused “hardened” film professionals to give up their lunch hours to watch it being built, sound man Norman Wanstall said in one of the Cork-directed documentaries.

Even more ambitious was The Spy Who Loved Me, featuring the inside of a tanker that swallowed nuclear submarines. Spy got Adam an Oscar nomination. He probably would have won if the movie had come out in 1976. Instead, it came out in 1977 and was up against the first Star Wars film, which got the Oscar in the category.

Adam’s style had a huge impact, not only with other spy films of the 1960s, but well into the 21st century. 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness had an homage to Adam’s “War Room” set from 1964’s Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

A giant in his field has left us. But Adam leaves behind an enormous legacy, not only with the Bond series but many other films.

UPDATE: Here’s the tweet Roger Moore sent out about Ken Adam’s passing.

UPDATE (March 13): It took a few days but The New York Times has come out with A VERY DETAILED OBITUARY for Ken Adam.

Also, here’s the tweet from the official 007 account that announced Adam’s death.