Margot Kidder dies at 69

Margot Kidder with Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978).

Margot Kidder, the definitive Lois Lane for a generation of movie goers, died over the weekend, according to an obituary posted by CNN. She was 69.

The actress “died peacefully in her sleep,” CNN reported, citing her manager.

Kidder first played Lois Lane in 1978’s Superman. Previous Superman productions were in the forms of modestly budgeted movie serials and television shows. The 1978 film, by contrast, was a big budget production. The movie had major stars — Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman among them.

But the leads were held by two relative unknowns, Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman and Kidder as Lois Lane. Kidder’s Lois was self confident, absolutely sure she would capture the big scoop. She would describe the play a story should receive in The Daily Planet while editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper) scanned her copy. “Only one ‘p’ in rapist,” White said on one occasion.

The Kidder version of Lois died, only to be revived when Superman reversed time in the 1978 movie. In Superman II (1981), the couple consummated their relationship after Lois discovered Clark was Superman. Clark had to renounce being Superman for a time but went back into action. He caused Lois to forget everything with a powerful kiss toward the end of the sequel.

Kidder’s career was a lot more than playing Lois Lane. During much of the 1970s, she had guest star roles on series such as Banacek, Barnaby Jones and Harry O. She moved into feature films such as The Great Waldo Pepper and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.

Still, because Superman was such a major production — it helped set the stage for big-budget, comic book-based films — Kidder was remembered by audiences for the role.

As news of Kidder’s death spread, tributes appeared on social media.

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On Superman’s 80th, a few 007 connections

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Superman. DC Comics is out with Action Comics No. 1,000 to celebrate the occasion

The thing is, there are some elements in common, thanks to how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies were made at Pinewood Studios, the long-time home to the James Bond film franchise.

So here’s a few of them. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m sure there are many stunt performers who worked on both.

Geoffrey Unsworth: Unsworth (1914-1978) was a celebrated cinematographer, whose credits included Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), much of which was photographed at the same time as the film movie. Unsworth’s credits also included 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unsworth also had a James Bond connection. On Dec. 21, 1961, he photographed screen tests for actresses vying to play Miss Taro for Dr. No.

John Glen: Glen directed five James Bond films, 1981-89, after earlier editing and being second unit director on three 007 films. He was one of the second unit directors for the 1978 Superman film.

Stuart Baird: Baird was editor on the first Superman movie. He performed the same duties on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).

Alf Joint: A stunt performer on the Bond series, perhaps his most famous bit was in the pre-titles of Goldfinger as Capungo, who gets killed by Bond (Sean Connery). He was also a stunt coordinator on Superman.

Shane Rimmer:  He had small roles in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever while having a larger supporting role as a U.S. submarine captain in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also *sounds* like he does some voiceover work in the pre-titles of Live And Let Die as an agent who’s killed in New Orleans. (“Whose funeral is it?”)

He also played a NASA controller in Superman II. The IMDB listing for Superman III lists him as “State Policeman.” Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t confirm.

Guy Hamilton: He directed four 007 films, two with Sean Connery and two with Roger Moore. He was signed to direct Superman but exited the project and replaced by Richard Donner.

(UPDATE 9:40 a.m., April 20): By popular demand, two more.

Tom Mankiewicz: The screenwriter of 1970s 007 films was credited as “creative consultant” in Superman and Superman II. He essentially rewrote the scripts, combining elements of very serious Mario Puzo drafts and much lighter drafts by David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Clifton James: The veteran actor, who played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Bond films, again played a sheriff in Superman II.

Noel Neill, first ‘live-action’ Lois Lane, dies at 95

Noel Neill and Kirk Allyn from a 1940s Superman serial.

Noel Neill and Kirk Allyn from a 1940s Superman serial.

Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in two Superman serials as well as most of the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, has died at 95.

Her death was first posted by a friend on Facebook by a friend, Larry Ward. The news was put out on Twitter by Warner Archive, part of Warner Bros.

Superman was first adapted on radio (with Joan Alexander in the role) and in theatrical cartoons released by Paramount. Neill became the first live-action Lois in two serials, Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950), with Kirk Allyn as the Man of Steel.

In the 1950s, Neill got the call to replace Phyllis Coates as Lois in The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves in the title role for the show’s second season.

For Baby Boomers, the television version resonated, thanks in part to syndicated reruns in the 1960s shown on local television stations in the United States. The Neill version of Lois had a bit less of an edge compared with the Coates version.

Neill’s association with Superman extended to 1978’s Superman The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve, where she and Allyn had a cameo as the parents of Lois Lane. It was a “blink or you’ll miss it moment.” ABC showed an expanded version in the early 1980s that included the full scene.

In her later years, Neill appeared in numerous fan conventions and collectible shows. Those who saw her at such events came away charmed and impressed. She and Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s series, both had cameos in 2006’s Superman Returns.

UPDATE (6:45 p.m. ET): The Hollywood Reporter has now published A MORE DETAILED OBITUARY.

In defense of the traditional Superman

The Adventures of Superman main title

The Adventures of Superman main title

It’s not cool to be Superman in the 21st century.

Batman — in particular the more grim and gritty versions of recent decades — is more popular. Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has a darker take on the iconic character, says, “There’s no winning anymore for Superman.” 

Others say Superman is too square, not appropriate for a darker time.

What follows is a defense of the traditional interpretation of Superman.

Superman is an orphan — not only of his parents but an entire planet. While he grew up on Earth, he is not *of* the Earth. His Clark Kent identity gives him a respite, a pause, from the responsibilities of being Superman. But he can’t withdraw to his Clark persona indefinitely. He know he has to fufill those responsibilities.

That’s just the way it is. He can no more abandon one or the other.

One of the best comic book examples of this dynamic is mostly forgotten now. In the 1970s, Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin wrote a four-part Superman comic book story illustrated by Curt Swan where Superman is forced to confront which persona he truly is.

When he tries to be Clark alone, he’s not complete. But when he tries to be Superman full-time, he gets no chance to take a break, no chance to catch a breath.

It’s not that Superman is a Boy Scout. Rather, he simply has more abilities and powers — more of an opportunity to act on what needs to be done. He’s still human, despite his birth on Krypton, and has the same needs, wants and desires as anyone else.

That’s a big burden. But when done well, it’s still compelling.

When it comes to adapting that for other media, you’ll find enthusiasts for all sorts of interpretations of the traditional Superman, including the (low-budget) 1950s Adventures of Superman television show with George Reeves and the 1978-1987 (initially big budget) Christopher Reeve movies.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and now Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. and director Snyder have opted for a darker direction. That’s in vogue and perhaps to be expected. Still, people shouldn’t disregard the traditional interpretation.

Action, Detective Comics to revert to original numbering

Action Comics 1 cover

DC Comics plans to revert the numbering of its two oldest titles, Detective Comics and Action Comics, to their original numbering, the COMIC BOOK RESOURCES WEBSITE reported.

Both DC and Marvel Comics have reset the numbering of long running titles multiple times over the year. This creates multiple “No. 1” issues for characters who’ve been published for decades.

DC is preparing for a “re-set” of characters (a few years ago it did so under the banner of “The New 52,” referring to the number of titles it was publishing at the time.)

This time, Geoff Johns, DC’s chief creative officer, told the website most titles will again have “No. 1” but an exception is being made for Action and Detective.

“Even though most of the books are relaunching at #1, the fact that ‘Action’ and ‘Detective’ are returning to their original numbers says something about the tone of what this is,” said Johns. “[DC publisher] Dan [DiDio] is psyched we’re gonna get to ‘Action’ #1000!”

“Action Comics'” numbering will pick up with #957 and “Detective” will be at #934. Both series will be released on a twice-monthly schedule, at a $2.99 price, placing Issue #1000 just over two years away for “Action.”

Action Comics No. 1 (the original) in 1938 was the first appearance of Superman. Detective Comics actually began publishing earlier in 1937, and that’s why the comic is known as DC. But differing publishing schedules (Detective went to a bi-monthly schedule for a period in the 1970s) means its original numbering is lower than Action.

Detective Comics No. 27 (original numbering) in 1939 was the first appearance of Batman, who, in the 21st century, is DC Comics’ most popular character.

 

‘Mr. Warner’ and creator credits

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, for the most part, weren’t happy to see that Sam Rolfe — the major creator of the 1964-68 television series — didn’t get a credit with the movie that debuted this month.

Rolfe (1924-1993) created Illya Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly as well as the U.N.C.L.E. organization and format. The main element he didn’t create was Napoleon Solo, which had been hashed out by executive producer Norman Felton and 007 author Ian Fleming.

Felton (1913-2012) did receive an “executive consultant” credit in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The series didn’t carry a formal creator credit. Instead it was either, “Developed by Sam Rolfe” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe,” depending on the season of the show.

While Rolfe not getting a mention is understandably disappointing, Warner Bros., aka “Mr. Warner” on this blog has an interesting history.

In the early days of Warner Bros. television, the real-life Mr. Warner (Jack) had an aversion to bestowing a creator credit. Roy Huggins didn’t get a creator credit for either Maverick or 77 Sunset Strip. Charles Larson (the person who most likely deserved one) didn’t get a creator credit for The FBI, a co-production with Quinn Martin. On the other hand, When Maverick became a Warner Bros. movie in 1994, Huggins did get on-screen recognition.

Warner Bros. also controls DC Comics. The studio gives credit for movies based on DC characters where it has an obligation. Superman movies, for example, have a creator credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Warner and DC only agreed to that in the 1970s as the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve was being prepared and there was a big public relations campaign for Siegel and Schuster.

Warners also gives Bob Kane the creator credit for Batman, although there’s evidence that uncredited Bill Finger really did the heavy lifting. In 2014, cartoonist Ty Templeton drew what a Batman without Bill Finger would look like. Anyway, Warners/DC also credits Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) for Wonder Woman.

Other than that, though, no creator credits. The 2011 Green Lantern, for example, movie didn’t credit John Broome and Gil Kane. The current Flash television series doesn’t credit Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Put another way, Sam Rolfe — who wrote the U.N.C.L.E. pilot and produced the show’s first season — has plenty of company. Also that “developed by” credit probably gives the studio legal leeway in not including Rolfe in the movie’s credits.

Should 007 and Batman share the same cinema universe?

NOT an actual comic book cover

NOT an actual comic book cover

It was reported this week that Warner Bros. may be in a good position to replaced Sony Pictures as the studio that releases James Bond movies. That got some fans to wonder whether 007 and Batman (and Superman and the Justice League) could share the same cinema universe.

Necessary background: 007’s home studio is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But, after emerging from bankruptcy, it’s a relatively small company and cuts deals with other studios to release its films.

Sony Pictures’ current two-picture deal with MGM for Bond expires once SPECTRE is released in November. Sony wants to strike a new deal, but the studio knows it’ll have competition for post-SPECTRE 007 projects.

Variety reported Warner Bros. is a leading contender because its executives have a good relationship with MGM’s top executive, Gary Barber.

Anyway, on THE SPY COMMAND’S FACEBOOK PAGE, a reader asked if Warners really does secure the 007 releasing deal whether Bond could be included in a planned two-part Warner Bros. Justice League movie, even if it’s just a cameo.

For the uninitiated, the Justice League is a group of DC Comics heroes, headed by Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics has long been part of Warners’ parent company and the comic book company now is actually part of the studio. Next year’s Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice will help set up the even bigger Justice League project.

It seems like a stretch that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, would go along with such a concept. In AN INTERVIEW WITH COMING SOON.NET, Broccoli and Wilson did not warm up to the idea of Bond sharing a fictional universe with any other character.

Q: The notion of cinematic shared universes are increasingly popular in Hollywood these days. Any chance of seeing the Bond franchise go after something like that?

Broccoli: I think Bond lives in his own universe. I don’t think he wants to share it with anyone else.

Wilson: Like Bond and Mission: Impossible? I think that’s the stuff for comic books. More power to them.

Beyond the Eon leadership, there’s the question of 007 fans.

It’s hard to know how many, but — via Internet message boards and social media outlets — there are a lot of vocal 007 fans critical about “comic book movies.” For these fans, Bond is above that sort of thing. For them, “comic book movies” are glorified cartoons. Except, of course, when director Sam Mendes acknowledged that The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, INFLUENCED 2012’s SKYFALL.

Humility is not part of the 007 fan’s DNA. Bond is the best. Any other spy entertainment that has been created since 1962 is merely a “James Bond knockoff.” Bond in the same universe as Batman and Superman, even if it came via a cameo? Untold billions of brain cells around the world would explode.

Meanwhile, a note about the illustration with this post. It APPEARED ON THIS WEBSITE. The actual cover The Brave and The Bold No. 110 LOOKED LIKE THIS.

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.

Warner Bros. and its priorities

Ben Affleck in 2003's Daredevile

Ben Affleck in 2003’s Daredevil

It doesn’t appear that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is at the top of priority list for Warner Bros’s publicity department.

The studio put out a press release that Ben Affleck will play Batman opposite Henry Cavill’s Superman in a movie with a July 17, 2015 release date. Affleck played Daredevil in a 2003 20th Century Fox movie based on a Marvel Comics character who made his debut in 1964, the same year The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered.

Cavill played Superman in this year’s Man of Steel movie. Cavill is also the studio’s choice to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that is scheduled to start filming next month. Warner Bros. has yet to make an official announcement about that movie, even though Cavill and Armie Hammer, slated to play Illya Kuryakin, have said that will be their nest project. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum played Solo and Kuryakin in the 1964-68 television series.

"Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?"

“Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?”

Batman and Superman are two of the most lucrative characters controlled by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros. Author Bruce Scivally wrote a book called Billion Dollar Batman tracing the history of that character from the comics through movies directed by Christopher Nolan.

It would appear Warner Bros.’s U.N.C.L.E. project isn’t at the top of its list while the Batman-Superman project for 2015 is. Such is life. Variety has reported the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget was reduced to $75 million after Tom Cruise departed the project, paving the way for Cavill to get the Solo role.

How British are 007 films?

Skyfall's poster image

BAFTA winner for Outstanding British Film

Of course James Bond films are British. They concern a British icon and are filmed in the U.K. What could be more obvious? That’s like asking if Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley are British.

Well, that might not be the best comparison given that Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd. and Bentley is owned by Volkswagen AG. Still, 007 films have always been considered British.

Still, the answer isn’t as easy as it might appear.

In the early days, the series made by Eon Productions Ltd. was U.K.-based. While producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were born elsewhere, they were operated out of the U.K. and the movies were full of British film talent such as director of photography Ted Moore, (naturalized citizen) production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt. Of course, the U.S.-based studio United Artists financed the movies.

It pretty much remained that way until Diamonds Are Forever. The Inside Diamonds Are Forever documentary directed by John Cork notes that the producers initially intended to Americanize Bond, even hiring an American (John Gavin) for the role. It was going to be based out of Universal Studios.

Things changed. Sean Connery returned as Bond (at the insistence of United Artists) and U.K.’s Pinewood Studios was again the home base. Yet, some key jobs were split between British and American crew members, including stunt arranger, assistant director, art director, set decorator, production manager and visual effects.

Also, as the years passed, Eon for a variety of reasons (financial among them) based some films primarily outside of the U.K. They included Moonraker (the first unit was based out of France, Derek Meddings’s special effects unit still labored at Pinewood), Licence to Kill (Mexico) and Casino Royale (Czech Republic, with some sequences shot at Pinewood).

What’s more, movies not thought of as British, such as Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were based out of the U.K. Each had key British crew members, including: Star Wars with production designer John Barry (not to be confused with the 007 film composer), whose group won the art direction Oscar over Ken Adam & Co. (The Spy Who Loved Me); Superman with Barry again, director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth, and second unit director John Glen; Batman with art director Terry Ackland-Snow, assistant director Derek Cracknell and special visual effects man Derek Meddings. Batman was filming at Pinewood at around the same time Licence to Kill’s crew was working in Mexico.

Still, Superman and Batman (which both debuted during the Great Depression) are American icons and Star Wars, while set in a galaxy far, far away, is too.

At the same time, Skyfall, which came out on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 12, is very British. Much of the story takes place there and many of Shanghai and Macao scenes were really filmed at Pinewood, with the second unit getting exterior shots.

On Feb. 10, Skyfall picked up the Oustanding British Film award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. It was a first and a lot of 007 fans are still taking it all in.

In truth, movies generally are an international business these days, Bond films included. But 007 isn’t likely to lose his identification as being a British product anytime soon, much the way Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley have a British identity regardless of ownership.