Peter Allan Fields, U.N.C.L.E. writer, dies

Movie poster for The Spy in the Green Hat, movie version of The Concrete Overcoat Affair, scripted by Peter Allan Fields

Peter Allan Fields, one of the key writers of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. whose career also extended to The Six Million Dollar Man and Star Trek, has died, according to the Gizmodo website.

He was 84, according to his Wikipedia entry.

Fields had worked at the William Morris Agency. He switched careers to television writing.

Midway during The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s first season, he was assigned to write an U.N.C.L.E. script.

In the documentary that was part of a 2007 DVD release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., star Robert Vaughn said Fields simply didn’t know how long it was supposed to take to write a script for a one-hour TV show. As a result, Vaughn said, Fields turned out a “shootable” script in four days, writing one act a day.

His first U.N.C.L.E. credit was The Fiddlesticks Affair. It was the second episode after NBC switched the show to Mondays during its first season (1964-65).

The story evoked Mission: Impossible (which wouldn’t debut until the fall of 1966) where agents Solo (Vaughn) and Kuryakin (David McCallum) plot to blow up a key treasury of the villainous organization Thrush. The episode even was scored by Lalo Schifrin, who’d later do the classic M:I theme.

From that point through the show’s third season, Fields was a major U.N.C.L.E. contributor. Fields also became a friend of Vaughn’s.

Fields’ final writing credit for U.NC.L.E. was the two-part The Concrete Overcoat Affair, which was re-edited into the movie The Spy in the Green Hat for international audiences.

Fields turned out scripts for various shows, including The FBI, McCloud, and The Six Million Dollar Man. He was also one of the story editors for A Man Called Sloan, a 1979 series from QM Productions that contained elements from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond movies.

The Gizmodo obituary emphasized Fields’ contributions to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Fields; death was referenced by Ira Steven Behr, a producer for that series.

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Our favorite character actors: Ted Knight

Ted Knight as a Mafia hit man in a first-season episode of The FBI, “An Elephant Is Like a Rope.”

One in an occasional series.

Ted Knight (1923-1986) is best known as goofy anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or the pompous judge in 1980’s Caddyshack. But he spent years as a character actor before either of his breakout roles.

Knight had small roles in The Twilight Zone, Psycho and Gunsmoke among many acting credits. He even played a criminal mastermind in The Night of the Kraken, an episode of The Wild Wild West airing during the 1968-69 season.

In one of his appearances on The FBI (The Executioners Part I), he played the head of a Cosa Nostra “gun drop” in New York City. He (unwisely) tries to shoot it out with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Inspector Lewis Erskine.

Knight also played a part in a con job. Knight was a friend of Filmation co-founder Lou Scheimer. Filmation in 1965 was seeking the license from DC Comics to do Superman cartoons. But DC executives wanted to see a busy studio hard at work.

Scheimer arranged for artists from Hanna-Barbera to show up, pretending to be working on cartoons. Knight also was recruited, pretending to be a film editor.

The con worked and Filmation got the job. The New Adventures of Superman in the fall of 1966 on CBS. The show consisted of two Superman cartoons with a Superboy cartoon in-between. Knight was the narrator of the Superboy cartoon and did other voices.

Knight soon got work on other Filmation shows, including Fantastic Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Aquaman. In 1968, Filmation came out with a Batman cartoon where Knight was narrator and voiced most of the male villains.

Knight became a bigger name once The Mary Tyler Moore Show came along. It turned out that Ted Baxter was one of the hardest parts to cast. Allan Burns described what happened in an interview for the Archive of American Television around the 5:05 mark. From then on, things were never the same for Knight.

Noah Keen, character actor, dies at 98

Noah Keen, right, with James Gregory and Jack Lord in the pilot to Hawaii Five-O

Noah Keen, a veteran character actor whose career ran from the late 1950s into the 2000s, died last month at 98, according to a Los Angeles Times obituary.

Keen’s parts included a doctor who programs Steve McGarrett to impart false information under an unusual torture in the pilot to Hawaii Five-O. As a result, Chinese spy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh) takes the false information with him back to his government.

When Keen’s character meets McGarrett (Jack Lord), he reads from a dossier that indicates the lawman, during his days in the military was “an organizational misfit,” received some presidential citations and “flies by the seat of his pants.”

His other TV series credits included Have Gun-Will Travel, The FBI, The Twilight Zone, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Invaders, It Takes a Thief and Mission: Impossible. The final credit listed in his IMDB.COM ENTRY was a 2006 episode of The Sopranos.

Actor-director James Frawley dies at 82

James Frawley in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

James Frawley, a character actor and Emmy award-winning director, died Jan. 22 at 82, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun newspaper.

As an actor, he some times played secondary villains. His acting appearances included episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy and The FBI.

He branched into directing during in the mid-1960s. He was active into the 2000s, according to his entry on IMDB.com.

Frawley won an Emmy for an episode of The Monkees and was nominated for another. He directed 28 episodes of that comedy series. But he proved adept at drama as well.

The director helmed six episodes of Columbo. Some of them included unusual staging. Murder, Smoke and Shadows in 1989 featured a young director as the killer. Some scenes emphasized visual tricks of movie making. Murder, a Self Portrait, also that same year, featured Patrick Bauchau as the killer. The episode included recreation of dreams described on tape.

Frawley also directed episodes of the original Magnum, PI, Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Law & Order. He also helmed The Muppet Movie.

Below is a video from the 1967 Emmys when Frawley won his directing award. It includes Barbara Bain and Bruce Geller of Mission: Impossible also getting Emmys as well as Buck Henry and Leonard B. Stern of Get Smart.

Christmas themed spy-related entertainment

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

The holidays are fast approaching. With that in mind, the blog is reminded of some Christmas-themed spy-related entertainment.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The sixth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions may not be an “official” Christmas film but it’ll do.

James Bond (George Lazenby) is hunting for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) while also falling in love with Tracy (Diana Rigg).

This time out, Blofeld has brainwashed his “angels of death,” who will spread “virus Omega” at the villain’s command. If that happens, that will wipe out all sorts of crops and livestock.

Bond manages to go undercover at Blofeld’s lair in Switzerland but is discovered. Blofeld sends out his latest batch of “angels” on Christmas Eve. Bond manages to escape, meets up with Tracy.

Bond proposes to Tracy, but she gets captured by Blofeld, setting up a big climatic sequence.

It was the first Bond film to end unhappily when Tracy is killed on her honeymoon with Bond. It’s arguably the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel and an epic film in its own right. And, for what it’s worth, there are many reminders of Christmas during the Switzerland sequences.

Teaser trailer for Diamonds Are Forever: Diamonds Are Forever was released for the Christmas move season of 1971. The teaser trailer played up the Christmas angle.

The movie also marked Sean Connery’s return as Bond after a four-year absence. But the teaser trailer had a gunbarrel without Connery (but still wearing a hat).

Teaser trailer for The Man With the Golden Gun: The teaser trailer for Roger Moore’s second 007 film utilized a similar Christmas theme.

On top of that, the trailer had a scene between Bond and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) that didn’t make it into the final film.

Chairman Koz makes a point to Solo and Illya in The Jingle Bells Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Jingle Bells Affair (first broadcast Dec. 23, 1966): The story begins in New York during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (the start of the Christmas shopping season). U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (the latter, after all, a Russian) are acting as bodyguards for a Soviet leader, Chairman Koz (Akim Tamiroff).

Why Soviet? In one scene in Act III, Koz slams a shoe down on a desk, a la Nikita Khrushchev.

At one point, Koz gets separated from the U.N.C.L.E. agents and dresses as Santa Claus and interacts with children. Koz, dressed as Santa, helps to save the life of a sick kid. In the end, East and West call a truce and wish everyone Merry Christmas.

This was a third-season episode when the series went in a campy direction. The Spy Commander’s review on the third-season page of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide doesn’t give it a high grade.

The FBI: Dark Christmas (first broadcast Dec. 24, 1972): FBI Inspector (Erskine) and Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds) are on the trail of a hit man (Don Gordon). The hit man’s target is a family man who once was involved in a criminal organization but got out.

The case reaches a climax on Christmas Eve. The family man is coming home from a job but doesn’t know the hit man is waiting for him at his home. Colby and other FBI agents get the man’s children to safety. Erskine then confronts and apprehends the hit man. Until Act IV, the episode is a basic procedural show. The Christmas themes are mostly in the final act and epilogue.

While The FBI wasn’t a spy show per se, it had a lot of espionage-related stories. Also, it’s the subject of another website of the Spy Commander, The FBI episode guide. This episode gets a relatively high grade on the eight-season page.

Note: This was an early credit for Sondra Locke (1944-2018), who plays a spinster-like character who falls for Gordon’s character.

Nancy Wilson dies at 81

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson, an accomplished singer who also was cast in dramatic parts on television, has died at 81, according to The Washington Post.

Wilson’s “beguiling expressiveness in jazz, R&B, gospel, soul and pop made her a crossover recording star for five decades,” The Post said. She died on Nov. 13.

An excerpt from The Post’s obituary:

Jazz historian and critic Will Friedwald, in his volume “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers,” called Ms. Wilson a formidable presence in pop, jazz and blues — “the most important vocalist to come along after these three genres were codified and move freely among them.”

Wilson caught the eye of casting directors, including parts where a character was also a singer.

Among her acting credits were:

I Spy, “Lori”: Wilson played the title character in the episode written by series creators Morton Fine and David Friedkin. Wilson’s Lori was the sister of a man (Greg Morris) suspected of killing members of a team trained in detecting underground nuclear tests. But the situation isn’t as clear as it seems. Wilson was a friend of I Spy star Bill Cosby, according to The Post’s obituary.

Hawaii Five-O, “Trouble In Mind”: Wilson played Eadie Jordan, a singer addicted to heroin. She’s in Hawaii at the same time poison-laced heroin is being circulated. Five-O is trying to find the source of the deadly heroin. The cast included Morton Stevens, composer of the famous Five-O theme, as a musician who dies from poisoned heroin.

The FBI, “The Confession”: Wilson was Darlene Clark, a diva singer. Her manager Abel Norton (Hal Linden) blames her for the death of his son. Norton then kidnaps her daughter. The idea is to force Darlene to publicly confess to a hit-and-run accident years earlier. The cast also included a mustache-less Tom Selleck as an FBI agent.

Charles Larson, prolific writer-producer

Charles Larson title card for The FBI episode “Slow March Up a Steep Hill.”

Another in a series about unsung figures of television

In the 21st century, top producers of TV shows are celebrated as “showrunners.” In the 20th century, such figures were anonymous to the general public.

Thus was the case with Charles Larson. He was the founding producer (i.e. the day-to-day producer) of The FBI, who probably should have credited as the series creator but the show never had a creator credit. He guided other series as well.

As a writer only, Larson worked on everything from the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels version of The Lone Ranger to the mini-series Centennial.

One of his fans was director Ralph Senensky, whose many credits included episodes of 12 O’Clock High and The FBI where Larson worked as associate producer and producer respectively.

Larson “was a fine writer who did an amazing amount of rewriting on scripts before and even during filming,” Senensky wrote about Larson.

Concerning an episode of 12 O’Clock High titled “The Trap,” Senensky wrote: ” The script I was given was a blatant melodrama of five people stranded in a cellar during a London air raid. Charles fleshed out the people and created a complex study of the conflict of class differences as five people faced the ugly horror of war.”

Senensky wrote that his favorite episode of The FBI was a second-season installment called “The Assassin.” The teleplay was credited to John McGreevy and the plot to Anthony Spinner. “I detected Charles’ fine handprints all over THE ASSASSIN, the best script I had yet been handed on THE FBI and eventually the best one of the series I would ever direct.”

On The FBI, Larson wrote and produced the fourth episode, “Slow March Up a Steel Hill.” It looks like it may have been the pilot.

There’s a lot of explanatory dialogue concerning how the wife of Inspector Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) was killed in an ambush meant for the FBI man. Erskine’s sidekick is determined to marry Erskine’s college-age daughter (!). And it’s established that Erskine was so stubborn, he sometimes got in trouble with his boss, assistant director Arthur Ward (Philip Abbott). The latter theme wouldn’t be used much after the first half of the first season.

Also, on The FBI, Larson had to deal with the real-life bureau, which had veto power over guest stars and scripts. “Charlie had a really difficult job,” production manager Howard Alston told author Jonathan Etter for the book Quinn Martin, Producer. “The first year he had to listen to all the FBI’s input, to all of the people who felt they knew more about how to do the show than he did.”

After departing The FBI after the fourth season, Larson produced other series, none of which was a big hit. He continued as a writer beyond that. One of his most memorable scripts was for the 1977 Hawaii Five-O episode The Bells Toll at Noon. There were three separate writing credits but Larson was listed as doing the final teleplay.

The story concerns a disturbed man (Rich Little) who kills people while re-enacting scenes from classic movies. Little, the famed impressionist, mimicked James Cagney and other movie stars. It was one of the highlights of the show’s ninth season.

Larson died in 2006 at the age of 83.