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.

Adrian Samish: Flip side of the Harlan Ellison punchline

Adrian Samish title card for a first-season episode of The Streets of San Francisco

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

There are some people who are destined to be remembered as the punchline of an anecdote or joke.

One such person was Adrian Samish, who had a career as a producer and television network executive.

He’s the guy who had his pelvis broken as the result of a fight with writer Harlan Ellison over a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea script.

In the usual telling, Samish was the small-minded ABC executive who didn’t appreciate Ellison’s enormous talent.

For example, there’s this review at The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Harlan is in a conference with a “universally despised” ABC censor, Adrian Samish, discussing a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode. Samish’s notes are uniformly moronic. Harlan counters them, losing patience. Samish loses patience, exclaiming, “You’ll do it! Writers are toadies!”

This anecdote was told for years, especially by Ellison himself. It even was mentioned in the obituary published by The New York Times, although Samish wasn’t mentioned by name, nor was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Rarely, however, is life so black and white. With that in mind, this post takes a closer look at Samish’s career.

For one thing, Samish did extract a bit of revenge. Ellison pitched a story for the Batman television series for a story featuring the villain Two Face.

But Samish, on his way out the door at ABC, vetoed the idea. At least that’s the gist of this 2013 Den of Geek post. In 2014, Ellison’s story was adapted by Len Wein for the Batman ’66 comic book. Wein, co-creator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing, dies last year.

After his tenure at ABC ended, Samish landed at QM Productions.

“The acid-tongued, perfectionist Samish demanded scripts so tight, so in keeping with a series’ format, more than one writer assaulted him physically,” according to the preface of the 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer.

Adrian Samish title card for an episode of The FBI during the 1966-67 season where he got top billing over Arthur Fellows.

Samish came aboard QM for shows produced for the 1966-67 season. He was given the title “in charge of production,” which Samish shared with a key Quinn Martin lieutenant, Arthur Fellows.

Samish focused on pre-production while Fellows supervised the QM editing and post-production operation. Their shared credit would appear near the conclusion of the end titles. Both names appeared separately, with the two men alternating top billing.

Thus, is would appear, “In Charge of Production Arthur Fellows | And Adrian Samish” or, “In Charge of Production Adrian Samish | And Arthur Fellows.”

According to Quinn Martin, Producer author Jonathan Etter, the two didn’t have much use for each other. Fellows thought Samish had no talent, Etter quotes Richard Brockway, a QM editor, as saying.

On the other hand, John Elizalde, a QM music supervisor and post-production supervisor, told Etter that Samish was a valuable member of the team.

“Adrian was one of the good guys,” Elizalde told Etter. Samish, he said, was “brilliant, and very creative, and a victim of his own devices…Adrian was the major-domo for Quinn in the writing department.”

One fan was actress Lynda Day George, a member of the “QM Players,” of frequently employed actors at the production company.

“Adrian was very concerned that a show maintain its integrity,” George told Etter. “He wanted to be sure that characters were understood, that what was wanted by the production was understood.” Etter wrote that Quinn Martin trusted Samish’s judgment.

However, Samish on more than one occasion aroused anger during a run of several years at QM.

Philip Saltzman and Mark Weingart, the producer of associate producer of The FBI, had written extra scenes for an episode that was running short. Samish called Saltzman, angry that the extra material hadn’t been approved in advance.

An argument ensued. “I threatened to go over to Adrian’s office and beat him up,” Saltzman told Etter. “And I’m not a physical guy.”

In this instance, no blows took place. Quinn Martin called Saltzman after seeing Samish in his office. “He’s as white as a sheet,” Saltzman quoted Martin as saying. “What happened?”

After an explanation, Martin reportedly responded, “Aw, you know. People get set in their ways.” Saltzman told Etter that after the incident “I never had any trouble with Adrian.”

Starting with the 1968-69 season, Samish was given a new title, supervising producer, while Arthur Fellows retained “in charge of production.”

Adrian Samish title card for a first-season episode of producer Aaron Spelling’s Starsky and Hutch series. 

Samish, over time, also took on the task of producer of QM TV movies and pilots. Sometimes by himself (House on Greenapple Road, which resulted in the Dan August series, as well as the pilots for Barnaby Jones and The Manhunter). Sometimes with Fellows (the pilots for Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco).

Samish ended up departing QM in the 1970s to work for producer Aaron Spelling. Samish died in 1976 at the age of 66.

Bradford Dillman dies at 87

Bradford Dillman in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Prince of Darkness Affair Part I

Bradford Dillman, a busy actor who often played villains, died this week at age 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Dillman’s career began in the 1950s. His work that decade included the 1959 film Compulsion, loosely based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case of the 1920s. He also appeared in movies such as The Way We Were, The Enforcer and Sudden Impact.

Dillman was kept busy on television. He was part of the informal group known as “the QM Players,” who frequently appeared on television shows produced by Quinn Martin.

For Dillman, that included multiple appearances on The FBI, Barnaby Jones (starting with that show’s pilot, as the man who kills Barnaby’s grown son) and Cannon. He also had appearances on short-lived QM shows such as Dan August and The Manhunter.

The actor was in demand elsewhere. He was the namesake character in the two-part The Prince of Darkness Affair on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which aired during that show’s fourth season. Dillman also made appearances on series such as Mission: Impossible,  The Wild Wild West and The Name of the Game.

Here are the opening and end titles of the Barnaby Jones pilot.

Dominic Frontiere, prolific TV composer, dies

Dominic Frontiere’s title card for Probe, the TV movie that resulted in the Search TV series.

Dominic Frontiere, a busy television composer for series such as 12 O’Clock High and The Invaders, has died at 86, according to a funeral notice in the Los Angeles Times.

Frontiere had a long association with television producer Leslie Stevens. The two were collaborators on the series Stoney Burke, The Outer Limits, the first season of The Name of the Game and Search. Frontiere was a production executive, as well as composer, for Stevens’ Daystar Productions.

After the end of The Outer Limits, Frontiere (along with other Daystar alumni) landed at QM Productions. Frontiere was the main composer for QM’s 12 O’Clock High. He also conducted music for other QM shows such as The FBI during its first two seasons.

While still at Daystar, Frontiere scored an unsold pilot titled The Unknown. That would be shown as an Outer Limits episode. Frontiere’s Unknown theme would be used as the theme for QM’s The Invaders.

Dominic Frontiere’s title card for an episode of The Name of the Game that was produced his long-time collaborator, Leslie Stevens.

Frontiere later worked on the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors as well as the TV series such as The Rat Patrol, Vega$ and Matt Houston.

Frontiere also got into the legal trouble. He was married to Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams.

Dominic Frontiere ” pleaded guilty to charges that he willfully filed a false income tax return and lied to Internal Revenue Service investigators to cover up his role in scalping” tickets to the 1980 Super Bowl, according to a 1986 story by the Los Angeles Times. 

UPDATE (9:45 P.M.): Jon Burlingame has written a more detailed obituary for Frontiere in VARIETY. 

Karin Dor’s non-007 spy roles

Karin Dor’s death scene in Topaz

Actress Karin Dor died Nov. 6 at the age of 79.

Obituaries, such as the one published by The Hollywood Reporter, naturally led with her status as a “Bond Girl” in You Only Live Twice. She played Helga Brandt, a SPECTRE assassin who is executed by Blofeld when she fails to kill Sean Connery’s James Bond.

But that was not the German-born actress’ only brush with the spy genre.

Besides Twice, her most famous spy role was probably 1969’s Topaz, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. She plays Juanita de Cordoba, who is involved in spying in early 1960s Cuba.

Her character is killed by Rico Para (John Vernon) when her activities have been discovered. Her death scene involved some typically Hitchockian camera work. In this case, the camera is pointing almost straight down.

Take a look below:

 

Dor also appeared on the small screen in spy-related roles.

She was a guest star on an episode of the Robert Wagner series It Takes a Thief, The Three Virgins of Rome. And she played the kidnap target of a Communist spy in a sixth-season episode of The FBI titled The Target.