Happy 100th birthday, Richard Shores

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

Today, May 9, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Richard Shores.

Shores isn’t well known among the general public. He was a busy composer for television shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (he was the primary composer for that show’s final season), The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Hawaii Five-O, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke  and Perry Mason, among others.

Journalist and movie-television music expert Jon Burlingame described Shores’ work in a 2004 interview after producing an U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack.

“I have become a huge Richard Shores fan as a direct result of this project,” Burlingame said, referring to the U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack. “As for U.N.C.L.E., he was the right man at the right time. He had the right sensibility for fourth-season shows (serious but sometimes jazzy).”

With spy and spy-related shows of the 1960s, Shores had an impact. Besides U.N.C.L.E., he scored 23 episodes of Five-O, from 1969 to 1974, 14 episodes of The Wild Wild West and one episode of It Takes a Thief.

Often, his scores were somber and dramatic. However, he was not a one-trick pony.

He scored an offbeat 1966 episode of Gunsmoke titled Sweet Billy, Singer of Songs. It was a mostly comedic outing of the normally serious show, involving a number of relatives of Festus (Ken Curtis) descending upon Dodge City.

Richard Shores title card for an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Richard Shores title card for an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Shores’ music was appropriately light and unlike the composer’s usual fare.

With The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (1966-67), Shores’ music was better than episodes he scored such as The Prisoner of Zalamar Affair and The Montori Device Affair.

For the fourth season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1967-68), Shores’ music meshed with the more serious direction that producer Anthony Spinner decided to take the series.

The first episode of the season, The Summit-Five Affair, was drastically different than the show’s campy third season offerings. Gerald Fried, who scored more U.N.C.L.E. episodes than any other episodes, apparently was influenced. His single fourth-season offering in The Test Tube Killer Affair, sounds similar to Shores’ style.

Bernard Fox, busy character actor, dies at 89

Bernard Fox in The Thor Affair, one of the better episodes in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bernard Fox in The Thor Affair, one of the better episodes in the third season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bernard Fox, a busy character actor whose career extended into the 21st century, has died at 89, according to an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

Fox, born in Wales, had roles beginning in the mid-1950s to 2001, according to his entry in IMDB.com.

The actor made guest appearances in a number of 1960s spy shows.

Among them: Three episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a two-parter in the second season as well as the title character in The Thor Affair in the third), one episode of The Girl From U.N.C.LE. (The Mother Muffin Affair, where he played a bumbling lieutenant of Boris Karloff’s Mother Muffin), The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief.

Fox could do both drama and comedy, but was often cast in comedic roles. The Hollywood Reporter obit led with his role as Dr. Bombay in Bewitched. He also played RAF Colonel Crittendon in Hogan’s Heroes.

In the latter role, Fox’s character didn’t know about Colonel Robert Hogan’s espionage operation in Stalag 13. But Crittendon, because he had more seniority, outranked Hogan (Bob Crane) and became the ranking Allied officer in the German prison camp every time he was stationed there.

This, of course, complicated whatever operation Hogan had underway at the time.

UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

U.N.C.L.E.’s Mr. Fixit

George M. Lehr silhouette  (far right) incorporated into the title of Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. No. 6

George M. Lehr silhouette (lower, far right) incorporated into the title of Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. No. 6

One of an occasional series on unsung heroes of television.

In the end titles of many television series, there are credits that don’t really don’t provide a viewer what a crew member really does.

So it was with George M. Lehr on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

In the first season of Man, which ran from 1964 to 1968, Lehr had the title “assistant to producer.” In reality, he was a key member of the production team, headed by executive producer Norman Felton and producer-developer Sam Rolfe.

Lehr was, “for all intents and purposes, the third member of the Felton-Rolfe team,” Jon Heitland wrote in his 1987 book about U.N.C.L.E. “He undertook a myriad of duties on the show, including all postproduction work.”

That covers quite a bit of ground, from film editing to music scoring. That meant that Lehr touched a lot of bases with accomplished professionals.

U.N.C.L.E. was produced at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where John Dunning (1916-1991), who won an Oscar for Ben-Hur, was the supervising editor. Franklin Milton (1907-1985), another Ben-Hur Oscar winner, was the recording supervisor.

Lehr even appeared on-screen, in a fashion. Starting with the eighth episode, The Double Affair, the main titles began with the silhouette of an attacker inside U.N.C.L.E. headquarters who fires a gun at Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). This would last through the end of the first season. Lehr provided that silhouette.

During the second half of the show’s second season, Lehr got a promotion to associate producer (which meant a bigger credit in the end titles), a recognition of his contributions. For the 1966-67 season, he held the same title at The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (sharing it with Max Hodge).

After that series was canceled following its only season, he rejoined Man’s crew for its final campaign for the 1967-68 season, again with the title of associate producer. Lehr was around for the entire development of U.N.C.L.E.

“(H)e also helped to create the…”whip pan” by inserting blurred images between scenes,” Cynthia W. Walker wrote in Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The “whip pan” was used as a transition and a key part of the show’s look.

Lehr’s silhouette from U.N.C.L.E.’s first season has surfaced on the cover of the Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. mini-series published by DC Comics. The silhouette is altered slightly to make it appear that of an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

Meanwhile, you can see him in the video below, explaining the origin of the U.N.C.L.E. Special. It was part of an extra originally made for a 2007 DVD release of the show.

Jason Wingreen, versatile character actor, dies

Jason Wingreen

Jason Wingreen

Jason Wingreen, a versatile character actor and sometimes writer, died last month at 95.

Film reviewer Rhett Bartlett of the DIAL M FOR MOVIES WEBSITE  said in  A POST ON TWITTER that Wingreen’s son had confirmed the actor’s death. On Dec. 26, Roz Wolfe, a former employee of the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles, SAID ON TWITTER that Wingreen had died.

Wingreen’s ENTRY ON IMDB.COM lists 187 acting credits from 1955 to 1994, mostly in small roles.

Naturally, given how busy Wingreen stayed, he shows up quite a quit during the 1960s spy craze on American television. For example:

–He made six appearances combined on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Sometimes, bad things happened to his characters. He was a low-ranking Thrush operative who’s given a death sentence in The Deadly Decoy Affair. In The Birds and the Bees Affair, he’s an unlucky gambler who is killed by accident when Thrush wants to do in Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). The gambler dies just as he’s come up a winner at the roulette table.

–He co-wrote (with Philip Saltzman) The Night of the Torture Chamber, a first-season episode of The Wild Wild West. He also appears later in that season as a policeman in The Night of the Whirring Death, a Dr. Loveless episode.

–He had a role in The Weapon on Amos Burke, Secret Agent after that series converted to a spy format after being a crime drama.

–He was “KAOS Agent #2” in an episode of Get Smart.

–He played Hitler in an episode of The Blue Light, the short-lived World War II spy series with Robert Goulet.

–He was in two episodes of Mission: Impossible.

–He was in six episodes of The FBI, including a customs inspector in the third-season episode Counter-Stroke, one of the espionage stories of the series.

With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Wingreen also is being remembered for being the original voice of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back. (The character was redubbed for a home video release.) Here’s a YouTube video where the actor recalls getting that job:

Happy Mother’s Day from The Spy Command

Here’s a sampling of images of Mothers from the spy genre for Mother’s Day. If your mother is still available for a chat, take advantage of the opportunity.

99 became a mother toward the end of Get Smart's 1965-70 run.

Barbara Feldon’s 99 became a mother toward the end of Get Smart’s 1965-70 run.

Boris Karloff's title card from The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.'s The Mother Muffin Affair

Boris Karloff’s title card from The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.’s The Mother Muffin Affair

Judi Dench, who played two versions of M.

Judi Dench, who played two versions of M in James Bond films.

Stan Freberg, brilliant satirist, dies

A Stan Freberg album

A Stan Freberg album

Stan Freberg, who wrote and performed satire of the first order for decades, died today at age 88, according to obituaries published by THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, USA TODAY and DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD, among other news sites.

Freberg was in demand to do humorous commercials, to voice cartoons and in general to make people laugh. He also has a connection to the 1960s spy craze, although few people will remember for it. Truth be told, Freberg might have preferred to forget it himself.

Freberg was a guest star in The Carpathian Caper Affair of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. To read a detailed review, CLICK HERE. Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps producer Douglas Benton thought he scored a coup when he signed the great satirist Stan Freburg as a guest star. True, Freburg as Herbert Fummer comes across as amusing and sympathetic. But Benton might have been better off hiring Freberg to write an episode instead. Had that occurred, we would have been spared this insipid mess.

Freberg’s legacy is vast and his U.N.C.L.E. appearance is, at most, a footnote. Here’s an excerpt from from The Hollywood Reporter obit.

The godfather of humorous and irreverent commercials, Freberg lampooned cultural institutions and described himself as a “guerilla satirist.” The New York Times dubbed him the “Che Guevara of advertising,” and years later, “Weird Al” Yankovic called him a major influence on his career.

“Very sad to say that one of my absolute all-time heroes has just passed away,” Yankovic wrote on Twitter. “RIP Stan Freberg. A legend, an inspiration, and a friend.”

Here is just one parody that Freberg wrote in the 1950s, doing a takeoff of Dragnet. Daws Butler, who would later do voices on Hanna-Barbera cartoons, provides many of the voices here:

UPDATE (10:05 p.m.): To read a tribute to Freberg by Mark Evanier, a television and comic book writer who was a friend of Freberg’s, CLICK HERE.