Leonard Nimoy dies at 83, dabbled in spy entertainment

Leonard Nimoy with his future Star Trek co-star William Shatner in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Leonard Nimoy with his future Star Trek co-star William Shatner in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Leonard Nimoy, best known for playing Spock on Star Trek but who also dabbled in spy entertainment, has died today at 83, according to an obituary in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

A brief excerpt:

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced last year that he had the disease, which he attributed to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week

Nimoy’s greatest fame was as Spock. He first played the role in an unsold 1964 pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Pike. A second pilot, with William Shatner as Capt. James Kirk, did sell and a series aired on NBC for three seasons. Much later, Star Trek was revived for theatrical movies and Star Trek: The Next Generation, a syndicated series set decades after the original. Nimoy’s Spock showed up at one time or another in some of the films and the later series.

Still, he appeared in spy shows as well. He and Shatner were in a 1964 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Project Strigas Affair. Shatner was an “innocent” recruited by Napoleon Solo as part of a complicated plot. Nimoy was a secondary villain.

Nimoy also replaced Martin Landau on Mission: Impossible for that show’s fourth and fifth seasons. Nimoy played Paris, a magician and master of disguise. Executives at Paramount forced out Landau, who never signed a long-term contact and who had previously won salary raises in negotiations.

Landau was was popular as disguise expert Rollin Hand and the departure also cost M:I of the services of his then-wife, Barbara Bain. As a result, Nimoy came aboard as the show’s ratings slipped. He left before the series changed to a format where the Impossible Missions Force battled only organized crime in the final two seasons.

UPDATE: Leonard Nimoy was active on Twitter. This is his last Tweet:

UPDATE II (7 p.m.): MeTV, the U.S. cable channel of classic television shows, is showing a lot of episodes of shows where Nimoy was the guest star. On Sunday at 10 p.m., it will show The Project Strigas Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., followed by one of Nimoy’s appearances on Mission: Impossible (“The Hostage) at 11 p.m., followed by an episode of Get Smart (The Dead Spy Scrawls) with Nimoy. For more details, CLICK HERE.

Guy Ritchie tweets a behind-the-scenes U.N.C.L.E. still

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Director Guy Ritchie took to Twitter to post a behind-the-scenes photograph of himself and his stars during filming of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Based on the trailer released on Feb. 11, this was during filming of an early scene where Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) get into a fight after being assigned to work with one another.

Principal photography occurred early September to early December 2013, with some reshoots in 2014.

The movie debuts Aug. 14. Presumably, this still is part of the gearing up of social media marketing efforts. For a timeline about the events related to the film’s production, CLICK HERE.

Alan J. Porter discusses his James Bond Lexicon project

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Promo for The James Bond Lexicon

Writer Alan J. Porter is coming out with a new reference work, The James Bond Lexicon. He’s also at work on a similar project concerning The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Porter discussed both projects in an e-mail interview. The Bond project is further along and within a few months of being published.

QUESTION: Please describe the format and organization of The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair about U.N.C.L.E. About when will each be published?

PORTER: The Lexicon series from Hasslein Books (http://www.hassleinbooks.com) are encyclopedia style references guides related to various pop-culture franchises. They already have volumes on The Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and Red Dwarf. My wife, Gill, and I will be adding volumes on James Bond and U.N.C.L.E.

First up will be “The James Bond Lexicon” which will cover the world of 007 across all media, movies, novels, TV, and comics. The manuscript is currently with the publishers for copy-editing, and given it’s size (about 700 pages in total) we are discussing the possibility that it will be published as a two-volume set. Publication is slated for end of September, early October this year — around the same time that SPECTRE hits the movie screens.

While the Bond book is in production we have started writing “The Lexicon Affair: A Guide to the world of U.N.C.L.E.” This will cover both Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Girl from U,N.C.L.E. in TV, movies, novels, short stories, and comics. As we are relatively early in the writing stage we don’t have a publication date set just yet.

QUESTION: What do The James Bond Lexicon and The Lexicon Affair bring to the table compared with other books such as Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion or Jon Heitland’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book or Cynthia W. Walker’s Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

PORTER: I believe that these will be the first books to comprehensively cover the franchises in detail across the full range of media. Plus they will be as up to date as possible. For instance the Bond Lexicon includes entries from the recent Stephen Cole authored Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill.

The U.N.C.L.E. book will cover the upcoming movie reboot along with the classic series. The book style is more of an encyclopedia reference rather than a critical review style, although there will be a few supporting essays touching on items such as series continuity (or lack of) and the enduring popularity of the two franchises.

QUESTION: Did your encounter any surprises while researching each book?

PORTER: I think the biggest surprise from working on the Bond Lexicon was just how many different officially sanctioned interpretations of James Bond there has been over the years. I’m not talking about between actors, but distinctly different back-stories, ways of operating, time periods etc.

We grouped various Bonds together by loose continuity; for instance we considered that the Connery-Lazenby-Moore-Dalton-Brosnan Bond was a single Bond, while the Craig Bond was a completely new Bond.

Similarly, we counted the Fleming, Gardner, Benson Bonds as being three separate incarnations and so on. In the end we counted 18 different James Bonds. And I’m sure not everyone will agree with the way we defined those different Bonds either.

It’s early days on the U.N.C.L.E work so I can’t say that we’ve discovered any major surprises yet (although I’m sure we will). One initial observation is the appalling lack of consistency, often even within the same story. It’s making for some interesting discussions around how, and where, certain entries will go in the book.

QUESTION: What are the similarities, as you see them, between James Bond and Napoleon Solo? The differences?

PORTER: It’s often been stated that Ian Fleming designed Solo to be “Bond for the small screen” with the same basic traits and attitudes of a “suave sophisticated secret agent” with an eye for the ladies. But I think it’s fair to say that beyond that superficial description the two characters clearly diverged over the years.

Bond has that rougher edge, the underlying truth that he is a violent man, a “blunt instrument,” out to do a dirty job. In many ways Bond is the archetype lone stranger who arrives, sorts out the problem, and leaves.

Solo (ironically given his name) became the opposite of that, he is a team player, and part of double act where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Solo is less of the blunt instrument and more of the protector.

QUESTION: Who were you a fan of first? Bond or Solo? How did you become a fan of each? (Or are you a fan of each?)

PORTER: I can clearly date the start of my interest in Bond to the winter of 1965 and playing the Thunderball board game at a friends house, but with U.N.C.L.E. it’s always been more of a case of general awareness that probably started around the same time. I had both the Corgi Aston-Martin DB5 and the THRUSH buster toys, read Bond comics in the newspapers and U.N.C.L.E. comics in TV Tornado each week. Obviously U.N.C.L.E. faded into the background and Bond became more prominent because of the franchise’s continuing presence in the public eye, but I never forgot the guys in the secret headquarters behind the tailor’s shop.

QUESTION: Both Bond and Solo will have a film adventure in 2015, SPECTRE and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. What are you looking for from each one? What needs to happen for each film to be considered a success?

PORTER: Wow – the answer to that could be an essay all of its own.

I will say I was disappointed that they actually used SPECTRE as the title of the next Bond movie. I would have much preferred that the revelation about the return of SPECTRE would have come from the plot and been a surprise (much like the fate of M in Skyfall). Having said that, like most people I believe, I’m hoping for a return to some of the good old classic Bond movie tropes we’ve been missing for a while. The end of Skyfall hinted at it, I just hope they follow through with something that has the same vibe as movies like From Russia With Love, or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

With the U.N.C.L.E. movie my underlying hope is that they respect the source material, unlike certain recent Hollywood abominations (Green Hornet for instance). It looks like they have the tone and period right from what we’ve seen in the trailer so far although I was disappointed not to hear the classic TV show theme used. My fingers are crossed that it will be a fun ride and one that reinvigorates interest in the franchise bringing more people back to discovering the TV show. Then maybe I can wear my U.N.C.L.E. logo t-shirt without people asking me what it stands for.

QUESTION: Daniel Craig is now filming his fourth Bond film. What is your analysis of his tenure?

PORTER: I’ll be honest I’m still not sure. I thought Casino Royale was great, and loved his portrayal of Bond in that, although he was too old to be a Double-O at the start of his career. Hated Quantum of Solace, but I think that was more to do with the weak story and the frantic style of direction.

Skyfall left me conflicted, loved it at first but on each rewatch I dislike it more and more. Craig definitely plays the aging agent well, but, to put it bluntly, his Bond in Skyfall is simply incompetent. I’m looking forward to SPECTRE being the movie when the Craig era redeems itself in my eyes.

QUESTION: Henry Cavill, the new Solo, lost out to Craig to play Bond. How do you think he may do as Solo? (Right now, all we have to go on is a trailer.)

PORTER: From the short glimpses of him in the trailer he looks well suited to the part (much more so than he is to the Superman role). He’s an actor I’ve enjoyed watching over the years, although I’m not sure he would have worked as Bond either, and hopefully Solo will be his breakout franchise role.

QUESTION: A book is always hard work, but has either, or both, been fun to do?

PORTER: There is always a point about midway through any book project where you think, “What the hell am I doing this for.” The Bond Lexicon turned out to be a much bigger project than we first thought and ended up taking about three years to find everything and do the research. There was a point when we never wanted to look at anything Bond related again, but it didn’t last long. We’ve had so much support and interest from friends and fellow fans in the Bond community that it’s been a wonderful experience. We can’t wait to share the results of all that work later this year.

The U.N.C.L.E. book is great fun to do, and as we haven’t seen most of the material in decades, and in some cases this is the first time we’ve read many of the spin-off stories, it’s like rediscovering the franchise all over again.

For more about The James Bond Lexicon, CLICK HERE. For more about The Lexicon Affair, CLICK HERE. For Alan J. Porter’s website, CLICK HERE.

 

Rome stressing out over SPECTRE filming, Daily Beast says

SPECTRE LOGO

Slight spoilers. For those who don’t want to read anything about filming of the movie, stop now.

Tensions are high between officials in Rome and Eon Productions over filming of SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, according to THE DAILY BEAST.

Here’s an excerpt:

Last week the cast and crew for Spectre—rumored to be costing almost $300 million, making it the most expensive James Bond film yet—descended on Rome. Daniel Craig and Italian siren Monica Bellucci, who will be the oldest ever Bond girl at 50, made their way to city hall to meet Rome’s mayor Ignazio Marino, with whom they posed on his balcony overlooking the Roman forum before he apparently told them to have their way with the city.

The next day, traffic was snarled and snippy security guards who spoke mostly English tried to bat away curious onlookers and angry Italians as the crew filmed a funeral scene in the district of EUR, the most fascist of the city’s quarters. There, they transformed the Museum of Roman Civilization into a crypt.

Then, they had the audacity to close off some of the busiest arteries of the city to shoot a car chase along the lower banks of the Tiber River the following day. Angry Romans who had to divert their paths threatened to boycott the film. “The film should be called ‘disagio,’” Emanuele Costrini told The Daily Beast, referring to a favorite Italian word for discomfort or inconvenience. “You can create all these scenes in a studio. Why do you need to cripple a city like Rome for a film in this day and age?”

Typically, when movies film major action sequences, they first must obtain permits. Some times, lots of permits. You’d think nobody would be surprised at this stage. Still, Rome is a different place. Perhaps this is much ado about nothing.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, due out on Aug. 14 in the United States, also filmed in Rome in the fall of 2013. By comparison, things went quietly. But Bond always is a high profile production. So maybe it’s natural 007 draw more attention.

SPECTRE is filming in Rome for five weeks at a cost of $60 million, Variety has reported previously. Meanwhile, the MI6 James Bond site has run a number of articles about the Rome filming. You can CLICK HERE for a Feb. 19 article, HERE for a Feb. article and HERE for a Feb. 21 story.

1967: Dick Tracy vs. spies

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Producer William Dozier had a hit with 1966’s Batman television series and sold a second series with The Green Hornet, based on a radio show. So, in 1967, he tried to extend his streak with a pilot for a Dick Tracy series.

The final product ended up being influenced by ’60s spymania.

To write the pilot, Dozier hired Hal Fimberg, who wrote or co-wrote the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. Rather than use an established member of Tracy’s gallery of villains, Tracy’s foe in Fimberg’s script was Mr. Memory (Victor Buono).

Mr. Memory is kidnapping various ambassadors as part of a plot to disrupt NATO on behalf of an unspecified froeign power. They’re being abducted in Washington and taken to Tracy’s unnamed city. In the comic strip, the city wasn’t specified either, but seems like Chicago. Cartoonist Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator, lived near the Windy City. Gould’s successors, on occasion, drew the city to closely resemble Chicago.

The Tracy of the pilot was influenced by Dozier’s Batman show. While there was no “Tracy Cave,” the detective has a sophisticated lab in the basement of his house, accessible only by a secret entrance. Evidently, the city’s police lab wasn’t up to Tracy’s standards.

Besides Mr. Memory’s plot and the presence of writer Fimberg, there are other influences of 1960s spy entertainment.

One of Mr. Memory’s goons is played by Tom Reese, who played Ironhead in the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row. Fimberg’s script also lifts a bit from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In that spy show’s second episode, The Iowa Scuba Affair, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is locked in while poison gas is being pumped into his hotel room. Solo gets out by setting fire to a container of shaving cream and blowing the door open. In the pilot, Tracy ends up in a hotel room. Mr. Memory injects poison gas and Tracy pulls the same trick.

Actor Ray MacDonnell certainly had the Tracy look. If you ever seen Victor Buono playing a villain, you know what to expect. The proceedings aren’t subtle but they’re not as campy as Batman was.

Dozier’s failure to secure a buyer for this was an indicator his hot streak was coming to an end. Also in 1967, ABC canceled The Green Hornet after one season. The network also cut Batman back to a single episode weekly as it limped into its final season.

The pilot is embedded below (though there’s always the risk the video will get yanked). There’s a snappy theme song from The Ventures.

One oddity in the closing credits: There’s a credit the show is “based on and idea and characters created by” Gould and Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein owned the UPA cartoon studio that made some bad Tracy cartoons in the early ’60s. All of the primary characters (Tracy, Sam, Lizz, Junior, Chief Patton) in the pilot are from Gould’s comic strip. Also, at the very end, you can hear Dozier in his best “Desmond Doomsday” voice.

SPECTRE by the numbers (and not just 007)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE is starting production in Rome, for a five-week shoot, including a car chase, that will cost almost as much (if not more) than some movies.

So, here’s a breakdown of the kind of spending that’s known about the 24th James Bond film. We’ll assume a total production budget of $300 million.

According to information from hacked Sony documents, the budget was on pace to well exceed that, but there were also efforts to rein it in. We’ll assume the trends cancel themselves out so we’ll go with a nice round number with $300 million.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume a 30-week shooting schedule. Principal photography began on Dec. 8 and is supposed to run seven months. Actual total may run a week or two less than 30 weeks, but some filming was done before principal photography began. So, again, we’ll use a round number.

Cost per week, total: $10 million.

Cost per week, Rome shoot: $12 million (five weeks, $60 million, according to figures reported by Variety.com)

ESTIMATED COST OF NOTABLE JAMES BOND MOVIES (not adjusted for inflation)

Dr. No: $1 million

From Russia With Love: $2 million

Goldfinger: $3 million

You Only Live Twice: $9.5 million (Ken Adam’s volcano set alone cost more than Dr. No)

The Spy Who Loved Me: $14 million

Moonraker: $31 million to $34 million, depending on estimate (Initial plan was to keep it close to Spy’s budget but it was evident that wouldn’t hold)

Tomorrow Never Dies: $110 million (first to exceed $100 million)

Quantum of Solace: $230 million (first to exceed $200 million)

SPECTRE: $300 million (first to reach $300 million).

One week’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than You Only Live Twice, which had the one set that cost more than Dr. No.

Put another way, each day’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than Dr. No. At $10 million a week, if you shot seven days a week, equals $1.43 million daily.

ESTIMATED COST OF OTHER 2015 SPY MOVIES

Taken 3: $48 million

Kingsman: The Secret Service: $81 million

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: $75 million

To be fair, none of this takes into account 50 years of inflation. At the same time, this exercise is also a reminder that studios don’t play with Monopoly money. Studios don’t get to spend, or receive, inflation-adjusted dollars.

Familiar meme: megalomaniac environmentalists

This weekend’s U.S. release of Kingsman: The Secret Service marks the return of a familiar meme in spy entertainment — the megalomaniac environmentalist who has the means to take radical action (i.e. wipe people out) to restore ecological balance.

This is a sampling of both television and movie efforts.

Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) looks displeased with associate Kitten Twitty (Jenie Jackson)

Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) looks displeased with associate Kitten Twitty (Jenie Jackson)

The Wild, Wild West: The Night of the Murderous Spring (first broadcast April 15, 1966): Dr. Loveless, after three prior defeats by U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon, is in the midst of his biggest scheme yet.

Loveless (Michael Dunn) arranges to use West (Robert Conrad) as a test subject for his newest discovery. When Loveless’ powder is mixed with water, it’s absorbed into people. When that happens, they lose their inhibitions and their aggressive tendencies are magnified. The powder also causes hallucinations.

In separate incidents, West imagines he kills Loveless and Gordon (Ross Martin). When the real Arty gets into town, he’s told West has been taken to a hospital. It’s really a cover for Loveless’s hideout.

The plan is revealed. Loveless will use a large number of birds to distribute his powder. It’s the start of spring. The birds will reach water, spread the powder and people will kill themselves. Loveless provides a demonstration where the bulk of the “hospital’s” staff kill themselves off.

West and Gordon barely avert catastrophe. Loveless and two women, Antoinette and Kitten Twitty, flee on a boat across a lake. West shoots a hole in the boat and it sinks. After 20 minutes, the agents give up. Bad move, but that won’t become evident until the show’s second season.

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster


Kiss the Girls and Makes Them Die (1966): Ardonian (Raf Vallone) is concerned about the prospects of overpopulation. (The world’s population was about 3 billion at the time, it reached 7 billion in 2011.)

Ardonian, being a megalomaniac, isn’t content to just fret. He plans to launch a satellite that will zap the earth. Sexual activity will stop and the population will decline naturally as people die off.

Meanwhile, Ardonian is abducting various beautiful women and having them frozen. When it’s time to repopulate the Earth, Ardonian will have sex with the women and get them pregnant.

Ardonian’s activities, however, don’t go unnoticed. American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and British agent Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) eventully join forces and foil the scheme.

The Malthusian Affair, unmade television movie, 1976: Sam Rolfe wrote the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and was its first-season producer. In 1976, he was hired to write a new U.N.C.L.E. television movie that would double as a pilot for a new series.

The title refers to Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), who warned about population growth in his day.

The head of Mogul Industries is a big believer in Malthus. So he’s going to kill off vast numbers of people to restore ecological balance and run things himself. (Funny how megalomaniacs never volunteer to sacrifice themselves.)

U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, aided by two younger agents, put a stop to the plan. But their luck with studio executives wasn’t nearly as good so the story never went before the cameras.

For more information, CLICK HERE For The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide’s page on never-made U.N.C.L.E. projects.

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Industrialist Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) is concerned about the world’s oceans. All those billions of people keep polluting them.

Solution: Snatch nuclear submarines and launch their missiles to start a nuclear war. Stromberg uses a specially built freighter. Its front opens up, swallowing up the subs. Stromberg also has some kind of electronic device to disable the submarines, making it easier to make off with them.

James Bond (Roger Moore) and Soviet agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are assigned by their respective governments to find the missing submarines. Similar to Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, the two agents initially oppose each other before joining forces.

The two are aboard a U.S. submarine to observe Stromberg’s massive ship when the megalomaniac adds that sub to his collection. The timing is good. Stromberg is just about to execute the final stages of his plan. Long story short, the plan is foiled, Bond kills Stromberg and Bond and Triple-X have sex.

Moonraker teaser poster

Moonraker teaser poster

Moonraker (1979): Industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) has two obsessions — the exploration of space and fixing the environmental mess on Earth.

Like other megalomaniacs, he concludes it’s best to kill off most people, leaving himself in charge. He already has a space station in orbit that nobody knows about because it has a radar jamming system. He plans to make it into an orbiting “stud farm” to repopulate the Earth after he kills off everybody except himself and his employees.

Drax makes his first mistake when he steals one of his own Moonraker shuttles from the British. One of the shuttles Drax planned to use developed a fault. The problem with this move is the British are rather annoyed (they’ve lost a 747 aircraft and its crew was killed). So James Bond (Roger Moore) is on the case.

Bond begins his investigation in Southern California, where the Moonrakers are made. It turns out the CIA has an operative, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), working undercover there. Like Mike Connors and Dorothy Provine….well, you can guess by now what happens.

The story goes to Venice to Rio to the Brazilian rain forest to, eventually, Outer Space! (as it says in the end titles listing the locations.) The space station will launch globes of a deadly poison to kill off Earth’s population. After dispatching Drax, Holly flies a Moonraker while Bond destroys three launched globes (the others were destroyed previously) with a laser.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015): Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine is the latest megalomaniac to decide he’s the man to solve Earth’s environmental problems.

We’ll avoid the specifics. His plot is similar Dr. Loveless’s, except Valentine’s involves electronics, rather than a chemical.

This being the 21st century, things are nastier. We witness a demonstration of Valentine’s device. Also, it’s implied Valentine is at least partially successful. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people may have died before the plot was stopped.

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