Harlan Ellison, passionate writer, dies at 84

Title card to “The City on the Edge of Forever, the first-season Star Trek episode written by Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison, a writer who was passionate about his work and was willing to fight for it, has died at 84, according to an obituary published by Variety.

Ellison was normally described as a science fiction writer. That was understandable. His output of science fiction was large and took the form of television stories, novels and short stories.

Ellison’s production included the Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever.

In the episode, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock must travel back in time to Earth in the Great Depression and fix history. In doing so, Kirk has to let a woman he’s fall in love with (Joan Collins) die.

Ellison also penned episodes of the original Outer Limits series, including Demon With a Glass Hand starring Robert Culp. Culp’s Trent has no memory but must fight off attacks from mysterious enemies from the future.

However, Ellison could easily tackle other genres.

Cyborgs menace Solo and Illya in The Sort of Do It Yourself Dreadful Affair, written by Harlan Ellison

He penned two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. They were highlights of the show’s third season, where humor overwhelmed the proceedings. One of episodes, The Sort of Do It Yourself Dreadful Affair, added science fiction with cyborgs as part of the plot. The special effects were lacking (even by 1966 standards) but Ellison’s script was funny where it was supposed to be (not always the case with U.N.C.L.E.’s third season).

The writer also tackled the western series Cimarron Strip. Ellison’s twist was that Jack the Ripper, on the run from his murder spree in London, was stalking victims in 1888 Oklahoma. Making the episode even more memorable was a score by Bernard Herrmann.

Ellison also wrote essays about television. The books The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat collected such essays. The author was brutally honest and critical of U.S. television.

The writer was known for advocating strongly for his work, fighting (verbally) against changes by producers and story editors. The City on the Edge of Forever was revised so it wouldn’t bust Star Trek’s budget. Ellison was not happy.

When Ellison was really displeased, he took his name off the writing credit and substituted Cord Wainer Bird or Cordwainer Bird.

According to a review in The New York Review of Science Fiction concerning a book about Ellison’s career, the fighting got physical on one occasion. Ellison got into a fight with ABC executive Adrian Samish over a script for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

The book, A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, says as a result of the fight, a model of the Seaview submarine dropped onto Samish. The executive suffered a broken pelvis.

It was a story Ellison told himself, though the review raises some questions. “How did Harlan avoid an arrest for assault or at least a whopping big lawsuit, or did ABC just hush it all up and pay Samish’s medical costs? How did Harlan ever find work in the TV industry after that?”

If the story is true, the answer probably is Ellison’s enormous talent. On social media, there were tributes to Ellison. Here’s one from Jon Burlingame, an author and academic about film and television music:

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UPDATE (June 29): Harlan Ellison also did some uncredited rewrites of other U.N.C.L.E. episodes. The one I’ve always seen identified is The Virtue Affair in Season Two.

Anyway, according to movie industry professional Robert Short, who also runs an U.N.C.L.E. page on Facebook, Ellison also designed a special bow used by Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Virtue Affair.

Here Illya demonstrates his prowess with the bow while a villain played by Frank Marth looks on.

UNCLE Illya bow Virtue Affair

 

 

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. 

1963: The Outer Limits tackles espionage

Episode title card for The Hundred Days of the Dragon

Episode title card for The Hundred Days of the Dragon

The Outer Limits is one of the leading examples of a cult television show. It only lasted a season and a half on ABC. In fact a revival on cable television lasted seven years (1995-2002), far longer than the orignal.

Yet, the first version, created by Leslie Stevens, remains fondly remembered. The anthology series emphasized science fiction, although the first season usually featured “the Bear,” the production crew’s nickname for a monster.

The show’s second episode, The Hundred Days of the Dragon, mixed espionage and science fiction, but with no “bear.”

An Asian nation hostile to U.S. interests has developed a serum that turns human tissue pliable for short period of time. The nation’s leader, Li-Chin Sung (Richard Loo) intends to make use of the scientific breakthrough.

One of the nation’s operatives has the same physical dimensions as William Lyons Selby (Sidney Blackmer), the leading American candidate for president who is almost certain to be elected. The operative has even had a finger removed because Selby lost a finger in a hunting accident.

The serum is injected into the operative. Once his skin becomes pliable, a mold of Selby’s face is pressed upon his face. The agent can now pass for the American candidate. Naturally, he’s already had voice training and can mimic Selby’s voice.

Later, in the United States, the agent assassinates Selby. He uses the serum on Selby and uses a mold to make him look like someone else. The agent again ingests the serum to make him look like Selby.

Selby’s double is elected president. Eventually, the new vice president, Ted Pearson (Philip Pine), suspects something is up. The double intends to replace other U.S. with doubles.

The episode was written by Allan Balter and Robert Mintz. Balter would form a partnership with William Read Woodfield and the pair would write key episodes during the first three episodes of Mission: Impossible.

When first broadcast on Sept. 23, 1963, viewers no doubt felt they had just watched some escapist television. Less than two months later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated for real, although no science fiction serum was involved.

Looking back, the main weakness of the episode is the ease the operative assassinates Selby. There should have been a lot more security around. Still, for its day, The Hundred Days of the Dragon is suspenseful and sells you on the science fiction involved.

Vice President Pearson gets revenge for the operative who assassinated Selby.

Vice President Pearson gets revenge for the killing of Selby.

At the end, the conspiracy has been broken. We see another apprehended agent who looks exactly like Vice President Pearson. U.S. officials also now have samples of the serum.

Pearson injects Selby’s double one more time with the serum. In an act of vengeance, Pearson disfigures the killer’s face.

However, Pearson’s vengeance only goes so far. A military aide tells the now-president a nuclear strike can be made immediately. Pearson declines, because it would only start a war with no victors.

One of the highlights of the episode was the score by Dominic Frontiere, composer for the first season and a production executive for the series. More than a half-century later, The Hundred Days of the Dragon remains a memorable entry for The Outer Limits.

Character actress Arlene Martel dies at 78

Robert Vaughn and Arlene Martel in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Vaughn and Arlene Martel in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Arlene Martel, a busy character actress, including 1960s spy shows, has died at 78.

Her death was disclosed on THE FACEBOOK PAGE for These Are The Voyages, a three-volume book about the original Star Trek series. The author, Marc Cushman, was a friend of Martel’s, according to TREKNEWS.NET, a Star Trek site.

Martel is primarily known for Star Trek as T’Pring, a Vulcan woman Spock is supposed to marry before complications arise in the episode “Amok Time.” That connection, along with her other television work, made her a regular at collectibles shows where fans meet and get autographs from fans.

But Martel also showed up on 1960s spy shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as a Rome-based operative who assists Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in a first-season episode, “The King of Knaves Affair.” She also made appearances on It Takes a Thief, Mission: Impossible and The Wild Wild West.

The actress made guest appearances in series covering various genres, including police/detective dramas (Columbo, Mannix); comedies (including several episodes of Hogan’s Heroes); and science fiction (playing opposite Robert Culp in the Harlan Ellison-scripted “Demon With a Glass Hand” on the original Outer Limits series).

UPDATE (Aug. 14): To view a more detailed obituary in The Hollywood Reporter, CLICK HERE.