A look at some Ed Asner non-Lou Grant roles

Edward Asner’s title card for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Double-O-Nothing Affair

Actor Edward Asner has died at age 91. He, understandably, is receiving acclaim for a long career including playing Lou Grant on two series (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a comedy, and Lou Grant, a drama).

What follows are some of his acting credits of interest to the blog:

The Double-O-Nothing Affair, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.: Asner played a Thrush chieftain whose headquarters is based at a used-car dealership. It’s an outlandish concept, but Dean Hargrove’s script makes it work. The story also makes April Dancer (Stefanie Powers) and Mark Slate (Noel Harrison) look like smart, competent agents. That wasn’t always the case with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. spinoff. Asner, as usual, makes a great villain.

The Night of the Amnesiac, The Wild Wild West: Secret Service agent James West (Robert Conrad) loses his memory just as Asner’s villain gets his way out of prison. The villain’s gang has been taken over by his brother. The brothers hate each other but Asner’s character gets the advantage. Asner complains how killing family members makes him depressed.

Hawaii Five-O/Five-0 (original and reboot): Asner played villain August March in both versions of the series. He was a highlight in both.

The FBI: Asner played a kidnapper in two episodes. In The Tormentors (season one), Asner is more stable of the kidnappers who have seized a young man (Kurt Russell) who is the son of an aging rich man (Lew Ayres). Asner’s character is done in by his sickly and disturbed partner (Wayne Rogers). In The Dynasty (third season), Asner and his nephew (Martin Sheen) have kidnapped a man who runs a family business. Asner’s character is nasty and not well educated. His idea of reading is looking at Superboy comic books. In The Attorney (fourth season), Asner plays a sympathetic character, a working-class stiff whose daughter (Dawn Wells) is involved with a Cosa Nostra crime boss.

House on Greenapple Road: This TV movie was made by Quinn Martin, the producer of The FBI. Asner was part of a stellar cast (Janet Leigh, Christopher George Peter Mark Richman, Lynda Day George, Keenan Wynn, Walter Pidgeon, Joanne Linville and others) about a murder investigation with many twists. Asner plays a county sheriff, hungry for publicity and an overall louse. The TV movie was made in 1968 but not shown until 1970. It led to QM’s Dan August series.

Richard Donner dies at 91

Richard Donner, left, making a cameo in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Richard Donner, a director who made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman, has died, Variety reported. He was 91.

Donner became an A-list movie director as a result. He directed four installments of the Lethal Weapon film series as well as The Goonies, and Conspiracy Theory.

Among the stepping stones to achieving that status was helming episodes of 1960s spy TV shows. He directed four episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Get Smart.

Donner’s U.N.C.L.E. work was all within the show’s first half-season. Two of his episodes, The Quadripartite Affair and The Giuoco Piano Affair, helped establish the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum.

The Quadripartite Affair was the third episode broadcast and the first with a significant amount of air time for the Kuryakin character. That and The Giuoco Piano Affair were filmed back-to-back. But the latter episode aired four weeks later, presented as a sequel.

Donner, along with other members of the production team, had cameos in a party scene. The director’s character was listed as “Inebriate” in the end titles and was used as comedy relief.

One of Donner’s episodes for The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring, was one of the best episodes involving Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) as the arch-foe of U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

Also among Donner’s credits was a 1966 episode of The FBI with an espionage theme titled The Spy Master.

Donner also directed a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, which had no fantasy or science fiction elements. It was a spy story, essentially a match of wits between two men (Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen).

The director also helmed one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where an aircraft passenger is the only person aboard who can see a gremlin on the wing of the plane.

After Superman, Donner’s services as a film director were in demand.

Donner was Sean Connery’s first choice to direct Never Say Never Again, the 1983 non-Eon Productions James Bond film. The director, however, had misgivings about the script, according to the book Some Kind of Hero. Irvin Kirschner ended up getting the job.

Art Gilmore: Versatile announcer

Art Gilmore appearing on-camera in Dragnet

Another in an occasional series about unsung figures in television.

Trivia question: Name somebody who has ties to the very first James Bond production (1954’s CBS production of Casino Royale), Highway Patrol, Quinn Martin TV shows (the first one, The New Breed), Fred Astaire (a late 1950s TV special), Red Skelton, The Wild Wild West and Hawaii Five-O.

That person would be announcer Art Gilmore (1912-2010).

Gilmore began his announcing career in the 1930s and moved into television and movie trailers. Here’s an excerpt from the Los Angeles Time obituary for Gilmore.

“He was one of an elite corps of radio and television announcers, a voice that everyone in America recognized because it was ubiquitous,” film critic and show business historian Leonard Maltin told The Times this week.

“For at least 20 years, if you listened to radio, watched TV or went to the movies, you couldn’t help but hear Art Gilmore’s voice,” said Maltin. “It wasn’t especially deep like some announcers, but it had authority, command and yet also a kind of friendliness. I think it was an all-American voice.”

Gilmore’s voice was the first viewers heard on the 1954 CBS live telecast of Casino Royale. “Live from Television City in Hollywood!”

The early years of television were heavily influenced by radio. On radio, an announcer introduced a show and often acted as a narrator.

Gilmore did a lot of work at CBS, including being the long-time announcer for Red Skelton’s variety show. His voice could often be heard on promos.

A YouTuber recreated a second-season promo for The Wild Wild West, which featured Gilmore’s voice and music by Richard Shores. Most of the visuals are based on the originals with a few tweaks.


In 1968, CBS televised a program-length promotion for its upcoming season. Here’s the segment for the upcoming Hawaii Five-O where Gilmore’s voice features prominently.

Finally, here’s a brief YouTube tribute to Gilmore, focusing on his work on Highway Patrol and Dragnet.

Ron Moore (briefly) talks about Wild Wild West

Cover to a 2017 CD soundtrack of The Wild Wild West

Ron Moore, a successful TV writer-producer, gave an interview to The Hollywood Reporter mostly covering recent and upcoming projects. But he also touched briefly on one that got away — a proposed new version of The Wild Wild West.

Moore didn’t say a lot. But here’s an excerpt from the interview, presented in Q&A format.

What’s the project that got away?

The Wild Wild West. Naren Shankar and I wrote a version of the rebooted Wild Wild West for CBS about 10 or 15 years ago. I loved that original show as a kid and thought it was an interesting mix of James Bond and the west with occult overtones that would deal with werewolves periodically. It was a really out-there genre piece and very unique. I was excited at the thought of getting my hands on it and disappointed when it didn’t go forward. I’d still love to find a way to get my hands on it again. It’s owned by CBS so unfortunately not something I have access to.

The project surfaced in 2010. CBS has begun a new version of Hawaii Five-0 (it would eventually run 10 seasons). So the network looked at The Wild Wild West, another property it owned and which ran from 1965 to 1969. As noted above, a new version didn’t come together.

Despite being set in the 1870s, The Wild Wild West may have have been the most fantastical show of the 1960s spy craze. Plots included alternate dimensions inside paintings and the captured brains of major scientists.

The show followed the exploits of U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). The agents traveled in style in a private train on their way to missions. Guest stars playing villains included Michael Dunn (as arch-enemy Dr. Loveless), Victor Buono, Ted Knight and Robert Duvall.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Duns uncovers Joseph Heller’s work on Casino Royale

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

Writer Jeremy Duns, who in 2011 researched Casino Royale scripts by Ben Hecht, has produced another chapter in the saga of the Charles K. Feldman production — work that Catch 22 author Joseph Heller did for Feldman’s project.

Duns’ research about Heller is contained in an April 20 article in The Times of London.

Heller was approached by producer Feldman after Hecht died in 1964. Hecht’s work was more of a faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.

However, according to the article, Feldman wanted to go in a more extravagant direction after Hecht’s death. Heller, who worked with novelist George Mandel as a co-writer, came aboard during this phase of the project in early 1965.

In one version of the Heller material, according to Duns, the fugitive Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele “is removing the brains of leading scientists” and storing them.

A very similar idea would be included in a March 1966 episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Druid’s Blood. The series was set in the 1870s but the villain of the episode has removed the brains of scientists who are still alive, albeit disembodied. That episode was scripted by Henry Sharp, one of the show’s leading writers who earlier in his career had written for pulp magazines.

The Heller-Mandel material also includes the villain’s base is in a dormant volcano. As noted by Duns, both Our Man Flint, with James Coburn, and 1967’s You Only Live Twice featured the same concept.

Despite such flourishes, Duns says the tone of the Heller material has “a real sense of menace and suspense.”

Duns found the Heller material in the Charles K. Feldman Collection at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Feldman’s family donated Casino Royale material in 1969 but the collection has been closed to the public until recently, according to Duns.

To read the much more detailed article, CLICK HERE. The article is behind a paywall. However, if you register for The Times’ site, you can see two free articles a month. The Times is offering a one-month free subscription plan. Duns also has his own summary of his research on his blog.

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

Robert Conrad, who mixed spies with cowboys, dies

James West (Robert Conrad) has his first encounter with Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn)

Robert Conrad, who made the concept of spies with cowboys work, has died at 84, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Conrad played U.S. Secret Service agent James T. West in The Wild Wild West, the 1965-69 series as well as two TV movie revivals in 1979 and 1980.

The concept originated with producer Michael Garrison. For a time, Rory Calhoun was a contender to play West. But Conrad emerged as the choice.

The Wild Wild West was steam punk (“genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology”) before the term was coined.

Conrad and Ross Martin, as West’s partner Artemus Gordon, made the concept work. The athletic Conrad looked like he really could fight a roomful of villains. Martin’s Gordon dabbled with inventions but could still hold his own during fights.

The intrepid agents encountered many menaces in 19th century, especially Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), whose rage against the world knew no bounds.

Just another day at the office for Robert Conrad’s James West in The Night of the Eccentrics.

In the fourth Dr. Loveless episode (The Night of Murderous Spring), near the end of the show’s first season, one of Loveless’s mute goons was played Leonard Falk, Conrad’s real-life father.

Conrad already was a television star, having been in Hawaiian Eye, the 1959-63 series that was part of the family of Warner Bros. private eye shows on ABC. Still, James West was the actor’s defining role: a man of action and a ladies man.

The Wild West West wasn’t an easy series to make, with stunts that went wrong, including one where Conrad was seriously injured.

The Wild Wild West was canceled in 1969 amid concern about violence in television generally.

Conrad remained busy, including playing the leads in series such as The D.A., Assignment: Vienna and Black Sheep Squadron. In the fall of 1979, NBC aired A Man Called Sloane, starring Conrad, which a cross between The Wild Wild West and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It only lasted 12 episodes.

Conrad and Marin did get a chance to repeat their Wild Wild West roles in two TV movies, The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West.

In January 2013, there was a tribute to Conrad with fans attending. It consisted of long video clips from his long career followed by a question and answer session.

The Wild Wild West was very much like catching lightning in a bottle, mixing fantasy, spies and, as noted above, steam punk.

Robert Conrad, along with Ross Martin, who died in 1981, made the concept work. Conrad’s passing closes the door on an era we won’t see again.

Marj Dusay dies at 83

Marj Dusay

Marj Dusay, a frequent guest star on U.S. television programs as well as appearing on soap operas, has died at 83, according to Soap Opera Digest.

Dusay appeared in such series as Hawaii Five-O, The Wild Wild West, The FBI, Mannix, Cannon, Barnaby Jones and Get Smart.

She also was in the cast of Spock’s Brain, an infamous episode of the original Star Trek series. The episode is widely seen as among the worst for the 1966-69 series. It was actually penned by one of its best writers, Gene L. Coon, under the pen name Lee Cronin.

In her prime-time roles, Dusay could play both sympathetic or villainous roles. In one of her Five-O appearances, Twenty-Four Karat Kill, she played an undercover federal agent who assists Steve McGarrett in a case. In The Wild Wild West episode The Night of the Kraken, she played the wife of a U.S. admiral who was really one of the villains, along with a character played by Ted Knight.

Dusay was born in Russell, Kansas, according to a biography on her official website. Her IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 90 acting credits.

Phyllis Newman dies at 86

Phyllis Newman in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Phyllis Newman, an actress whose long career included guest appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West, has died at 86, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Her son, Adam Green, a theater critic for Vogue, announced the death in a Twitter post.

Newman won a Tony for the play Subways Are For Sleeping in 1962, beating out Barbra Streisand for the award, THR said.

She was married to Adolph Green, a playwright, screenwriter and lyricist, from 1960 until his death in 2002.

Newman’s spy TV appearances in the 1960s were on the light side. She played an Arab woman who becomes smitten with David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin in the second-season episode The Arabian Affair. This occurs while U.N.C.L.E. is investigating efforts by the villainous organization Thrush to develop a “vaporizer” that can dissolve objects and people.

Newman also played an American Indian princess in one of the Dr. Loveless episodes of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Raven. In that episode, Loveless (Michael Dunn) shrinks James West (Robert Conrad) and Newman’s character to just a few inches tall.