Jon Burlingame on Wild Wild West, other TV soundtracks

Cover to The Wild Wild West CD soundtrack

Jon Burlingame is a journalist, author and academic, writing extensively about movie and television music.

Over the past 15 years, he has produced a number of television soundtracks, including CD sets for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. His latest effort, a soundtrack for The Wild Wild West is now available from La-La Land Records.

The blog interviewed Bulingame by e-mail.

SPY COMMAND:  Movie soundtracks have been done for decades. But television soundtracks (actual music from TV shows, as opposed to new arrangements of TV music), by comparison are rarer. Why is that? Is part of it the notion that television work was more disposable than movie work?

JON BURLINGAME: That’s a very interesting question, Bill, and something not really understood by most outsiders.

Historically, TV soundtracks have generally been re-recorded because of the union rules involving music recorded for TV shows. In the past, the American Federation of Musicians demanded a full repayment to every musician who played on each score. If those rules were still in place (and the union relaxed that demand several years ago, making these “historical soundtracks” possible), the record label would have been responsible for repaying every musician (or his or her estate) for every recording session represented on the album; in this case over 200 individual musicians playing on more than two dozen scores over four years would have incurred a huge cost, possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Cover to one of Jon Burlingame’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks released in the 2000s.

I encountered this when I first proposed a classic MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack in 1990; the estimated union repayments alone were in the neighborhood of $80,000, making it prohibitive for any label attempting it. So it was always less expensive to just go back in the studio for one day and create a new recording of the various themes.

Also, the success of the show itself is always a factor — and, as you point out, a lot of TV music is just deemed forgettable.

SC:  The TV soundtracks you’ve produced have come out decades after the series involved. What are are some of the common challenges? (i.e., finding the music, etc.)

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always multiple challenges. First, does the music still exist? That alone can be a difficult problem (the Lorimar library, for example, is gone; there will never be a WALTONS soundtrack featuring those wonderful Jerry Goldsmith scores because all that music is lost).

Then, who controls that music? Is the studio that produced it still in business, and if so, will they license a soundtrack to an enterprising label interested in creating an album?

Then there are the creative aspects of producing: how to create an enjoyable listening experience featuring just the music, away from the images it was always meant to accompany.

SC: What’s the back story with your latest project, The Wild Wild West soundtrack?

JON BURLINGAME: La-La Land Records had a big success with its 6-disc MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE TV-score collection, which I produced for them in 2015. So when I asked if they’d like to follow it up with another classic 1960s spy show, THE WILD WILD WEST, their answer was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.”

I knew it would be more of a challenge, but having already produced multiple MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and MISSION albums, I really wanted to do this. There had never been any commercial recording of that wonderful Richard Markowitz theme (much less any of the dramatic scores), and it seemed like a terrible oversight given the classic status of the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series.

It was a different situation than the MGM-produced U.N.C.L.E. music or the Paramount-produced MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE music. Those studios retained copies of all the music on (mostly) quarter-inch tape, and once the deals were made, we simply accessed those archives, transferred the music to digital and went to work.

Artwork from the second-season Wild Wild West episode The Night of Big Blast.

WILD WILD WEST was different in that CBS (the original producer) closed its music-department doors in the early 1990s and donated its tapes to UCLA; unfortunately that collection was incomplete and many of the tape boxes were not well labeled, so finding individual scores was much more difficult.

I had very good documentation of who composed what and when it was recorded, so armed with that information I went looking for all of the original music. Some scores simply weren’t there or were impossible to find given the inadequate labeling.

I feel incredibly lucky, however, to have found nearly everything I really wanted for the collection in pristine condition at UCLA, including 10 of the original 11 Markowitz scores, all four of the original Robert Drasnin scores, and four of the six original Richard Shores scores. Add to those a handful of others by Harry Geller, Jack Pleis and Fred Steiner.

Four of the 26 scores we feature on the album — for which we could not find original tapes — had to be restored from the isolated music tracks from the shows themselves. But our restoration guy, the uber-talented Chris Malone, did such a brilliant job that you’ll be hard-pressed to tell which of those weren’t from tape sources.

I had great partners in the collaboration: Not just La-La Land executives Matt Verboys and M.V. Gerhard, but Film Score Monthly founder Lukas Kendall, who cleared everything with CBS and was my liaison on a daily basis; Johnny Davis, Chris Malone and Doug Schwartz, who transferred, restored and mastered all those 50-year-old tapes into the CDs you now have; spy-TV expert Craig Henderson, who looked over everything I did and helped ensure the accuracy of the booklet; and art director Jim Titus, who had never seen an episode prior to designing our cover and booklet, and yet created a spectacular, colorful, fun package that captures the spirit and look of the old show. He used some of the original art of the train and the opening titles and lots of great old photos of the cast and guest stars. It’s an eye-popping package, worthy of a Grammy if you ask me!

SC: While working on The Wild Wild West soundtrack, was there one moment that gave you more satisfaction than the rest of your work?

JON BURLINGAME: It’s always fun working with classic music from the era in which you grew up. WEST was filled with challenges, but a few moments stand out: Discovering that we had Markowitz’s original pilot score in three-track stereo; hearing Malone’s remarkable restoration of Dave Grusin’s delightful waltz from “Night of the Puppeteer”; and re-discovering Richard Shores’ thrilling action music, especially from the third and fourth seasons.

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)

We knew that Dimitri Tiomkin had written two different songs for the series that were eventually rejected. The question was, which were recorded and could we find those? I knew that the Tiomkin estate had a full-length vocal demo of one and sheet music for both. Especially satisfying during the search process was the discovery that an instrumental version of one of the themes had been recorded (in a last-ditch, ultimately unsuccessful, effort to salvage the Tiomkin deal for CBS) and that lyricist Paul Francis Webster actually wrote three lyrics for the two tunes, parts of which we reproduce in the booklet. Webster’s papers are currently being archived and preserved by the Film Music Society, and that’s where that discovery was made.

Robert Drasnin (1927-2015), who delivered memorable scores for The Wild Wild West

Very late in the process (in fact, the album was nearly finished), it occurred to me that former CBS music director Herschel Burke Gilbert retained many, many tapes from throughout his career. A glance at his inventory revealed that he had kept various mixes of the Tiomkin vocal demo; our mastering engineer Doug Schwartz did his magic and what’s on the CD actually sounds better than the version owned by the Tiomkin estate!

And one final thing: composers Markowitz and Drasnin didn’t live long enough to see this album reach fruition, but their children have, and it’s been a pleasure to be able to work with Kate Markowitz and Michael Drasnin, both of whom have been supportive and supplied materials (photos, scores, tapes) that enabled us to put together a package that honors their music and their memories.

Richard Shores (1917-2001)

SC:  I personally find it interesting that some of the composers who worked on The Wild Wild West (Robert Drasnin and Richard Shores) also worked on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Specifically with Drasnin (who composed the de facto theme for Dr. Loveless) and Shores, their names aren’t that well known among the general public. What makes their work special?

JON BURLINGAME: These guys were great composers and great human beings; I met both of them while writing my first book back in the early ’90s.

Drasnin could score anything, drama, comedy, Westerns, science fiction, you name it; he was the perfect composer for television, which requires not only immediate inspiration but also enormous craft. Plus he was tremendously witty (look at some of his amusing cue titles on the box).

Shores had an immediately recognizable style, and an unique rhythmic sense that inevitably brought a smile to your face (whether you were listening to his music for U.N.C.L.E., WEST, IT TAKES A THIEF or HAWAII FIVE-0).

A sampling of Richard Markowitz’s title cards.

SC: Finally, I wanted to ask about Richard Markowitz, who composed The Wild Wild West theme (and did a number of scores for the series, including the pilot). He did a lot of television work but probably isn’t that well known among the general public. From what I’ve heard on different series, he was pretty versatile. What made him stand out?

JON BURLINGAME: You’re right, Bill, he was incredibly versatile. He had a big record hit with the Johnny Cash vocal of THE REBEL, but if you listen to his music for episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE FBI, POLICE STORY, MURDER SHE WROTE; or his themes for HONDO, JOE FORRESTER, THE LAW & HARRY McGRAW, you’ll hear a composer with a wide range and ability to work in any style. He worked consistently for more than 30 years in television. But I think THE WILD WILD WEST may be his most memorable theme.

SC: Final question. If you could only produce *one* more television soundtrack (and any pending rights situations were resolved), what would it be?

JON BURLINGAME: Hahaha! I guess I’d most like to round out my spy-TV experience by doing another I SPY album (there are two out there, and I only wrote the notes for one, but I’d love to produce one too), or a first-ever IT TAKES A THIEF soundtrack. I have a special fondness for THE GREEN HORNET at Fox, and if rights could be ironed out that would be fun too.

I have a long-range, hoped-for plan to do HAWAII FIVE-0 one day (have it all mapped out on paper) but there are legal issues that may preclude that from happening for some time. We’ll see. For now I am delighted to have been able to create soundtrack albums for some of my favorite shows as a kid.

Jon Burlingame also is the author of The Music of James Bond.

Wild Wild West soundtrack available July 11

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

A soundtrack set for The Wild Wild West television series will become available on July 11, La-La Land Records said on Twitter.

The set includes five hours of music from the 1965-69 series, Jon Burlingame, a TV music expert, said in a separate post on Twitter.

Burlingame oversaw the project. He previously produced soundtracks for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible series.

Based on a cover image in the La La Land Records post on Twitter, the four-CD set for The Wild Wild West will include compositions by Dimitri Tiomkin, originally hired by CBS to write a theme for the show. Tiomkin had previously written the title song for the western Rawhide for CBS.

Timokin’s theme for The Wild Wild West wasn’t used. Instead, composer Richard Markowitz scored the pilot episode as well as the catchy theme music that was part of the show that combined cowboys and spies.

Besides Markowitz, composers who worked on the series include Richard Shores, Robert Drasnin and Morton Stevens.

Only 1,000 units of The Wild Wild West soundtrack will be available for sale. .

You can view the Twitter posts below.

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“Without whom, etc.”

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

It was 109 years ago today that Ian Fleming was born.

Without him, James Bond novels wouldn’t have come to be. That would have freed up a slot for President John F. Kennedy’s list of his top 10 favorite books. Who knows what book would have benefited from being on that early 1960s list?

Also, James Bond movies wouldn’t have come to be. That’s 24 movies in the official series (and counting) plus two others.

Neither would have The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originated when producer Norman Felton was approached about whether he’d like to a series based on Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book.

The author’s involvement (from October 1962 to June 1963) with U.N.C.L.E. spurred NBC to put the show in development. By the time Fleming exited (under pressure from Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), enough work had occurred for NBC to keep developing the series. One of Fleming’s ideas (that Napoleon Solo liked cooking) ended up in the 2015 movie version of the show.

For that matter, pretty much the entire 1960s spy mania (Matt Helm movies, Flint movies, I Spy, The Wild Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible) probably doesn’t happen because Bond generated a market for such entertainment.

Happy birthday, Ian Fleming.

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.

Wild Wild West TV movies get home video release

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

TV movie revivals of The Wild Wild West from 1979 and 1980 are getting a separate home video release, according to the TV Shows on DVD website.

The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West were released in 2008 as part of a complete series release of the original 1965-69 series.

However, according to TV Shows on DVD, the two TV movies are being released as a double feature in June by CBS/Paramount.

Both TV movies included the original stars, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Both were directed by Burt Kennedy and produced by Robert L. Jacks, with Jay Bernstein as executive producer.

The Wild Wild West Revisited was written by William Bowers. In its original broadcast, More Wild Wild West had Bowers sharing the writing credit with another scribe, Tony Kayden. But at least some subsequent TV releases had Bowers getting sole writing credit.

Both TV movies had a much lighter tone than the original show. Still, Conrad and Martin were in fine form, the best reason to watch both.

The Wild Wild West Revisited is set in 1885, with the agents summoned from retirement to combat Miguelito Loveless Jr. (Paul Williams), who has mastered cloning and the construction of atomic bombs.

More Wild Wild West is set in 1890, when our heroes are again taken from retirement to combat a Albert Paradine II (Jonathan Winters), who has a pair of “Hulks” to do his bidding. (CBS was airing The Incredible Hulk TV show at the time.)

Also making an appearance is Victor Buono, as a character modeled after Henry Kissinger. Buono was the villain in the original show’s pilot and played Count Manzeppi in two second-season episodes.

Neither TV movie is the best The Wild Wild West has to offer but if you have all four seasons of the original series, it’s worth completing your collection.

For more information: WILD, WILD WEST?

Coming soon (?): The Wild Wild West soundtrack

Robert Conrad, right, in a publicity still with Ross Martin for The Wild Wild West

On April 10 on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — Inner Circle Facebook page, there was an item about how La La Records will be releasing a soundtrack album from The Wild Wild West television series.

Not a lot of details are available and there’s nothing, as yet, on the La La Land Records website.

The project, not surprisingly, is headed by film and TV music historian Jon Burlingame, according to the item on the Inner Circle page. Burlingame previously produced soundtracks for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible television shows.

Here’s a list of what the blog hopes will be included in a soundtrack for The Wild Wild West.

The Night of the Inferno (Richard Markowitz): Pilot episode, scored by Markowitz (1926-1994). Originally, CBS hired Dimitri Tiomkin, who earlier wrote the theme song to the network’s Rawhide series, to do the show’s theme song.

Tiomkin’s effort was found wanting and Markowitz got the job. His theme would be distinctive. However, he didn’t get a credit for the theme. He only got a credit for episodes of The Wild Wild West he scored.

The Night The Wizard Shook the Earth (Robert Drasnin): The third episode broadcast introduced Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), the arch foe for U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon. Drasnin (1927-2015) cooked up a “Dr. Loveless Theme” (the blog’s informal title) that would be used in the 10 episodes where Loveless made an appearance.

The Night of the Eccentrics (Richard Shores): The second-season opener concerned a bizarre gang called the Eccentrics, led by Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono). Manzeppi was intended to be another arch foe for West and Gordon. But he’d only appear in one more episode.

Regardless, the score by Shores (1917-2001) has a lot of energy. That music would be used for a second-season CBS promo that was re-created on YouTube.

The Night of the Man Eating House (Drasnin): One of the oddest, most tense and disturbing episodes of the series. Drasnin delivers an appropriate score.

The Night of the Big Blackmail (Shores): The fourth-season opener had a Shores score that would show up in some episodes of Hawaii Five-O. In the episode, West and Gordon race against time to break in to the embassy of a nation hostile to the U.S.

The Night of the Kraken (Shores): Another Shores score, which had “spooky” music that would end up in Hawaii Five-O episodes with tracked music when the budget didn’t permit an original score. The Stephen Kandel-scripted episode is a great example of the Jules Verne vibe that echoed through out the 1965-69 series.

For more information: Richard Markowitz’s wild wild TV scoring career.

Don Rickles dies at 90; credits include ’60s spy TV shows

Don Rickles with Don Adams in Get Smart

Comedian and actor Don Rickles has died at 90, according to an obituary posted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Rickles’ insult humor kept him in the public eyes for decades. In the 1960s, he was already well known and became a guest star on a number of spy series of the era.

His spy TV credits include a two-part Get Smart story, The Little Black Book, where he played Sid Krimm, a Korean Army buddy of Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart; a first-season episode of The Wild Wild West where Rickles’ character appears to be the primary villain; and an episode of I Spy, Night Train to Madrid.

Veteran television director Ralph Senensky helmed Rickles’ appearance in The Wild Wild West, titled The Night of the Druid’s Blood. Here is how Senensky described Rickles in a post on his website about the episode.

“Don was a fanatically conscientious actor, deadly serious about his craft. But that was only during rehearsals and filming,” Senensky wrote. “Rickles between shots was the funnyman in charge. Between takes those final four and a half days seemed more like a Las Vegas showroom than a film set.”

That included insult humor aimed at the show’s star, Robert Conrad, according to the director.

“Robert Conrad was not the tallest creature on the planet, but according to Rickles, even with lifts in the shoes he wore, he barely reached the height of Billy Barty,” Senensky wrote.

“Rickles was merciless, but funny….For some reason Don never targeted me. I wonder if it was because he realized which side of the bread his close-ups were buttered on.”

UPDATE (3:35 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore noted the passing of Don Rickles on Twitter.

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