Character actor William Schallert dies at 93

William Schallert

William Schallert

William Schallert, a character actor with a long career, mostly on television, died on Sunday at age 93, according to an OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

The Times’ obit leads off with how he played the father on The Patty Duke Show. But Schallert played in many genres and naturally had experience on spy television of the 1960s.

His roles included Frank Harper, one of the substitute partners for James West (Robert Conrad) in the fourth season of The Wild Wild West when Ross Martin was recovering from a 1968 heart attack. Harper’s appearance took place during the show’s only two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror. Harper, like Martin’s Artemus Gordon, was a master of disguise. Schallert had appeared earlier in the series in other parts.

Another spy-related role for the actor took place in Get Smart, which gets a mention in The Times’ obituary.

While the typical William Schallert character was focused and serious, he expressed particular affection for an atypical role: the wildly decrepit Admiral Hargrade, a recurring character on the spy spoof “Get Smart” (1967-70), who operated in a perpetual state of confusion. (“He reminded me of my grandmother when she got dotty,” Mr. Schallert said.)

Get Smart actually ran from 1965 to 1970. Schallert’s appearances on the show were from 1967 to 1970, according to the actor’s IMDB.com entry.

Other roles of note for Schallert included: a doctor in a 1967 Mission: Impossible episode; an oily lawyer defending a medical “quack” in a first-season, two-part episode of Hawaii Five-O (the same reason he played Frank Harper on The Wild Wild West); and a guest part in the Sam Rolfe-created 1970s series, The Delphi Bureau.

Richard Markowitz’s wild wild TV scoring career

A sampling of Richard Markowitz's title cards.

A sampling of Richard Markowitz’s title cards.

Another in a series about unsung heroes of television.

Composer Richard Markowitz, over more than three decades, produced one of the most memorable television themes and contributed to many series.

Yet, more than 20 years after his death, Markowitz is far from a household name. With each passing year, Markowitz passes further into obscurity, save for those few (led by writer Jon Burlingame) who follow the careers of television composers.

Markowitz’s primary legacy is the theme to The Wild Wild West. The composer scored the pilot to the 1965-69 series’ pilot. Originally, CBS hired Dimitri Tiomkin (who earlier wrote the theme song to the network’s Rawhide series) to write the show’s theme song.

According to a Markowitz audio interview that’s an extra on the season one set of The Wild Wild West, producer Michael Garrison didn’t want the Tiomkin theme (which Markowitz described as a ballad). Markowitz, according to this account, was a last-minute hire. Markowitz, in the interview, says he was paid considerably less than Tiomkin.

Regardless, Markowitz came up with a classic theme. During the run of the show, Markowitz only received a credit (“Music Composed and Conducted by”) for episodes he scored. (According to his IMDB.COM ENTRY, that was 29 of the show’s 104 episodes). He wasn’t credited for the theme.  Thus, when other composers did scores for the show, there was no mention of Markowitz.

It wasn’t until 1979’s The Wild Wild West Revisited TV movie that Markowitz an on-screen credit for his greatest creation. The theme showed up in a scene in the 1999 Wild Wild West theatrical movie, but the composer yet again didn’t get an on-screen credit.

Also, according to that same audio interview, Markowitz had clashes with Morton Stevens, who took charge of CBS’s West Coast music operation in the spring of 1965. That contributed to Markowitz not being around when the show concluded with the 1968-69 season.

Despite that, Markowitz had too much talent for other television productions to ignore.

Quinn Martin’s QM Productions hired him frequently (including 16 original scores for The FBI, an episode of The Invaders and some episodes of The Streets of San Frnacisco). He scored nine episodes of Mission: Impossible, including the show’s only three-part story. Universal’s TV operation was another frequent employer, including 71 episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

Markowitz died on Dec. 6, 1994 at the age of 68.

50th anniversary of The Wild Wild West’s best episode

End title images for The Night of the Murderous Spring

End title images for The Night of the Murderous Spring

April 15 is the 50th anniversary of what may be the best episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring. If not the series’ best outing, it’s in the conversation.

It was the next-to-last episode of West’s first season and the fourth to feature Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless.

The episode, written by John Kneubuhl (creator of Dr. Loveless) and directed by Richard Donner, removed all of the limits from the villain’s initial encounters with U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

Loveless is determined to kill humanity to restore Earth’s ecological balance. The villain has come up with a chemical, when mixed with water, will spur men to hallucinate and go into a murderous rage.

Loveless’ first test subject is James West himself. The Secret Service agent imagines he kills his partner.

That’s just the start. Loveless conducts another test where his lackeys kill each other. Loveless does so simply to demonstrate to West and Gordon he means business.

As an aside, one of Loveless’ thugs is played by Leonard Falk, the real life father of Robert Conrad.

This was not Loveless’ final appearance on the show. But it was arguably the most memorable. The only significance weakness was the episode didn’t have an original score, forcing music supervisor Morton Stevens to dip into the music library of CBS. Among the music used is the original Dr. Loveless theme, composed by Robert Drasnin, who scored the first Loveless episode of the series.

 

1965: Jim West’s first encounter with Dr. Loveless

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

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

Two recent birthdays spurred us to check out the first encounter between James West and Dr. Loveless in The Wild Wild West.

Robert Conrad, who played the intrepid Secret Service Man, celebrated his 81st birthday on March 1. Leslie Parrish, a busy actress in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, also celebrated her 81st on March 13.

Both were in the third episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth, the first story to feature mad scientist Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn).

CBS apparently realized the episode was out of the ordinary. The network moved up Wizard so it would be one of the first stories aired (it was broadcast on Oct. 1, 1965).

The John Kneubuhl script gave Dunn a lot to do. His Loveless barely is holding onto his sanity. Yet, Loveless clearly is brilliant. In the second half of the story. West is shown some of Loveless’ prototypes for inventions including television, penicillin (mere “bread mold,” as Loveless tells West), automobiles and airplanes.

The James Bond influence on the show also is in evidence.

At this point, Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) is more like Q rather than West’s full partner. Artemus has built a horse-drawn coach that is the equivalent of 007’s Aston Martin, even including an ejector seat.

However the coach, similar to the DB5 in Goldfinger, only provides the hero a momentary respite from those who threaten him.

What’s more, the episode provides a preview of an actor who’d show up in the Bond films more than a decade later — Richard Kiel, who plays Voltaire, the main henchman for Loveless. The 5-foot-8 Conrad eventually vanquishes the 7-foot-2 Kiel.

The episode made an impression on the production team and the network. Loveless would return for nine more episodes, including three more in the first season.

 

Norman Hudis, busy spy TV writer, dies at 93

Norman Hudis

Norman Hudis

Norman Hudis, who penned episodes of various spy and spy-related television shows, has died at 93, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY BY THE BBC.

In his native England, Hudis is remembered as the writer of the first six “Carry On” comedy films that began in 1958.

Hudis was very busy with spy-related entertainment. He wrote episodes of The Saint and Danger Man. He moved to the United States, where he wrote episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (including its final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, released outside the U.S. as the film How to Steal the World), The Wild Wild West, Hawaii Five-O, It Takes a Thief, The FBI and Search, among others.

According to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. timeline website, producer Norman Felton in 1971 responded to an NBC suggestion that U.N.C.L.E. be revived as a TV movie by saying Hudis would be a good writer for such a project. Nothing came of the suggestion.

UPDATE: According to Hudis’ IMDB.COM ENTRY his writing credits included the following.

The Saint: The Imprudent Politician, The Frightened Inn-Keeper, The Checkered Flag, The Persistent Parasites

Danger Man/Secret Agent: Koroshi, Shinda Shima

The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Tottering Tontine

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Yo-Ho-Ho And a Bottle of Rum Affair, The Five Daughters Affairs Parts I and II (released as The Karate Killers overseas), The “J” for Judas Affair, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair Parts I and II (released as How to Steal the World overseas).

Hawaii Five-O: The Big Kahuna

The FBI: The Inside Man

It Takes a Thief: Nice Girls Marry Stockbrokers, To Sing a Song of Murder, Beyond a Treasonable Doubt

Search: The Clayton Lewis Document, Suffer My Child

 

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:

50th anniversary of U.S. TV spymania

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in an I Spy publicity still

This week marks the 50th anniversary of spymania in the United States, when three spy television series premiered.

I Spy (Sept. 15): The hour-long drama on NBC was the most serious, least escapist spy program on U.S. television. Its greater significance, however, was having an African American actor receiving equal billing with a white star.

That African American actor was Bill Cosby. Cosby has been in the news since last year for numerous accusations of rape, the subject of a notable cover of New York magazine this summer.

A half century ago, Cosby’s presence on I Spy was a major breakthrough for U.S. television. The show debuted in the midst of  the Civil Rights Movement.

Robert Culp, the show’s other star, also wrote episodes that gave Cosby’s Alexander Scott plenty to do and Cosby ample opportunity to show his acting ability.

“People writing…said that I was the Jackie Robinson of television drama,” Cosby said during a 2010 appearance. “I say to all of you if this true that Robert Culp has to be Eddie Stanky, Pee Wee Reese.” He said Culp’s “contribution in I Spy was very valuable in terms of civil rights.”

Besides the show’s social significance, I Spy also had extensive location filming. The lead actors accompanied a small crew that actually traveled to places such as Hong Kong and Tokyo to film exteriors. That footage would be paired with interior scenes shot at stages leased from Desilu Studios.

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

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

The Wild Wild West (Sept. 17): The show was originally pitched to CBS as something like “James Bond and cowboys.” It became something much greater.

The series concerned the adventures of ace U.S. Secret Service agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). They traveled in style on a train.

They traveled a lot taking on, among other foes, a 19th century cyborg (John Dehner); Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn), a short scientist with major plans, such as wiping out the world’s population to restore ecological balance; and Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono), a villain whose magic tricks might not be tricks at all.

Highlights included Conrad frequently fighting a roomful of thugs. In reality, it was usually the same group of stuntmen and it took ingenuity to disguise that fact from the audience. Also a highlight was Martin donning various disguises.

The Wild Wild West really was catching lightning in a bottle. Attempts to recapture the magic (made-for television movies in 1979 and 1980 as well as a 1999 feature film) fell short.

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Cast of Get Smart on a TV Guide cover

Get Smart (Sept. 18): The half-hour comedy created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind. The network rejected it. NBC, looking for a show for Don Adams, snapped it up.

Brooks and Henry revamped the script to adapt it for Adams. For example, Adams had already perfected his “would you believe?” bit, using it on The Bill Dana Show situation comedy series. Thus, it was incorporated into the Get Smart pilot.

Adams’ Maxwell Smart was a force of nature. He bumbled his way through his adventures but, always confident in himself, emerged triumphant. It helped to have Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) on his side.

Get Smart, naturally, parodied the spy genre, including one episode that did a takeoff on I Spy. But the series had other targets, including an episode that parodied The Fugitive. There have been various attempts over the decades to revive Get Smart, most recently a 2008 feature film with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.