Gene L. Coon: More than just Star Trek

Poster for The Killers, a pre-Star Trek credit for Gene L. Coon

Poster for The Killers (1964), a pre-Star Trek credit for Gene L. Coon

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

For the purposes of this post, we’re stretching the definition of “unsung.” Gene L. Coon was a major figure for the original Star Trek series (where he was producer for part of the first and second seasons) and he’s mostly remembered for that.

However, the writer-producer performed work in other genres. That included 1960s spy shows, serving as a producer for some episodes of The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief. He also wrote episodes of war dramas and westerns.

Coon also did the script for the 1964 version of The Killers, with a cast headed by Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan. The crew included composer John Williams.

The Killers was intended by Universal to be a made-for-television movie. What producer-director Don Siegel delivered was deemed to be too violent for the small screen. So The Killers got a theatrical release instead.

Coon had a reputation as a hard worker. He had an admirer in director Ralph Senensky. Here’s what Senensky said about Coon in a reply to a post about an episode of The Wild Wild West titled The Night of the Druid’s Blood:

I think Gene Coon is one of the unsung heroes of television. Both on this series and later on STAR TREK his work (and he was a rewriting machine) set a standard that elevated both series to levels that were seldom reached after his departure.

Coon produced only six episodes of The Wild Wild West near the end of that show’s first season (1965-66). The following television season, he joined Star Trek as producer, working under creator-executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Coon’s main task was to secure and produce a steady stream of scripts.

Coon’s major contributions included the Klingons and co-writing Space Seed, the episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban’s Khan character. Khan would be brought back twice (once with Montalban and once with Benedict Cumberbatch) as villains in Star Trek movies.

Put another way, Coon’s contributions had an impact on Trek productions long after he first made them.

The writer-producer continued into Trek’s second season but departed. He ended up at Universal’s television operation. However, he did some moonlighting, writing some Trek scripts under the pen name Lee Cronin.

One of them, Spock’s Brain, in which Spock’s brain is taken from him, still generates groans from Trek fans decades later. Well, everyone has an off day and the writing conditions (doing it on the side while working full-time at Universal) weren’t ideal.

Gene L. Coon died of cancer on July 8, 1973, just 49 years old. His final writing credit was for an episode of The Streets of San Francisco titled Death and the Favored Few. That show aired in March 1974.

Stephen Kandel: Have genre, will write

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Another in an occasional series about unsung figures of television.

Stephen Kandel, now 89, was the kind of television who could take on multiple genres and do it well.

Science fiction? He wrote the two Star Trek episodes featuring Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), one of Captain Kirk’s more unusual adversaries.

Espionage? His list of credits included I Spy, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief and A Man Called Sloane.

Crime dramas? Hawaii Five-O and Mannix, among too many to list here. His work included a Cannon-Barnaby Jones crossover, The Deadly Conspiracy, a 1975 two-part story airing as an episode of each series.

Not to mention the occasional Western, drama, super hero series (Batman and Wonder Woman) and some shows that don’t easily fit categories (The Magician, MacGyver).

Writer Harlan Ellison in 1970 referred to Kandel as “one of the more lunatic scriveners in Clown Town.” In a column reprinted in The Other Glass Teat, Ellison wrote that Kandel was assigned to write an episode of a drama called The Young Lawyers that was to introduce a new WASP character.

According to Ellison, ABC opted to tone down socially conscious stories among other changes. Kandel wasn’t a fan of the changes. He initially named the new WASP character “Christian White.”

“It went through three drafts before anyone got hip to Steve’s sword in the spleen,” Ellison wrote.

Other in-joke humor by Kandel that did make it to television screens.

One was a 1973 episode of Mannix, Sing a Song of Murder. Kandel named a hit man Anthony Spinner. Kandel had earlier worked for Spinner on the QM series Dan August.

Presumably Spinner didn’t mind. Kandel ended up working for Spinner on Cannon.

Another bit was Kandel’s script for A Man Called Sloane episode titled The Seduction Squad. Robert Culp played a Blofeld-like criminal, except he carried around a small dog instead of a cat.

Kandel wrapped up his television career with MacGyver. Today, somewhere in the world, there may be an episode of some series written by Kandel being shown.

 

In praise of the 2-part (or more) episode

In the 21st century, many television series are serialized, featuring a story line, or arc, that lasts an entire season. However, there was a time when a story that lasted two (or more) episodes was special, something to savored.

For viewers of the era, such multi-part episodes could be special. Because it wasn’t the norm, such story lines drew attention to themselves. What follows is a sampling.

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

Poster for One Spy Too Many, movie version of Alexander the Greater Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the first-season of the 1964-68 series, extra footage was shot so two episodes could be re-edited into feature films for the international market. Starting with the second season, the show produced two-part episodes that could be more easily be turned into movies.

Six such two-part episodes were made, two each for seasons two through four. One of the best was Alexander the Greater Affair at the start of Season Two. Industrialist Alexander (Rip Torn) was a fan of Alexander the Great and sought to control the world like his namesake. The movie version was titled One Spy Too Many. The television version, though, didn’t make the show’s syndication package and wasn’t seen again until 2000.

Mission: Impossible: The 1966-73 series included a number of two-part episodes. A second-season two parter was re-edited into a movie for international audiences called Mission: Impossible Versus the Mob.

M:I’s biggest multi-part adventure was a three-parter called The Falcon, which aired during the show’s fourth season. Arguably, The Falcon (written by Paul Playdon), was the series most intricately plotted story.

Hawaii Five-O: Another series with multiple two-part stories, some of which (FOB Honolulu, The Ninety-Second War) included Steve McGarrett opposing his arch enemy Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). That includes the series’ pilot, which was re-edited into a two-part story at the end of the show’s first season.

What’s more, Wo Fat stories in the eighth and ninth season kicked off the season and were presented as two-hour episodes. The latter, Nine Dragons, featured extensive location shooting in Hong Kong.

Five-O’s fifth season also had a three-part episode where McGarrett took down the Vishons, a Hawaiian crime family. In the third part, McGarrett has been framed and doesn’t appear to have much chance to beat the rap. For one of its reruns on CBS, the story was re-edited into a two-and-a-half-hour presentation aired on a single night.

Also, a 1979 two-hour episode, The Year of the Horse, featured one-time 007 George Lazenby with “special guest star” billing, though he was a secondary villain. That installment included extensive on-location shooting in Singapore.

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

Poster for Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI, movie version of a two-part episode of The FBI

The FBI: The longest-running series from producer Quinn Martin had four two-part stories. The Defector, the show’s first-season two-parter, was an impressive espionage-themed effort.

The show’s two parter for the second season was The Executioners, which was edited into a movie for international audiences titled Cosa Nostra, an Arch Enemy of the FBI.

The series’ final two-parter, The Mastermind in the seventh season, featured three actors (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat and Scott Marlowe), who were a kind of all-star collection of QM villains.

Mannix: The private eye drama featured a first-season story where Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the boss of Mannix’s detective agency, appears to freak out for no reason. Part I included a massive fight between Wickersham and Mannix (Mike Connors).

The series wouldn’t do another two-part episode until its seventh and eight seasons, when Mannix (Mike Connors) ran his own private eye agency. Both stories took Mannix out of the United States. The final two parter also included composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

The Wild Wild West: The 1965-69 series combined spies and cowboys. It only had one two-part story, The Night of the Winged Terror, but it was a doozy. It features Raven, a group trying to take over the world, which has demonstrated its power by programming officials into performing various destructive acts.

When the story (written by Ken Pettus) was filmed, co-star Ross Martin was recovering from a heart attack. So character actor William Schallert (1922-2016) played a substitute agent to work with Robert Conrad’s James West.

77 Sunset Strip: The show’s final season (1963-64) began with a *five*-part episode, simply titled “5.” Jack Webb, who had taken command of Warner Bros. television unit, ordered up a major revamp of the private eye series.

Only Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was retained, and his Stuart Bailey character was transformed into a lone wolf detective. “5” plunged Bailey into international intrigue, with an all-star cast of guest stars.

 

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.