Happy birthday, Robert Conrad

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

Here’s wishing a happy 80th birthday to Robert Conrad, the star of The Wild Wild West.

The show was sold as “James Bond and cowboys.” In reality, it was far more than that.

Set in the 1870s, The Wild Wild West was Jules Verne for television. The top agents of of the U.S. Secret Service, James West (Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) encountered foes including dwarf scientists (Michael Dunn’s Dr. Loveless Loveless), to 19th century cyborgs, to masterminds trying to overthrow the United States government (quite a few).

The Wild Wild West was the classic case of capturing lightning in a bottle. TV movie efforts in 1979 and 1980 as well as a theatrical move in 1999 CAME UP SHORT in recapturing the spirit of the original.

Despite that, The Wild Wild West is still fondly remembered a half century later, with Conrad’s Jim West a major reason. In 2013, the actor appeared in a salute to his career. While it covered many of Conrad’s television shows, The Wild Wild West took up a major part of the proceedings. The WWW segment begins roughly around the 15:00 mark. At around the 22:00 mark, applause begins from the audience.

Happy birthday, Mr. Conrad.

Leonard Nimoy dies at 83, dabbled in spy entertainment

Leonard Nimoy with his future Star Trek co-star William Shatner in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Leonard Nimoy with his future Star Trek co-star William Shatner in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Leonard Nimoy, best known for playing Spock on Star Trek but who also dabbled in spy entertainment, has died today at 83, according to an obituary in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

A brief excerpt:

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced last year that he had the disease, which he attributed to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week

Nimoy’s greatest fame was as Spock. He first played the role in an unsold 1964 pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Pike. A second pilot, with William Shatner as Capt. James Kirk, did sell and a series aired on NBC for three seasons. Much later, Star Trek was revived for theatrical movies and Star Trek: The Next Generation, a syndicated series set decades after the original. Nimoy’s Spock showed up at one time or another in some of the films and the later series.

Still, he appeared in spy shows as well. He and Shatner were in a 1964 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Project Strigas Affair. Shatner was an “innocent” recruited by Napoleon Solo as part of a complicated plot. Nimoy was a secondary villain.

Nimoy also replaced Martin Landau on Mission: Impossible for that show’s fourth and fifth seasons. Nimoy played Paris, a magician and master of disguise. Executives at Paramount forced out Landau, who never signed a long-term contact and who had previously won salary raises in negotiations.

Landau was was popular as disguise expert Rollin Hand and the departure also cost M:I of the services of his then-wife, Barbara Bain. As a result, Nimoy came aboard as the show’s ratings slipped. He left before the series changed to a format where the Impossible Missions Force battled only organized crime in the final two seasons.

UPDATE: Leonard Nimoy was active on Twitter. This is his last Tweet:

UPDATE II (7 p.m.): MeTV, the U.S. cable channel of classic television shows, is showing a lot of episodes of shows where Nimoy was the guest star. On Sunday at 10 p.m., it will show The Project Strigas Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., followed by one of Nimoy’s appearances on Mission: Impossible (“The Hostage) at 11 p.m., followed by an episode of Get Smart (The Dead Spy Scrawls) with Nimoy. For more details, CLICK HERE.

Joseph Sargent, accomplished director, dies

Joseph Sargent (1925-2014)

Joseph Sargent (1925-2014)

Joseph Sargent, an Emmy-award winning director, has died at 89, according to AN OBITUARY AT VARIETY.

Sargent won a total of FOUR EMMYS and was nominated for five others. He also directed some feature films, including 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three and 1977’s MacArthur.

His main connection to spy entertainment was how he directed 11 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. during that show’s first three seasons as well as one episode of its spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

On U.N.C.L.E., his debut was The Project Strigas Affair, which featured the first pairing of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy two years before they acted together in Star Trek. Several of his episodes rank among the best of the series. One of his Emmy wins was for the 1973 television movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders, which begat the Kojak television series.

One of his last public appearances was at THE GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY AFFAIR, a fan gathering in late Septmeber in the Los Angeles area to celebrate U.N.C.L.E.’s 50th anniversary.

UPDATE: Here’s another obituary on the DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD website.

Our U.N.C.L.E. memo to Mr. Warner

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer with props that won't be in the U.N.C.L.E. movie (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer with props that won’t be in the U.N.C.L.E. movie
(Art by Paul Baack)

Updates and corrects to say the almost identical image appeared in Empire magazine.

To: Mr. Warner of Warner Bros.

From: The HMSS Weblog

Subject: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

According to THE COLLIDER WEBSITE your publicity department released what was described as “the very first” U.N.C.L.E. movie image.

The image? Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin relaxing with drinks on a terrace in Rome, looking at the camera while Alicia Vikander looks off to the side.

That’s it? It’s almost identical to an image that appeared in Empire magazine and which was posted on sites such as COMIC BOOK MOVIE in August. The MOVIENEWZ SITE, which originally posted in February about the movie, added the image to its gallery of pictures related to the film .

The “official” still is merely photographed from a (slightly) different angle.

We’d be the first to acknowledge, Mr. Warner, your studio faces some interesting challenges marketing the U.N.C.L.E. movie. While it’s based on the 1964-1968 television series, that show has only been seen sporadically in syndication. That means younger viewers haven’t had the opportunity to get exposed to it compared with other old shows such as Star Trek.

Also, one of the aspects about the original show was it was about a multi-national organization where an American worked with a Russian during the Cold War. But others have latched on to that idea.

For example, Kingsman: The Secret Service, coming out in February, turned MI6 of the original comic book it’s based on into a mysterious international organization. It even has a secret entrance similar to U.N.C.L.E.’s.

Your movie, meanwhile, is an “origin” story, focused on Solo and Kuryakin before forced to work together. It’s more like The Man Without U.N.C.L.E.

In any case, Mr. Warner, your marketing department has to build awareness. That “official” still is a little bland. We know, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly in an issue last year that there’s some intense action. We know through your own PRESS RELEASE when the movie was about to begin filming there’s conflict between Solo and Kuryakin. Heck, press photos that came out during production look more interesting that this first “official” still.

There’s still plenty of time to build buzz before the film’s mid-August release, Mr. Warner. Hopefully, the first teaser trailer will attract tension. With the next “official” image release, you may want to consider something that hasn’t already been seen. Good luck.

(Before writes in to say there is no Mr. Warner at Warner Bros., it’s a joke. There hasn’t been a “Mr. Warner” at Warner Bros. since Jack Warner sold the studio in the 1960s.)

The main difference between Fleming’s two spy heroes

"I would have thought the difference was obvious," Solo said.

“The difference is obvious,” Solo said.

In 2015, there will be two movies featuring two spy characters Ian Fleming helped to create. The one with the most publicity is SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film. The other is The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a movie adaptation of the television series, coming to theaters a few months before the 007 film.

With U.N.C.L.E., Fleming’s involvement was limited (lasting from October 1962 until June 1963) and he exited the project after being bullied by 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (whose film series was in its earliest stages) to quit.

There are some basic similarities. Both Bond and Napoleon Solo, the lead character in U.N.C.L.E., are womanizers. Both deal in espionage and death. But Solo has one major difference with Bond: The U.N.C.L.E. agent has a moral core than Bond doesn’t appear to possess.

Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson has called Bond an “antihero,” defined as “a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.” His stepfather, Eon co-founder Broccoli, used the same terms in his autobiography.

In Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, Bond describes how he got his 00-designation, which involved killing two people. In Fleming’s fifth Bond novel, From Russia With Love it’s stated that Bond had never killed in cold blood. (Collector Gary Firuta pointed this out and we looked up our copies of the novels to verify.) But fans say Casino Royale cancels that out. Dissenting fans say in Casino Royale the two kills were described by Bond (who may or may not have been lying) while the From Russia With Love reference is in the “voice of God” (i.e. Fleming’s “narrator” description).

Napoleon Solo, meanwhile, demonstrates a moral streak periodically throughout the 1964-68 series.

In the first-season episode The Finny Foot Affair, the “innocent” is a young boy played by Kurt Russell. Russell’s character has a rough time. He witnesses an U.N.C.L.E. agent fight to the death. The agent, with his dying breath, entrusts the boy with an object that may be of assistance to Solo.

Later, on a flight to Norway, the boy describes what he saw to Solo. The U.N.C.L.E. agent attempts to deceive the boy that what he saw wasn’t as serious as it seems.

Later, the boy witnesses Solo kill some of his opponents. “Chris,” Solo tells the boy at one point, “you know now this is for real.” At the end of the episode, the Russell character decides Solo may not be the best potential mate for his “beautiful widowed mother.”

The best example of Solo’s moral streak occurs during the last episode of the series, broadcast by NBC on Jan. 15, 1968. Its one of the best scenes in the entire show for star Robert Vaughn. Solo confronts a group that plans to bring the entire world under its control, ending the “fight between good and evil” once and for all. The leader of this scheme is named Kingsley (Barry Sullivan), a former top U.N.C.L.E. official.

SOLO: You intend — you seriously intend — to make the world world act and think like you want it to?
(snip)
It’s a blasphemy. Your plan denies humanity its freedom to find its own way to better times.

At the end of the episode, there’s this exchange between Solo and his boss, Alexander Waverly.

WAVERLY: Good job, gentlemen.

SOLO: Kingsley sincerely believed history would have said the same of him, sir.”

That’s not the kind of thing that Bond stops to reflect about.

Happy Halloween from The HMSS Weblog

count zark

Happy Halloween, everyone. Meanwhile, Illya Kuryakin has to deal with Thrush agent Count Zark. (For details, read the review for The Bat Cave Affair that ran during THE SECOND SEASON of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide returns

"Yes, the website is back up, sir."

“Yes, the website is back up, sir.”

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. EPISODE GUIDE, one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites, is back online.

The site, which debuted on Dec. 1, 1996 and provides detailed reviews of all 105 episodes of the 1964-68 series, originally had a home at AOL. When AOL ceased providing that service in 2008, the episode guide moved to the now-defunct Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But that website ceased operations earlier this year.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide went back online on Oct. 18. It’s now housed at WordPress.com, which also hosts this blog. The site is still being reconstructed but all of the episode reviews are online, as are reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The site also includes an updated page for major connections between U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond, running from Ian Fleming to Henry Cavill.

There’s additional work to be done, including trying to recover other pages on the episode guide site. Still, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide is back.

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