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.

1967: Dick Tracy vs. spies

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

Producer William Dozier had a hit with 1966’s Batman television series and sold a second series with The Green Hornet, based on a radio show. So, in 1967, he tried to extend his streak with a pilot for a Dick Tracy series.

The final product ended up being influenced by ’60s spymania.

To write the pilot, Dozier hired Hal Fimberg, who wrote or co-wrote the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. Rather than use an established member of Tracy’s gallery of villains, Tracy’s foe in Fimberg’s script was Mr. Memory (Victor Buono).

Mr. Memory is kidnapping various ambassadors as part of a plot to disrupt NATO on behalf of an unspecified froeign power. They’re being abducted in Washington and taken to Tracy’s unnamed city. In the comic strip, the city wasn’t specified either, but seems like Chicago. Cartoonist Chester Gould, Tracy’s creator, lived near the Windy City. Gould’s successors, on occasion, drew the city to closely resemble Chicago.

The Tracy of the pilot was influenced by Dozier’s Batman show. While there was no “Tracy Cave,” the detective has a sophisticated lab in the basement of his house, accessible only by a secret entrance. Evidently, the city’s police lab wasn’t up to Tracy’s standards.

Besides Mr. Memory’s plot and the presence of writer Fimberg, there are other influences of 1960s spy entertainment.

One of Mr. Memory’s goons is played by Tom Reese, who played Ironhead in the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row. Fimberg’s script also lifts a bit from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In that spy show’s second episode, The Iowa Scuba Affair, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) is locked in while poison gas is being pumped into his hotel room. Solo gets out by setting fire to a container of shaving cream and blowing the door open. In the pilot, Tracy ends up in a hotel room. Mr. Memory injects poison gas and Tracy pulls the same trick.

Actor Ray MacDonnell certainly had the Tracy look. If you ever seen Victor Buono playing a villain, you know what to expect. The proceedings aren’t subtle but they’re not as campy as Batman was.

Dozier’s failure to secure a buyer for this was an indicator his hot streak was coming to an end. Also in 1967, ABC canceled The Green Hornet after one season. The network also cut Batman back to a single episode weekly as it limped into its final season.

The pilot is embedded below (though there’s always the risk the video will get yanked). There’s a snappy theme song from The Ventures.

One oddity in the closing credits: There’s a credit the show is “based on and idea and characters created by” Gould and Henry G. Saperstein. Saperstein owned the UPA cartoon studio that made some bad Tracy cartoons in the early ’60s. All of the primary characters (Tracy, Sam, Lizz, Junior, Chief Patton) in the pilot are from Gould’s comic strip. Also, at the very end, you can hear Dozier in his best “Desmond Doomsday” voice.

HMSS’s favorite character actors: Victor Buono

Victor Buono's character meets his demise in the pilot to The Wild, Wild West

Victor Buono’s character meets his demise in the pilot to The Wild, Wild West

One in an occasional series

Victor Buono was hard to miss. Heavy-set and 6-foot-3, and often delivering his lines in a very theatrical way, Buono made an impression on viewers of television and movies.

Buono was screenwriter Richard Maibaum’s choice for the title role in Goldfinger. “He’s been called a combination of Charles Laughton and Laird Cregar,” Maibaum wrote in a detailed letter to producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman about how to turn the Ian Fleming novel into the film. (The letter was quoted in the 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.)

Buono didn’t get that part, which went to Gert Frobe. But as the 1960s spy entertainment boom took hold, he got plenty of work in the genre.

Victor Buono and Bill Cosby in an I Spy episode

Victor Buono and Bill Cosby in an I Spy episode

Producer Irving Allen, Broccoli’s ex-partner, hired Buono as the lead villain in the first Dean Martin Matt Helm movie, The Silencers. Buono was made up to be the Asian head of BIGO, a group not found in Donald Hamilton’s serious novels. It was the Helm equivalent of SPECTRE. Buono’s Tung-Tze didn’t survive his encounter with Dino’s Helm.

Buono also appeared as the main villain in the pilot episode of The Wild, Wild West, though that wasn’t revealed until the last act. Buono’s character was a Mexican made up to look Chinese as part of a plot to start a revolution in the 1870s southwestern United States. Buono later came back in two more episodes of the series as Count Manzeppi, intended to be a second recurring villain in addition to Dr. Loveless. The actor also made one-shot appearances in I Spy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

During this same general period, he also became part of the Rogues Gallery of Villains as King Tut on the 1966-68 Batman television series. Buono’s IMDB.com bio page uses a still of him in that role.

Even as the spy boom faded, Buono’s career didn’t as he continued to get cast in other roles. The actor even appeared in the 1980 television movie More Wild, Wild West as a pompous U.S. government official modeled on Henry Kissinger. He died, of a heart attack, on Jan. 1, 1982, at the age of 43.

77 Sunset Strip’s experiment with film noir for TV

A cast shot of 77 Sunset Strip. All except Efrem Zimbalist Jr., would be gone for the sixth season.

77 Sunset Strip is one of those shows that, despite being popular in its time, doesn’t strike a chord with a lot of people today. It was one of Warner Bros.’s first hits on television and spawned three similar detective shows (Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6). Even more obscure is 77’s final season, which did a drastic makeover and began with an experiment of producing film noir for television.

William Conrad, producer-director of “5.”

A new producing team of Jack Webb (yes, that Jack Webb) and William Conrad (yes, that William Conrad) fired the entire cast except for star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. The actor’s Stuart Bailey character was now a hard-boiled, lone wolf private eye worried about paying his rent. The catchy Mack David-Jerry Livingston song was gone as well, replaced by an instrumental by Bob Thompson.

To kick off the new format, Webb and Conrad began with a five-part episode simply titled “5,” written by Harry Essex and directed by Conrad. The producer-director also made a cameo toward the end of the conclusion.

The show enlisted a large roster of guest stars. Some were key characters in the story, others eccentric cameo roles. The group included two actors who either had or would play James Bond villains (Peter Lorre and Telly Savalas) and others who’d play villains on the ABC Batman show (Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Walter Slezak and Victor Buono). And being a 1960s event, of a sort, it wouldn’t be complete without William Shatner in the mix.

Anyway, “5” recent showed up online (but unofficially). It comes across as very ambitious for its time with some attempts at innovation but with some flaws as well.

Positives: At the end of part I, Bailey is caught off guard by an attack by a thug and rolls down a stairway. Conrad and his crew came up with some kind of rig so the camera in a point-of-view shot seems spin, matching the PI’s fall. Also, there’s some pretty good tough-guy PI dialogue. (“Did I hit a nerve?” asks New York City detective played by Richard Conte. “You couldn’t find one in a dental college,” Bailey replies.)

Negatives: At the start of the final part, the story runs out of a gas a bit and there’s a long recap of the first four installments. Also, it seems improbable that Bailey would lug a big 1963 tape recorder around. The tape recorder is merely a device to justify first-person narration by Zimbalist. It might have been better to just go with the narration and not worry about the recorder.

In any case, “5” nor the new format was a commercial success. Only 20 episodes were made at a time 30 or more episodes made up a full season. ABC showed reruns from previous seasons to fill out the 1963-64 season according to the show’s entry in Wikipedia.

Still, “5” was an interesting experiment and fans of film noir ought to check it out as Stuart Bailey travels from Los Angeles to New York to Europe to Israel and back to New York on the marathon case. We’ve embedded part one below. If interested, you can also go to PART TWO, PART THREE, PART FOUR and THE CONCLUSION. Warning: you never know who long these things will stay on YouTube.

Happy birthday, Robert Conrad

March 1 is the birthday of actor Conrad Robert Falk (or Konrad Robert Falkowski, according to some sources). So we’ll wish a happy 82nd (at least according to his IMDB.COM profile) or a happy 76th (see information from a reader below) to the man better known as Robert Conrad.

Conrad has had a long acting career. But for many readers of this blog, he’s best known for playing ace U.S. Secret Service man James T. West in The Wild, Wild West. The 1965-69 show was a combination of spies and cowboys. CBS commissioned the show to cash in on the mid-1960s James Bond craze but it established its own flavor, and featured stories even more fantastic (albeit on a television budget) than the 007 films in movie theaters are the time.

A friend of ours once said Conrad had an acting range of “oak to pine.” We think that’s harsh. Regardless, Conrad had something that clicked with audiences. One thing that Conrad had was the ability to do many of his own stunts and action sequences, giving his character a believeability despite the fanciful tales. When James West fought a roomful of thugs, there was no mistaking that the show’s star was fully participating.

Here’s an excerpt from the first-season episode, The Night of the Burning Diamond:

Conrad’s James West also sometimes lost his shirt:

Of course, Conrad wasn’t exactly new at this sort of thing. Here’s the main titles of Hawaiian Eye, a show that was on Conrad’s resume at the time he was cast as James West.

Conrad’s co-star in Hawaiian Eye, Anthony Eisley, would show up in an episode of The Wild, Wild West (The Night of the Eccentrics) as a villain assisting Count Manzeppi (Victor Buono). Here’s a look:

Happy birthday, Mr. C.

45th anniversary of Dino as Matt Helm in The Silencers

This week was the 45th anniversary of The Silencers, the first of four Matt Helm films starring Dean Martin and arguably the most successful non-Bond spy series of the 1960s.

Some of the film’s cast and crew had a shot at doing Bond movies but it didn’t happen.

Studio Columbia Pictures had turned down Bond, with United Artists instead making a deal with Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; producer Irving Allen had been Broccoli’s partner but thought Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were terrible; 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum suggested Victor Buono to play Goldfinger; some United Artists executive wanted Phil Karlson to direct Dr. No, but he had a $75,000 asking price while Terence Young would work for $40,000.

Allen took Donald Hamilton’s serious novels and made them into spoofs, though the films did use some plot elements of Hamilton’s originals, particularly The Silencers. To get Dean Martin on board, Allen had to make him a partner. That’s why the films have a copyright notice reading “Meadway-Claude” — Claude was Martin’s production company.

Below is the latter part of main titles of The Silencers, in which Cyd Charisse lipsynchs the title song performed by Vikki Carr and written by Elmer Berstein and Mack David.

Countdown to Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary part II

The 45th anniversary of Goldfinger’s world premier is next month. With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 major decisions that helped shape the movie.

1. Selecting Goldfinger as the third Ian Fleming novel in the series to be filmed. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t going by the order the novels appeared. So they could have chosen from the likes of Diamonds Are Forever or Live And Let Die. But they didn’t.

2. Dumping the buzz saw of the novel in favor of a laser beam to menace Bond. This was one of screenwriter Richard Maibaum’s first recommendations to the producers.

3. Casting Gert Frobe, despite his inability to speak English, to play the title role. Theodore Bikel had been screen tested and writer Maibaum had recommended Victor Buono.

4. The decision to hire Paul Dehn to rewrite the early drafts by Maibuam.

5. Cutting the Bond-Goldfinger golf game to two holes. Ian Fleming’s novel described all 18 holes of the match. The film tells us it’s all even with two holes to go and we then see the two opponents try to outcheat each other. This move is one reason why Fleming’s longest novel was turned into the shortest 007 movie until 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

6. The decision to recast the role of Felix Leiter. Jack Lord, who created the film Leither in Dr. No, wanted equal billing with Sean Connery. Broccoli and Saltzman weren’t going to go for that. For better or worse, a tradition was started that would last until 1989 of a different actor playing Leiter each time.

7. Broccoli wanting the film to take the audience inside Fort Knox. The initial drafts mirrored Fleming’s novel and never made it inside the gold-storage facility. This decision enabled Ken Adam to create yet another spectacular set.

8. The decision to let composer John Barry collaborate on the title song. Barry had composed the background music for From Russia With Love but Lionel Bart did the title song.

9. The decision to keep the character name Pussy Galore. There had been talk of changing it to Kitty Galore. Somehow, it just wouldn’t have been the same.

10. The decision to have a tight production schedule. John Barry has quoted Saltzman as saying if the producers had had more time, they’d have scrapped the now-famous Goldfinger title song in favor of something else. In this instance, less time meant more.